Beyond boundaries
: from extended to bio-semiotic minds

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy


In recent years researchers from a variety of cognitive science disciplines have been challenging some of the core assumptions of the dominant cognitivist theoretical framework, including the abstract disembodied functionalism of information-processing models. In its place an alternative situated cognition paradigm has gradually emerged, one which sees cognition as deeply embodied-embedded and no longer the sole product of information-processing brains.

The extended mind hypothesis (EMH), proposed by Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998) in the now famous "The Extend Mind" paper, offers one particular approach to this new conception of cognition. In it the authors argue that, cognitive and mental processes are not exclusively located inside the cranium of individuals, but rather, are at times unbounded and constituted by bodily and environmental resources which agents routinely deal with. However, exactly what cognition is, remains unaddressed. This dissertation takes this question as its point of departure.
Thus EMH is read as being grounded upon two core motivations. The first, more selfevident motivation, relates to the extended nature of cognitive boundaries. The second relates to the self-proclaimed challenge it makes on traditional cognitivists accounts of cognition.
After an appraisal, it is concluded that the EMH remains deeply committed to cognitivism and as such, should be considered as part of traditional cognitive science rather than as an opposition to it. Nonetheless, inspired by its two central motivations, it is proposed that these could be saved, if a location-neutral, non-cognitivist, non species-specific "mark of the cognitive" can be provided. The second half of this dissertation is then dedicated towards this goal.
Drawing primarily from the work of Jakob von Uexküll and the field of biosemiotics, I propose a conception of cognition as rooted in organismic life and as emergent from a biological autonomous agent's capacity for natural semiosis. It is argued that cognition is a natural biological process of goal-directed organism-environment systems striving for self-maintenance through sign-mediated adaptive functional cycles. The most fundamental cognitive capacity a system can have, is the ability to read and interpret, meaningful natural signs.
Date of Award2 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMatteo Mameli (Supervisor)

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