Extended cognitve processes – extended cognitive systems

The EC literature contains two apparently different claims.

Human cognitive systems extend into the body and
Human cognitive processes extend into the body and

Isn’t this second claim the more radical?  There are lots of systems in which the
identifying process does not pervade the whole of the system, e.g. a computing
system.  The CPU computes, but does the

Maybe it is not so surprising to say that the cognitive system that I am extends into my toes, but it is surprising to claim that my cognitive processing extends into my toes.


  1. kenneth aizawa

    I would say that the extended cognition literature has not much cared about this distinction, hence has not much cared about explicating it.  So, I would say we are left to our own devices in interpreting what the advocates of extended cognition mean by “processes.”   By contrast, there appear to be three more or less distinguishable ideas of what is meant by a “system.”  A coupled dynamical system, Haugeland’s (1998) theory, and Clarks’ (forthcoming) theory.  Below are passages that seem to me to hint at the diversity of ideas.

    The cognitive system does not interact with the body and the
    external world by means of the occasional static symbolic inputs and outputs;
    rather, interaction between the inner and the outer is best thought of as a
    matter of coupling, such that both sets of processes continually influencing
    [sic] each other’s direction of change (van Gelder, 1995, p. 373).

    “since the nervous system, body, and environment are all
    constantly changing and simultaneously influencing each other, the true
    cognitive system is a single unified system embracing all three” (van Gelder,
    1995, 373). 

     A component is a relatively independent
    and self-contained portion of a system in the sense that it relevantly
    interacts with other components only through interfaces between them (and
    contains no internal interfaces at the same level).  An interface
    is a point of interactive “contact” between components such that the relevant interactions
    are well-defined, reliable, and relatively simple.  A system
    is a relatively independent and self-contained composite of components
    interacting at interfaces (Haugeland, 1998, p. 213.)

    1. The resource must be reliably available and typically

    2. Any information retrieved from the resource must be
    more-or-less automatically endorsed. It should not usually be subject to
    critical scrutiny (unlike the opinions of other people, for example).

    3. Information provided by the resource should be easily
    accessible as and when required.  (Cf., Clark,
    forthcoming, pp. xxx.)