External Brain

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"From the early days of computers, people have speculated that computers would be used to supplement our intelligence. Extended stores of knowledge, memories once forgotten, computational feats, and expert advice would all be at our fingertips".[1]


The term external brain is used to describe the idea that as one increases their information output to external devices, the more symbiotic their internal brain becomes with an external technology. The more information is outside one's brain, the more often one must consult their external brain. The time and speed it takes one to access data from their external brain is a measure of how intertwined they are with an external device.

Unlike storing memory in one's internal brain, which orders itself and self-organizes every night during sleep, placing information into one's external brain requires cognitive sorting and organization in order to have an optimized experience with that information later. Similar to a squirrel storing food in the ground, one must remember where they put their external memories, lest their future self be disadvantaged and suffer wasted time.


"The term "external brain" has been paraphrased and used by many presenters. The first time I heard it was during a conference on FAS in 2000 by Susan Doctor (now Dr. Doctor, from Reno, Nevada). Susan Doctor shared the wisdom she had gleaned from having Dr. Clarren as a mentor while pursuing her doctorate. Notes from her presentation on Modifying the Environment can be found here and notes on her presentation on Intervention can be found here. The Susan Doctor/Sterling Clarren quote I use often is "The person with FAS will always need an external brain - key words are 'always' and 'external'."[2]


"The gurus seek bliss amidst mountaintop solitude and serenity in the meditative trance, but I, grasshopper, have achieved the oneness with the universe that is known as pure externalization".[3]

Related Reading

Device as Memory (is this entry even needed?)


  1. The Rise of the External Brain Greg Linden, BLOG@CACM. December 14, 2009.
  2. External Brain by ©2003 Teresa Kellerman.
  3. Brooks: The external brain by David Brooks. Published: Friday, October 26, 2007.