Do No Harm: the Extended Mind Model and the Problem of Delayed Damage

Abstract

I argue in this essay that there can be harm due to philosophy that is not directly expressed in violent imagery. The harm is instead a concealed and delayed detrimental effect of an assumption of non-violence in a working model, defined as a picture of a field of enquiry and the methods required to approach it. Theses for the extended mind, as developed by Andy Clark and others, lead to a form of harm that follows from the models they work with. These engineering, tool and function-based models seek smooth interactions and transparency. Following points made by Kim Sterelny in the philosophy of biology, I argue that claims for smoothness and transparency conceal underlying conflict in the situations they seek to describe and explain. This concealment leads to harm, defined as a diminishing of our capacities to flourish in a given environment.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I am grateful to the three anonymous readers whose comments allowed me to improve aspects of this paper.

  2. 2.

    For a helpful introduction to its role as lesson and a full collection of versions of Little Red Riding Hood, see Zipes (1993).

  3. 3.

    Paul W. Kahn traces a contemporary incapacity to represent and react to state violence to Gump’s innocent presence around violent historical events. His blameless presence makes it harder for us to comprehend the causes of the violence. The false innocence of Gump as ever-present ‘popular sovereign’ renders violence more dangerous: ‘If Gump expresses the wholeness of sovereign presence, all those around him are experiencing the failure of representation. For them, the violence of the state is without meaning.’ (Kahn 2013, 112–13).

  4. 4.

    See Lance Knobel’s critical study of the design of the Barbican Arts Centre, London, resulting from its monolithic design: ‘The Barbican would never be built today because people are aware that what makes a city enjoyable and lively is diversity, change, and small interventions and not a single vision, conformity, and gigantism’ (Knobel 1981, 242).

  5. 5.

    ‘When executing the works of architecture, writes Vitruvius in the most frequently cited phrase of his entire treatise, you must take three things into account: firmitas (strength), utilitas (use) and venustas [beauty]’ (McEwen 2003, 199).

  6. 6.

    ‘With her unprecedented size, the highly innovative design of her hull, the largest engines that had ever been built, and her superbly efficient screw propeller, she was by far the most technically advanced boat that had ever been built. She is arguably the single most important vessel, in terms of ship design, in history’ (Brindle 2006, 131–2).

  7. 7.

    Scaffold is a term that Clark and Sterelny use frequently. It betrays a shared engineering and solution-based approach. However, with Sterelny, the image clashes with his work on apprenticeship, where the description of education and learning as scaffolding is less appropriate, given the synthesis of education process, teacher and student. He would be better served by a new take on traditional terms such as Bildung. (Løvlie et al. 2003)

  8. 8.

    Dependent on cooperation and suspicion, this communal learning has been a theme from early on in Sterelny’s work, notably on the importance of niche construction ‘in a hostile world’: ‘The fidelity of transmission depends both on individual psychological adaptations (imitation learning, deliberate teaching) and scaffolding developmental environments. But once social learning has been converted into a genuine inheritance mechanism, it allows rapid evolutionary change.’ (Sterelny 2003, 240)

  9. 9.

    The BEA final report draws attention to the pilots’ ‘total loss of cognitive control of the situation’ and recommends measures designed to improve the ‘ergonomics of information supplied’ (Flottau 2012). The problem is that for the plane and training to be certified there must have been an assumption of lack of difficulty, but this did not stand the test of the rare situation encountered by the pilots. So, when can we say that there is a genuine lack of difficulty and would it not be more sensible to assume—and train for—such difficulty?

  10. 10.

    Note that this early dependence on endorsement or trust becomes less important in later versions of Clark’s criteria. I argue that even when it falls away as criterion, it remains as part of the model for extension as a more loose assumption about reliability.

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Williams, J. Do No Harm: the Extended Mind Model and the Problem of Delayed Damage. SOPHIA 55, 71–82 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11841-016-0515-3

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Keywords

  • Extended mind
  • Harm
  • Philosophical models
  • Process philosophy
  • Andy Clark
  • Kim Sterelny