Extending the Renaissance mind: 'Look what thy memory cannot contain'

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This paper explores the nature and value of relations between cognitive scientific research and literary studies, by demonstrating some of the ways the recent philosophical hypothesis concerning the extended nature of the mind holds parallels with Renaissance understandings of a subject’s mind and identity. Clark and Chalmers’ seminal paper, ‘The Extended Mind’, explores the possibility of non-biological resources acting as part of the cognitive system. This hypothesis can be related to the history of the book, an area of research that has long been considering the effect on culture and cognition of technological changes. Similarly in the Renaissance the textual was understood as playing a supplementary role to biological memory and historical narratives were understood as supplementing individual experience. Renaissance accounts of rhetoric explore the notion of language as constitutive of humanity. A further prevalent notion of language and literacy as an extension of subjectivity equivalent to the production of biological offspring, infiltrated diverse spheres’ modes of understanding these activities. These notions in turn shape a reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets, which focuses on the exploration in ‘Sonnet 77’ of the benefits and downfalls of a biological versus a textual copy. This paper demonstrates that the fertile parallels between extended mind and Renaissance texts invites a re-evaluation of what constitutes cognition and subjectivity, and that while the extended mind hypothesis is compatible with, it yet holds repercussions for, literary methodologies, as well as offering a means to richer readings of literary texts.
[This was originally presented as a paper at the Cognitive Humanities Conference in Bangor in 2013]
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cognitive Humanities
Subtitle of host publication Embodied Mind in Literature and Culture
EditorsPeter Garratt
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillian
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781137593290
ISBN (Print)9781137593283
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Event'Extending the Renaissance Mind', Cognitive Futures in the Humanities Conference - University of Bangor, Bangor
Duration: 4 Apr 20136 Apr 2013


Conference'Extending the Renaissance Mind', Cognitive Futures in the Humanities Conference


  • extended mind
  • embodied mind
  • embodied cognition
  • distributed cognition


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