Extended scaffolding: A more general theory of scaffolded cognition

Zachary R Murphy, Purdue University


New and emerging technologies called neuroprostheses are challenging our ideas about where one's mind ends and the environment begins. Cochlear implants, which completely replace the functioning of the inner ear, are now a common treatment for deafness. Berger et al. developed a device that replaces long-term memory in rats (2012), while Hampson et al. created a brain-machine interface that converts a desire to move one's arm into the motor neuron impulses required to achieve that movement (2013)--both offering promising treatments for dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and paralysis. Deep brain stimulation is now a common way of regulating neural activity to manage muscle tremors in patients with Parkinson's disease. These devices completely replace parts of human anatomy we would normally consider to be performing cognitive processing. Are these devices themselves part of the cognitive system or do they just facilitate it? Are they parts of our minds or just sophisticated tools? More philosophically, these are metaphysical questions about where the boundary between the mind and the environment lies. Ultimately, this work establishes a principled way to set down such a boundary by developing a methodology for modeling potentially cognitive processes using graph theory and applying graph-theoretical analytics to rigorously delineate mind from environment.




Kelly, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Evolution and Development|Philosophy

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