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A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Embodied cognition, the idea that the mind is not only connected to the body but that the body influences the mind, is one of the more counter-intuitive ideas in cognitive science. In sharp contrast is dualism, a theory of mind famously put forth by Rene Descartes in the 17th century when he claimed that “there is a great difference between mind and body, inasmuch as body is by nature always divisible, and the mind is entirely indivisible… the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body.” In the proceeding centuries, the notion of the disembodied mind flourished. From it, western thought developed two basic ideas: reason is disembodied because the mind is disembodied and reason is transcendent and universal. However, as George Lakoff and Rafeal Núñez explain:

Cognitive science calls this entire philosophical worldview into serious question on empirical grounds… [the mind] arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences. This is not just the innocuous and obvious claim that we need a body to reason; rather, it is the striking claim that the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment… Thus, to understand reason we must understand the details of our visual system, our motor system, and the general mechanism of neural binding.

What exactly does this mean? It means that our cognition isn’t confined to our cortices. That is, our cognition is influenced, perhaps determined by, our experiences in the physical world. This is why we say that something is “over our heads” to express the idea that we do not understand; we are drawing upon the physical inability to not see something over our heads and the mental feeling of uncertainty. Or why we understand warmth with affection; as infants and children the subjective judgment of affection almost always corresponded with the sensation of warmth, thus giving way to metaphors such as “I’m warming up to her.”

Embodied cognition has a relatively short history. Its intellectual roots date back to early 20th century philosophers Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and John Dewey and it has only been studied empirically in the last few decades. One of the key figures to empirically study embodiment is University of California at Berkeley professor George Lakoff.

Noam Chomsky (Wikimedia Commons)

Lakoff was kind enough to field some questions over a recent phone conversation, where I learned about his interesting history first hand. After taking linguistic courses in the 1960s under Chomsky at MIT, where he eventually majored in English and Mathematics, he studied linguistics in grad school at Indiana University. It was a different world back then, he explained, “it was the beginning of computer science and A.I and the idea that thought could be described with formal logic dominated much of philosophical thinking. Turing machines were popular discussion topics, and the brain was widely understood as a digital computational device.” Essentially, the mind was thought of as a computer program separate from the body with the brain as general-purpose hardware.

Chomsky’s theory of language as a series of meaningless symbols fit this paradigm. It was a view of language in which grammar was independent of meaning or communication. In contrast, Lakoff found examples showing that grammar was depended of meaning in 1963. From this observation he constructed a theory called Generative Semantics, which was also disembodied, where logical structures were built into grammar itself.

To be sure, cognitive scientists weren’t dualists like Descartes – they didn’t actually believe that the mind was physically separate from the body – but they didn’t think that the body influenced cognition. And it was during this time – throughout the 60s and 70s -Lakoff realized the flaws of thinking about the mind as a computer and began studying embodiment.

The tipping point came after attending four talks that hinted at embodied language at Berkeley in the summer of 1975. In his words, they forced him to “give up and rethink linguistics and the brain.” This prompted him and a group of colleagues to start cognitive linguistics, which contrary to Chomskyan theory and the entire mind as a computer paradigm, held that “semantics arose from the nature of the body.” Then, in 1978, he “discovered that we think metaphorically,” and spent the next year gathering as many metaphors as he could find.

Many cognitive scientists accepted his work on metaphors though it opposed much of mainstream thought in philosophy and linguistics. He caught a break on January 2nd 1979, when he got a call from Mark Johnson, who informed him that he was coming to Berkeley to replace someone in the philosophy department for six months. Johnson had just gotten his PhD from Chicago where he studied continental philosophy and called Lakoff to see if he was interested in studying metaphors. What came next was one of the more groundbreaking books in cognitive science. After co-writing a paper for the journal of philosophy in the spring of 1979, Lakoff and Johnson began working on Metaphors We Live By, and managed to finish it three months later.

Their book extensively examined how, when and why we use metaphors. Here are a few examples. We understand control as being UP and being subject to control as being DOWN: We say, “I have control over him,” “I am on top of the situation,” “He’s at the height of his power,” and, “He ranks above me in strength,” “He is under my control,” and “His power is on the decline.” Similarly, we describe love as being a physical force: “I could feel the electricity between us,” “There were sparks,” and “They gravitated to each other immediately.” Some of their examples reflected embodied experience. For example, Happy is Up and Sad is Down, as in “I’m feeling up today,” and “I’m feel down in the dumps.” These metaphors are based on the physiology of emotions, which researchers such as Paul Eckman have discovered. It’s no surprise, then, that around the world, people who are happy tend to smile and perk up while people who are sad tend to droop.

Metaphors We Live By was a game changer. Not only did it illustrate how prevalent metaphors are in everyday language, it also suggested that a lot of the major tenets of western thought, including the idea that reason is conscious and passionless and that language is separate from the body aside from the organs of speech and hearing, were incorrect. In brief, it demonstrated that “our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”

David - brain (Wikimedia Commons)

After Metaphors We Live By was published, embodiment slowly gained momentum in academia. In the 1990s dissertations by Christopher Johnson, Joseph Grady and Srini Narayanan led to a neural theory of primary metaphors. They argued that much of our language comes from physical interactions during the first several years of life, as the Affection is Warmth metaphor illustrated. There are many other examples; we equate up with control and down with being controlled because stronger people and objects tend to control us, and we understand anger metaphorically in terms of heat pressure and loss of physical control because when we are angry our physiology changes e.g., skin temperature increases, heart beat rises and physical control becomes more difficult.

This and other work prompted Lakoff and Johnson to publish Philosophy in the Flesh, a six hundred-page giant that challenges the foundations of western philosophy by discussing whole systems of embodied metaphors in great detail and furthermore arguing that philosophical theories themselves are constructed metaphorically. Specifically, they argued that the mind is inherently embodied, thought is mostly unconscious and abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. What’s left is the idea that reason is not based on abstract laws because cognition is grounded in bodily experience (A few years later Lakoff teamed with Rafael Núñez to publish Where Mathematics Comes From to argue at great length that higher mathematics is also grounded in the body and embodied metaphorical thought).

As Lakoff points out, metaphors are more than mere language and literary devices, they are conceptual in nature and represented physically in the brain. As a result, such metaphorical brain circuitry can affect behavior. For example, in a study done by Yale psychologist John Bargh, participants holding warm as opposed to cold cups of coffee were more likely to judge a confederate as trustworthy after only a brief interaction. Similarly, at the University of Toronto, “subjects were asked to remember a time when they were either socially accepted or socially snubbed. Those with warm memories of acceptance judged the room to be 5 degrees warmer on the average than those who remembered being coldly snubbed. Another effect of Affection Is Warmth.” This means that we both physically and literary “warm up” to people.

The last few years have seen many complementary studies, all of which are grounded in primary experiences:

• Thinking about the future caused participants to lean slightly forward while thinking about the past caused participants to lean slightly backwards. Future is Ahead

• Squeezing a soft ball influenced subjects to perceive gender neutral faces as female while squeezing a hard ball influenced subjects to perceive gender neutral faces as male. Female is Soft

• Those who held heavier clipboards judged currencies to be more valuable and their opinions and leaders to be more important. Important is Heavy.

• Subjects asked to think about a moral transgression like adultery or cheating on a test were more likely to request an antiseptic cloth after the experiment than those who had thought about good deeds. Morality is Purity

Studies like these confirm Lakoff’s initial hunch – that our rationality is greatly influenced by our bodies in large part via an extensive system of metaphorical thought. How will the observation that ideas are shaped by the body help us to better understand the brain in the future?

I also spoke with Term Assistant Professor of Psychology Joshua Davis, who teaches at Barnard College and focuses on embodiment. I asked Davis what the future of embodiment studies looks like (he is relatively new to the game, having received his PhD in 2008). He explained to me that although “a lot of the ideas of embodiment have been around for a few decades, they’ve hit a critical mass… whereas sensory inputs and motor outputs were secondary, we now see them as integral to cognitive processes.” This is not to deny computational theories, or even behaviorism, as Davis said, “behaviorism and computational theories will still be valuable,” but, “I see embodiment as a new paradigm that we are shifting towards.”

What exactly will this paradigm look like? It’s unclear. But I was excited to hear from Lakoff that he is trying to “bring together neuroscience with the neural theory of language and thought,” through a new brain language and thought center at Berkeley. Hopefully his work there, along with the work of young professors like Davis, will allow us to understand the brain as part of a much greater dynamic system that isn’t confined to our cortices.

