Locked-in syndrome, bci, and a confusion about embodied, embedded, extended, and enacted cognition

Neuroethics 3 (1):61-72 (2009)
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Abstract

In a recent contribution to this journal, Andrew Fenton and Sheri Alpert have argued that the so-called “extended mind hypothesis” allows us to understand why Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) have the potential to change the self of patients suffering from Locked-in syndrome (LIS) by extending their minds beyond their bodies. I deny that this can shed any light on the theoretical, or philosophical, underpinnings of BCIs as a tool for enabling communication with, or bodily action by, patients with LIS: BCIs are not a case of cognitive extension. I argue that Fenton and Alpert’s claim to the contrary is the result of a widespread confusion about some related, but significantly different, approaches to cognition that all fall under the heading of “situated cognition.” I first provide a short taxonomy of various situated approaches to cognition, highlighting (some of) their important commonalities and differences, which should dissolve some of the confusions surrounding them. Then I show why the extended mind hypothesis is unsuitable as a model of BCI enhancements of LIS patients’ capacity to interact with their surroundings, and I argue that the situated approach with obvious bearings on the sort of questions that were driving Fenton and Alpert is not the idea that cognition is extended , but the idea that cognition is enacted.

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Sven Walter
Universität Osnabrück