In 1998, a research paper was published by two professors. A seemingly innocent question – “Where does the mind end and the rest of the world begin?” – opened an article entitled “The Extended Mind.”
Most people would agree with you if you said, “My mind is something in my head, in my brain, and the world is, well, everything else.” There are many thinkers in the fields of philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology who would agree with you.
However, the authors of the paper, philosopher Andy Clark and cognitive scientist David Chalmers, would disagree with you. They argue that technology is inextricably linked to every aspect of human thought. Computers and other technological marvels are not just mental tools, they say. No, not at all. These devices, they say, have become deeply ingrained in our thought processes. Not only that, the article went further. It also addressed how our thoughts affect our bodies, our communities, and our networks.
In response to these claims, a debate erupted among philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists. Since then, the concept of the “extended mind” has been discussed and explored in numerous contexts, and evidence is mounting.
Some of this research is discussed in The Extended Mind by Annie Murphy Paul, along with what it says about the human mind and how we are able to develop our best thinking. We want you to finish the book with a new perspective on your own mind and the minds of those around you.
You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.
At the end of this book review, I’ll also tell you the best way to get rich by reading and writing.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
The Extended Mind Book Summary
Lesson 1: Physical activity is a good way to improve our creativity, concentration, and memory.
We now know that our bodies can physically store and process unconscious information, and that we can access this wealth of knowledge if we become more attuned to our own subtle physical signals.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait for hidden knowledge to surface to improve your thinking skills. The simplest solution is to just get up and move!
One example is a study by Mayo Clinic radiologist Jeff Fidler. It compared the results of two groups of radiologists who evaluated the same X-rays. Members of the first group viewed the images while sitting at a desk, while members of the second group walked on a treadmill.
About 85% of the image abnormalities were detected by the physicians sitting down. About ninety-nine percent were detected by the physicians jogging on a treadmill.
So what exactly is happening? If exercise has this effect on thinking, why is that? That’s a good question; I suspect the answer lies somewhere in our family tree.
The lives of our ancestors on the African savannah were characterized by a series of arduous migrations. They’d to keep moving constantly to avoid detection and to find new sources of food and water.
Thinking required an improved memory, an awareness of environmental signs that indicated impending danger, and the ability to make quick judgments, all of which were inextricably linked to constant movement. Their brains specialized over time to help them do just that.
OK, back to the present and the jogging radiologists. Their better performance is probably due to the fact that our eyes become accustomed to the details of an environment the farther we move around in it. In short, walking improves our peripheral vision.
Our neural makeup has changed little from that of our earliest ancestors, even though few of us today walk for food or have to constantly look over our shoulder for sudden hazards in the environment. This shows that this exercise still has value for our cognitive processes.
However, there are a number of other fascinating connections between physical activity and the brain. For example, research has shown that linking a concept to a corresponding movement helps the brain create more robust neural pathways for long-term memory storage and retrieval. Heaven and Hell is a great game for teaching kids how to add.
Making our actions more dramatic and imaginative can also help us find new ways to solve a problem. Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, walked around his lab pretending to be a virus invading the immune system, or the immune system attacking the virus.
You no longer have to play hopscotch to remember new information, or fight imaginary battles in your head, as Salk did, to find solutions. Next, we’ll look at how even a small movement can improve your mental processes.
Lesson 2: The innate ability of humans to use gestures as a primary means of communication enables us to explore, shape, and communicate complex ideas.
Christian Heath, a scientist interested in communication, collects recordings of human interactions. After filming and analyzing countless interactions, he’s developed a keen interest in one particular body part: the hands.
In this particular case, the doctor has given the patient a prescription for an anti-inflammatory drug. To illustrate the drug, he makes a downward motion three times. Even before the doctor says the word “inflammation,” the patient nods her head to show that she understands.
The patient, who wants to tell the doctor that she’s stressed about her mounting bills, starts to move both hands in a circle, but the doctor interrupts her with an understanding nod.
Heath and others who’ve conducted similar studies have come to a simple but profound conclusion: hands come before words when it comes to thinking and speaking.
The concept of gestural anticipation makes a lot of sense. After all, people used body language to express themselves long before they could speak. All parents will be familiar with this. Linguists agree that your ancestors’ first language was most likely sign language.
Here are more helpful guides for accessing your broader mind. Go out and use your hands the next time you talk to someone. Let your guard down. When you move your hands, they either mimic the meaning you’re trying to convey or serve as emphasis markers by pointing, underlining, or highlighting something.
Also, you’ll notice in yourself that your gestures often convey an idea before your thoughts can formulate an appropriate verb. Using gestures to foreshadow.
And that brings us to the most interesting part: Your hands do some of the cognitive work for your brain by foreshadowing in your thoughts, allowing your thoughts to progress even faster. In other words, you can increase your mental processing speed through gestures.
There are other benefits to using gestures, of course. Your audience, who speak with their hands just as you do and are willing to absorb your message in both words and gestures, will appreciate how they help make the abstract concrete and more understandable.
Let’s briefly review some of the key concepts we’ve covered so far before moving on to the next lesson. First and foremost is embodied cognition. By this we mean that your brain unconsciously recognizes patterns in the data it receives from your senses, processes these patterns, and then sends signals to your body, some of which you may interpret as sensations.
Now let’s move on to interoception. Simply put, this is the process of receiving these transmissions. A trader’s intuition is what gives him the upper hand on the trading floor.
Finally, there’s the fascinating idea that you can improve your mental performance simply by moving. You may recall that radiologists who exercised on treadmills had better results than their sedentary colleagues. That’s right.
After all, we’ve found that our hands often convey the meaning of our words before they even leave our mouths. It’s important to remember that gestures not only facilitate communication, but also reduce mental load and increase processing speed.
