Abstract Details

Extended Cognition? Yes. Extended Consciousness? No.  Luis Favela (Philosophy, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL )   C18

I argue that although there are compelling reasons to accept the existence of extended cognition, the same is not true for extended consciousness. The Extended Cognition Thesis (E-Cog) holds that cognitive systems can incorporate features of the world whose locations are beyond what is typically understood to be the boundaries of an organism, such as its exoskeleton, fur, or skin. According to E-Cog, cognitive tasks (e.g., decision-making, perception, prospection, etc.) are at times both causally related to features outside the organism (e.g., ambient light) and constituted by such components (e.g., using a stick to augment one's perceptual capabilities). The increasing amount of arguments and empirical support in favor of E-Cog has motivated discussion on the possibility of consciousness being extended as well; or, the Extended Consciousness Thesis (E-Con). Here, 'consciousness' refers to states of a system with subjective phenomenal character. According to E-Con, conscious states (e.g., feeling fear in your gut, seeing the redness of an apple, etc.) are at times both causally related to features outside the organism (e.g., experiencing heat in the hand that is near a hot stove) and constituted by such components. Clear examples of consciousness being constituted by external components is not as straightforward. Still, one source of examples provided by proponents of E-Con are affordances. 'Affordances' are opportunities for behavior. These opportunities are based on properties of both the environment and the organism. When climbing stairs, for example, the affordance 'step-able' is based on the height of the stair relative to an animal's leg length, as well as other properties of the animal such as strength and flexibility. Fans of the metaphysics of affordances view such features as dissolving notions of subjective-objective dichotomies in matters of cognition because affordances seem to be properties that are neither totally objective nor totally subjective. A number of major proponents of E-Con treat cognition and consciousness as a single phenomenon. Thus, the argument goes, if cognition involves affordances, and if affordances are realized in organism-environment systems that cut across subjective-objective boundaries, then consciousness also cuts across subjective-objective boundaries. Here, I provide two lines of criticism demonstrating that this argument fails to substantiate the existence of E-Con. First, I focus on empirical evidence indicating that affordances need not be consciously experienced in order to be successfully utilized. Second, I argue that although the physical realizers of affordances both include an organism's body and extend beyond its body periphery (e.g., ambient light, nervous system, etc.) such that E-Cog is true, the same does not hold of consciousness. Appealing to complexity science and the integrated information theory of consciousness, I motivate the conclusion that although the physical realizers of consciousness (e.g., neurons) are causally related to features outside the organism, they remain constituted by systems within. Though E-Cog is a hard enough pill for some to swallow, there are increasing reasons to believe it. E-con, at least as far as the current evidence goes, is not a hard pill that anybody needs to swallow anytime soon.