Think outside the brain box

Alison Abbott in Nature:

The disembodied brain in a vat is an amusing trope of science fiction. Without a vat, the brain needs a body to generate the nutrients to maintain itself and to furnish information about its environment. Sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and proprioception help us to navigate, and find food or reproductive partners. Science fiction assumes that, with those basic needs taken care of by the vat, the brain can devote its full energies to developing genius intelligence.

Not so, argues science writer Annie Murphy Paul. Her book The Extended Mind lays out arguments that the body — and the world more generally — is part of being smart. The human brain is a structure with serious limits: in memory, in attention, in handling abstract concepts. But it can extend its thinking apparatus beyond its skull-bound membranes. Given that the modern world is ever more centred on non-intuitive ideas and abstractions, we need all the help that mind extension can offer. Society fails to recognize this, is Paul’s claim.

More here.