The author would like to personally thank Professors Lakoff and Davis for their time, thoughts, and insights. It was a real pleasure.

Samuel McNerney About the Author: Sam McNerney graduated from the greatest school on Earth, Hamilton College, where he earned a bachelors in Philosophy. After reading too much Descartes and Nietzsche, he realized that his true passion is reading and writing about cognitive science. Now, he is working as a science journalist writing about philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. He has a column at CreativityPost.com and a blog at BigThink.com called "Moments of Genius". He spends his free time listening to Lady Gaga, dreaming about writing bestsellers, and tweeting @SamMcNerney. Follow on Twitter @SamMcNerney.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 52 Comments

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  1. 1. ehaaland 11:54 am 11/4/2011

    Sure, of course we use metaphor in our language. And sure! Of course, we use our bodies in defining our language. But this is not the whole story of embodied cognition. This is simply one tiny little aspect of what it means to be embodied and what it means to be a cognitive organism.

    Many philosophers and traditional cognitive scientists would agree without issue that we are our bodies and are not just our brains; however, so many people in both of those fields still insist that our perception of the world outside ourselves is itself the product of a symbol-crunching (what Anthony Chemero terms) mental gymnastics – that we are basic input-output processors with a central planner that runs programs through the body. But this is not the case!

    We, as action systems, do indeed see objects in our environments. But we also perceive how our bodies are capable of interacting with those objects to achieve a certain goal. These potentials for coordinated action depend on the physiological characteristics of the organism as well as the goal outcome that is desired by that same organism. The behavioral repertoire of the organism places limits on how it can interact with the aspects of its perceivable environment and this is all the product of an ‘embrained body’ and embodied cognition. The body as a whole is what acts into the world and this is the case regardless of the complexity of the organism; more complex organisms are just able to act more complexly into the world!

    There doesn’t need to be some central organizer fulfilled by ‘the brain’ or ‘the central nervous system.’ You are the organizer; your body-en-total is the organizer. The elaborated nervous system of the mammal, of the primate, of the human allows for an elaborated understanding of ones’ relation to the world and affordances of particular actions, but there is not some sort of neurally-represented world constructed within the brain. You are a organism that cognizes, that acts into the world. You are not just a body with a brain that conceptualizes and mentates inside itself how the world feels and how it is represented. Your brain is not a filtering machine – the sensors that your body is constructed of act as the foundation for the emergent body itself and the body (as is presented out into the world) is the filtering machine.

    There is so much more to the embodied cognition concept that people, like the author of this article, ignore.

    Link to this
  2. 2. redroo 11:57 am 11/4/2011

    Very nice review of an otherwise difficult topic.

    I’m wondering how you see (if I can use that metaphor) the case of Esref Armagan fitting with Embodied Cognition?

    Armagan is a blind Turkish painter who is not only able to produce images with the right shape and perspective but also with correct colors that he has never seen?
    http://www.mostlycolor.ch/2011/10/colorful-blind-painter.html

    Thanks,
    –RR

    Link to this
  3. 3. smcnerne 12:16 pm 11/4/2011

    @ehaaland

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You make some excellent points. However, I think it is unfair to say that I ignore other concepts having to do with embodied cognition. I cannot cover everything with a limited space! As the title implies, it is meant to be a “brief” guide to embodiment.

    @redroo

    Interesting case. I am not sure what to make of him other than the fact that he doesn’t necessarily need his eyes to “see.” Armagan’s unique ability is probably best explained by someone who understand the relevant neuroscience.

    Link to this
  4. 4. brandon 2:04 pm 11/4/2011

    “cognition is grounded in bodily experience.”

    “rationality is
    greatly influenced by our bodies …”

    Link to this
  5. 5. hnkelley 2:11 pm 11/4/2011

    I guess you could say I fall in the brain-as-computer camp, but I am enjoying seeing the evidence pile up for this deeper understanding of embodiment. And this brief guide is a good start for us newbies!

    I do have to question the methodology of the metaphor research. We do not grow up in a vacuum. We grow up, and learn our spoken and body language in a culture. At the root level, our many different cultures share quite a bit of common ground. So, how does this testing remove that from the equation such that it can be determined whether these metaphors are coming from embodiment instead of from cultural learning? In other words, how can we determine that this is coming from the physical body (including the brain, of course) as opposed to being learned from an external source?

    Link to this
  6. 6. brandon 2:12 pm 11/4/2011

    “cognition is grounded in bodily experience.”

    “rationality is
    greatly influenced by our bodies …”

    sorry if this post shows up prematurely but I was having a bit of a problem with my cursor display.

    I would like to see the inclusion of people who have been paralyzed all of their lives, or who were born with some perceptual defficiency, or who lost some of that ability in their life, to determine if they are any less/more cognitive or rational.

    Link to this
  7. 7. hnkelley 2:18 pm 11/4/2011

    And now, an amusing (to me at least) note.

    I love a good sci-fi, but I think this could really put the final nail in the coffin for clones being true duplicates of the original. Think about what embodiment implies. Your mind is not just living in the brain, but your entire body. And your experiences affect your mind. In some sense, we’ve known this, but we still freak out over having someone duplicated via cloning. With embodiment, we have a better understanding of this issue and can realize that, since the experiences of the clone are vastly different that those of the original, the mind of the clone cannot be a duplicate of the original at all.

    But then, maybe sc-fi can put that to use for a good plot.

    Link to this
  8. 8. smcnerne 3:54 pm 11/4/2011

    @hnkelley

    We know that they come from the physical body because many of the metaphors require a physical body in order to make sense. In other words, the phrase “that went over my head” wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have bodies. The words themselves come from culture, but conceptual metaphor comes from bodies.

    I like your sci-fi idea.

    Link to this
  9. 9. smcnerne 3:55 pm 11/4/2011

    @brandon,

    That’s a really good question. Let me know if you find any studies on the matter

    Link to this
  10. 10. Resuna 5:47 pm 11/4/2011

    This seems to be confusing two completely different kinds of information.

    Materialism inherently implies that the mind is a function of the brain.

    How the mind organizes information and processes it, however, is something that can be approached without concerning yourself with how the mind is actually implemented. The inputs and outputs of the mind are based in the body, so whether the mind is the result of electrochemical reactions in the brain, or some kind of spiritual energy field, or even a computer simulation of a human… it’s going to be operating on the same raw material either way.

    This does not mean the mind is a computer, mind you, just that it’s possible to reason about it based on its inputs and outputs without making assumptions about what it is.

    Link to this
  11. 11. susip 9:47 pm 11/4/2011

    Once the brain has a deep working understanding of new information, or reconstruction of information, the brain seeks “efficiency”. Metaphors are linguistically efficient. The body reacts to experiences; the mind guides us to survive that experience, and make sense of it.

    My big question: WHERE is the mind located?

    If anyone has ideas about where the mind can be found (body, brain, thoughts, collective thinking)….let me know!

    Link to this
  12. 12. davidcpearce 1:26 am 11/5/2011

    Some victims of “locked in” syndrome lack bodily sensation and proprioception. But they are still fully functioning cognitive agents. So I wonder if it wouldn’t be more accurate to say that the brain’s representation of the body powerfully influences the rest of the mind? It’s not as though the mind/brain has direct, non-inferential access to the rest of the body.

    Link to this
  13. 13. JustLooking 9:39 am 11/5/2011

    We’ve advanced enough in neuroscience to understand more about cognition.

    On perception try this experiment:

    Think of some topic and how you’d like for a listener to perceive it.

    Now gather three listeners with relatively the same knowledge base (education, exposure to same knowledge).

    Person one, relay the topic without including any visual clues or words whatsoever.

    Person two, rely the topic and include verbally spoken visual clues or words.

    Person three, show and audio visual presentation of the topic with all the visual details to convey your message.

    Which person will perceive your topic as you entended? Which would use their own perception the most?

    I think perception is only stored knowledge being retrieved based on input given. Since the visual cortex plays a key role in all types of knowledge we intake how it’s neuro connectors ties to the stored knowledge creates a person’s perception.

    I think we gained the ability after we left primordial man. All that meat and protein began to distinguished us from the other animals and we developed an abilty to plan ahead, think.

    We were already using autonomous biological systems and our ability to think did not need to focus on survival so much, so we began to think and created the beginings of religious thought. It took several millennia before we began the beginnings of reason which eventually created scientific principal.

