In a ponderable counterpoint to Nicholas Carr’s controversial “Is Google Making Us Stoopid” article, Discover Magazine claims that Google, and other tools (digital and otherwise) are actually making us smarter. The essence of their argument is that humans are made to use tools to extend the reach and abilities of their brains beyond the factory-installed hardware inside our heads, thus making us more intelligent.
We tend to think of the mind as separated from the world; we imagine information trickling into our senses and reaching our isolated minds, which then turn that information into a detailed picture of reality. The Internet and iPhones seem to be crashing the gate of the mind, taking over its natural work and leaving it to wither away to a mental stump. As plausible as this picture may seem, it does a bad job of explaining a lot of recent scientific research. In fact, the mind appears to be adapted for reaching out from our heads and making the world, including our machines, an extension of itself.
This concept of the extended mind was first raised in 1998, right around the time Google was born, by two philosophers, Andy Clark, now at the University of Edinburgh, and David Chalmers, now at the Australian National University. In the journal Analysis, they published a short essay called “The Extended Mind” in which they asked a simple question: “Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?” Most people might answer, “At the skull.” But Clark and Chalmers set out to convince their readers that the mind is not simply the product of the neurons in our brains, locked away behind a wall of bone. Rather, they argued that the mind is something more: a system made up of the brain plus parts of its environment.
[Image by scadarn at Worth 1000]