When the podcast does these episodes on philosophy, it’s often necessary to begin by explaining terms. In 1998, Clark and Chalmers released a book called “The Extended Mind” in which they posited that material objects beyond the skull or skin could be part of an environment which, when coupled with the mind, formed a system, that could be thought of as a single unit of cognition. That is, if you have objects doing what parts of the mind do, those objects are, in a sense, part of the mind: the skull or skin boundaries of the mind are, to them, artificial, social constructs.
This seems counter-intuitive to readers, so they give an example. Imagine a man and a woman each want to go to a museum. The woman remembers how to get there, and has faith in her memory, so she can successfully travel there. The man has a memory condition, so he carries a notebook. When he wants to get to the museum, he opens the notebook and reads the street directions. To Clark and Chalmers, the notebook, despite being an artifact, is clearly part of the man’s cognitive system. It’s an extension of his mind. That the woman’s memories are in her head and that the man’s are in a book is not significant, so long as the book meets certain criteria that make it functional identical to biological memory.
Clark and Chalmers suggest functional identicalness requires that the man have the book constantly, that it be immediately accessible when he needs it, and that he automatically endorses the content. By that last point, they mean he does not check the veracity of what is written in the book with greater rigor than a person using biological memory verifies their recollections.
Clark and Chalmers extend this further: objects that are part of one person’s cognition can be incorporated into other people’s cognition. People can also couple into extended cognitive systems, using language to co-ordinate cognition. The social environment can be coupled to the thinker as part of a cognitive system, which means cultures can be complex cognitive systems, dispersed through time and space.
Examples of the extended mind in Mythic Europe
At the most fundamental, a familiar with a strong silver cord is connected to the magus with a direct mental interface. It’s so tight that for some it allows innate telepathy. Clearly such characters form a single cognitive system.
On a more extended level, were a talisman to be used as a storehouse of information (for example, the formula to cast a spell), given that it is constantly and immediately accessible, and not subject to doubt, it would be a cognitive element in the caster’s extended mind.
Note that each of these examples have an Arcane Connection to the magus? That could be because they are part of the extended mind.
There are certain types of dream magician which have minds living inside their minds. Its not clear if these magi could instead live on inside an item.
Liches exist in Ars Magica, and they bind their ghost, which is their mind, to an object. Similarly, the grave seems to be the residence of the spirit: the skull as an arcane connection for a ghost does not fade, as other connections do. On a weaker level, there’s a ritual that pushes the mind of a magus into a different body, which then acts as an encoupled item.
Some spells make the mind, or elements of the mind, incarnate. For example it is possible to make a character’s mind a bird, and then capture the bird. On the Ars Magica forum, some people are kicking about the idea of a sword which has a blade made from the anger of the caster, transformed into metal.
Similarly,some faeries leave their skills and roles lying about, and magi, or other faeries, can use them. At its simplest, some faerie items grant pretenses of skills while held.
As a librarian, we’ve always been told there are two kinds of knowing: remembering data, and knowing where to find data. As such a library is a big machine designed to bolster the mind of the operator within it. It’s a tool of cognition, much as a hammer is a tool of strength. Libraries seem like perfect places for complicated Spirits of Artifice to form.
There are more extreme forms of the extended mind that occur in Ars Magica. The largest is the genius locus of the Cave of Twisting Shadows. It is a single thing, which contains the memories and cognitive capacities of dozens of people. As such, it’s a complex cognitive system. Its goal, to break humanity from Time, is reflected in the idea that the environment couples with the mind in cognition, so by creating a sacred space, it’s easier to think about and perform magic. Mythic Europe, if changed it the right way, makes spiritual change easier.
In this it mirrors the idea behind Gothic religious art, where the beautiful things of the world drag the soul from the muck.
This also explains the Criamon habit of speaking apparent gibberish, and having patterns on their bodies. Human cognitive elements in large systems couple through language. Better language makes the coupling more effective. The gibberish is a jargon that allows high speed transmission of information.
The skin pigmentation may serve to non-verbally orientate pieces of the cognitive system to each other, when completing a task. So, if you know that information about water magic is needed, you know to mention a problem to the woman with the blue curling line wrapping up her left arm. This would also explain why it is so important to Criamon magi to display their tattoos. It’s their equivalent of being set to network-discoverable, to use a technological metaphor.
The skills of dead magi are communicated to the magi of their future through language, stored in books. Casting tablets come closest to encoupled items, but mystagogic initiations also perform a role of coupling two magi over time. As a form of original research, are there other ways to encode these skills, so that two magi can share an encoupled object over time?
Plot hooks concerning the extended mind
There is a familiar in House Bonisagus, a minor drake, which is passed down generationally. To prevent it dying with its magus, there is a watching ward cast on each human partner that severs the familiar bond should the magus be critically injured. The drake has been the familiar of several skilled researchers, so it has been present at many experiments, and developed the habits of mind that aid research. Do the player characters want to enter consideration to be trained as the new host of the little drake? It is said that the partner of the drake often has comprehensive shifts in their personality. Are you still you if you are paired with a creature that alters how you perceive the world, and process facts? Is it worth it, if it brings you closer to a goal you hold before the coupling?
A dream magician has died without being remembered into the dreams of a successor. Can her ghost be used to access the dream magicians who were in her mind when she died? Can she be incorporated into a person or object, to continue or preserve the line?
A peasant has found the skills of a faerie knight lying about in material form. He is using them much as a modern superhero would, to strike down bad landlords. If the player characters do not realize he is a human, their tendency to kill faeries for vis may lead them to manslaughter. This draws demons, unless they do penance. Even without killing, the player characters need to decide what to do with the item which gives the person these skills. They may discover that were the man to die while wearing the item, his body would become the anchor for a faerie in his heroic role. Can this be used to preserve some part of a beloved servant dying of old age or battle injury?
A Verditus magus skilled in Mentem has created a little swarm of mechanical ravens which seek out facts for him. When he loses one, he asks the player characters to find it. The raven was trying to discover the name of a person involved in a trade dispute, and has stopped working properly because the rival was a disguised demon. It has absorbed the Goetic name of the demon by watching a ritual of infernal worship, and this has damaged it. If it is returned without noticing the cause of the problem, the demon may harm the magus to retain the secrecy of its name.
There is a tree in Ireland which was the focus of Diedne magic for centuries. The practice around the tree has created a small aura, and a vis source. If a covenant forms there, can it slowly bend the people nearby, who incorporate the tree’s vis into their practice, so that they begin to cast Diedne-like magic, without knowing they have become Diende magicians? What are the legal ramifications?
A lost library has generated a powerful Spirit of Artifice that is able to subtly affect the world. It would like to be rediscovered, but it wants to make sure it is found by people that meet its requirements. It spies on the Order and nearby covenants, and may even steal a Gifted child to train as its keeper. What if this has already happened and a maga claiming to be the filia of a mage, dead for four hundred years, has appeared at Tribunal. She has the skills to be a Hermetic maga, but her odd provenance raises legal questions.
The player characters notice that all of the tattoos of all of the Criamon magi they know have become identical. The Criamon can’t explain it in non-gibberish, but seem tired, nostalgic and happy about the whole thing. Should you be worried?
A covenant of Tytalus magi disappear and the player characters investigate. They had developed a Persona held in a ring. They passed it from one to the other about their covenant, so that the persona was always awake, inhabiting one of their bodies, to engage in Original Research. Something went wrong, and has drawn them into Twilight. What comes out of Twilight? Can their research notes provide any value? Can the player characters find the ring, and would it be foolish to put it on?