    Your knowledge and it’s neuro pathways determine how you perceive life and everything in it. One with only Western knowledge perceives differently than one with only Eastern knowledge. One with both types of knowledge understand each of the other two but, has a much broader perception of life and existence, he has the knowledge base to.

    Link to this
  14. 14. JustLooking 10:03 am 11/5/2011

    ” What exactly does this mean? It means that our cognition isn’t confined to our cortices. That is, our cognition is influenced, perhaps determined by, our experiences in the physical world. ”

    How are we aware of this physical world if out cortices are damaged? We need our cortices to even know that there is a physical world.

    All of our expeiences in the physical world come from intake, process, match, output.

    The eyes scans light rays and send that data to the visual cortex, all of the nerves send touch and feel data, the ears send sound wave data, all this steaming data get processed by cortices. They put relayed data together and based on the data have us perform some response.

    If my experiences with humanity were horrific I will not perceive many events in the same manner as someone that can not even phathom horrific humanity. Even showing them a video of the horrors would not have them fully grasp teh event, they can at best sympathize. Someone else that has experienced horrific humanity would be able to empathize.

    If all three of these people were together and watched the same war film would would happen? The brain will have more data input from the empathizers than it would from the sypathizer to create different perceptions of similar shared events.

    Link to this
  15. 15. mystery815 11:57 am 11/5/2011

    A very interesting article, although riddled with numerous spelling and grammatical errors. I am disturbed by the growing trend whereby I see so many errors in major publications like this one. As I am continually telling my high school, undergrad and grad students: proofread, proofread, proofread! And then get someone else to help you proofread. It’s very distracting, and sometimes detracts from the meaning when your reader has to work that hard to get through your article. Otherwise: very interesting stuff.

    Link to this
  16. 16. Zontar 12:18 pm 11/5/2011

    Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra! :D

    And while we’re at it, I’ve always wondered whether everyone ‘sees’ the same colours in the same way in one’s head. As far as we know, nothing REALLY forces us to see blue as blue and not red.

    That being said, given what we know about how our brains ‘rationalize’ colour, it’s fairly probable that we all interpret colours in the same manner; it’s just that blue in one person’s mind will look like the red in another’s.

    Temba, his arms wide open!
    Z

    Link to this
  17. 17. barrycr 4:29 pm 11/5/2011

    I have one question, which the following repeats in several different forms.

    “[the mind] arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences. This is … the striking claim that the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment.”

    Do we have scientific verification of the above statement, or is it merely speculation? Please note there is a big difference between scientific evidence and scientific verification.

    It would appear reasonable to accept that a valid “laboratory” to investigate the nature of mind would be our individual experiences. And reviewing my own experiences (most of which likely match up with yours), I have noted the following:

    1. My experiences include perceptions (hearing etc.), thoughts, memories, feelings, and emotions (this list could be expanded).
    2. There is an underlying “structure” that influences the above experiences. This structure is (in part) composed of my personality, history (i.e., stress responses, learnings etc.) and the current state of my physiology (tired or refreshed, sober or drunk, calm or anxious, etc.)
    3. Based on scientific data as well as my own experiences, this “structure” appears to be the current state of my physiology.

    However, I have also noted that at times I can experience a “state of awareness” that, while not unconscious, does not contain any experiences other than simple awareness. I am alert/awake, but without being aware of thoughts, memories, perceptions etc. Yes, they are potentially there (like the pressure of the chair against your body as you read this, or your memory of what you ate yesterday) but they do not express themselves. There is just “awareness”, a sense that “I am”.

    Whereas all the other experiences of mind clearly originate with my physiology (in a manner not necessarily limited to the brain as noted in the article) it is not clear to me that this “non-experience” or pure awareness fits within the category.

    Obviously I need a physiology to have that experience, but does it originate with my physiology?

    For the sake of clarity, let me present an analogy and re-phrase the question for a third time.

    Compare a solid state radio with a solid state playback device (e.g., MP3 Player). In the one case the music we experience originates with the device (MP3) whereas in the other it originates independently (i.e., the radio signal).

    Is my physiology like an MP3 player (as claimed in the quote above) or a radio?

    I think it is fair to claim that our physiology is far more sophisticated than these solid state devices. It appears to me that our current tools for investigating the relationship between physiology and mind are comparable to investigating solid state devices with a hammer and screw driver. We know we can impact the quality of the music by poking the device, and could even determine which parts of the device influence playback volume and frequency response. But these tools would leave us a long way from truly understanding how solid state devices works.

    What evidence do we have that would clearly point to this most basic experience of awareness as originating within the physiology?

    Answers, comments or suggestions?

    Link to this
  18. 18. charles000 5:26 pm 11/5/2011

    A somewhat different, but parallel view of “embodied cognition” could be seen as an artifact of what some have referred to as “quantum biology”, the intersection of quantum physics and biophysics, responding to and interacting with quantum entanglement. There are many (including myself) who have carefully considered cognition, and consciousness itself correlated with quantum entanglement process dynamics.

    I’ll venture a bit further out on this limb, and attempt to offer the notion that neuro-aesthetics, the linkage between contextual content of perceived surroundings which invokes various forms of cognition (voluntary and involuntary), and the resultant effects on state of mind, is a crucial piece of this puzzle. These effects translate not only into the realms of thought, reaction, emotional transitions and the like, but also affect an “invisible” but very real quantum entanglement signature.

    This quantum entanglement signature in turn not only affects our own localized perception of immediate surroundings, but also interactively affects others around us.

    There has been much speculation about the mechanisms of collective consciousness, influence of intentionality, and presence which often appears to engage some form of interactive awareness which extends beyond the range direct sensory cognition. This may be the beginning edge of a Pandora’s box of uncharted, but very intriguing territory that is just beginning to unravel what has been confined to the realms of mystery and philosophical constructs.

    Just my 2 fempto cents worth of thought thrown into the mix, but when I see the term “embodied cognition” and what I interpret to be a sort of holographic rendering of perceived surroundings and influences, the “quantum biology” entanglement model is the first thing that comes to mind.

    Link to this
  19. 19. pbecke 9:24 pm 11/5/2011

    Prior to Descartes’ dualism, the heart had aways been considered the seat of wisdom, I believe in all cultures.

    However, with the advent of transplant surgery, there sems to have been a constant stream of necessarily anecdotal evidence that a transplanted kidney, for example, will often convey with it to its new possessor at least some of the fairly distinctive personal tastes, indeed, personality traits, of the donor.

    Was not it not said of someone in the past that they were “of this” or “of that kidney”. Certainly, as Aldous Huxley contended, mankind has a deeper wisdom, often conveyed in their use of words, than is understood in the present age.

    Considering the precedence of the validity of our assumptions over our capacity for remorseless logic, there is surely something more than a little risible in the French word for “scientist” being “sage.”

    Thank you, M. Descartes. That will be all.

    Link to this
  20. 20. JRGrimmer 2:01 am 11/6/2011

    I get the embodied mind argument, at a certain level it is trivial, our minds do have bodies. And I even accept the metaphorical reasoning arguments to a significant extent (“Philosophy in the Flesh” is a great book!), but why does that mean that reasoning must be independent of bodies?

    Ask a math problem. I don’t care how heavy your clipboard is, or how warm your coffee, there will be a disembodied (correct) answer! Or are we supposed to admit different correct answers depending on each body?

    Link to this
  21. 21. smcnerne 3:04 am 11/6/2011

    @barrycr We do have scientific evidence/verification that that quote is more than speculation. I would point to the four studies I bullet pointed in the article.

    @charles000 Interesting ideas regarding quantum biology. I’ve never thought along those lines, sounds a little wishy washy but maybe fruitful.

    @pbecke I don’t think there is any legitimate evidence that a kidney translate carries with it traits from its donor. Not sure what you are trying to say with your comment.

    @JRGrimmer That there are objective truths to be know about the universe (e.g, 1+1=2) does not undermine embodiment. A disembodied answer, in other words, does not challenge embodiment.

