The Extended Mind exhorts us to use our entire bodies, our surroundings and our relationships to 'think outside the brain.' ... Paul’s view is that we are less like data processing machines and more like soft-bodied mollusks, picking up cues from within and without and transforming ourselves accordingly ... Either way, the parallel to this latest book is that the boundaries we commonly assume to be fixed are actually squishy ... Though the workings of the body’s plumbing and electricity usually fly under our radar, Paul is on target when stating that techniques that help us pinpoint their signals can foster well-being and even alter certain cortical features ... Paul writes with precision and flair. But she leaves out evidence that could add yet more nuance ... These are quibbles. The chapters on the ways natural and built spaces reflect universal preferences and enhance the thinking process felt like a respite.
[Paul] engagingly weaves together diverse narratives to explain this form of intelligence ... Paul does not offer do’s and don’ts for designing childhood education centers, corporate office floor plans, public parks or our own homes. She does not advise directly on how to prepare for a public address at a shareholders meeting, how to gesture to most effectively persuade others or how to best take advantage of the collective intelligence of teams. However, the diverse and deeply researched information she presents about the impact of our surroundings, our bodies and the people around us on our thought process can certainly be translated into that. Our minds are bigger than our brains, and if we embrace that fact, there’s so much more we can accomplish.
Cognitive scientists have since explored the philosophers’ question in several related fields, including embodied, situated and distributed cognition—respectively, how thought is shaped by bodily experience, physical environments and social exchange. In her book The Extended Mind, science writer Annie Murphy Paul takes on each in turn ... fascinating, sure-footed and wide-ranging ... Working her way outward, Ms. Paul argues that the spaces around us expand our minds. Encountering nature can have salutary effects, whether it’s a walk in the woods or looking out an office window. Greenery reduces rumination and anxiety, increases attention and creativity, and lifts one’s mood and physical health, Ms. Paul notes ... Finally, Ms. Paul says, we can merge with other minds. First, by copying experts, or whoever has gone before, and learning from their wisdom and mistakes. Or by sharing one’s expertise: Teachers sometimes learn more than their students, because they are reviewing and organizing material ... I don’t mind the book’s study-heavy spans. Each finding adds something, and Ms. Paul strings them together coherently, while interspersing literature review with anecdotes.