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Externalism and Consciousness

Clarke and Chalmers believe that cognitive processes can be supported by external vehicles. Notebooks and the Internet can be thought of as such external vehicles.[1] But they also push their thesis further to what it means to be a self:

What, finally, of the self? Does the extended mind imply an extended self? It seems so. Most of us already accept that the self outstrips the boundaries of consciousness; my dispositional beliefs, for example, constitute—in some deep sense—part of who I am. If so, then these boundaries may also fall beyond the skin. The information in Otto’s notebook, for example, is a central part of his identity as a cognitive agent. What this comes down to is that Otto himself is best regarded as an extended system—a coupling of biological organism and external resources. To consistently resist this conclusion, we would have to shrink the self into a mere bundle of occurrent states, severely threatening its deep psychological continuity. Far better to take the broader view and see agents themselves as spread into the world. (Clark and Chalmers 1998, p. 18)

Our thought processes and selves are spread into the environment in Clark and Chalmers’s view. This is where Clark and Chalmers stop. They don’t claim that consciousness extends beyond our bodies.

  • [1] A concern that Clark and Chalmers raise regarding the Internet is that it might not be reliableenough.
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