    Link to this
  22. 22. jgrosay 3:44 pm 11/7/2011

    It seems hard to maintain that the body, whatever is included in this word for you, has no connection with the mind. Have you ever heard about hypogonadal patients, or hyperthyroid or hypothyroid patients, or about Organic Brain Syndrome, or about Corticosteroid-induced psychosis ?. May be just the author of the title and summary of this paper, this rememberances not continuing in the rest of the text, speaks about different things that health care involved people do when they use the word “mind”. Descartes described the transmission of impulses along a nerve as a swelling that goes up or down on it, but information belongs to a world completely different to the neurons or integrated semiconductor chips it’s stored on. Phylosophers, that once had genial intuitions on facts proven by science many years after, is now a field completely different from science and closer to literature, be it romantic o terror tales. Philosophy is a mental product, thus non-palpable, and science deals with material facts, numbers can be considered also material. Salut +

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  23. 23. Marc Levesque 11:21 am 11/8/2011

    @barrycr

    You mention in point 1. “My experiences include perceptions (hearing etc.), thoughts, memories, feelings, and emotions (this list could be expanded)”

    Can you include in that statement the experience of “simple awareness”, “just awareness”, or sense of “I am”?

    Concerning your mp3/radio question. In my opinion our experience is made of, and from, internal and external experiences. So our physiology is not like a radio or an mp3 (and not like a radio and an mp3 because our selves are not built upon a separation between physiology and experience).

    974Q83256

    Link to this
  24. 24. Marc Levesque 11:34 am 11/8/2011

    Testing the comment line feed behavior. Testing the comment line feed behavior. Testing the comment line feed behavior.
    I just hit return key once. Was an empty line inserted?

    I just hit the return key twice. It looks good in the comment input box — there is one empty line above this paragraph, but once the comment is posted there will probably be two empty lines above this paragraph?

    Link to this
  25. 25. clangdon 9:36 pm 11/8/2011

    Is it possible that some of the struggles I see with spelling and grammar in my students are connected to the increase in attention deficits… that the body “chatter” is connected to “chatter” in how the brain constructs its knowing of language patterns?

    Link to this
  26. 26. epcharles 6:04 pm 11/9/2011

    Additional discussion and analysis by Andrew Wilson, a British perception-action researcher interested in embodiment, here: http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.com/2011/11/embodied-cognition-is-not-what-you.html

    And by Eric Charles, an American behaviorist, here:
    http://fixingpsychology.blogspot.com/2011/11/embodied-cognition.html

    And a big “Thank you” to Sam, I was thrilled to see that you’d commented on Andrew’s blog!

    Link to this
  27. 27. colonelslime 5:54 pm 11/10/2011

    Interesting article, but isn’t this just an argument in semantics?

    The notion that our worldview is heavily influenced by our bodies is nor really surprising.Don’t forget that a computer is just a machine that analyses data based on internal logic. Where this logic comes from, and how it functions, are wildly variable. To say the brain behaves like a computer is not to say it is a PC. All these metaphors we use are simply references to ideas that generalize across humanity pretty easily, but but the fact that they aren’t culturally universal indicates that these are really useful symbolic ideas that permeate particular societies.

    From what I understand about recent research on the brain (for a good review, read Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain) it’s basically a clusters of interlinked processors, each specializing in heuristic learning of one kind or another, but each capable of adapting itself to a whole different range of inputs. How are brain goes about constructing its models, and how we come to understand our world, is a function of all the data fed to our brain by our senses. Add to this the fact the physical stimulus can trigger neurochemical changes to alter behavior, and I don’t think anyone can question the fact that we are as much our bodies as we are our brains. But if you took a brain from a newly formed fetus, and somehow hooked it up to a different physical body, or just to a virtual one, it would develop based on that input. Tests into heuristic AI (there was one in particular about a robot with phantom limb syndrome I remember) seem to confirm this. More importantly, a body lacking a brain shows no outward signs of what we call cognition, whereas someone who has lost parts of their body (but not so much as to inhibit survival) can still display cognitive faculties similar to what they had before.

    A final note: Given the experiments you mentioned, one wonders if human perception of the world is subject to some near-universal similarities, due to our physiology predisposing our minds to certain symbols (IE. important is heavy, future is forward, female is soft). I can certainly see why our brains would symbolically link concepts such as these. Makes you wonder what would happen if you took a brain, even an adult’s, and radically changed the input information being fed to it. Maybe the brain would just adapt without too much transformative change, but it could also be that the brain would begin to develop distinctly alien views on existence, based on its altered “body”. Also makes one wonder what may happen if we ever succeed in creating human-level AI, especially heuristically derived ones. Maybe installing an artificial brain in a steamroller will produce a being who views all problems as necessitating squishing, since that’s the only way it could interact with reality. (I was being a little facetious in that last statement, but I do think the idea might be interesting to explore)

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  28. 28. bbremner 7:26 pm 11/10/2011

    Why do we have a picture of Chomsky and not one of Lakoff?

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  29. 29. smcnerne 10:44 pm 11/10/2011

    @colonelslime believe it or not, there are plenty of cognitive psychologists who don’t understand how much our world views are influenced by our bodies.

    @bbremner Couldn’t get a good Lakoff photo royalty free. Don’t Noam look great though????

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  30. 30. colonelslime 3:47 am 11/11/2011

    @smcnerne: Silly me, I thought scientists would try to be integrative and holistic in their understanding of reality. I keep forgetting how many people narrow their vision based on their field. I’ve had arguments with people about stuff like this before, and it always floors me that someone can assume that they,and they alone, have an understanding of how things work. I’m just not programmed that way :P

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  31. 31. smcnerne 11:43 am 11/11/2011

    @colonelslime, But that is not to say that there isn’t really incredible work being done by psychologists who embrace computational theories of mind, or even behaviorism.

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  32. 32. jatrudel 4:29 pm 11/11/2011

    Hope I’m not going off on too much of a tangent here. IMO, the mind and body can be one while remaining simultaneously disengaged, which I think the gentleman with the MP3 player was trying to say. Today we take for granted we can communicate with space probes millions of miles away. It’s possible our physical realm differs only depending on one’s circumstances. Logic tells me it is highly unlikely, however my own experiences say otherwise.

    My out-of-body episode, an agnostic non-religious and fairly unremarkable event given what transpired, occurred in my life one time and one time only; it took place when I was eleven and undergoing surgery for an appendectomy. It was not a dream. I distinctly recall the shock I suddenly felt wash over me as I found myself involuntarily leaving the table and floating up adjacent to the huge chrome light fixture directly above. My dreams don’t involve tangible feelings. I could observe the people gathered round my body below and hear them joking. I had no impression of being in or out of my body or of any innate ability to employ any of my other senses, other than what I could see and hear; I became totally fixated on wondering how it was that I could be looking at the back of this light fixture ten feet above the operating table. I assume today what happened was directly correlated to the anesthesia administered. Was my mind creating a semi-psychotic state? Up until recently I’ve discussed this with very few people. At the time it occurred I tried talking to everyone, my doctor, nurses, my parents, but it was dismissed and ignored by all as the babbling of a child.

    I’m in my sixties now and here is what I’ve learned since. I did meet one other person we’ll call Mike, who had said he knew someone back in college who had the ability fall into a trance-like state and travel out-of-body. Mike and his college friends decided to set up an experiment to debunk this fellow’s claim. They arranged for this person I’ll call Max to do his thing from their dorm room in Houston, and have him drop in on a hotel lobby in NYC where Mike had an observer stationed on a pay phone. I guess from what Mike said, Max successfully traversed thousands of miles, found the hotel and described everything and everyone there with extreme accuracy. Did he? I have no idea. For all I know it was a parlor trick.

    Here’s the part I found most interesting. In order for Max to have an OOBE, he said he had to sit in a chair and be left alone to dwell in his thoughts while he consciously lowered his heart rate. As he approached near-death, only then would he be able to escape his physical presence. he told the group to monitor his heart rate and revive him if his heart stopped. That could correlate to my being anesthetized; I later confirmed this with an anesthesiologist.

    None of this is very scientific. I did run across a neurosurgeon who has spent time investigating the part of the brain associated with OOBEs. He said he’s interviewed people who have had an OOBE and mine was not unique. I think he said it was an area in the parietal lobe. He did not believe there was an actual OOB event and he assumes it was a projection of the mind and our imaginations.

    The reason I regurgitate this now is because five yrs ago I suffered a hemorrhagic brain infarction; I’m partially handicapped on one side in my fine motor control reflexes. My cognitive skills appear to have remained untouched, but I question that because of what friends tell me happened up until to two weeks later, which they say was when I got back to being myself personality-wise. I recall none of it other than realizing I was in trouble and calling 911. At the time the stroke occurred I was left completely paralyzed on one side. That would be traumatic for most, but as a runner my only all-consuming thought was to get back as much physically as I possibly could as quickly as I could. It’s funny that the word paralysis has an entirely different meaning to me today from what I had imagined it was a priori. To wake up totally paralyzed is to feel nothing; absolutely nothing. Its like half of you doesn’t exist.

