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“I think therefore I am” Or am I?

Is our understanding of the world around us entirely the product of our thoughts? Is our memory strictly locked away and bound within our mind? Descarte’s famous quote seems to suggest just that. It is our capacity to think which forms our reality.

But, this age old saying is facing some opposition in contemporary theory and philosophy. Two key theorists in the extension of the mind are Alva Noë and Bernard Stiegler. Each argue that the human body is completely embedded within the environment. As Noë explains in ‘Does thinking happen in the brain?’, ‘we are embodied and also bound to and embedded in the world around us'(Noë 2010). Therefore it is the combination of the mind, the physical body and our environment which allows us to build memories and perceive the world.

This can be seen in Doug Liman’s 2002 movie, ‘The Bourne Identity’, where Jason Bourne a government trained assassin suffers amnesia. Throughout the movie Bourne slowly rediscovers his idenitity as certain places and people ‘trigger’ his memory. It is this notion of physical objects being able to ‘trigger’ our memory which has led Stiegler to suggest that our memory has always been essentially ‘technical’ (Stiegler, n.d.) or partly externalised. Stiegler believes that there are two different types of memory Anamnesis or ‘natural’ memory and Hypomnesis an ‘extended’ memory; one that requires external ‘triggers’ in order to be recalled.

As technology has evolved more and more of our memory has become externalised with the development of devices, which have the capacity to store memory, such as a mobile phone (capable of storing phone numbers, important dates, text messages). These technologies are known as ‘mnemotechnologies’.

The notion of an external memory and the development of mnemotechnologies help to comprehend Noë’s  theory that our perception and feelings surrounding our environment and interaction with it are not just created within our mind. Rather they are inextricbly linked to our physical experience of our environment. As Noë states experiences are “something we achieve, something we do actively”. More technically put perception is created through ‘neural correlates’ (Noë 2010) that is ‘the activation of systems in the brain and nervous system'(Noë 2010). Therefore it is both the combination of the mind and the body, which forms our understanding of our environment.

It is also important to note that our perception is effected by our memory of previous events we have encountered just as our memory is effected by our perception of our experiences (Murphie, n.d.).

There is no denying the importance of the mind in our ability to comprehend our surroundings but, the mind would be unable to hear without our ears and we would be unable to walk without our legs. In order to experience the world around us fully and develop both our own perceptions and memories the mind is extended into our physical bodies and beyond. So maybe ‘I interact therefore I am’.





Chalmers, D 2009, ‘The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc>

Dalton, S. (n.d.), ‘e sense’ <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHTtri5jGDc>

Kay, A <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50L44hEtVos>

Murphie, A (n.d.), ‘Some notes on Memory, Media, Time and Perception’,


Noë, A (2010) ‘Does thinking happen in the brain?’, 13:7 Cosmos and Culture<http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/12/10/131945848/does-thinking-happen-in-the-brain>

Noë, A and Solano, M B (2008) ‘dance as a way of knowing: interview with Alva Noë’, <http://www.dance-tech.net/video/1462368:Video:19594>

Stiegler, B (n.d.), ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation’ <http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis>

Wikipedia 2011, The Extended Mind, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Mind>


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