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Annie Murphy Paul — The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain

The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain (book cover)

In this conversation about her new book, the acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul explodes the myth that the brain is an all-powerful, all-purpose thinking machine that works best in silence and isolation. We are often told that the human brain is an awe-inspiring wonder, but its capacities are remarkably limited and specific. Humanity has achieved its most impressive feats only by thinking outside the brain: by “extending” the brain’s power with resources borrowed from the body, other people, and the material world. The Extended Mind tells the stories of scientists and artists, authors and inventors, leaders and entrepreneurs — Jackson Pollock, Charles Darwin, Jonas Salk, Friedrich Nietzsche, Watson and Crick, among others — who have mastered the art of thinking outside the brain. It also explains how every one of us can do the same, tapping the intelligence that exists beyond our heads — in our bodies, our surroundings, and our relationships.

Annie Murphy Paul is an acclaimed science writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times magazine, Scientific American, and The Best American Science Writing, among many other publications. She is the author of Origins, selected by the New York Times Book Review as a “Notable Book,” and The Cult of Personality, hailed by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker as a “fascinating new book.” Her TED Talk has been viewed more than 2.6 million times. Paul is a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship, the Spencer Education Journalism Fellowship, and the Bernard L. Schwartz Fellowship at New America. A graduate of Yale University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she is currently a Learning Sciences Exchange Fellow at New America. Her website is

Shermer and Paul discuss:

  • brain in a vat thought experiment,
  • intelligence and I.Q. tests,
  • consciousness and mind,
  • reason and emotions,
  • smart phones as an extended mind,
  • offloading memory,
  • synchrony (marching, dancing, etc.),
  • interoception: inner state of the brain and body (but we can sense our brain working),
  • evolution of music, dance, aesthetic appreciation, mathematics, etc.,
  • ADHD, autism, and other forms of cognitive diversity,
  • metaphors in science: how the brain/mind works: steam engine, phone switchboard, computer),
  • rationality vs. irrationality (Daniel Kahneman vs. Gerd Gingerenzer),
  • Are humans by nature gullible, skeptical, or…? (The Enigma of Reason by Mercier and Sperber),
  • why people are not good at solving logic puzzle like the Wason selection task,
  • thinking with sensations,
  • thinking with movement,
  • thinking with gestures,
  • thinking with natural spaces,
  • thinking with built spaces,
  • thinking with experts,
  • thinking with peers,
  • thinking with groups.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium :

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on July 31, 2021.

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