Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Clark on AI, extended mind, neurodiversity and psychosis

Andy Clark is a British philosopher and cognitive scientist, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh. He has taught at the University of Sussex, the University of Washington in Seattle and Indiana University in Bloomington.

Particularly known for his research on the theory of the extended mind, which he developed with David Chalmers, he takes an interdisciplinary approach to the philosophy of mind, cognitive science and artificial intelligence, with an interest in predictive perception.

Extended mind 

Andy Clark and David Chalmers paper The Extended Mind (1998), explored the idea that the mind extends beyond the human brain to include our tools and environment. They hold that objects in the environment can become part of the mind, extending cognitive processes beyond our physical bodies. This concept has had a significant impact on philosophy, cognitive science, and discussions about the nature of consciousness. It is here they introduce the 'parity principle', where if an external object performs a function that, if done in the head, we would have no hesitation in recognising as a mental process, then that external process should be considered part of the cognitive process. Using Tetris to illustrate their point, they argue that rotating the Tetris blocks mentally or by pressing a button to physically rotate them are equivalent cognitive processes. This theory extends the traditional view that cognition is brain-bound, suggesting that the mind can encompass tools, environments, and other individuals.

In Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (2008), he explores the extended mind, where our mental events and consciousness reach out into the world, using technologies from simple tools such as pens through to smartphones and artificial intelligence. This was followed up by the co-authored Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind (2015) which takes the embodied mind idea further with his theory of predictive processing and how the brain deals with uncertainty through prediction.

The extended mind is the idea that mind, body, and tools are all part of a coupled system that forms the basis of cognitive processes, that human cognition is deeply intertwined with the physical body and the external environment, suggesting that tools and technologies become integral parts of our mental processes. This perspective has implications for how we understand both natural intelligence and artificial intelligence.

Predictive engine

Regarding the mind as a predictive engine, Clark, along with other cognitive scientists, supports the idea of predictive processing or predictive coding. The brain engages in a sort of controlled hallucination, constantly making predictions about incoming sensory information and updating its models of the world based on the prediction errors it receives. More than this, the mind is an anticipatory mechanism, always trying to reduce the difference between what it expects and what it experiences. This view of the mind aligns with Karl Friston's work on the free-energy principle, which Clark has written about and integrated into his own work.

These theories see the brain from the inside out, rather than outside in. The brain is constantly running a model of the world and actively monitoring the world with weighted predictions with attention mechanisms.

Artificial Intelligence

Clark's work often intersects with discussions on AI, as he reflects on how technology continuously shapes and extends our cognitive repertoire. He sees AI as potentially becoming part of the human cognitive system, extending our minds beyond their natural boundaries and suggests that the integration of AI into human cognition can enhance and transform our mental capabilities.


The extended mind has implications in teaching and learning. It accepts the fact that technology is part of the way we can both teach and learn with the added provision that it is how we actually operate in the real world. We are extended minds and need to see ourselves in that light. Artificial intelligence, especially generative AI, which uses our cultural heritage as data, is in a sense ‘us’. 

We no longer see technology, such as drawing and writing instruments, that have been with is for around 50,000 years, as technology. The pen and pencil are invisible as technology. And so it will be with artificial intelligence. It will be folded into what it is to be human.

Neurodiversity and psychosis

One consequence of the predictive, computational model of the brain is its ability to explain neurodiversity, autism, mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and hallucinogenic drug experiences. Predictive processing models suggest that psychosis can arise from disruptions in the brain's ability to accurately predict sensory input, leading to hallucinations or delusions. Similarly, the effects of drugs on perception and cognition can be understood as alterations in the brain's predictive models, changing the way it interprets sensory information or the level of confidence it has in its predictions. Dreams can also be seen as a state where the brain generates internal predictions absent of external sensory input. This could explain the often bizarre and illogical nature of dreams, as the brain's predictive models operate without the grounding of real-world sensory data.

He also sees mediation as a form of control over these predictive engines. Our brains turn incoming data upside down, get confused when faced with alternatives and do have do deal with prediction error signals.


Just because a tool is crucial for a cognitive process, it doesn't mean it becomes part of the mind. The distinction between being merely a useful aid and actually constituting part of the mind is controversial. There are also questions about how far this extension goes and what qualifies as a part of the extended mind. 


Clark, A., (2023). The experience machine: How our minds predict and shape reality. Pantheon.

Clark, A. (2008). Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Clark, A. (2003). Natural-born cyborgs: Minds, technologies, and the future of human intelligence. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The Extended Mind. Analysis, 58, 7-19.

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