    The brain has remarkable recuperative powers. They tell me neurons have only one task assigned to them in life, but in the case of trauma the brain will re-circuit itself around the damaged cells, and adjacent neurons will be reassigned to do two jobs. We have to teach them by rote using repetitive movement, and although we feel absolutely nothing, the muscles can still respond and communicate in reverse and teach the brain how to reengage.

    I’m getting far away from the crux of this embodiment discussion and I really didn’t want to get lost in my personal situation. I’ve become engrossed in learning as much as I can about the brain. Suffice it to say it’s an extraordinary organ, and I’m afraid it’s capable of doing so much more than we will ever know. I apologize and hope I didn’t take us too far off the trail.

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  33. 33. lesbrunswick 11:05 pm 11/14/2011

    A very interesting article.

    I think one implication is that, since our bodies are orderly and largely identical, the structuralist claim that linguistic concepts are entirely the product of the internal and entirely random operations of language and hence entirely incommensurable between different cultures is incorrect.

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  34. 34. colonelslime 1:56 pm 11/15/2011

    @smcnerne:
    No question (I am a fan of Hofsteader, and voraciously read anything having to do with this subject), but I don’t see why a a scholar approaching from a computational viewpoint would feel the need to discount the fact that our physiology affects our viewpoint. Computational studies of human behavior point to the fact the our brain functions by heuristics, and the information that the brain uses for this learning process all filters through our body, both in hormonal cues and external information filtered through our censors. It’s like trying to separate chemistry from physics: while they can be view as different fields on different macro levels, the latter underlies causation in the former, and can’t be wholly ignored, even if a more macro view sometimes benefits. Same thing with the mind\body dichotomy: studying computational understandings of the human mind doesn’t require you to deny the effects of the body, even if that’s not your main focus.

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  35. 35. colonelslime 1:59 pm 11/15/2011

    Oh, and I’m sure that I could find, without looking too hard, a ton of physiologists that totally discount, or at least don’t understand, the mind’s ability to influence physiological state. My first comment in response to you is more of a general lament about modern science than a specific dig at cognitive studies.

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  36. 36. pbecke 2:27 pm 11/16/2011

    @smcnerne

    @pbecke I don’t think there is any legitimate evidence that a kidney translate carries with it traits from its donor. Not sure what you are trying to say with your comment.

    It makes no sense at all to discount copious anecdotal evidence.

    In relation to the article under discussion, the experiment referred to in the article linked below, apparently provides unambiguous evidence that the mind is not coterminous with the brain, but, rather that it acts as a kind of signal receiver, which, of course, is not to deny the key role of the body by way of its interactions with the mind, while we are alive in this life.

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  37. 37. pbecke 6:45 pm 11/16/2011

    As a matter of fact, (though not of empirical science), it is the will, and not the reasoning mind in the narrowest sense, which prompts us to accept what are to become our fundamental assumptions; the reason being that they too abstruse and profound for the rational mind to grasp. So, in that sense, religions are indeed, wishful thinking, as are all beliefs concerning a world-view. It just happens that we believe that God made the truth to coincide with our nasic religious beliefs. In any case, why should the truth be something not to be wished for, not to hoped for, undesirable. In favour of what? A ‘cold, hard truth’? But truth and our apprehension of it are vibrant and dynamic. No computer is ever going to be independently intelligent, as an adult human being is.

    Also, where religion is concerned, personal belief has implications for the conduct of that person’s whole life. Changes in one’s world-view are no small matter

    When asked the criterion he used in selecting his basic hypotheses, Einstein replied that it was aesthetic. He also remarked: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

    It was a sad occasion when the term, ‘empirical science’ finally overtook the plain term, ‘science’, as signifying ‘knowledge’, rather than a particular subdivision of knowledge. Scientism is evidently a direct result of that weird, epistemological patricide.

    So, I’m sure I shall invites cries of, ‘That’s not science! Peer reviews? Woo Woo! Unicorns and pink pixies…’ Nevertheless, I’ll soldier on and state the basic Christian theological definition of the “soul”, as enunciated in the RC catechism. The soul consists of the memory, the will and the understanding.

    The ever-proliferating paradoxes (or as we call them in the Christian Church: ‘mysteries’, since they defy reason and logic) at the frontiers of modern science, although apparently resented by the large scientism coterie, are, perforce, accepted by them, if only because their careers depend upon it, and they simply refuse to accept that they cannot, by very definition, be rendered intelligible to the human mind, either now or in the distant future.

    The brighter members of the scientific community, apparently, privately, understand this, and simply use those paradoxical truths of physics, whether at the quantum or the macrocosmic level.

    However, it is not in the perceived, notoriously short-term interest of the large corporations to have the certainties of the mechanistic paradigm, on whose hegemony they and their advertisers still insist, in practice. That white lab coat and test-tube held up to the light are special.

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  38. 38. pbecke 6:50 pm 11/16/2011

    I should have written:

    ‘However, it is not in the perceived, notoriously short-term interest of the large corporations to have the certainties of the mechanistic paradigm, on whose hegemony they and their advertisers still insist, in practice, to be publicly questioned.

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  39. 39. colonelslime 10:47 am 11/17/2011

    @ pbecke:
    I doubt it is peer review which prompted the author to reject your claim about organ transplants transferring personality traits.

    To quote Roger Brinner (who, despite what the internet may say on any given day, I’m pretty sure is the originator of this phrase): “The plural of anecdote is not data”

    The author’s (or my) disbelief in that statement comes form the fact that there are no theories which provide underlying causal mechanism for the phenomenon you describe, and there is very little to no verifiable evidence of it. Sophistic arguments about the nature of truth are irrelevant. Science doesn’t seek abstract truth, it seeks the best available explanation for reality. For your explanation to hold, evidence must be provided, otherwise I could claim that fairies made my windows frost this morning. The last part of your post is a classic appeal to conspiratorial thinking, and again undermines the point you are trying to prove. Philosophic understandings of the nature of consciousness are irrelevant here, unless they color someones interpretation of data. Occam’s razor is not a tool of corporate propaganda.

    All this being said, bias is always possible in science, and that’s why the best policy is to keep an open mind. If you can provide verifiable evidence for your claims, I will be more than happy to re-evaluate my understanding of reality. But until you provide some form of evidence other than second hand testimonials from a handful of cases, I’ll go with the understanding that requires the fewest assumptions to function.

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  40. 40. colonelslime 10:54 am 11/17/2011

    Nor do I disagree with Einstein. Intuition is a powerful tool. But Einstein was not talking about supporting a theory in spite of available evidence. Aesthetics are not irrelevant in explaining reality, but they must take second place to cogency.

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  41. 41. colonelslime 10:54 am 11/17/2011

    *cogency to available evidence

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  42. 42. pbecke 7:12 pm 11/17/2011

    @Colonelslime

    “Sophistic arguments about the nature of truth are irrelevant. Science doesn’t seek abstract truth, it seeks the best available explanation for reality.”

    This is as far as we need to go. You are evidently totally unimpressed by my disquisition on the nature of science qua knowledge, not a subdivion thereof, in terms of that particularly gross, base sphere of knowledge we know as ‘empirical science’.

    Truth is independent of peer reviews. The truths of Einstein’s relativity theories have never depended upon peer reviews for their veracity. However, the progress of empirical science has been found to be highly dependent upon peer reviews, precisely because it progresses incrementally in the most pedantic ways that can be devised by the most anal of individuals.

    Sophisticated areas of truth and knowledge, which, however, like the humbler truths of empirical science do not essentially depend upon peer reviews, are not susceptible to the physical measurements of empirical science. It does not make then any less true, or the knowledge thereof any less valid. They simply can’t be proved.

    When a person considers such claims, he must resort to a more subtle use of his intelligence, combining his intuition and his store of accumulated knowledge at a more abstruse level. Whether people cling to scientism and scoff at such assertions or not, makes not the slightest difference to the truth, least of all when it does not lend itself to empirical investigation. The person making an assertion on such a subject may be right or wrong, but scientism will ‘a priori’ blunt the intellectual capacity of anyone wishing to ponder the truth of falsity of the matter.

