Do sensory substitution devices extend the conscious mind?

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Is the brain the biological substrate of consciousness? Most naturalistic philosophers of mind have supposed that the answer must obviously be “yes” to this question. However, a growing number of philosophers working in 4e (embodied, embedded, extended, enactive) cognitive science have begun to challenge this assumption, arguing instead that consciousness supervenes on the whole embodied animal in dynamic interaction with the environment. We call views that share this claim dynamic sensorimotor theories of consciousness (DSM). Clark (2009), a founder and leading proponent of the hypothesis of the extended mind, demurs, arguing that as matter of fact the biology of consciousness doesn’t allow for a brain, body and world boundary crossing architecture. We begin by looking at one of the arguments for DSM, the variable neural correlates argument. We then outline two criticisms that Clark has made of this argument and endorse his criticisms. However we finish up by using the case of sensory substitution to argue that something of this argument for DSM nevertheless survives. We suggest that Clark ought to concede sensory substitution as a case in which the conscious mind extends. Keywords: variable neural correlates; action-space view; dynamic sensorimotor theories; extended consciousness; sensory substitution devices


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