Sunday June 25, 2017

Your phone is an extension of your mind

Maybe smart phones, which for many of us are practically glued to our bodies, can be thought of as part of our MINDS.

Maybe smart phones, which for many of us are practically glued to our bodies, can be thought of as part of our MINDS. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen 13:34

Sometimes, it feels like our smart phones are part of our minds. From our friends' phone numbers to our daily calendar, there are so many things we don't need to remember, because we know they're in our phones.

But could our phones literally be considered part of our minds?


Andy Clark is a professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh. He argues for the existence of "extended minds".

That's the idea that there are some external tools that we can think of as actually part of the thinking process.

"The smartphone by now has become sufficiently interwoven with our normal capacities and activities that it really does count, very often at least, as a bit of the machinery of my mind," Andy says.

Not all technologies and tools qualify. They must be sufficiently reliable, accessible, and pretty automatic.

361 Andy Clark

Andy Clark

"You shouldn't really have to think about it...It should just kind of bubble up at the right time," he explains.

"The more you have to bottleneck it through those deliberate thoughts, the less it looks like part of the machinery of mind."

It doesn't have to be just newer, digital technology either.

Andy thinks tools like notepads can be so integrated into how we think, they too can be part of our minds.

Beyond supporting memory, external tools can play an important role in creative thought, for example, doodling, or making little pencil marks in the margin of a book while you read.

"I have different marks, and I'm sure they play different roles in my looping cognitive economy, but I don't actually as a conscious agent know what those roles are," Andy says.

"Language is itself almost like an extended mind technology." - Andy Clark

It may be that we developed these 'extended minds' because humans have evolved alongside our tools and technologies.

Andy points to language as one of our earliest tools for making our mental process partly external.

"Somewhere along the way we became language-using creatures, and at that point we started to...turn our thoughts into these concrete objects that either hang in the air, and can be shared with others, or sit on the page," Andy theorizes.

"Language is itself almost like an extended mind technology. And I think it's certainly the kind of bridge technology that made this other stuff so easily available," he says.