We Extended Beings Need to Break Free from 17th Century Thinking

Alva Noë: Too many cognitive scientists tend to take a 17th century conception of the person as an individual island trapped inside his or her head and we need to break free of that. 

Think of the way the modern company is organized where there is an in-house social networking medium that people use to exchange ideas and keep on task and allow people in different offices or in different places or in different time zones to work on common problems together fluently. 


That’s changing the nature of work.  It’s changing the nature of organizations. 

I mention this because what I think is really fundamentally being changed is the nature of the individual, or to put it slightly differently, we ourselves. A human living being is an organization, an organism, and we are organized by our activities, by our engagements, by the way we conduct our lives, which are of course with other people in society and in families and in relationships.

As we find that the organizations that we build, our companies and our universities go without boundaries, go distributed, that actually gives us the resources to realize that that’s true of us as well.  My mother is present to me now even though she is a thousand miles away.  She is present to me because right now technology gives me the means to achieve access to her by simply reaching into my pocket, pulling out my phone and pressing the button and then there she is, there is her voice.

I travel and I can access my latest work documents, my deepest, most intimate thoughts on the cloud. So where are my most deepest, most significant thoughts?  Where am I working?  Where am I located? 

We ourselves are distributed dynamically extended beings who are always becoming through our action. To me that is a very profound, new way of thinking about what we are and sadly so often in the sciences of mind this new way of thinking about ourselves is overlooked as a possibility. 

Too many cognitive scientists, not all, but I think the majority, tend to take a 17th century conception of the person as an individual island trapped inside his or her head and we need to break free of that. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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