I’ve been thinking a lot over the last 24 hours about David Chalmers’ Extended Mind thesis. In particular, I enjoy considering how different ways of conceiving our minds and, indeed, our identities might have consequences in philosophy of religion or theology.
So how would the extended mind thesis apply to theology. Well, on a fairly trivial, non-practical level it makes quite a bit sense of the Christian religion’s notion of being a collective unity. The body of Christ. The bridegroom of Christ. These notions have never made much sense to me. Or they’ve seemed so mystical that I couldn’t put meat to them.
The extended mind thesis also has implications for personal identity and the afterlife. Traditionally, within philosophy, if one rejects a Cartesian dualism, there isn’t much hope for an afterlife (the Christian physicalist Peter van Inwagen notwithstanding). The body rots after death. And so if we accept the modern notion of brain=identity or body=identity then it’s fairly compelling that we cease to exist when our brain and/or body cease to exist.
And it’s not as though the extended mind hypothesis gets rid of the afterlife problem… after all, “extended” implies “extended from somewhere” – so even with the extended mind hypothesis there is some core locality of personal identity. However, it would be interesting for a grad student to draw out the consequences of an extended mind hypothesis on identity and the afterlife. In particular whether “in extension” the same mind can “detach” from that to which it originally extended from. In other words, would identity be retained if, say, your mind was fully uploaded into technology and preserved? Presumably if God exists, God has an informational and functional record of your existence. Would that be sufficient for preserving your identity in some other form of existence?
On a more practical front, the extended mind hypothesis also has implications for charity and the general way in which we treat others. There is a literal sense in which people who share life together become part of each other. And this seems, more often than not, to be a good, positive thing. Social interaction is a case of extending one’s own mind and identity into the lives of others, usually resulting in a net positive gain (unless there is corruption of power, or unhealthy dependencies).
So there you go. Some raw ideas for a future theology grad student to develop into a thesis or dissertation. Good luck!
Here’s David Chalmers giving a TED talk on his Extended Mind hypothesis.
It’s a provocative philosophical hypothesis that’s very relevant to our day and age. The basic idea is that our mind extends beyond our brain to the things we use to enhance our mind. Anything we use to enhance our intelligence (Google) or to store memories (a notebook or our gmail account) becomes part of our mind. I like this thesis because I’ve always been against brain-centric model that’s dominated the modern world… truth is that the brain is part of a larger system (neurological) which is part of a larger system (the body) which is part of the world. Our minds operate over this fuller context.
Unlike many philosophical issues, there are strong implications in his thesis for education, business and how the individual should interact with the world at large.
John Scalzi suggests that being Straight White Male is The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.
The structure of his post is designed to avoid offending delicate sensibilities. But let’s consider what he’s suggesting: namely, that if you’re a “Straight White Male”, then brother, you’ve caught a break.
There’s an evidence based counter-argument to Scalzi’s suggestion here. It’s built around the emerging consensus that there is an education gap for young boys that leaves boys at a distinct educational disadvantage in relation to girls (due to differences in brain structure).
I’ll formalize the argument:
1) Quality of early education is the leading predictor of success in the United States (the tool)
2) The structure of early education provides a significant advantage to females (due to differences in brain structure)
3) If females have an advantage in early education, then they have an advantage in life
Conclusion: Ceteris paribus, females have a significant advantage in life
Now Scalzi comes from a different world, in which the current education gap had yet to manifest itself and it is probably not on his radar. But with 60% of college graduates these days being women and only 40% being men, the seeds that were sowed decades ago are bearing fruit.
Of course, anyone could argue that modern public education is gender neutral and that females are just smarter. But two responses: 1) it neglects the science 2) if females are smarter, then they have a distinct advantage over males in life. So either way, Scalzi’s argument fails.
The Education Gap is real, and so Scalzi’s argument about Straight White Males having the lowest difficulty setting is mistaken (assuming that education is foundational to success in life) . Scalzi’s mistake is forgivable. No human being is aware of all domains of emerging knowledge.
But there is no question about this fact: we have an entire generation of boys who are being taught in a system designed for the learning tendencies of female brains. And that puts them at a severe disadvantage in the game of life.
This stuff happens. And it doesn’t feel good. Especially when you don’t understand the reason so that you can improve next time.
