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Externalism About Beliefs

Clark and Chalmers argue that some beliefs are not inside the head. They consider the functional roles artifacts play in cognitive processes: if something functions like a belief, then it is a belief. Let us look at an example.

Cognitive States Across People and Artifacts

Imagine Inga, a person who lives in New York and hears about an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). She consults her memory, remembers that it is on 53rd Street, and walks there.

Hearing there is an exhibition at MoMA, together with a desire to go there, causes Inga to recall where it is, and this causes her to walk to MoMA.

Now imagine Otto, who has a poor memory and jots down things he must remember in his notebook. When he hears about the same exhibition, he goes through his notebook, where he has written down the address of MoMA. His desire to go to MoMA, together with his written note about where it is, causes him to go there. The cognitive processes Otto engages in when doing these things are functionally the same as those Inga goes through.

Otto doesn’t consult his biological memory as Inga does, but his notebook functions to produce the same behavior. If his notebook functions similarly to Inga’s biological memory, then it is a memory, albeit one of paper and ink. Once again, we can think of Clark and Chalmers’s take on the extended mind as extended functionalism, where causal, functional structures extend into the world.

Clark and Chalmers also give an example of how cognitive states can spread across two people and a notebook. Imagine restaurant regular Jim, whose favorite waiter keeps notes about his eating preferences, so when Jim asks the waiter what to eat, the waiter consults his notebook as an external memory and brings Jim his meal.

Clark and Chalmers see the Internet as the extended mind of a user, with cognitive processes spread across it. Think about that the next time you go online. You have your mind there.

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