Andy Clark

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Andy Clark
Born 1957
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of mind
Notable ideas
Extended mind

Andy Clark (born 1957) is a professor of philosophy and Chair in Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.[1] Before this, he was director of the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and previously taught at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and the University of Sussex in England. Clark is one of the founding members of the CONTACT collaborative research project whose aim is to investigate the role environment plays in shaping the nature of conscious experience.[2] Clark's papers and books deal with the philosophy of mind and he is considered a leading scientist in mind extension. He has also written extensively on connectionism, robotics and the role and nature of mental representation.[3]

General themes in Clark's work

Clark’s work explores a number of disparate but interrelated themes. Many of these themes run against established wisdom in cognitive processing and representation. According to traditional computational accounts, the function of the mind is understood as the process of creating, storing and updating internal representations of the world, on the basis of which other processes and actions may take place. Representations are updated to correspond with an environment in accordance with the function, goal-state, or desire of the system in question at any given time. Thus, for example, learning a new route through a maze-like building would be mirrored in a change in the representation of that building. Action, on this view, is the outcome of a process which determines the best way to achieve the goal-state or desire, based on current representations. Such a determinative process may be the purview of a Cartesian "central executive" or a distributed process like homuncular decomposition.

In contrast to traditional models of cognition, which often posit the one-way flow of sensory information from the periphery towards more remote areas of the brain, Clark has suggested a two-way "cascade of cortical processing" underlying perception, action, and learning. The concept of predictive processing lies at the heart of this view, wherein top-down predictions attempt to correctly guess or "explain away" bottom-up sensory information in an iterative, hierarchical manner. Discrepancies between the expected signal and actual signal, in essence the "prediction error," travel upward to help refine the accuracy of future predictions. Interactions between forward flow of error (conveyed by "error units") and backward flow of prediction are dynamic, with attention playing a key role in weighting the relative influence of either at each level of the cascade (dopamine is mentioned as "one possible mechanism for encoding precision" with regard to error units). Action (or action-oriented predictive processing) also plays an important role in Clark's account as another means by which the brain can reduce prediction error by directly influencing the environment. To this, he adds that "personal, affective, and hedonic" factors would be implicated along with the minimization of prediction error, creating a more nuanced model for the relationship between action and perception.[4]

According to Clark, the computational model, which forms the philosophical foundation of artificial intelligence, engenders several intractable problems. One of the more salient is an information bottleneck: if, in order to determine appropriate actions, it is the job of the mind to construct detailed inner representations of the external world, then, as the world is constantly changing, the demands on the mental system will almost certainly preclude any action taking place. For Clark, we need relatively little information about the world before we may act effectively upon it. We tend to be susceptible to "grand illusion", where our impressions of a richly detailed world obscures a reality of minimal environmental information and quick action. We needn't try to reconstruct the detail of this world, as it is able to serve as its own best model from which to extract information "just in time".

The Extended Mind

Clark is perhaps most well known for his defence of the extended mind hypothesis. According to Clark, the dynamic loops through which mind and world interact are not merely instrumental; the cycle of activity that runs from brain through body and world and back again is what constitutes cognition. The mind, on this account, is not restricted to the biological organism but extends into that organism's environment. An example is carrying out a mathematical task. One person may complete the task solely in their head, while another completes the task with the assistance of paper and pencil. By Clark’s parity principle, there is no reason to count these means as different so long as the results are the same. The process of cognition in the second case involves paper and pencil, so the conception of mind appropriate to the person involved must include these items.

Clark concedes that, in practice, the criterion of "equal efficiency"[citation needed] required by the parity principle is seldom met. He nonetheless proposes that the boundary of "skin and skull" is arbitrary and cognitively meaningless. If, in the example above, the paper and pencil used by the second person becomes a virtual paper-and-pencil visible on a monitor and controlled by a silicon chip implanted in the head, the similarity between the two situations becomes clearer.

Clark foresees the development of cognitive prosthetics, or "electronic brain enhancements" ("EBEs"), as only[citation needed] the next logical step in the human mind’s natural integration with technology. Clark’s research interests also include wetwiring and other human-electronic integration experiments, as well as technological advances in immediate human communication and their utilization in society.


Books by Andy Clark:

  • Microcognition: Philosophy, Cognitive Science and Parallel Distributed Processing (1989)
  • Associative Engines: Connectionism, Concepts and Representational Change (1993)
  • Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again (1997)
  • Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science (2001)
  • Natural Born Cyborgs (2004)
  • Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (2008)

Clark is also on the editorial boards of the following journals:


  2. "CONTACT - Consciousness in Interaction". 2006. Retrieved October 3, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Clark, Andy (2013-06-01). "Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 36 (03): 181–204. doi:10.1017/S0140525X12000477. ISSN 1469-1825.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links