Cognitive science is a range of disciplines from psychology to neuroscience, and philosophy to artificial intelligence, with one common focus: the human mind. Throughout most of the 20th century it was a pretty ‘nerdy’ pursuit, producing uninspiring models of our mental life. But this is starting to change.
One of the exciting developments in cognitive science is the notion of "the extended mind". At its simplest it is the observation that throughout human history we have co-opted a whole range of technologies to simplify our mental life. Thinking, after all, is hard. If we can reduce our thinking burden by using stone tablets or an abacus, and more latterly computers and smart phones, then more is the better.
At its more profound, the idea of the extended mind is that thinking is not something that is done in the head, but extends out into the various systems we co-opt to save our mental effort. Our minds, on this view, extend out into the world.
One way of looking at this is to make the uninteresting observation that people with chaotic minds often have chaotic lives. The systems they use to manage their money, their kids, and their work are only partially effective. This leads to a chaotic "extended mind" in relation to the unsatisfactorily co-opted systems. Cognition, the processes we use to make sense of the world, is at fault, but the fault isn't going on in the head, it's going on in the external systems for managing time, people and money.
If this is you, the solution is easy. Simplify, simplify, simplify. I once read a book about the art of feng shui. On the first page it made the point that cluttered home leads to a cluttered mind. The advice was first to de-clutter your home, then pick up the book again on page 2. If the other insights of this book were as profound as the first page, I have yet to find out. Even though it is 10 years since I read the first page of the book, I still haven't completely decluttered my flat, so I still haven't read the rest of the book! I have found the process of decluttering very useful though. In general everything in my flat has a place, so it’s easy when clients come round to get things in order. This saves me the burden of having to decide afresh each day where things should go. It’s one less thing I have to worry about.
Whether you take it from cognitive science or feng shui, the message here is simple: there is an intricate relationship between your state of mind and the technologies and systems you have in place to organise your life. So if you want to feel less stressed, depressed or anxious, pay attention to those systems that aren't working for you, simplify them, and make them more effective. The more organised you are in your life; the more content you will feel with it. If you don't know where to start checkout The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life.
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
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