David Chalmers: Is Your Phone Part of Your Mind? at TEDxSydney (Full Transcript)

David Chalmers

David Chalmers – TRANSCRIPT

Hi, everyone! I want to talk to you about a new way of looking at the mind. What I call the extended mind is the idea that the technology we use becomes part of our minds, extending our minds and indeed ourselves into the world. We’ll start with something that might be a little bit more familiar: the extended body.

We are used to the idea that we can extend our bodies with technology. We know about prosthetic limbs. Here is the athlete Oscar Pistorius running on his prosthetic legs. You don’t need prosthetic limbs to extend your body. Blind people say that their canes serve as an extension of their body. You know, it feels exactly like a body from the inside, or in more mundane everyday experience, a car can feel like an extension of your body, a bike, or indeed, a musical instrument. You saw a great illustration of that a few minutes ago with Tjupurru with his didjeribone, a real extension of his body.

Well, so it is with the body, so it is for the extended mind, where technology gets incorporated into our human minds. You might think that to incorporate technology into your mind you’d have to turn yourself into a cyborg. Something like that! A whole bunch of, you know, of pipes and tubes inside your head, or at least you need a whole bunch of fancy technology like this on your head, but I actually think there’s a more ordinary kind of mind extension, which is happening to us right now, all the time, as we move into the technological future.

So take our friend the iPhone. I’ve had one of these now for maybe three or four years, and it’s basically started taking over a whole bunch of the functions of my brain. Things my brain used to do are now done by my iPhone. I mean, there’s a million examples, take memory: How many people use their brains to remember phone numbers anymore? Not me! You know, my iPhone does all the work. It used to be, the biological memory used to carry the load, now the iPhone is carrying the load for me, acting as my memory. The iPhone serves to control planning functions that my brain used to do. Spatial navigation, offloaded from my brain into Google Maps.

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The iPhone even stores as the repository of my desires. I’ve got a program on the iPhone that tells me my favorite dishes at the local restaurant. I go there and just look it up and say this, this, this. The iPhone is controlling my desires for me. It even makes decisions for me. Here’s the executive decision maker. Am I going to go speak at that TED conference? Oh, definitely! You might say, “Okay, well, this is all a big metaphor, and it’s a little bit like a mind in someways.”

But I think there’s actually an interesting philosophical thesis here that I want to defend, that in some sense the iPhone is literally becoming part of your mind. Your mind is extending from your brain into the world, so the iPhone is actually part of it. The iPhone hasn’t been implanted into your mind, but you might think it’s as if it were in.

Here’s an iPhone implanted into your mind, it’s as if it was implanted into your mind, although it’s actually out there in the world. That’s the extended mind thesis. So the iPhone’s memory is basically my memory. The iPhone’s planning or navigation is basically my planning and navigation as if it had happened inside the brain.

Now for me as a philosopher, this is really interesting because one of the central philosophical problems about the mind, maybe the central philosophical problem about the mind, is what we call the mind-brain problem. How does the mind – your thinking and your feeling – relate to your brain, this bunch of mushy neurons you have inside your head? Is it something more or is it something less? If you ask most people, “Where is your mind?” they’d point and say, “Well, it’s somewhere in there.” This extended mind thesis, I think it’s some transformed vision of the mind, but the mind is not just in the brain, it’s partly in the world around us, in the environment that we interact with.

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