Sources: Cognitive neuroscience
Cognitive neuroscientists believe that the mind, our reasoning and knowledge are embodied. Johnson sums up the state of the art:
"a newly developing ‘second-generation' cognitive science’ ... gives us a wealth of converging evidence from various empirical disciplines that shows how our conceptual systems and the reasoning we do with them are grounded in patterns of bodily activity ... it sees reason as defined by the structure of the brain and the body together in their interactions with the environment and other people" (Johnson, 1999: 85).
Varela and colleagues build on Merleau-Ponty's work to develop a model of cognition as "embodied action", a process they call "enactive" (Varela et al., 1991: xx). They concur that cognition is embodied and conclude that “knower and known, mind and world, stand in relation to each other through mutual specification or dependent coorigination” (Varela et al., 1991: 150). The enactive approach to cognition “is based on situated, embodied agents” (Varela, 2001: 215) and sees cognition as embedded in a total “biological/ psychological, and cultural context” (Varela et al., 1991: 172-173).
Johnson's pursuit of the enactivist approach leads him to conclude that the way we conceptualize and reason depends on "the kinds of bodies we have, the kinds of environments we inhabit, and the symbolic systems we inherit, which are themselves grounded in our embodiment” (Johnson, 1987: 99) In short, reason is embodied (Johnson, 1987:100) and grounded in an environment that includes "our history, culture, language, institutions, theories, and so forth" (Johnson, 1987: 207).
In Philosophy in the Flesh, Lakoff and Johnson claim that "What our bodies are like and how they function in the world ... structure the very concepts we can use to think" (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999).
We reason using metaphorical concepts based on our physical experiences. These conceptual metaphors are learnt, and are expressed in grammar, gesture, art or ritual (ibid).
Such ideas can change our understanding of what it is to be human:
"The spinning of a person is less like a printed book and more like a conversation, less like a program and more like a network" (Peterson 2003; 44).
Last updated: 25 March 2008
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