Embodied Mind, Meaning, and Reason (2017) addresses how the body shapes the mind

I have an interest in how we make sense of things.

I also have an interest in the concept that the mind extends beyond the body.

I have an interest, as well, in the related concept that media of all kinds – including texts and visual imagery – are extensions of the mind.

These are concepts that many people, including those who are possessed of vastly greater human capital (that is, education and abilities) than I possess, have explored.

I am also interested in related concepts from William Blake, one of whose observations (this may be a direct quotation or a paraphrase) goes along the lines of: “They became what they beheld.” As well, I recall that many contemporary authors have underlined that when Descartes argued that the mind is separate from the body, he was well off the mark.

How the body shapes the mind

I have recently come across an author – the philosopher Mark Johnson – whose work makes good sense to me. I have taken as a working hypothesis that a book of his, that is the subject of the current post, offers a great way to enhance my understanding of how the mind goes about its work.

What we read can alter how we see the world

Great art, however we may define it, has the capacity to alter how we see the world. The same is true for the book I am discussing, at the post you are now reading.

The book has added to the clarity and resonance of what I see – that is, with what actually appears, from one moment to the next, in my field of vision. It has also affected sense impressions, that arrive my way, through other sense modalities such as hearing and touch. The book has had a strong impact on my view of the world.

“How our Bodies Give Rise to Understanding”

I am pleased, therefore, to share a few words regarding the opening paragraph from Chapter 3 of Embodied Mind, Meaning, and Reason: How Our Bodies Give Rise to Understanding (2017).

A blurb for the book notes that “Mark Johnson is one of the great thinkers of our time on how the body shapes the mind.”

The chapter, authored by Mark Johnson and Tim Rohrer, is entitled: “We Are Live Creatures: Embodiment, American Pragmatism, and the Cognitive Organism.”

The authors note (p. 67) that the previous chapters have “surveyed the overarching view of mind, consciousness, and thought that arises from the conversation between classical pragmatism and second-generation (embodied) cognitive sci­ence.”

Johnson and Rohrer also note, in the opening paragraph, that Dewey’s “continuity principle” is a key tenet of a “naturalistic, nonreductionist theory of mind.”

According to this principle, “increasingly complex ‘higher’ levels of bodily functioning and cognition emerge from ‘lower’ levels in a continuous fashion, without a metaphysical breach that would require the positing of some new ontological reality or causal force.”

The chapter looks at “how this continuity principle might work as a way of explaining how we move from single­ celled animals all the way up to the highest cognitive achievements of humans.”

The authors speak, in this context, of an “embodied realism that explains how higher cog­nitive functions recruit sensory, motor, and affective processes that make up our basic bodily interactions with our environment.”

The paragraph concludes with the following argument, which in my view warrants close study:

“If this emergen­tist view is adequate, then there is no need for a representational theory of mind – no need for ‘inner’ mental entities that are supposed to bridge the gap between mind and world. According to embodied realism, there never was such a gap in the first place, because thinking is a form of bodily action in the world with which we are in touch through our bodies.”

This is a fine book. I recommend it highly.

Updates

A Feb. 2, 2018 CBC article, which in my view supports the concept of the embodied mind, is entitled: “Friends share more than interests, their brains are similar too.”

Of related interest, a July 29, 2018 Guardian article is entitled: “How the ‘brainy’ book became a publishing phenomenon.”

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