This morning we woke up to three dead baby chicks. No idea how they died.
Stuff like this happens even when you try your best. But your best is all you can do.
Read The Brothers K (not Karamazov). It’s amazing.
It captures every sort of human psychological and relational dynamic you can imagine. With precision and accuracy and humor.
Fathers. Lovers. Mothers. Professors. Students. Teenagers. Wannabe revolutionaries. Ideologues. Factory workers. Baseball players. Preachers. People who live in the mind. People who live outside of the mind. Introverts. Extroverts. The cunning. The naive. The guilty. The innocent. The enlightened. The enlightened about the enlightened.
It even gets little things about the mating game right. Such as the magical power of eye contact. Or the way sex loses its depth and becomes mechanical and empty and sterile (but still pleasurable of course) when it’s done purely as an act of self-gratification.
Or the way attraction sometimes puts us in a punch-drunk-love state of mind and causes us to do stupid things, like alienating our visiting brother for the chance of cheap sex with a girl we just met at a bar.
The guy who wrote this book, David James Duncan, has lived with his eyes open. Read it!
I don’t need government charging me taxes to wage unjust wars.
I don’t need government forcing me to provide health insurance to employees.
I don’t need government charging me taxes to pay for someone else’s birth control.
I don’t need government telling me that I can’t buy milk from my neighbor.
What’s happening in the United States, and I do not believe it can be stopped at this point (because of the nature of democracy and human nature), is that politicians have usurped the role of provider (what voter isn’t going to vote for the candidate who promises her the most things?) and inevitably we are spiraling further and further into a culture of dependency.
That’s how dynamic systems work. You front load the right variables into the right algorithm, and out comes a foregone conclusion. You pop human nature into the algorithm of a campaign oriented democracy and you’re going to increasingly get a dependent populace who can’t take on a single responsibility. And then your society starts to fall apart because it’s purely consumptive and unproductive. And then the provider goes hunting and wages unjust wars in order to hoard resources so that it can keep feeding its livestock.
I want my government to be transparent. Unseen. Out of my life.
I decided that I’m going to start mixing in cool stuff that I find from around the web on this blog. Sometimes I just don’t have much to say about relationships or health. But I’m sure it will all cycle back around and I’ll find new ways to say old stuff.
This infographic is pretty cool. And a little scary. Can you imagine a day when we have 3d organ printers? Or artificial wombs? Game changers.
(click the image for a much larger version.)
My life is amazing. A dream life. Doing exactly what I want to do, day in and day out. How I got here, I don’t really know. But I’m thankful.
Here are 15 specific things I’m thankful for this year: Read more
(Sometimes I have music on my mind and this post brings several songs to mind… so here’s a link to the soundtrack for this post in case you enjoy multi-sensory experiences like I do;-)
We all want to be valued. That’s a basic human need.
For whatever opaque reason, in romantic relationships, the need to be valued turns into the need to be unique. To be special.
When it comes to love, all romance can be understood as an expression of uniqueness and irreplaceability (see Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World” music video to understand the basics of this sentiment… video at bottom of post).
In one sense, yes, we are all unique. But in the most important aspects of romantic love (as opposed to familial love), we are not unique. And we are completely replaceable.
That girl who makes the blood pump through your veins at warp speed… she’s not the only one who could do it. But she wants to be. There are hundreds, thousands, probably millions of others who could do the same thing. The only uniqueness is located in your environment – her proximity, her availability to you.
But most people want to *feel* special. Want to feel *irreplaceable* – Why?
It has to do with a primal fear of being abandoned. We want signs and other indications that we will not be abandoned by the people we care about and who give us a sense of stability/security. And yet it is a curious fact that this primal need gets expressed on a social level as needing to feel like “i’m the only girl in the world” – which, if we’re honest, is an illusion built upon a blatant lie.
Since saturday I have seen some amazing spectacles of nature for the first time in my life:
- female pygmy goats doing some kind of dance as part of a mating ritual
- Alabama cotton fields under the glow of a setting sun
- a flock of this tiny little white bird on Florida’s gulf coast pattering around in the sand as a collective whole, moving this way and that
sometimes i wonder if it’s just a matter of having your eyes open.