The environment drives our thinking…

Clark and Chalmers  (1998), in their classic work on the boundaries of the mind, speculate that the environment plays an active role in human cognition. For ultra-marathoners and others participating in endurance sports, taking place in many challenging environments, this idea  may be an important one.

As humans, we often split tasks between manipulation within the brain, and a reliance on external technology to provide support.

This might include the latest smart phone to check a birthday; a Garmin watch to plan a route and identify running pace; or, good old-fashioned paper and pen to note down a shopping list. Clark and Chalmers (1998) suggest that where a task could be performed internally in the head, but we choose to perform it in the environment, then it is still a cognitive process. Or to put it another way, words not all cognitive processes are performed in the head.

The consequence that the brain has evolved to factor in an external, manipulable environment for scientific investigation, for sport science, is that to fully understand cognition we may need to analyse both ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ processes. To offer appropriate support and guidance to athletes part of an ‘extended’ system it will be necessary to consider and include both internal and external mechanisms.

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The Extended Mind. Analysis,58(1), 7-19. doi:10.1093/analys/58.1.7