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Thread: Human Cognition is an Embodied Activity

  1. #1

    Default Human Cognition is an Embodied Activity

    Human Cognition is an Embodied Activity

    We have all grown up to consider thought to be primarily a matter of language and propositions. We have not generally been taught this notion explicitly but have acquired it through social osmosis (picked it up without conscious effort because it is a notion that permeates our culture, i.e. it is a traditional notion). “…there is thought without language; this is possible because thought originates in our sense of spatial and kinesthetic orientation in the world.”

    Common sense or, as cognitive science labels it, folk theory informs us that “all things are a kind of thing”. All things have in common with other things certain characteristics; i.e. all things belong in categories with other like things. Things are categorized together based upon what they have in common. It might be worth while to think of category as being a container.

    In classical or conventional terms we categorize things in accordance with what are regarded as being that which is essential to that kind of thing. All things that are essentially the same fall into the same category. What is essential to a tree is that which is necessary and sufficient for that thing to be classified as a tree. To categorize a thing, i.e. define a thing, is to give its essential characteristics.

    In some way or another all creatures must categorize. At a minimum all creatures must distinguish friend from foe or eat and not eat. Categorization is part of the fundamental needs for survival of the creature. If the mouse mistakes a snake for a stick that mouse becomes toast; the same categorization problem applies to the lion and to the man.

    Categorization is meaningful. Meaning is not a thing; something is meaningful for a creature only when there is an association between that thing and the creature. “Meaningfulness derives from the experience of functioning as a being of a certain sort in an environment of a certain sort.” It is meaningful to a soldier when s/he mistakenly categorizes a tank to be only a harmless bush or an enemy to be a friend.

    There is nothing more meaningful for a creatures’ survival than correct categorization of the world in which that creature lives.

    Most all of us have heard the story of a group of blind men who were taken to touch an elephant to learn what elephants were like. Each of the blind men touched only one part of the elephant and then later, when comparing notes of what they felt, learned that they were all in complete disagreement as to what an elephant is. This story is useful for demonstrating how “reality” may be viewed based upon one’s perspective. That which often appears to be so obviously “true” may be just a matter of point of view.

    Imagine now how the blind man, who had touched the leg of the elephant and “categorized” it as like a tree or the one who had touched the tail of the elephant and “categorized” it as like a rope, might change their “categorization” had they been given a ride sitting on top of the elephants back.

    Scientists in the field of cognitive science inform us that categorization is neither consistently very abstract nor consistently very concrete. “It is rather consistently functional.” The first level of categorization is “followed by an endless process of further categorization which moves in both the abstract and the concrete direction.”

    These scientists inform us that they have “found that there is a level of categorization that is psychologically basic in the sense that: (1) categories at his level are learned earliest and named first; (2) category names at this level are the shortest and most frequently used in the language (e.g. “dog”, “cat”, “ball”, “chair”, “car”, “dime”,); (3) things at this level are remembered more readily and identified more quickly; (4) items at this level are perceived holistically, as a singular gestalt, rather than identified by a specific, distinctive features; and (5) there tend to be distinctive motor programs for interacting with objects at this level.”

    Human cognition is an embodied activity!

    Quotes from A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind by Steven L. Winter director of the Center for Legal Studies at Wayne State University Law School

  2. #2
    On a mission Array Usehername's Avatar
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    May 2007


    Coberst, why don't you draw these ideas out into conversation with a further post? I think some of these thoughts are worth discussing.
    *You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
    *Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods.
    C.S. Lewis

  3. #3


    Quote Originally Posted by Usehername View Post

    Coberst, why don't you draw these ideas out into conversation with a further post? I think some of these thoughts are worth discussing.
    These are complex and revolutionary concepts that require a great deal of study and thought.

    Damasio utilizes the lesion method for studying and developing hypothesis regarding the nature of human consciousness. This method consists in studying the effect on the brain’s dysfunctions resulting from such things as stroke, disease, or injury. Through this technique Damasio has been able to model brain functions that relate to certain disruption from normal behavior.

    The basic facts made available for analysis give testimony to the hypothesis that consciousness is not a monolith. Most importantly there is an abrupt division between what is identified as core consciousness and extended consciousness. There are also distinguishing levels within extended consciousness it self. When core consciousness fails then extended consciousness follows.

    Damasio identifies wakefulness, low-level attention, specific emotion, and specific actions as aspects of core consciousness. When core consciousness fails extended consciousness also fails. “On the other hand, when an extended consciousness is disrupted, as exemplified by patients with profound disturbances of autobiographical memory, core consciousness remains intact.”

    “It is possible to separate consciousness in general from functions such as wakefulness, low-level attention, working memory, conventional memory, language, and reasoning.”
    Patients who lose wakefulness (REM sleep being an exception) can no longer be judged to be conscious.

    Such aspects of core consciousness as wakefulness, low-level attention, and brief, adequate behaviors can survive a disturbance of consciousness; emotion is lost, along with the sense of knowing and self when consciousness is lost. “The defect of knowing and self and of recognizably motivated emotion goes hand in hand with defects in planning, in high-level attention, and in sustained and adequate behaviors”.

    Damasio finds that “nearly all the sites of brain damage associated with a significant disruption of core consciousness share one important trait…these structures are of old evolutionary vintage, they are present in numerous nonhuman species, and they mature early in individual human development.”

    That is to say that his evidence indicates that core consciousness is centered about the brain’s physical areas that developed very early in the evolution of life on our planet, i.e. human core consciousness is directly evolved from early animal forms.

    Quotes from “The Feeling of what Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness” by Antonio Damasio

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