Degree Granting Department
Rebecca Kukla, Ph.D.
Shaun Gallagher, Ph.D.
Alex Levine, Ph.D.
Thomas Williams, Ph.D.
Andy Clark, Ph.D.
Embodied Cognition, Extended Cognition, Embodiment, Queer Theory, Technology, Cyborgs, Feminist Theory
In the last forty years, significant developments in neuroscience, psychology, and robotic technology have been cause for major trend changes in the philosophy of mind. One such shift has been the reallocation of focus from entirely brain-centered theories of mind to more embodied, embedded, and even extended answers to the questions, what are cognitive processes and where do we find such phenomena? Given that hypotheses such as Clark and Chalmers‘ (1998) Extended Mind or Hutto‘s (2006) Radical Enactivism, systematically undermine the organism-bound, internal, and static pictures of minds and allow instead for the distribution of cognitive processes among brains, bodies, and worlds, a worry that arises is that the very subject of cognitive science, the ‗cognizer‘ will be hopelessly opaque, its mind leaking out into the world all over the place, thereby making it impossible to rein in and properly study.
A seemingly unrelated and yet parallel trend has also taken place in feminist theorizing about the body over the last forty years. Whereas feminism of the 1970s and early 1980s tended to view ‗the body‘ as the site and matter of biological sex, while gender was a more fluid and socially constituted mode of existence, more recent feminist theory has questioned the givenness of bodies themselves. In other words, rather than seeing gender categories as manifestations of the already given sexed body, thinkers such as Butler (2000) and Lorber (1992) argue that the very notion of a body is often a product of scientific inquiry, which is itself a product of the power structures aiming to maintain a rigid binary between feminine and masculine gender roles. If the world at large plays
such a constitutive role in determining who we are, then this implies that the tools we use, the language we speak, and the power relationships in which we are enmeshed are components of what it means to be embodied in any genuine sense. For thinkers like Haraway (1988) the image of the cyborg is most fitting for this new understanding of embodied subjects, as the cyborg is a coupling of machine and human. Gender and even biological sex will always be a technologically hybridized ‗monster‘ consisting of matter, machine, and mind.
The overall aim of my project is thus to bring the two concurrent developments in theorizing about embodied subjects into discourse. As the cyborg features largely in recent feminist thought about embodiment, so too has it been a prominent metaphor in philosophy of mind, ever since Clark (2003) claimed that we ought to think of our ‗selves‘ more appropriately as Natural-Born Cyborgs. I therefore focus on this imagery as I go on to make the argument that this distributed account of cognition as well as of sexual identity is more fruitful for making progress in understanding ‗the human‘ more generally. Likewise, I argue that bringing the discussion of sex and gender into the arena of an otherwise asexual philosophy of mind, will shed light on some important facets of embodiment that have been overlooked but that ought to be addressed if we are to have an adequate account of ‗the proper subject of cognitive science.‘
My chapters include 1) a survey of the discourse between science and philosophy of mind leading to these embodied and extended approaches, 2) a first attempt at defending the extended mind thesis, 3) a discussion of how even the supposed resolution to the objections raised against extended cognition fails to properly take into account just how problematic subjectivity is, regardless of its being defined entirely organismic or not,
as organisms themselves are highly malleable and socially constituted, 4) an explanation concerning how the same problematization of embodied subjectivity is ongoing in feminist theory, especially considering the phenomenology of transgendered embodiment, intersex, and technologically mediated bodies, 5) further elaboration on technologically enhanced bodies, exposing what I see as a continuum between bodies modified by ‗hard‘ technologies, such as implants, prostheses or surgeries, and those modified by ‗soft‘ technologies, such as gender norms, the social gaze, and technologically mediated metacognition, and last, 6) an argument for the image of the cyborg to replace ‗organism‘ in cognitive science, along with the corollary argument that cyborgs ought to represent not just embodied minds, but should also be the metaphor in attempting to understand ‗embodiment‘ more generally, which must, at its roots, be underpinned by gender and sexual identity. I argue that the imagery is fitting for the proper study of cognitive subjects as well as sexed and gendered bodies, but moreover, that just as the cyborg suggests a blending and hybridizing of seemingly unrelated elements, so too should the two areas of inquiry, philosophy of mind and feminist theory, pay heed to one another‘s use of this imagery and themselves begin to be more integrative in their approaches.
Scholar Commons Citation
Merritt, Michele, "Queering Cognition: Extended Minds and Sociotechnologically Hybridized Gender" (2010). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.