The World as the Extended Mind

That the tools and tech­no­lo­gies we use act as exten­sions to our brains is noth­ing new: this is the exten­ded mind the­ory. Indeed, last year I poin­ted to Carl Zim­mer arguing that Google–and thus the Inter­net as a whole–was an exten­ded mind.

How­ever, Scott Adams’ take on the ‘exo­brain’ is sim­ul­tan­eously the most con­cise and com­pre­hens­ive I’ve seen:

I’m fas­cin­ated by the phe­nomen­on of manip­u­lat­ing our envir­on­ment to extend our brains. I sup­pose it all star­ted with early humans carving on cave walls as a way to store his­tor­ic­al data. Now we have ebooks, com­puters, and cell phones to store our memor­ies. […] Even a house is a device for stor­ing data. Spe­cific­ally, a house stores data on how it was built. A skilled build­er can study a house and build anoth­er just like it.

Everything we cre­ate becomes a de facto data stor­age device and brain access­ory. A wall can be a phys­ic­al stor­age device for land sur­vey data, it can be a remind­er of his­tory, and it can be a trig­ger of per­son­al memor­ies.

A busi­ness is also a way to store data. As a res­taur­ant own­er, I was fas­cin­ated at how employ­ees came and went, but their best ideas often stayed with the busi­ness, espe­cially in the kit­chen. The res­taur­ant was like a giant data fil­ter. The bad ideas were tested and deleted while the good ideas stayed, most often without being writ­ten down. […]

I sup­pose oth­er creatures use their envir­on­ment for stor­ing inform­a­tion, or pro­gram­ming their brains in lim­ited ways. But I assume humans export the highest per­cent­age of brain func­tion to their envir­on­ment, and it grows daily. […] Humans are turn­ing the entire plan­et into an exo­brain. Our brains can­’t hold all of the data we pro­duce, so we look for ways to off­load to books, web­sites, music, and archi­tec­ture, to name a few stor­age devices. And we manip­u­late the envir­on­ment to repro­gram our brains as needed.

via The Browser and Kot­tke