Extended Minds in Vats

In Sanford Goldberg (ed.), The Brain in a Vat. Cambridge University Press. pp. 54-72 (2016)
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Hilary Putnam has famously argued that “we are brains in a vat” is necessarily false. The argument assumes content externalism (also known as semantic externalism and anti-individualism), that is, the view that the individuation conditions of mental content depend, in part, on external or relational properties of the subject’s environment. Recently content externalism has given rise to the hypothesis of the extended mind, whereby mental states are not only externally individuated but also externally located states. This chapter argues that when content externalism is combined with the extended mind hypothesis it is robbed of its anti-skeptical power. Given the extended mind hypothesis, the supercomputer and the envatted brain can be regarded as aspects of the extended mind of the evil scientist. On this view, the thought contents of the coupled brain–computer–scientist system do not differ from those of a normal human. But without a difference in thought contents Putnam’s anti-skeptical argument crumbles.
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