The Extended Mind

up:: Books





  • [status:: read]
  • [rating:: 4.25]
  • [added:: 2023-01-03]
  • [started:: 2023-03-01]
  • [read:: 2023-03-26]


This book is one of the Bookworm Golden Books. While it was an interesting read, it’s not as fantastic of a read to me as other books on that list. The general premise of the limitations of ‘brain-bound’ thinking resonates. I think this is a helpful mental model shift that will stick around.

The book was well written. Anecdotes and stories complemented the scientific facts. Still, it kept me interested but wasn’t quite as much of a page-turner as some other books. I wouldn’t be surprised however, if this book and the concepts it introduces stick around as a reference point. I am curious to see how often this book pops up when I am faced with tricky problems.


  • It’s assumed that our feelings originate from our brain. We cry because we feel sad. Research suggests that because we are crying, our brain says we’re feeling sad. Our heart rate is higher, hence we feel nervous.
  • This way around, emotions can be relabeled. In a study participants were to tell themselves that they were excited. Then they were given nerve-wracking tasks. They performed better than participants who told themselves they were nervous.
  • This also matters (… lost my notes here)
  • Gesture more. It is persuasive and helps others to understand your point.
  • Stand up and walk. Walking is great.
  • Seek nature.
  • Work in your studiolo. A personally decorated space with visual reminders of who you are.
    • Cues of identify and affiliation make us be more motivated and productive.
  • “When thought overwhelmes the mind, the mind uses the world”. Use the physical spaces to map out concepts.
    • This applies to computer monitors as well. Bigger screens, or multiple monitors lead to significant performance improvements. Seeing everything and moving our body towards the information, locating it, is natural to us. On a small screen windows are stacked and ‘hidden’. Small screens actually drain our mental capacity.
  • learning from experts: copying is a very successful strategy
    • In business, “market pioneers” have a failure rate of 47%. Far better than being first, is being “fast second”, an agile imitator.
    • Chux came out with baby diapers first. But they were expensive. Pampers copied them and made them cheaper Now they’re everywhere.
    • other examples: Timex, Gilette, Ford.
    • how to imitate:
      1. Specify one’s problem and identify an analogous problem that had been solved successfully
      2. Rigorously analyse why the solution had been successful
      3. Identify how ones circumstances differ, then figure out how to adapt the original solution to the new problem
  • Think socially. Debate, teach, explain, argue. We do great thinking when other people are involved.
    • Action item: Even if I have the option to work from home full time, plan time to be in the office with other people.
  • Conclusion: three habits of mind
    1. Offloading. Move information from the brain into the world. Frees up working memory. Gives a healthy sense of ‘detachment’, enables to have a bird’s eye view. Can be:
      • Social,
      • embodied,
      • physical,
      • continuous
    2. Transforming. Turn the abstract into something real.
    3. Adapting. Change your own state.
      • Take a walk
      • have a three day nature trip if you need a creative boost
      • do some brisk exercise
    4. Embody. Think through the body.
    5. Spatialise. Use physical locations, memory palaces, concept maps.
    6. Socialise. Involve other humans.