Cognitive entanglement, after all, is the rule of life. My memories and my wife’s intermingle. When I can’t recall a name or a date, I don’t look it up; I just ask her. Our machines, in this way, become our substitute spouses and plug-in companions. Jerry Seinfeld said that the public library was everyone’s pathetic friend, giving up its books at a casual request and asking you only to please return them in a month or so. Google is really the world’s Thurber wife: smiling patiently and smugly as she explains what the difference is between eulogy and elegy and what the best route is to that little diner outside Hackensack. The new age is one in which we have a know-it-all spouse at our fingertips.

But, if cognitive entanglement exists, so does cognitive exasperation. Husbands and wives deny each other’s memories as much as they depend on them. That’s fine until it really counts (say, in divorce court). In a practical, immediate way, one sees the limits of the so-called “extended mind” clearly in the mob-made Wikipedia, the perfect product of that new vast, supersized cognition: when there’s easy agreement, it’s fine, and when there’s widespread disagreement on values or facts, as with, say, the origins of capitalism, it’s fine, too; you get both sides. The trouble comes when one side is right and the other side is wrong and doesn’t know it. The Shakespeare authorship page and the Shroud of Turin page are scenes of constant conflict and are packed with unreliable information. Creationists crowd cyberspace every bit as effectively as evolutionists, and extend their minds just as fully. Our trouble is not the over-all absence of smartness but the intractable power of pure stupidity, and no machine, or mind, seems extended enough to cure that.

Adam Gopnik, “The Information”, The New Yorker (14 & 21 February 2011), 126.

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