Retiring the “Cinderella view”: the spinal cord as an intrabodily cognitive extension

Biology and Philosophy 36 (5):1-25 (2021)
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Within the field of neuroscience, it is assumed that the central nervous system is divided into two functionally distinct components: the brain, which does the cognizing, and the spinal cord, which is a conduit of information enabling the brain to do its job. We dub this the “Cinderella view” of the spinal cord. Here, we suggest it should be abandoned. Marshalling recent empirical findings, we claim that the spinal cord is best conceived as an intrabodily cognitive extension: a piece of biological circuitry that, together with the brain, constitutes our cognitive engine. To do so, after a brief introduction to the anatomy of the spinal cord, we briefly present a number of empirical studies highlighting the role played by the spinal cord in cognitive processing. Having so done, we claim that the spinal cord satisfies two popular and often endorsed criteria used to adjudicate cases of cognitive extension; namely the parity principle and the so-called “trust and glue” criteria. This, we argue, is sufficient to vindicate the role of the spinal cord as an intrabodily mental extension. We then steel our case considering a sizable number of prominent anti-extension arguments, showing that none of them poses a serious threat to our main claim. We then conclude the essay, spelling out a number of far-from trivial implications of our view.

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