Essay 2, Draft 1
Response to: The Extended Mind by David Chalmers

External Memory as Beyond-Body Experience

Memory is not confined by the physical limits of brain matter. It is external as well. It can be located in the tools that we use and the people that surround us. The external memory is more than a convenient reservoir for an overflow of information. It is the way that we extend perception beyond our immediate experiences. It provides a filter by which to gain increased understanding of ourselves. It validates us. It allows us to live outside our familiar bodies and it is the best way that we can hope to continue life after we are gone.

The extended memory extends experience beyond the individual, physical self. Emily Dickinson said it very well when she said: “I never saw a moor; I never saw the sea, Yet know I how the heather looks, And what a billow be.” Her perception was extended by the experiences of others through their records and their words. She didn’t see the moor, but others did and they recorded those experiences in text and shared them with words and those words were spread again and again until perhaps they are only an illusion of a moor but however indefinite that concept of moor may have become, the essential memory of its’ existence spread beyond the confines of immediate observers.

The memory located within another person provides a unique interpretation of our own thoughts and actions. Those memories that are stored within other people are subjected to the filter of their experiences and understanding. This opens the possibility that we can understand ourselves differently, perhaps even better, as we look through the lenses of the “other.” Understanding of self is not vanity or self-indulgence. It is the path by which we gain wisdom.

This increased understanding is important of course, but more important than understanding is validation. Extended memory validates our existence.  A few days ago I had a conversation with my mother on “the magic messenger,” known to the techno-literate as “face book messenger.” This is a transcript of the conversation:

Mom: It’s kind of funny that I will spend $10 a jar on Bloody Mary mix, then pay another $50 to ship the Bloody Mary mix but then save all the padded envelopes for reuse to “save money.” It is the hoarder in me I guess.

Destin: Yes, it is very strange. But… I have a list of strange things.

Mom: I know. I try not to judge since my own list is so long.

Destin: I was talking about –your- list.

(Image of Snarky Dinosaur saying “Denied”)

Mom: You have a list of MY strange things? How disconcerting!

Me: (no response)

Mom: (an hour later) Don’t know why, by that is comforting in some odd way.

Beyond the witty repartee, there is something meaningful and my mother touched it when she said it was comforting to know that I remembered her strangeness. Part of her exists in my memory. She is extended outside of her life and into mine. If ever anyone claims that she does not exist, I can say that if I exist, she does as well. The complexity of her personality is, at least partly, resident in me.

Shared memories and shared experiences are like time capsules that maintain segmented portions of self in distinct bundles. We are constantly evolving machines of cognition. What we are today is not the same as yesterday and will be different again tomorrow. Sometimes, it is quite easy to forget what our past was like. Extended memory is a database of information to remind us of who we were which will help us to form who we will be.

This is particularly impactful when you consider the vulnerability of our minds. Illness and disease can damage or destroy the delicate biological components of the brain. If the brain is lost, where then do we house our consciousness? If part of it is housed within other people, that part may remain beyond the ravages of time. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are terrifying, particularly after you have watched close family members slowly loose themselves until identity is entirely external to the body. No one can look at the withered body of a parent who no longer has any knowledge of themselves and believe that they maintain more than the barest trace of their identity. It becomes the privilege of the ones remaining to preserve them through the extension of memory.

Death does not have to be the ultimate end. Death removes us from physical existence. It removes access to our bodies and the memories that reside in brain meat but if some of us is diffuse in the minds of those we interact with, then some of us continues to exist even after death. Some of our memories and experiences will go on when our bodies are gone. And so, extended memory becomes our afterlife.

