How Things Shape the Mind

How Things Shape the Mind

A Theory of Material Engagement

By Lambros Malafouris

Foreword by Colin Renfrew

An account of the different ways in which things have become cognitive extensions of the human body, from prehistory to the present.





An account of the different ways in which things have become cognitive extensions of the human body, from prehistory to the present.

An increasingly influential school of thought in cognitive science views the mind as embodied, extended, and distributed rather than brain-bound or “all in the head.” This shift in perspective raises important questions about the relationship between cognition and material culture, posing major challenges for philosophy, cognitive science, archaeology, and anthropology. In How Things Shape the Mind, Lambros Malafouris proposes a cross-disciplinary analytical framework for investigating the ways in which things have become cognitive extensions of the human body. Using a variety of examples and case studies, he considers how those ways might have changed from earliest prehistory to the present. Malafouris's Material Engagement Theory definitively adds materiality—the world of things, artifacts, and material signs—into the cognitive equation. His account not only questions conventional intuitions about the boundaries and location of the human mind but also suggests that we rethink classical archaeological assumptions about human cognitive evolution.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262019194 320 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 31 figures


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262528924 320 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 31 figures


Colin Renfrew.


  • Is the mind imprisoned in the brain? In this mix of neuroscience and philosophy, Lambros Malafouris suggests that mind and materiality are allied in ways that defy reductive world views. Engrossing.


  • How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement is a lucid and well presented account of the state-of-the-art in connecting an archaeology of mind with the study of material culture to develop a deeper understanding of relational ontology and the importance of mediation for human thinking and cognition more generally…a compelling ally to further challenge the orthodox models of representation as already developed in the philosophies of among other Bergson or Whitehead and further on by Deleuze and Guattari…

    Martha Blassnigg

    Leonardo Reviews

  • This is a noble, if possibly premature, attempt to apply the theoretical underpinnings of philosophical and cognitive science to the gut understanding of craftsmen that their craft involves an active interrelationship between their brains, their bodies, and their materials...this book is strongly recommended to cognitive scientists, philosophers, and cognitive anthropologists/archaeologists.


  • How Things Shape the Mind is an important book. Not since Human Evolution, Language, and Mind: A Psychological and Archaeological Inquiry (Noble and Davidson 1996) has an authored book taken a significant critical view of the epistemology grounding cognitive archaeology. Its challenge will not be easy to meet—our Cartesian view of mind is just so very comfortable—but it may well provide a means for making true progress in the archaeology of mind.

    Thomas Wynn

    Current Anthropology

  • This book has a coherent structure, a lucid narrative and an interesting though risky theoretical argument. These elements serve to captivate the reader with provocative questions and suggestive answers.

    Minds and Machines

  • This is an informed and readable treatise detailing how material culture engages with humanity in a unique way, especially because of its physicality. Part psychology, part philosophy, and a good, heavy dose of archaeology, this is a challenging book, and Malafouris clearly intends it to be so.... For those wishing to ponder this considerable challenge, Malafouris's book will be a great place to start.

    Stephen J. Lycett

    American Antiquity

  • As Malafouris has so wonderfully explicated throughout his book, 'The mind is more than a brain,' (p. 227), and I am now forever transfixed upon the much grander meaning of kites and the people who fly them.

    Frederick L. Coolidge


  • How Things Shape the Mind is a rich, thought-provoking and ambitious book.... [T]hat this book is a main contribution to cognitive archaeology and to the wider debate on how material culture and technology, on the one hand, and human thought, on the other, are causally intertwined. Anyone who is seriously interested in either or both of these fields should read this fascinating book.



  • In this beautifully written and cogently argued book, Lambros Malafouris draws on recent developments in cognitive science and philosophy of mind to construct Material Engagement Theory (MET), a framework that sees action as a form of cognition. He shows how this theory has surprising implications not just for cognitive archaeology, but for the rest of cognitive science as well. This is a 'must read' book for everyone who is interested in how the particularly human way of thinking came into existence.

    Edwin Hutchins

    Professor of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego

  • In this book, Malafouris engages critically with a broad sweep of contemporary theories regarding material culture, evolution, and mind. He takes a radical view of human being, in which mind is continuous with the material world with which it is engaged. This is a viewpoint that gives archaeology a solid role within the social and human sciences, and that challenges many of our everyday assumptions about how we think our minds work.

    Ian Hodder

    Dunlevie Family Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

  • Lambros Malafouris has conjured up a gripping detective story, piecing together evidence to unravel the workings of today's human mind. He reveals how it has been manipulated and affected by the world around it from prehistory to the modern day. As well as its historical importance in cognitive archaeology, How Things Shape the Mind alerts our attention to the mind's future evolution.

    Kevin Warwick

    Professor of Cybernetics, University of Reading