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  43. 43. pbecke 7:25 pm 11/17/2011

    @Colonelslime

    As regards the corporate conspiracy, I found the following endorsement on a Guardian Science thread encouraging:

    “consciousness is primary, matter is secondary”

    Amit Goswami

    Thank you, itsawhiskymac.

    “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”

    Are you guys such victims of the the “zeitgeist” sustained by Einstein’s “naive realists” that you’ve become blase about the counter-rational nature of quantum physics?

    It’s not about “intuition” or “hunches” in relation to the paradoxes of quantum physics, it’s not “counter-intuitive”; it’s about being counter-rational, totally absurd.

    Subliminally, physicists must have accepted the strictures of Bohr in this regard, since they accept the paradoxes as reality and incorporate them in their overall contextual view, and are able to use them to make further successful discoveries; but wittingly or unwittingly, they and their careers are in thrall to the mechanistic dinosaurs, who still fight tooth and nail against the clear implications of Bohr’s quantum paradigm.

    “The great extension of our experience in recent years has brought light to the insufficiency of our simple mechanical conceptions and, as a consequence, has shaken the foundation on which the customary interpretation of observation was based.”

    If only….

    The comprehensive purview and inerrance of “science”, as predicated by mechanistic physics, is an essential tool of the large corporations in their “manufacture of consent”; not unlike those duplicitously-conceived, political surveys, the French had banned before elections, until, I believe, Sarkozy, an alumnus of the CIA, came along.

    Once the corporations allow for intrinsically impenetrable mysteries in science, it opens up the possibility of plausible moral objections to their psychopathic ethos, and a potential reining in of them by religion, in any number of areas, in which they are currently free to continue to act without any kind of moral constraint.

    paulbecke – 01:19am Jan 24, 2011 GMT (#195 of 226) | Delete
    According to Wiki, some physicists apparently felt that Bohm’s theory looks contrived: It was deliberately designed to give predictions which are in all details identical to conventional quantum mechanics*.

    Bohm’s aim was not to make a serious counterproposal but simply to demonstrate that hidden-variable theories are indeed possible.

    It seems Bohm, too, was of a mind to “fall back on the big names in the early development of quantum theory in the 1920′s and 30′s”.

    mmuskin – 02:24am Jan 24, 2011 GMT (#196 of 226)
    Hear, Hear, paulbecke. I entirely agree. The old Newtonian-style “clockwork universe” was a convenient paridigm for its time but has long been consigned to the historical dustbin by the best and most astute scientists I have personally known. Among those who would agree with us are my late good friends Richard Feynman, Max Delbruck, Gene Shoemaker, and Roger Sperry, among many others who happen not to have won Nobel prizes during their careers as professional scientists. Others I’ve known, like Franz Zwicky, Fred Thompson, Gene Amdahl, Michael Turner, and Kip Thorne, all of whom I’ve known personally and talked with extensively about their own scientific specialties, agree that while science itself is not a religion (and as Stephen Hawking recently commented, inciting some public uproar among religious intolerants, that God was not necessary for our physical universe to have been created) consciousness itself cannot be totally divorced from the comprehensive consideration of physical processes nor any of the physical sciences.

    Some pure mathematicians I’ve known have been able to sustain for themselves the delusion that not only is a mathematically (logically) complete, self-consistent, and entirely valid structure of axioms, theorems, and their relationships to each other possible to construct and prove valid, but even that the application of such a mathematical structure to the mechanistic and comprehensive description of physical reality is valid, reliable, and unassailable in its potential ability to predict the outcome of any physical process with absolute certainty.

    Whether or not one believes Einstein’s famous statement that “God does not roll dice,” which I don’t think even Einstein himself believed at the time (having read his excellent book “The World As I See It” in which he clearly agrees with the scientists I mentioned above), the mechanistically absolutist paradigm of physical “law” is untenable and, as you mentioned, has been abused as a means of imposing overly authoritative and oppressive constraints by corporate, government, and ecclesiastic institutions upon the rest of the human race in a truly psychopathic effort on their part to be free of any restraint by other people or laws upon them accomplishing their own selfish will in this world and remaining free of any true accountability for having done such a rampantly abusive thing to others on such a vast scale and for so tragically long.

    The best physicists I’ve met (or been fortunate enough to have personally known) will, when the governmental and corporate “suits” are not around, readily admit that this is the case, and that freedom of expression is necessary but not by itself sufficient for true excellence in the scholarly pursuit of the sciences.

    Freedom of thought from these artificially narrow constraints and popular fashions of the time, promoted so effectively throughout our society by those who personally profit from discouraging or even prohibiting an individual’s free thought about science, law, ethics, or the role of consciousness (however one wishes to define it) in what we share as our common ground which we call “reality”. is also necessary for such scholarly pursuits to yield valid results which can successfully withstand arbitrarily rigourous testing and reliable reproduction of scientific validation (or humane ethics, or equity at law for that matter).

    Even a cursory study of the history of maths shows how European scientists and mathematicians so long failed to discover the validity and relevance of fundamental concepts like “zero” or the “imaginary” numbers (as, for example, i is the square root of negative one) that discussion of modern maths in ignorance of such concepts is now rightfully seen as unacceptably clumsy and quite backward.

    Try solving simple quadratic equations (each of whose two roots are not both real numbers) using only Roman numerals. Try explaining calculus to someone ignorant of limits and the whole concept of continuity in the very definition of integration. It’s the same when one reads (in my case English translations of) Einstein’s original 1905 paper on Special Relativity or his 1915 paper on General Relativity and notes how his immediate predecessors (including Hertz and Lorentz) were so loathe to discard the false doctrine of an alleged “aether” within which electromagnetic waves were supposed to propagate through space. Several important experiments, including the famous Michelson-Morley test, convinced Einstein and eventually others that this aether did not exist and never had existed. Electromagnetic energy could finally be accepted as capable of propagating itself in a vacuum.

    In older interpretations of chemistry, a mythical substance called “phlogiston” was long thought to be the scientifically valid basis for the combustion of flammable materials in fresh air. Once the crucial discovery of free oxygen in the oxidation/reduction reactions which we now know actually cause fire to burn was finally accepted and the phlogiston paridigm discarded, real progress in the study of chemical oxidation could proceed without interference from the former believers in the false paradigm which had been holding back chemical research.

    For centuries, misconceptions like the sun revolving around the earth or the energy generated by the sun being derived by the identical chemical processes which caused fire to burn combustible materials in air (instead of the nuclear fusion which we now know powers the sun) were accepted and reasonable alternatives ridiculed as scientific “heresy” until the more valid and “real” explanations successfully replaced them. How are either maths or the physical sciences supposed to progress unless true freedom of thought is not only permitted but openly encouraged?”

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  44. 44. pbecke 8:17 pm 11/17/2011

    Epistemology in terms of empirical science seems to have come to a sudden stop with the departure of Max Planck, sixty odd years ago.

    “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”

    Has any physicist taken the matter any further? On the contrary, Planck is implicitly, roundly mocked as a believer in intelligent design. As, of course, was Einstein, a mere deist. Not a pantheist but a panentheist.

    The first two paragraphs of Samuel McNerney’s article are very evocative of Planck’s observations:

    ‘……..George Lakoff and Rafael Nunez explain:
    “Embodied cognition, the idea that the mind is not only connected to the body but that the body influences the mind, is one of the more counter-intuitive ideas in cognitive science. In sharp contrast is dualism, a theory of mind famously put forth by Rene Descartes in the 17th century when he claimed that “there is a great difference between mind and body, inasmuch as body is by nature always divisible, and the mind is entirely indivisible… the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body.” In the proceeding centuries, the notion of the disembodied mind flourished. From it, western thought developed two basic ideas: reason is disembodied because the mind is disembodied and reason is transcendent and universal. However, as George Lakoff and Rafeal Núñez explain:

    Cognitive science calls this entire philosophical worldview into serious question on empirical grounds… [the mind] arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences. This is not just the innocuous and obvious claim that we need a body to reason; rather, it is the striking claim that the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment… Thus, to understand reason we must understand the details of our visual system, our motor system, and the general mechanism of neural binding.”

    Max Planck:

    ” Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”

    “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

    The testimonies of people who have suffered “near-death experiences” suggest that they gave them a more profoundly scientific understanding of consciousness than the “naive realists”, as Einstein called them, the mockers of the great paradigm-changers of the last century. No peer reviews.

