The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain, by Annie Murphy Paul, 2021

The Gist

This book is about a different view of intelligence. The author argues that intelligence is not defined by what’s locked inside your skull but also through your body, the environment, and your relationship with others. She explains that the brain “is a biological organ which evolved to do certain things very well like moving, sensing, forming relationships to small groups of people and navigating through three-dimensional landscapes.”

What’s Good

The Extended Mind is accessible and compelling. Its real value is to counter a drift in thinking towards proficiency in learning being bound up in knowledge acquisition and recall. As Paul says, “It’s the stuff outside our heads that makes us smart.”


Paul makes the case for being attuned to your ‘gut’ instinct; movement as an aid to problem-solving; gesture as an integral part of conveying complex notions; the place of the natural environment in unlocking creativity, transforming ideas into objects and social interaction as powerful drivers of human intelligence.

Something to Try

By using whiteboards, writing walls or big surfaces onto which items can be placed and manipulated we can ‘offload’ and so reduce the burden of cognitive load. By standing back from the board or wall and observing what eve placed there we gain detachment. We benefit from interactivity by moving and re-ordering the items.