The political economy of 4E cognition

Title: The Over-Extended Mind: The Political Economy of 4E Cognition
Proposal reference number: SS04
Supervisory team: Dr. Sean Watson & Dr. Darian Meacham
Abstracts: Recent developments in the philosophy of mind have proposed a new and original
challenge to the notion of individual autonomy. They have also provided the opportunity for fruitful
dialogue with a number of other philosophical and scientific subfields. ‘Extended Mind Theory’ (Clark
and Chalmers, 1998) and its variants (e.g. Wheeler, 2005; Clark, 2008; Menary, 2010) make the claim
that the mind is not limited to the skull-and-skin framework that has set the agenda in the field for
centuries. Instead of looking exclusively ‘internally’ (e.g. at the neurology of our brains), these
positions argue that a more comprehensive understanding of our cognitive capacities requires the
interrogation of the human being’s technological and cultural milieu, including political and cultural
institutions (Gallagher and Crisafi 2009). There is now a thriving research programme around what is
referred to as 4E cognition (extended, embodied, enactive and ecological). The hypothesis of the
extended mind is perhaps common sense. Our memories have become stored in hard drives and
storage clouds, our experiences are immediately captured and shared all over the planet, our
conceptions of the world are mediated through digital or paper-based news outlets (Sparrow, Lui
and Wegner 2011). What has not been adequately explored is the political and economic dimensions
of 4E cognition. Many of the forms through which mental processes are extended (e.g. the internet,
digital media) are under private, corporate or governmental control. Our research questions are: Is
the character and structure of our mental processes subject to political and economic forces? If so
what are the consequences? How does this impact the way that we think about political autonomy,
mental illness, what it means to be a political and social actor, and the nature of mind?
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