    The resurrection of the body in a form so glorified that it is beyond our imagination, is an absolute tenet of the Christian faith, at least as taught by the Catholic church. So, that too ties in. The angels are pure spirits who only assume human form for our benefit. Their proper milieu is evidently not this universe.

    My apologies for this unpardonable digression from empirical science… cold… hard… reason…. Not.

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  45. 45. colonelslime 10:48 pm 11/17/2011

    @pbecke: you haven’t said anything I necessarily disagree with, but you haven’t disputed my point either. I am not without a spiritual side, and I’m not a militant atheist obsessed with rationality. Scientific theory is wholly incapable of providing any epidemiological truths, as logic isn’t self-proving and we cannot be sure of anything we know. But, I have seen no evidence, peer reviewed or otherwise, that supports your claim of character traits being transferred by organ donation. AS I said, sophistic arguments on the nature of truth are irrelevant to science and empiricism. This does not making them irrelevant to human existence, but they don’t replace evidence and data. Using your own example, if someone today were to claim some new equivalent of “aether” theory, in spite of available evidence, would you defend them on epidemiological grounds? Would you say simply that the current paradigm is simply an entrenched heresy? Provide me some proof of your claims about organ transplant, and I am open to changing my opinions on the matter. You are right that the current obsession with peer review amounts to little more than a fallacious appeal to authority. However, peer review is not the same thing as statistically valid, and there is ample evidence on how easy it is for the brain to fabricate images and memories when it enters certain states. For me to accept you claims, I must have more than just anecdotes, because of the subjective and malleable nature of human experience and memory.

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  46. 46. colonelslime 10:54 pm 11/17/2011

    Cursed autocorrect! I meant epistemological in both cases.

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  47. 47. colonelslime 11:35 pm 11/17/2011

    Oh, I just thought of a better example. Dianetic by L. Ron Hubbard. While anecdotes exists, I would hope we could both agree on the lack of evidence for its hypothesis.

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  48. 48. tsebas 9:50 pm 11/18/2011

    @susip

    Where is the mind, you ask. Sounds like you want to know where to find some ‘thing’. Minds do not qualify as ‘things’, unless you want to call it an ‘abstract thing’.

    When we speak of the mind, we have nominalized a physiological activity, basically the physiological activity of thinking, broadly defined. The noun ‘mind’ derives from the verb ‘mind’: “mind how you walk on the icy walkway”; “mind your manners”; “do you mind if I open a window?”.

    The physiological activity of minding (thinking, remembering) occurs as a bodily function. We don’t think with our minds, we think when we mind, and mind when we think.

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  49. 49. pbecke 10:11 am 12/4/2011

    “But, I have seen no evidence, peer reviewed or otherwise, that supports your claim of character traits being transferred by organ donation.”

    Did I suggest that your field of knowledge and experience were pivotal to an understanding of truth? Did I suggest that “evidence peer reviewed or otherwise, that supports (my) your claim of character traits being transferred by organ donation”, even existed in any codified form?

    “AS I said, sophistic arguments on the nature of truth are irrelevant to science and empiricism.”

    You have the question round the wrong way? Is science and empiricism relevant to observations concerning the nature of truth. It would be nice to think it did. It should. Indeed, the former should be the context. Einstein couldn’t reproduce under laboratory conditions the empirical evidence which finally led him to select the aesthetic criterion as the preferred basis for his choice of hypotheses.

    “This does not making them irrelevant to human existence, but they don’t replace evidence and data.”

    That would be to diminish their stature. You sound like the character in Dickens who was obsessed with “facts” (meaning the basest and most simplistically manageable)!

    ‘Using your own example, if someone today were to claim some new equivalent of “aether” theory, in spite of available evidence, would you defend them on epistemological grounds?’

    A very facile strawman that does your argument little credit. There exists an almost infinite range of anecdotal evidence on all manner of subjects, some, such as the existence of the USA, for example, considered to be hard facts. If we have never been there, all our anecdotal evidence, documentary or oral, indicates that its existence is a hard fact.

    When you were a young child and your mother came into the room after being away for a while, was the little surge of love in your heart a phantasm. Well, many of your confreres would assert with all the bombast of the ‘naive realist’ that it was all down to chemical reactions, anyway, but it would not have been physiologically measurable on any but the most perverse and inchoate empirical level.

    Would you consider a conviction of the existence of ghosts, global throughout man’s recorded history, anecdotal and as untrustworthy as the existence of phlogiston or aether. The latter have been disproved by empirical science (please, no sophistry about proof, anyone), the former has not.

    Indeed, contrary to your conviction, empirical science is not, nor ever could be the centre and crown of science, properly so-called, i.e. knowledge, again irrespective of any indication of your personal apprehension of the scope of its validity or its stature within science, properly-so-called.

    “Provide me some proof of your claims about organ transplant, and I am open to changing my opinions on the matter.”

    The data concerning belief in the existence of ghosts, even if a figure could be put on the number of such believers, would be enormous, still without your personal opinion being germane to the matter.

    “You are right that the current obsession with peer review amounts to little more than a fallacious appeal to authority.”

    No. You are quite wrong. You misread my point. Peer reviews are indeed an important tool in the necessarily slow, pedantic establishment of empirical physical truths, because, except for the occasions of paradigm shifts, science must proceed incrementally. A Leggo set, if you will.

    In mocking peer reviews, I was mocking the people who see it as a tool for the estabishment of all knowledge, not merely empirical science. The exclusive, empiricism-centred perspective on epistemology. In my experience, hitherto, moreover, the ones who excitedly cry, “Appeal to authority”! are the most supine of all hostages to authority, dutifully reading their text books to pass their exams, rather than in a ‘bona fide’ quest for knowledge of truth for its own sake. The same ones who usually cry, ‘Peer review! Where’s the peer review!’

    What an irony, point them to the beliefs of Max Planck, Niels Bohr and Einstein, they’ll cry “Appeal to authority”, while swallowing whole, conjectures, such as the fabled ‘primordial soup’.

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  50. 50. Michal B. Paradowski 8:00 am 01/4/2012

