The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience Francisco J. Varela (Author), Evan T. Thompson (Author), Eleanor Rosch (Author)
Beyond Reason: Pre-Reflexive Thought and Creativity in Art, John Haworth, Leonardo, Vol. 30, No. 2 (1997), pp. 137-145
Our conception of how we come to know and understand things and act in innovative and creative ways is now undergoing critical change. Traditional views that conceive of the world as independent of the observer and conceive of perception as forming representations of pre-given properties of the world–much in the way that a camera records a picture of some object–are being challenged. It is now argued that perception and our knowledge of the world are generated by our interaction with the world, which takes on a specific form due to the nature of our bodies and our individual and social experiences in the particular culture in which we live. This article outlines the embodiment theory of perception and creativity proposed by the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty and describes the author’s indepth research involving interviews with artists, which supports and develops this theory.
Supersizing the Mind, Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension, Andy Clark, 2008, Oxford University Press
When historian Charles Weiner found pages of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman’s notes, he saw it as a “record” of Feynman’s work. Feynman himself, however, insisted that the notes were not a record but the work itself. In Supersizing the Mind, Andy Clark argues that our thinking doesn’t happen only in our heads but that “certain forms of human cognizing include inextricable tangles of feedback, feed-forward and feed-around loops: loops that promiscuously criss-cross the boundaries of brain, body and world.” The pen and paper of Feynman’s thought are just such feedback loops, physical machinery that shape the flow of thought and enlarge the boundaries of mind. Drawing upon recent work in psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics, human-computer systems, and beyond, Supersizing the Mind offers both a tour of the emerging cognitive landscape and a sustained argument in favor of a conception of mind that is extended rather than “brain-bound.” The importance of this new perspective is profound. If our minds themselves can include aspects of our social and physical environments, then the kinds of social and physical environments we create can reconfigure our minds and our capacity for thought and reason.
In chapter one of ‘From Embodiment to Cognitive Extension’ Clark discusses how our body, when focused on a simple and familiar task, becomes ‘transparent equipment’ – a classic example being the hammer in the hands of a carpenter, the carpenter ‘sees through’ the equipment to the task in hand. Through time, patience and skill we achieve this bodily fluency, and with enough fluency the world becomes directly available to us as an arena to experience and fully engage. Clark states, the world becomes ‘poised to present itself to the user not just as a problem space but also as a problem – solving resource. Obvious stuff so far, however, the beauty of Clark’s thoughts lie in his discussion of morphology – that to fully engage and understand the nature of our physical experience of the world, our embodied actions need to understood in terms of constant oscillation between our physical capabilities or tendencies and a necessary adaption even evolution abilities of our according to the environment. What he is suggesting is that as active, living, growing beings we are physically altered by the conditions of our environment…
The philosophical career of Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) focuses, in its first phase, upon the construction of a philosophy of existence known as existentialism. Sartre’s early works are characterized by a development of classic phenomenology, but his reflection diverges from Husserl’s on methodology, the conception of the self, and an interest in ethics. These points of divergence are the cornerstones of Sartre’s existential phenomenology, whose purpose is to understand human existence rather than the world as such. Adopting and adapting the methods of phenomenology, Sartre sets out to develop an ontological account of what it is to be human. The main features of this ontology are the groundlessness and radical freedom which characterize the human condition. These are contrasted with the unproblematic being of the world of things. Sartre’s substantial literary output adds dramatic expression to the always unstable co-existence of facts and freedom in an indifferent world.
Sartre’s ontology is explained in his philosophical masterpiece, Being and Nothingness, where he defines two types of reality which lie beyond our conscious experience: the being of the object of consciousness and that of consciousness itself. The object of consciousness exists as “in-itself,” that is, in an independent and non-relational way. However, consciousness is always consciousness “of something,” so it is defined in relation to something else, and it is not possible to grasp it within a conscious experience: it exists as “for-itself.” An essential feature of consciousness is its negative power, by which we can experience “nothingness.” This power is also at work within the self, where it creates an intrinsic lack of self-identity. So the unity of the self is understood as a task for the for-itself rather than as a given.
In order to ground itself, the self needs projects, which can be viewed as aspects of an individual’s fundamental project and motivated by a desire for “being” lying within the individual’s consciousness. The source of this project is a spontaneous original choice that depends on the individual’s freedom. However, self’s choice may lead to a project of self-deception such as bad faith, where one’s own real nature as for-itself is discarded to adopt that of the in-itself. Our only way to escape self-deception is authenticity, that is, choosing in a way which reveals the existence of the for-itself as both factual and transcendent. For Sartre, my proper exercise of freedom creates values that any other human being placed in my situation could experience, therefore each authentic project expresses a universal dimension in the singularity of a human life.