There is no need to jealously regard our memories as the domain of synapse and grey matter. We are not so bound. Our memory exists in many forms across many spectra. This shared web of information extends the depth and breadth of our perception. We exist, in perpetuity, in an out-of-body state that is defined by the collective will of the people with whom we are connected. As such, even death cannot deconstruct all that we are.
Essay 2, Notes from Professor Aldrich
Response to: The Extended Mind by David Chalmers

External Memory as Beyond-Body Experience

Memory is not confined by the physical limits of brain matter. It is external as well. It can be located in the tools that we use and the people that surround us. The external memory is more than a convenient reservoir for an overflow of information. It is the way that we extend perception beyond our immediate experiences. It provides a (1) filter by which to gain increased understanding of ourselves. (2) It validates us. It (3) allows us to live outside our familiar bodies and it (4) is the best way that we can hope to continue life after we are gone.

… I will look to find an explanation for each of this iterated below…

Okey dokey. I presume that I did that.

The extended memory extends experience beyond the individual, physical self. Emily Dickinson said it very well when she said: “I never saw a moor; I never saw the sea, Yet know I how the heather looks, And what a billow be.” Her perception was extended by the experiences of others through their records and their words. She didn’t see the moor, but others did and they recorded those experiences in text and shared them with words and those words were spread again and again until perhaps they are only an illusion of a moor but however indefinite that concept of moor may have become, the essential memory of its’ existence spread beyond the confines of immediate observers.

… is this an example of externalizing memory? …or appropriating someone else’s expressions of memory?…

I don’t think that there is a difference. The reading suggests that memory could be extended by any external information. We could record a list but we could also access someone else’s list. We can access a map drawn by someone else. More extreme, we could store things in a hard drive and somehow biologically connect it to our brains. It would not necessarily be our own memories in that drive.

Perhaps using a poem distracted from the point. I don’t think it invalidates the point but maybe it isn’t good in this type of essay. On the other hand, I am already extending pretty far outside the original field of study by applying the idea of the extended mind to the concept of an afterlife. Using poetry to add to my point doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. It was kind of meant to make the point that the idea is more than cognitive science.

The memory located within another person provides a unique interpretation of our own thoughts and actions. Those memories that are stored within other people are subjected to the filter of their experiences and understanding. This opens the possibility that we can understand ourselves differently, perhaps even better, as we look through the lenses of the “other.” Understanding of self is not vanity or self-indulgence. It is the path by which we gain wisdom.

This increased understanding is important of course, but more important than understanding is validation. Extended memory validates our existence. A few days ago I had a conversation with my mother on “the magic messenger,” known to the techno-literate as “face book messenger.” This is a transcript of the conversation:

Mom: It’s kind of funny that I will spend $10 a jar on Bloody Mary mix, then pay another $50 to ship the Bloody Mary mix but then save all the padded envelopes for reuse to “save money.”          It is the hoarder in me I guess.

Destin: Yes, it is very strange. But… I have a list of strange things.

Mom: I know. I try not to judge since my own list is so long.

Destin: I was talking about –your- list.

(Image of Snarky Dinosaur saying “Denied”)

Mom: You have a list of MY strange things? How disconcerting!

Me: (no response)

Mom: (an hour later) Don’t know why, by that is comforting in some odd way.

Beyond the witty repartee, there is something meaningful and my mother touched it when she said it was comforting to know that I remembered her strangeness. Part of her exists in my memory. She is extended outside of her life and into mine. If ever anyone claims that she does not exist, I can say that if I exist, she does as well. The complexity of her personality is, at least partly, resident in me.

…and if your memories are inaccurate or inexact, what does that mean about your mother’s existence?…

I am not sure if I should add this to the essay. I actually considered it when I was writing but felt it would take me too far off topic. I think that my memories are inaccurate and inexact. After all, I am a filter of her experiences. But really, pretty much all information is inaccurate and inexact in some form. Every filter changes it and alters it a little.

I think that is why the conversation with my mother made me think about the topic. It was her statement that it is “comforting in some odd way” that made it important. She was validating my right to keep her in my memory and maybe still acknowledging that my perception of her alters her, makes her different. But… even if she is different, she exists in some form. That is in some ways, like the poem. Emily Dickinson may never have seen a Moor but she had a conception of it, even if it was imperfect. My Mom may not be what I perceive, but I will carry with me a conception of her. It’s an interesting thought. I guess that gives people power over us. They hold a form of us in their minds. When we are gone and that is all that is left, what will we be?

