Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I am John's Brain....hello?

In reading Being There this week, I felt I better understood the Varela text from last week. It’s strange how you can get a better grasp of a book when you read another book on a similar topic and start to realize the connections from the last text. I felt that Clark helped me to further understand how the mind can be separated from the body as Varela and the other authors were suggesting last week regarding the enactive approach to the mind.

In Clark’s book, I found the second half of the book more enjoyable and easier to comprehend than the first portion of the book. (I think I was lost in some of the robotic explanations at times.) I enjoyed Chapter 9 and how Clark addressed how the mind can experience external scaffolding as he mentions on page 192, “..if our achievements exceed those of our forebears, it isn’t because our brains are any smarter than theirs. Rather, our brains are the cogs in larger social and cultural machines – machines that bear the mark of vast bodies of previous search and effort, both individual and collective.” I found this statement to be extremely powerful to me in realizing that the concept of ourselves and the advancement of the mind has nothing to do with the lack of knowledge or brain power at any given point in time, but how much our external environment and the transition or adoption of including other minds in scaffolding knowledge, contributes to the success of the brain getting smarter by the contribution of many versus a few.

Chapter 10 was also particularly interesting to me in how Clark connected the mind to language. I was thinking of those studying English literature and Rhetoric in our class while reading this chapter wondering what you guys thought of this chapter and how effective or ineffective was Clark’s approach in communicating how language meets an end for the user or serves as a tool?

Lastly, I enjoyed the brain’s discussion of John’s thoughts in the Epilogue and how he effectively communicated how disconnected the brain is to John. The epilogue helped me understand just how much the mind can be external to ourselves and also that our mind cannot operate solely on internal activity and our own ideas (no idea is our own) but that it requires the combination of several components in the external environment. I found that this statement helped me understand how the mind is separate from ourselves on page 224, “But, to put it crudely, I do not have John’s thoughts. John has John’s thoughts, and I am just one item in the array of physical events and processes that enable the thinking to occur.” This epilogue reminded me of the computer, HAL in the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie and I kept hearing the computer speaking as I read John’s brain’s comments. For some reason, I felt that HAL in the movie and the brain in this Epilogue were effective in demonstrating their own voice. I felt this section of the book helped me understand how much we underestimate the power of our mind and how we are misled in thinking we have such an intimate relationship with our mind since it really is separate from us on so many levels as Clark communicates in other chapters of the book. I enjoyed the personal perspective that Clark added to this book through this Epilogue.

As it relates to technology, Clark gives several examples in his text of how the embodied mind can be explained in part by robotics and artificial intelligence. However, in reading this text, I was thinking how much can we touch upon the aspect of an externally scaffolded brain and wondering how much this may tie into Wikipedia ( As Wikipedia could be considered a way by which aspects of knowledge on a particular topic or subject are built on each other by the contribution of several people on the Web over time, through their experiences and knowledge of the topic, how the term is given additional context, and adjusted over time through its adaptation in the environment. Is it possible to compare a tool like Wikipedia to the aspects of the embodied mind?


Blogger jmj said...

I think an interesting question related to your post is whether or not these authors use the terms "brain" and "mind" interchangably. I think that the two are meant to be different, but some of their usages blur the distinction between them.

2:29 PM  
Blogger asw said...

that is such a good point jmj...
i did not realize that before.

4:17 PM  

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