Coupling, Constitution and the Cognitive Kind: A Reply to Adam and Aizawa
Adams and Aizawa, in a series of recent and forthcoming papers ((2001), (In Press), (This Volume)) seek to refute, or perhaps merely to terminally embarrass, the friends of the extended mind. One such paper begins with the following illustration: "Question: Why did the pencil think that 2+2=4? Clark's Answer: Because it was coupled to the mathematician" Adams and Aizawa (this volume) ms p.1 "That" the authors continue "about sums up what is wrong with Clark's extended mind hypothesis". The example of the pencil, they suggest, is just an especially egregious version of a fallacy said to pervade the literature on the extended mind. This fallacy, which they usefully dub the "coupling-constitution fallacy", is attributed , in varying degrees and manners, to Van Gelder and Port (1995), Clark and Chalmers (1998), Haugeland (1998), Dennett (2000), Clark (2001), Gibbs (2001), and Wilson (2004). The fallacy, of course, is to move from the causal coupling of some object or process to some cognitive agent, to the conclusion that the object or process is part of the cognitive agent , or part of the agent's cognitive processing (see e.g. Adams and Aizawa (This volume) ms p.2). Proponents of the extended mind and related theses, Adams and Aizawa repeatedly assert, are prone to this fallacy in part because they either ignore or fail to properly appreciate the importance of " the mark of the cognitive" viz the importance of an account of "what makes something a cognitive agent" (op cit ms p.3). The positive part of Adams and Aizawa's critique then emerges as a combination of the assertion that this "mark of the cognitive" involves the idea that "cognition is constituted by certain sorts of causal process that involve non-derived contents" (e.g. op cit ms p.3) and that these processes look to be characterized by psychological laws that turn out to apply to many internal goings-on but not currently (as a matter of contingent empirical fact) to any processes that take place in non-biological tools and artifacts. In what follows, I shall try to show why these arguments display nothing so much as mutual failures of communication: crossed wires concealing a couple of real, important, but much more subterranean, disagreements. In particular, I try to show why the negative considerations advanced by Adams and Aizawa fail to successfully undermine the argument for the extended mind, and why their more radical positive story, unless supplemented by implausible additional claims, fails to cast doubt on the claim that minds like ours can (without the need for any radically new techniques, technologies or interventions) extend into the world.