    Obviously, all our experience is mediated/filtered/facilitated/biased/whichever-other-term-you-prefer via our bodies (much of which interaction may be perceived as biological _constraints_ imposed by the architecture of the ‘hardware’ – just as our disposition impacts our somatic state and performance). Taking as an example the realm of speech competence and performance, consider for instance:
    - lateralization and localization of the language faculty in neuronal circuitry, as evidenced by i) language disorders from receptive and expressive aphasias, Specific Language Impairment, and abnormal language developed in individuals with left hemispherectomy to other cases of people with normal nonverbal abilities but impaired language and ‘normal’ language but cognitive deficits (cf. the classic Smith et al. (1993) study), and ii) fMRI studies showing ‘activation’ of certain brain areas involved in language processing,
    - genetic influence on language (now considered in terms of networks of gene interactions, rather than attempts to pin down an isolated gene), or
    - psychosomatic states and factors (fatigue, tedium, intoxication, drugs, sudden changes of mind, haste, inattention, external distractions…) affecting language users’ output (the actual deployment of their linguistic competence).
    But there is much more to it than meets the eye, if I may perversely use this metaphor. While one could try to argue that the body is just a filter mediating sensory inputs, and that all memory, thought, and knowledge are written into and ‘rest’ in the brain, the tie is not broken and is crucial in both information processing and action execution. The notion of embodiment can well be substantiated in the realm of language, with metaphors actually being a marginal–if any–indicator of the phenomenon. One of the most obvious areas showing the tie is interaction between (context-bound) language comprehension and production and sensorimotor activation, manifested in both directions – in motor resonance (motor performance modulated by e.g. priming), and in semantic resonance (brain language areas associated with certain concepts getting activated during sensorimotor action; for a representative overview see for instance issue 112 (2010) of ‘Brain & Language’). Without postulating embodiment, it would also be difficult to account for such observed phenomena as verbalization of memory being facilitated when assuming the original body position during recall (a ‘folk wisdom’ recurrent from Malaysian television language programs for kids to rigorous scientific research such as Dijkstra et al. 2007), expedition of linguistic tasks when these are complemented by action, the interlacing of sensorimotor experiences with cognition in episodic memory (memory of the context and circumstances in which events happened), faster comprehension of depictions of spatial associations than of descriptions of spatial _dis_sociations, and speedier recognition of words with ‘body-object interaction’ than of ones without. On top of this, on the one hand it has also been found that comprehension of action words deteriorates after loss of procedural knowledge, while on the other clinical studies indicate that processing of action concepts degrades if action- or vision-related brain areas are lesioned in motor neuron diseases and semantic dementia. A bonus argument for a link between language and the body can be the parallel emergence of speech and gesture in infancy.
    I find this kind of evidence much more convincing than the metaphorical examples by Lakoff and Johnson, as in their case the claim for embodied cognition completely misses the point. Firstly, to all accounts the metaphors brought up are not universal, but culturally embedded (i.e. entrained); e.g. in Quechua and Aymara the future is conceived of and encoded as being _behind_ us (because it cannot be seen), and the past ahead of us (because it can). For an example of the cultural grounding of gestures consider nodding and shaking one’s head: in most of Europe and beyond the former signifies consent or acknowledgment, and the latter dissent or denial, but this is the reverse in Bulgaria. This is why I would be very cautious about talking of such ‘universal primitives’ as ‘future is ahead’ or ‘morality is purity’ – the latter of which is a concept impressed upon us by religions, but not necessarily innate (barring the fact that the connection between using a Handi Wipe and embodiment postulated in the original entry is rather strained anyway). An even more compelling hint suggesting that using metaphors to explain embodiment is a completely failed attempt is evidence that while motor resonance has been observed in neuroimaging and TMS studies when action words and concepts were used in their _literal_ meaning, the effect apparently does _not_ take place in metaphorical or idiomatic contexts (see Bergen et al. 2007 or Rueschemeyer et al. 2010).
    All the aforementioned observations merely point to a _link_ between language and the body. But that is still misses the key point of embodied cognition, where the brain, the body, and the environment _all_ form part of reasoning, heuristics, decision-making and action execution. This is fantastically patent in robotics, where during e.g. learning to walk the resultant neural network is going to depend on the robot’s morphology; it is essential particularly to ‘soft robotics’ and morphological computation, where there is no clear separation between the controller (orchestrator) and hardware (morphology), and the tasks are distributed between the ‘brain’, body, and environment – which is what us humans and animals do all the time.
    The reason why it is untenable to believe that organ transplant receivers will have concurrently gained new experiences lies in the fact that the physical make-up of the donated human organ is qualitatively equivalent to that being replaced (when/if that was still functioning normally). While the body mediates our experiences, our memory and knowledge are still largely believed to be stored in the neural circuitry (both in the case of declarative memory and motor memory, albeit the consolidation and retention of the latter unquestioningly require muscular involvement), and while there is a link between neural and somatic responses, the surgery and subsequent recuperation by design probably recreate most of the links, however imperfectly. Moreover, most of the organs being transplanted are not responsible for transmitting sensory impressions anyway (except for pain, but that is not an organ-specific feature).
    Regarding the role of the visual cortex in the processing and acquisition of information, it is a well-known fact that the visual modality dominates in society, preceding verbal, kinaesthetic and tactile – think of the frequent use of the form ‘I see’ to mean ‘I understand’. Within milliseconds one image can convey a very complex, non-linear message, while the potential of expressing that same content with e.g. words can be very limited and require many hours or printed pages.
    While most of us perceive colours in the same way (cf. e.g. studies with Munsell colour tiles) independently of the language used or cultural upbringing (the fact that a language may have no word for e.g. ‘sage’ or ‘taupe’, or that e.g. in desert countries warm colours predominate and cold hues are underrepresented, does not mean that the speakers of those lingos and inhabitants of the areas are unable to distinguish those colours), it is estimated that around 8% of the male and 0.5% of the female population suffer from some kind of colour vision deficiency; van Gogh for one was most probably a case of anomalous trichromacy. Naturally, those are considered anomalies.
    As regards the awareness issue mentioned in this thread by @charles000, if I’m correct in taking it that you understand the concept as e.g. the state of being on the verge between still asleep and not yet wide awake, it is hardly conceivable to use this term in abstraction from the body. Awareness in this sense always requires _some_ minimal sensory input – be it the rustle and bustle of the household or the street noise, the ray of sun warming your cheek or the cold draught giving you goose flesh, the itchiness of the blanket on the prison bunk or the softness of the teddy, the pulsation of blood in your veins, gravitation acting on your body, the smell of oatmeal burning – some impression must be ‘there’ for you to talk of awareness. You do mention awareness when you dispassionately deliberate on Riemann hypothesis. This notion of self-awareness is actually a crucial one in the field of robotics, as are embodiment and multisensory integration.

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  51. 51. dancingwords 7:47 pm 05/30/2013

    I’m not a native speaker, so please excuse my clumsy way to paraphrise thoughts.

    There is indeed a perspective and a major field for the embodied cognition theory in the future. As it’s nowadays almost impossible (or a clue for not beeing well informed) to deny the fact of mental simulations while dealing with a concrete term or word (let’s not focus on the manner how it’s dealt with, like hearing, reading or speaking), it’s almost impossible to explain the genesis and treatment of abstract terms as well. And metaphores are partly concrete and partly abstract, like a hybrid.

    The more abstract a term is, the more lowers the mental simulation. When we deal with a term like lemon fruit, almost (almost!) the same neurons are shortly activated as when we actiually perceive a lemon fruit, nevertheless these activations won’t be conscious but subconcious or something else. I like the metaphor “neuronal echoes”. Of course, this perspective fits perfectly with the sensualism and empirism of Locke and Hume, as it’s called ideas of memory in opposition to impression or originary perceptions (in husserls terminology). This “almost” might be the difference between simply recording a caleidoscope of impressions coming from an object and integrating these impressions in your mental map, interpreting them instantly.
    But what “mirrorneurons” or neuronal fields could be activated while dealing with a word like freedom or health? How could such a term be embodied? Either there is a seperate “symbol language” in the mind or with a term like freedom comes a whole bunch of neuronal activations, like the episodic memory, concepts of mankind and living and so on (which are abstract themselves and activate other conceptual maps, which have to activate others…) But all at the same time, within milliseconds? What pragmatic filters are there and how does the brain decide which one to use in the context or situation?
    In other words: Is there a categorical difference between concrete and abstract terms? Unlikely, because there are no borders but only a continuum of abstraction. If abstract terms have their grounding in embodied concrete terms, what means abstraction? What is that operation the mind is capable of?

    The answer might be the same as the one to the question, how people with a perceptual handicap as deafness can be as intelligent as others or even compensate this handicap: the human mind is extremely powerful and can recombinate the material of impressions creativly. As some people from other cultures might never experience such a thing as a coconut, or have even seen a picture of it, they can imagine such a thing, however it might look in their inner world, just by recombinating the images of the fruits they know.
    As I for myself didn’t know how a saphire looks since a week ago (or I’ve seen it and couldn’t remember, I can’t decide in this case), I used this word several times in a conversation without having a concrete image of it in my mind. A friend asks me then “But how did a saphire look for you then?” And all I could answer was: “Well, like some jewellery, sparkling, pure, whatever I want to.”
    We can use terms of objects without the originary perceptions or impressions. And of course we can use terms of objects which don’t exist in the material world but only in our imagination or inner world.

    Abstract terms are by definition open or unfinished, which means they can be filled individually like slots. Therefore, there is no such thing as freedom or beauty, only similar, but different concepts of freedom in every single subject. To say these concepts are embodied means nothing else than the concepts are built by any individual experience, by emotional introspection and affective perception of the environment and recombinating these interpreted impressions.

    This might be the key to the entire human evolution: the ability to imagine things beyond our perceptions, but of course not without other perceptions, things like mind, force, universe. This ability might be called imagination, I prefer creative abstraction. But how does the mind manage THAT? It’s a miracle and maybe it should be. It’s the distinction between human beeings and artificial intelligence.

    But the questions remains for the embodied cognition theory: How does the mind deal with asbtract terms? Isn’t it less neuronal imaging, less a mental simulation, less understanding but more feeling, anticipating, dancing around the meaning?

    The fact that communications works sufficient has nothing to do with the fact, that every subject has a different conceptual world built in their minds. It only means that language is capable of referring to these concepts and that they are in some kind not entirely different.

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  52. 52. dancingwords 8:13 pm 05/30/2013

    Oh and thanks a lot for the blog, I’ve just fallen in love with the embodiment perspective and devour anything I can find. It must have been quite impressive to talk to Lakoff. Congratulations to that!

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