Extended Mind: What’s New?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 49 seconds

I just signed up for a “book circle” (something more than a regular “reading group”) online, where we are reading Annie Paul Murphy’s “The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain”.

I’m somewhere between really excited for the premise of the book, which is, broadly speaking, that we don’t think just within our brain, but also with our whole body, and our interactions with others and our environment. The author says that cognitive science has historically focused so much on what goes on inside the brain while ignoring everything else outside of it that influences our thinking.

And then I’m like, wait. Isn’t social constructivism about this? About how we learn with others? And isn’t sociomaterial theory about this? About how everything is entangled with everything else and everything happens in relation to everything else, not separately from it?

But then I started thinking about things in my life where this extended mind concept is so powerful but probably underappreciated, like…

  • Walking meetings. I looooove walking meetings and do them as often as I can. Especially when weather is good outdoors. I also like walking while in Zoom meetings if it is possible, and walking while voicenoting or listening to a podcast or book while exercising.
  • Movement in the classroom. I love doing activities in class where students get up and move around, stand up and work in small groups and then move to a larger group. The room I teach in these days makes it easier to do that and it really affects the energy in the room most days.
  • Thinking with people. I don’t know that this is underresearched or anything. Social constructivism, connectivism, rhizomatic learning- all of that builds on the learning and growth that happens in relation/connection/network/community. I don’t think it isn’t known in education or psychology, but perhaps we don’t harness it enough in regular everyday teaching? Maybe?
  • Artificial Intelligence (you knew this one was coming, right?). When we say we want students’ original ideas, not to use AI, we forget that even what we consider “original” is influenced by many other things. Thoughts, experiences, conversations, internet searches, etc., and so adding AI to that list of resources should, probably, be OK, to an extent we will eventually figure out?
  • Islam on “nafs”. I was recently listening to something around how in Islam the “nafs” (roughly translated ummm ?? Self? Consciousness?) being 3 layers: 3aql (brain), qalb (heart) and ru7 (soul). And in that sense the three work together rather than separately? So spirituality and emotion do not need to work separately from the more logical brain/mind… which leads me to…
  • Feminist approaches to critical thinking. This is key, because most known approaches to critical thinking emphasize individual logic and objectivity and analysis and skepticism, and argument/debate whereas feminist approaches to critical thinking (not monolithic) integrate emotion and creativity and intuition and relationality/connection with others, and imagination and empathy. And this has always resonated with me.
  • Music is so important to me and to my learning and wellbeing. I play music a lot when I am trying to think, or do things. Music without words or in a language I don’t understand was essential when I was writing my thesis. But also familiar songs can work for when I’m writing. Used to play music when doing math homework when I was younger. I wonder if this will show up in the book?
  • The book talks about “embodied cognition” which reminds me of theater of the oppressed and some techniques I have learned on how to integrate bodily expression in teaching, especially when online.
  • The book talks about “situated cognition” which reminds me of situated learning and hidden curriculum and how of course every little detail of how an environment is set up affects our sense of belonging and ability to connect. It also reminds me of how learning online is its own situatedness, AND the individual is simultaneously situated in their own physical environment, and that combo means we are only partially situated together when we are in an online moment synchronously together. It made me think about Intentionally Equitable Hospitality and how we set up online and hybrid spaces to be equitable.
  • The book talks about “distributed cognition”, a reminder of again all the learning that happens in dialogue and collaboration. The book mentions “collective intelligence” as a kind of synergy. Which reminds me of a quote by Bakhtin, which I’ll end with.

I’m still on chapter one of Murphy’s book. I guess I am likely oversimplifying the message of the book. Here is the quote by Bakhtin I want to end with, and I want to keep thinking of “other” as possibly human and non-human as well:

“I am conscious of myself and become myself only while revealing myself for another, through another, and with the help of another… I cannot manage without another, I cannot become myself without another” (Bakhtin, 1984 or 1982, p. 287).

P.S. The Bakhtin reference is one I found cited by someone, whose blogpost has disappeared. It is probably from one of the following sources, even though I had been citing it as 1981 for years:

BAKHTIN, M. (1982). The dialogic imagina-tion. University of Texas Press.

BAKHTIN, M. (1984). Toward a reworking of the Dostoevsky book (1961). In C. Emerson (Ed.), Problems of Dostoevsky’s poetics (C. Emerson, Trans.), 283–302. University of Minnesota Press.

Header image created by me on Canva. A brain image, with large eyes and ears, small legs, hands holding a phone with social media, a garden, sun, music, and friends. The Extended Brain. Made with my daughter who is much better at graphic design and thinks it gets a pass but not an A. I know it’s not very aesthetically pleasing, but I hope it gets the message across???

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