Mind outside Brain: a radically non-dualist foundation for distributed cognition

Francis Heylighen, Shima Beigi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


We approach the problem of the extended mind from a radically non-dualist perspective. The separation between mind and matter is an artefact of the outdated mechanistic worldview, which leaves no room for mental phenomena such as agency, intentionality, or feeling. We propose to replace it by an action ontology, which conceives mind and matter as aspects of the same network of processes. By adopting the intentional stance, we interpret the catalysts of elementary reactions as agents exhibiting desires, intentions, and sensations. Autopoietic networks of reactions constitute more complex super-agents, which moreover exhibit memory, deliberation and sense-making. In the specific case of social networks, individual agents coordinate their actions via the propagation of challenges. The distributed cognition that emerges from this interaction cannot be situated in any individual brain. This non-dualist, holistic view extends and operationalises process metaphysics and Eastern philosophies. It is supported by both mindfulness experiences and mathematical models of action, self-organisation, and cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMind outside Brain: A radically non-dualist foundation for distributed cognition
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages28
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2016


  • distributed cognition
  • philosophy of mind
  • complexity

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