Shared memories and shared experiences are like time capsules that maintain segmented portions of self in distinct bundles. We are constantly evolving machines of cognition. What we are today is not the same as yesterday and will be different again tomorrow. Sometimes, it is quite easy to forget what our past was like. Extended memory is a database of information to remind us of who we were which will help us to form who we will be.

… I believe that most cognitive scientists would disagree that memory is a database that we pull from, extended or not….

I see that. You are right. That was a poor metaphor. It is also not all that relevant to the argument. All that really matters is that it provides some of the knowledge and perception that we use to form ourselves.

This is particularly impactful when you consider the vulnerability of our minds. Illness and disease can damage or destroy the delicate biological components of the brain. If the brain is lost, where then do we house our consciousness? If part of it is housed within other people, that part may remain beyond the ravages of time. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are terrifying, particularly after you have watched close family members slowly loose themselves until identity is entirely external to the body. No one can look at the withered body of a parent who no longer has any knowledge of themselves and believe that they maintain more than the barest trace of their identity. It becomes the privilege of the ones remaining to preserve them through the extension of memory.

Destin, what if all members of your extended memory consortium have cognitive disorders? … then is this not true?…

actually, I think it is still true but perhaps sadder. I think it goes back to what I said above about inaccurate memories. Everything is filtered. Filtering it through cognitive disorders removes it even further from the original (if the original is even accessible, but that’s another issue). I think this is some of why we fear mental illness so much. In some ways, memory is the only afterlife we have any proof of. If cognitive disorders, ours or our extended members, cause the perception of us to be too far from what we perceive as true, in some sense, we are lost. If we are still living, we have progressive moments in which we can exist and reassert and recreate ourselves. If this occurs after death, then … well, there isn’t really anything left at all.

Death does not have to be the ultimate end. Death removes us from physical existence. It removes access to our bodies and the memories that reside in brain meat but if some of us is diffuse in the minds of those we interact with, then some of us continues to exist even after death. Some of our memories and experiences will go on when our bodies are gone. And so, extended memory becomes our afterlife.

There is no need to jealously regard our memories as the domain of synapse and grey matter. We are not so bound. Our memory exists in many forms across many spectra. This shared web of information extends the depth and breadth of our perception. We exist, in perpetuity, in an out-of-body state that is defined by the collective will of the people with whom we are connected. As such, even death cannot deconstruct all that we are.

This is a very romantic response to the Clark/Chalmers essay, but I am not sure they would agree with your conclusions, which is fine, but the connection of your ideas to theirs seems tenuous.

The wording said “appeal to imagination.” This is how I picked my topics. Maybe I am being too heavily influenced by the other classes. This seems to be what we are being asked to do in Creative Concepts as well. I did not write a very specific response because that isn’t how I perceived the assignment. However, I would be glad to go back and do something more specific. I actually have a lot of ideas about these readings. I could write a new essay. What do you think? This brings up a lot of questions about the validity and reliability of information. You touched on that with your questions. It also has some interesting ethical issues. If we extend our mind beyond ourselves, how does that influence our responsibility for the spread of information? Maybe I could address intimacy? The mind extended beyond ourselves does imply connection to things. Does my list become a part of myself like my body? DO I bestow intimacy on items based on their connection to mind? Does this extend to people? Even if I don’t write a new essay, it would be nice to know whether other ideas would make better choices.

… please go to the opening paragraph and see if the iterated list of contentions are expanded on and clarified specifically in this essay…

If they are not, you are going to need to tell me where. I wouldn’t have listed them if I wasn’t going to talk about them. I suspect they were edited and revised multiple times throughout the writing. That is my usual pattern. I brainstorm, outline, organize, write, revise and then check my structure. Sometimes it doesn’t happen perfectly, especially if I am on a time-table. I have been known to alter my writing after the fact and forget to remove a point from the introduction, but I don’t think I did so this time. If I am missing something, please tell me what it is.