That’s it, the mental and physical exertion is over. Now it’s time to take the next logical step and explore the world as an expanded mind. So let’s settle down in 1940s New York.
Lesson 3: The power of nature to renew and invigorate the human spirit is undeniable.
Early in his career, Jackson Pollock’s abstract works met resistance from New York art galleries. Worse, he often drank himself into exhaustion and struggled with depression. Together with his wife, artist Lee Krasner, he made a life-changing decision in 1945. They left the concrete jungle of Manhattan and settled on a dilapidated farm on Long Island.
Pollock’s new home offered a view of lush vegetation and marshes, with sunlight streaming through the surrounding trees. The breeze off Long Island Sound would leave a salty aftertaste in his mouth. Later, he went to his studio, a converted barn, to work on his art. There he connected with a force greater than himself, creating paintings that were at once tame and wild, groundbreaking works of art.
It is reassuring to know that the conventional wisdom about the healing propertiesof nature – and trees in particular – is being confirmed by a growing body of research. There is evidence that patients who can see trees from their hospital rooms require fewer pain medications. People with depression tend to think less negatively when they walk through a wooded park than when they see an urban street.
But the effects of nature go far beyond relieving emotional distress. Spending time in nature has also been found to improve mental performance. The University of Chicago found that people who walked through an arboretum performed better on a working memory test than those who walked around a city block.
So what’s the reason?
Nature’s busy yet calming visual field may contribute to its influence on our thoughts. It offers the viewer an intricate play of layers and light, but these complicated interactions often result in recognisable patterns. Leaves on a fern, ripples in a pond, or a mountain range are all examples. Shapes in nature tend to repeat themselves over and over, sometimes expanding, other times contracting.
Another study found that proximity to these fractals (naturally occurring, repeating patterns) improves navigation and spatial awareness.
This brings us back to Pollock and his paintings. Perhaps it was the rhythms of nature that triggered his creativity after he moved to Long Island. He was so liberated and inspired by the landscape surrounding him that he splashed paint in fractal patterns across landscape-sized canvases.
However, there is another possibility that contributed to Pollock’s transformation. Perhaps he felt a sense of awe as he gazed across Long Island Sound, taking in the vastness and wildness of the water.
Evidence shows that the experience of awe stimulates creative thinking. Think of the unique kind of awe you feel when looking at a majestic mountain or a deep canyon. This feeling is similar to that of happiness, but it also contains a healthy dose of worry.
For some reason, this feeling of awe seems to have the opposite effect than closing yourself off and feeling small, making you feel both small and full of potential. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, found that people who are overwhelmed by awe rely less on their own preconceived notions.
The great outdoors may be inspiring, but that does not mean it’s ideal for every kind of contemplation. Sometimes a safe haven is necessary.
Lesson 4: We can find safety and strength in the ideal built environment for deep and sophisticated thinking.
If you want to extend your stay on Long Island, follow Pollock to his barn turned studio. After all, he did not take his brush out into the fields to paint his most famous works. He did that inside, in the safety of his studio.
All of Pollock’s tools – brushes, painting knives, jugs of turpentine, and the various sticks he had collected – were on display in his studio. Everything was in its place, reflecting his unique preferences. Many of the walls around him were covered with canvases that were either partially or completely unfinished. The door was locked, and the noise and bustle of the village, not to mention New York City, seemed very far away.
It was clear that Pollock owned the studio in which he worked. What you are about to read is crucial. Respect for personal space and the security of one’s own property were encouraged. This is the ideal environment for sustained, high-level, creative and analytical thinking. This has been proven in at least one study.
Psychologist Craig Knight and researcher Alex Haslam created four different office environments, each of which offered varying degrees of autonomy for test subjects. The most significant productivity and happiness gains occurred in workplaces where employees had free rein in arranging furniture and decorating their workspace. In short, when people felt that their work was important, they were more successful.
Other studies of office environments have found that providing employees with some degree of privacy (e.g., a door and the ability to choose who enters) increases their sense of agency, which in turn enhances creativity.
These findings do not bode well for the concept of the open-plan office, which was emerging at the end of the 20th century. There is evidence that employees concentrate less, trust each other less, and are less creative when their office has no walls.
Many people who work in an office can attest that it’s nearly impossible to concentrate on reading or writing when it’s too noisy. The constant barrage of words flooding our ears and eyes is a constant battle for mental space.
Similarly, when a face enters our field of vision, we find it hard to ignore. There is an evolutionary basis for this tendency. Because of our gregarious nature, we can not help but look at the faces around us and read their gazes for signs of opportunity or danger. This feeling of being constantly watched, combined with the effort required to stay up to date on social media, can be exhausting.
Add to that the fact that a tired brain falls back on simple tropes and assumptions. In other words, we get dumber because we work in open-plan offices.
These types of workspaces have become popular because they are less expensive and offer greater potential for more teamwork. As we will see in the following section, the expanded mind benefits greatly from group work. But first, let us take some time to consider how our personal environment influences and shapes our thoughts.
The Extended Mind Book Review
The Extended Mind is a great book I’d like to recommend to anyone who is interested in personal development. If you spend some time digesting the ideas, it might make a positive impact on your life.
Whether you believe in the extended mind or not, the most important thing to learn from this book is that your mind is not an island unto itself. It extends far beyond the confines of your head and permeates your entire being, from cells to organs to objects and people in your immediate environment.
From high-frequency traders who learn to read subtle physical cues to make decisions, to renowned artists and scientists who draw inspiration from their surroundings to develop new ideas and solve problems, to physics students who develop truly independent and novel ways of thinking through interaction with other students: When the mind is free to grow beyond the confines of the skull, remarkable things can be accomplished.
How To Get Rich By Reading and Writing?
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