Supersizing the Mind (Philosophy of Mind) by Clark Andy

Supersizing the Mind (Philosophy of Mind) by Clark Andy

Author:Clark, Andy [Clark, Andy]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 2010-12-30T16:00:00+00:00

6.10 Anarchic Self-stimulation

The most satisfying way to complete this picture involves one final (and still surprisingly vertiginous) step. This final step is not compulsory, and the case for cognitive extension stands even if one chooses not to take it. 27 But it provides a rather natural way to complete the account.

The step in question is to reject outright the idea of an inner executive—the “Central Meaner” (Dennett 1991a)—who “uses” practices of self-stimulation as a means to its own (preformed) cognitive ends. In place of such an all-knowing inner executive, we should consider the possibility of a vast parallel coalition of more or less influential forces, whose largely self-organizing unfolding makes each of us the thinking beings we are. Thus, Dennett (1991a, 1998) depicts the human mind in terms that more closely resemble a semianarchic parallel organization of competing elements, whose average level of intelligence remains well below that traditionally ascribed to the so-called central executive (a horde of competing miniexecutives or, better, maxiassistants with nobody to assist). Within this flatter competing–cooperating nexus, different elements gain control at different times. But crucially, no element in the dodging and bumping horde is the privileged source of thinking such that the job of the rest is just to articulate or store its fully formed (though perhaps as yet verbally unarticulated) thoughts. Within such an economy, our ongoing cycles of gestural and linguistic self-stimulation are neither simply the products of, nor the servants of, a single stable independent central reasoning element. In just this way, McNeill (2005, 98–99, fn. 11 and 12) presents his model of gesture as one that avoids the image of a central “thinking area” to which all cognitively potent representations need to be revealed, just as it avoids the image of gesture (and the spoken word) as a centrally manipulated cognitive tool.

Thus, consider the familiar observation that verbal encodings are the kinds of items we can temporarily maintain in special forms of short-term memory such as the “phonological loop” (Baddeley 1986), usually depicted as a subvocal resource comprising a kind of inner voice and a kind of inner ear. 28 According to the standard account, a central executive loads this circuit with some verbal content such as a telephone number. The central executive is “the part that runs the show and does the real work” (Reisberg 2001, 14). At the executive’s beck and call are a number of “assistants” whose lowly tasks involve storing and cycling information as the executive bids. One such assistant is the aforementioned phonological loop. While the loop subvocally replays the verbal passage, the executive is free to attend to other matters, returning (as the trace decays) to read and refresh the verbal store by another subvocal launch. The overall effect is very much that of using a passive storage device, such as a notebook, perhaps with slowly vanishing ink.

It is instructive (and again, see Dennett 1991a, 1998) to try to imagine the role and functioning of something like the phonological loop in a system devoid of an inner executive, Central Meaner, or other form of stable top-level authority.


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