The Extended Self

As we have learned, the mind is not only dispersed amongst several neurological systems, but the evolution of mind and self together involve myriad spatial extensions into the world around us, absorbing the things and other minds we interact with on an everyday basis. William Barrett comes close to describing the elusive fusion of mind, self and world when he likens Heidegger's theory of man to a "Field Theory of Being," analogous to Einstein's Field Theory of Matter or a magnetic field, except that unlike the latter, it has no centre: "Think of a magnetic field without the solid body of the magnet at its centre; man's being is such a field, but there is no soul substance at the centre from which that field radiates." However, while there may be no single origin of the self, as both Merleau-Ponty and Polanyi correctly argued and neuroscience has now confirmed, the self does have an identifiable working nucleus and focal point in the human body, through which all our experience and self-images are mediated: a field of being, therefore, held together, not by any physical force, but by an existential force, with the body at its center.

From: 'The Extended Self: Tacit Knowing and Place-identity.'
In R. Baht (ed.). Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design.
Routledge, 2012.

The theory of the extended self that is expounded in this book therefore has dual aspects of a bright and darker character. On the one hand, the extension or 'exteriorization' of human capacities by technical means and artifice as it is described here is largely responsible for all the wondrous achievements of human creativity and culture, of which architecture of both the vernacular and professional kind is among the most visible and enduring. Those achievements in turn depend upon the unique human ability to interpret and record what we do by various technical methods and thereby pass them on to future generations/div> to build upon, in what are effectively culture's own evolutionary procedures, the precise nature of which are a major focus of this book.

On the other hand, it is now frighteningly clear that those same gifts of extension into and control over the natural environment, in which architecture and urbanization again play major roles, have taken us to the point where they are threatening to destroy that environment and the civilization responsible for its deterioration along with it. The final outcome of the present global conflict with nature remains uncertain. However, just as it is common knowledge that the first essential step toward curing an addiction is to recognize it, so is it necessary to search for and to comprehend as best we can the reason for humanity's stubborn adherence to a technological culture that, if left unchecked, endangers the survival of our species, together with that of countless others on the planet.

From the introduction to The Extended Self: Architecture, Memes and Minds, Manchester University Press, 2015, p. 4.