How do perception, sensation, thinking and feelings relate? What is consciousness? What is attention?
In an interview with philosopher Alva Noe in 2008, an explanation between the traditional understanding of how we think and perceive was contrasted against a modern, contemporary and new understanding. He stated:
“The traditional thought is that we perceive in order to act; when we act, we do it to perceive…[In contrast] the ability to move is at the very core of what it means to be a conscious perceiving agent…” (Noe, 2008)
What Noe was exploring was they way in which we understand the relationship between perception and sensation, thinking and feeling. The question this poses is: “Does thinking happen solely in the brain, or is the process of thinking something that extends beyond the muscle, beyond the organ in our head?”.
The notion of the ‘Extended Mind’, in which Clark and Chalmers identify an interrelating system between the body, mind and environment as opposed to notions of these entities being separate, is one way to approach questions of how humans think and perceive. Furthermore, we need to “go out of our heads and look at the way we are embodied and also bound to and embedded in the world around us” (Noe, 2010).
Embodiment & Experience
Folders and university writing books with countless written notes and mind maps created during my last two years of study, along with my HSC studies, are shelved and organised around my room, either placed nicely in my shelves and bookcase, or stacked in a large plastic container and yet to be put away properly after having moved home weeks prior to the start of 2012.
Within these physical archives lay countless personal knowledge – wriiten essays, notes and mindmaps dedicated to studies of journalism/media practice and theory, canonical English literature, the poetry of the 18th & 19th century English Romantics, and many more areas of study.
In line with the ‘extended mind’ theory, these archives of notes and essays are an extension of my mind; my extended memory. As Steigler (n. d) explains: ”
“To write a manuscript is to organise thought by consigning it outside in the form of traces, that is, symbols, whereby thought can reflect on itself, actually constituting itself, making itself repeatable and transmissible: it becomes knowledge”.
Unfortunately, while I retain some knowledge of the aforementioned topics, it is ambitious to say that my internal memory contains all that information within it to this day. The common motif of a student in contemporary society – a society where the flow of information is rapid and almost instantaenous due to new media technology, and thus drawing our attention from one thing to another – is that “I remember studying/reading that, but I’ve forgotten what I know”.
As such, my mind, has been extended onto those written notes and essays, those physical forms, and they are, in reality, my knowledge externalised beyond the boundaries of the mind. My understanding of how I think and perceive is no longer that of tradtitional, which separates the mind, body and environment, but an understandig that recognises how these work together as a system.
Stiegler (n. d) writes that “Human memory is originarily exteriorized, and that means that it is technical from the start”, giving rise to Chalmer and Kent’s notion of ‘active externalism’ (Wikimedia, 2012). In understanding mnemotechnics – the art of thinking – it is clear that thinking correlates with experience – and experience is, according to Noe (2008) “always necessarily embodied, environmentally situated, and spread out in time”.
Thinking is not only internal, but external; both mental and physical.
The negative side of mnemotechnology – technology which we place our thinking in – is that memory becomes industrialised. As Steigler puts it:
” [the] more we delegate the execution of series of small tasks that make up the warp and woof of our lives to the apparatuses and services of modern industry, the more vain we become: the more we lose not only our know-how but our know-how-to-live-well”.
The analogy Steigler provides, that the more improved a car gets, such as with the addition of GPS, the less we know how to drive a car, because all the knowledge takes away the opportunity for us to engage with it using our memory, is worrying.
Yet essentially, the notion of an “external mind” for me relates to notion that the media is an externalisation of the mind, and that has both positive and negative consequences as a result of the interlation between media, cultural and social change.
Chalmers, David (2009) ‘The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc> (about 9 minutes)
Dalton, S. (n.d.) ‘e sense’ <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHTtri5jGDc>
Stiegler, Bernard (n.d.) ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation’ <http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis>
Noë, Alva (2010) ‘Does thinking happen in the brain?’, 13:7 Cosmos and Culture <http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/12/10/131945848/does-thinking-happen-in-the-brain>
Noë, Alva and Solano, Marlon Barrios (2008) ‘dance as a way of knowing: interview with Alva Noë’, <http://www.dance-tech.net/video/1462368:Video:19594>
‘The Art Of Memory’, Wikipedia, last updated 6 December 2011, last accessed 18 March 2012, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_of_memory>
‘The Extended Mind’, Wikipedia, last updated 22 Friday 2012, last accessed 16 March 2012, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Mind>
‘Mnemonic’, Wikipedia, last updated 8 March 2012, last accessed 18 March 2012, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mnemonic>