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2012 CCCC Paper (Working Draft)

2012 CCCC Paper (Working Draft)

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Published by Nathaniel Rivers
In 1985 Ong argued, “Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form” (24). Arguing that Ong is still ahead of the curve, I position Ong as a scholar the field of rhetoric and composition (and the humanities writ large) can leverage in order to make use of and contribute to the still nascent study of “extended cognition,” which holds that the human mind is not brainbound but is rather constituted across brains, bodies, cultures, and environments. This presentation reads Ong alongside recent work in cognitive science, arguing that Ong provides both a theoretical approach and an historical scope that reveals cognitive extension not as a recent phenomena or invention, but as a process that has been emerging for millennia.
In 1985 Ong argued, “Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form” (24). Arguing that Ong is still ahead of the curve, I position Ong as a scholar the field of rhetoric and composition (and the humanities writ large) can leverage in order to make use of and contribute to the still nascent study of “extended cognition,” which holds that the human mind is not brainbound but is rather constituted across brains, bodies, cultures, and environments. This presentation reads Ong alongside recent work in cognitive science, arguing that Ong provides both a theoretical approach and an historical scope that reveals cognitive extension not as a recent phenomena or invention, but as a process that has been emerging for millennia.

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Published by: Nathaniel Rivers on Mar 19, 2012
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Nathaniel Rivers
 
I
 
CCCC 2012
 
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1
 
Restructuring Thought: Leveraging Ong for anInterdisciplinary Cognitive Science
In
Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension,
cognitive scientist Andy Clark argues that “the study of mind
 
might ... need to embrace a variety of different explanatory paradigms
 
 whose point of convergence lies in the production of intelligent behavior”
 
(95). Inbrief, Clark holds that human cognition is not the exclusive province of the brain, but is ratherextended across the brain, the body, technology, and cultural and environmental scaffolds. In thispaper, I embrace Clark’s model of the mind and offer the work of Walter Ong as such a“different explanatory paradigm,” which not only converges with cognitive science, but alsoexpands the scope and relevance of the humanities (and rhetoric specifically) in the study of human intelligence.Doing so, however, might also push the contemporary humanities and perhaps our owndiscipline in some uncomfortable directions. The movement of interdisciplinarity is heretwofold, and so to is resistance: 1) will
they
let us in, and 2) will
we 
let ourselves out? Ong, Iargue, is useful in both instances, making the case that a) the humanities have much to offercognitive science and b) the humanities should not shy away from the sciences, in particularthose engaged with questions of technology and human becoming such as Clark’s. As Ong writesin a review of Marshall McLuhan, “His critics often seem to feel that whoever does not stand off from technology and bureaucracy far enough to throw stones at them is betraying the cause of humanity” (69-70). Ong here echoes technical communication scholar Michael Knievel’s claimthat “taking anticipatory, developmental responsibility for tools,” is a view that often “seems
 
Nathaniel Rivers
 
I
 
CCCC 2012
 
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2
 
incongruous with the humanities' notion of self' (77). Overcoming this fear, this feeling of incongruence, is important, because I hear embedded in Clark’s work the claim that technology and bureaucracy (though he might say environment or scaffold) are fundamentally inseparablefrom humanity. Ong helps us claim a rightful and necessary (if not uncomfortable) place in any articulation of the extended mind. Ong’s work is not yet done—there is much we need from himstill. What this paper needs to do, then, is to get Ong and Clark talking to one another and toget us to want them to do so in the first place. And to prove how potent Ong’s work is, I’ll do allof this with one essay: “Writing is a Technology That Restructures Thought” (my apologies toPaul for what amounts to an extended name check). The title of this essay already begins tomake the move I will today advocate.
Echoes and Resonances
As a cognitive scientist, Clark 
 
treats external, nonbiological elements as often part of the humanmind. However, and as Clark himself admits, cognitive scientists typically treat the brain as their
 
primary object of study. They often lack a theoretical framework and
 
research methodology forunderstanding many of the nonbiological elements
 
that are part and parcel of the human mind(were they so inclined, which, full disclosure, many are not). Clark has spent nearly two decadesdeveloping, defending, and refining his extended mind model.
 
For example (and a betterexample, in terms of Ong, does not exist), describing the act of writing in relation to thinkingClark argues, “I would like to […] suggest that [the individual] was actually 
thinking 
on thepaper” (
Supersizing 
 xxv). The physical task of writing—using pencil and paper—“reliably and
 
Nathaniel Rivers
 
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CCCC 2012
 
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3
 
robustly provides a functionality which, were it provided by goings-on in the head alone, we would have no hesitation in designating as part of the cognitive circuitry” (
Supersizing 
xxv).Building from such examples of the mind as extended, Clark concludes, “The local mechanismsof mind, if this is correct, are not all in the head” (
Supersizing 
xxviii). Rather than seeing us asbrainbound, Clark posits humans as “creatures whose minds are special precisely because they aretailor-made for multiple mergers and coalitions” (
 Natural-Born
7).In this we should hear strong echoes of Ong’s work. Even though we have no way of knowing how far out Ong would place the human mind, he would surely grant that much of  what comes in changes the mind. I can think of no better place to start than Ong’s argumentthat We can now view in better perspective the world of writing in which we live, see better what this world really is, and what functionally literate human beings really are—that is,beings whose thought processes do not grow out of simply natural powers but out of these powers as structured, directly or indirectly, by the technology of writing. Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does. (24)Perhaps the strongest echo, or the most salient one given rhetoric’s tortured relationship with theidea of “artifice,” lies in Clark’s title,
 Natural-Born Cyborg 
, which plays with the very idea of natural and Ong’s assertion that, “Technologies are artificial, but—paradox again—artificiality isnatural to human beings” (32). And we hear it when Ong writes, “Writing was an intrusion,though an invaluable intrusion, into the early human lifeworld, much as computers are today”(27). And, Ong writes, “We recognize here the same complaint that is made against computers:they are artificial contrivances, foreign to human life” (27). Both Clark and Ong are resisting orat least complicating an age-old binary system—between the real, the natural
and 
the artificial,

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