Minds in the Matrix: Embodied Cognition and Virtual Reality (2nd edition)

In Lawrence A. Shapiro (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Embodied Cognition. New York: Routledge (2014)
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The present chapter discusses the implications of virtual reality for the theory and practice of embodied cognitive science. The chapter discusses how recent technological innovations are poised to reshape our understanding of the materially-embodied and environmentally-situated mind, providing us with a new means of studying the mechanisms responsible for intelligent behavior. The chapter also discusses how a synthetically-oriented shift in our approach to embodied intelligence alters our view of familiar problems, most notably the distinction between embedded and extended cognition. The chapter concludes by challenging the idea that virtual worlds ought to be seen as nothing more than a scientific ‘sandpit’ for the study of the embodied mind. Some forms of embodied intelligence can, I suggest, exist solely in virtual reality. In this sense, the ‘Matrix’ is not just a means of testing ideas about the forms of embodied intelligence that inhabit our own physical reality; it is also a means of creating entirely new forms of embodied intelligence. It is by building virtual worlds that we open the door to a new reality—one that is home to a potentially infinite variety of embodied, embedded, and perhaps even extended beings.

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Paul Smart
University of Southampton


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