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Thinking with the body: embodied cognition

Thinking with the body: embodied cognition

August 6, 2022

Since the "I think, therefore I exist" of René Descartes has rained a lot, and yet his way of understanding the human being seems to have clung to the history of thought. The approach body - mind that Descartes helped to project towards the Age of Reason has created a very fertile dualistic tradition in which both psychology and neuroscience have participated. Today it is still customary to establish a distinction between brain and body, at least when it comes to explaining the cognition and the thinking nature of the human being.

Embodied Cognition or thinking with the body

That is why in some lines of research we try to look inside the skull for the primordial causes of human behavior, appealing to neural components smaller and smaller in an infinite progression that is often called reductionism .


However, to this brain-centered conception of thought a rival has emerged. The idea of embodied cognition , which could be translated as "cognition in the body" or "thinking with the body", emphasizes the coexistence between cognition and bodily functions, two elements that merge and whose relationship goes far beyond the simple container - content scheme .

Breaking barriers

While a dualistic model would advocate for separation of functions between a central executive responsible for cognition and located in the brain, and a few ways of input and output of data provided by the body, hypotheses arising from embodied cognition emphasize the Dialectical and dynamic character that is established between many components of the body (including the brain here) when remembering, judging, making decisions, reasoning, etc. From this stream it is pointed out that it is impractical to distinguish between a body that sends and receives information to the brain and is a passive agent while the brain processes the data and a brain that is a passive agent while its orders extend through the rest of the body and take the reins of the situation when this stage has already passed.


The stream of embodied cognition (thinking with the body) has experiments in its favor. In a study at Yale University, for example, it showed to what extent the application of irrational criteria linked to the most primary sensory perceptions can influence our more abstract categorizations . The experiment began by asking the experimental subjects to go to a laboratory located on a fourth floor. In the elevator, one researcher asked each of the people participating in the study to hold a cup of coffee while she pointed their names. In some cases, the coffee was hot; in others, it contained ice. Once in the laboratory, each of the participants was asked to make a description of the character of an unknown person. The people holding the hot cup tended to speak of the unknown person as close, friendly, and more trustworthy compared to the descriptions of the "cold coffee" group whose descriptions pointed to the opposite characteristics.


There are other samples on how physical dispositions that theoretically only concern the Body receptors at the most primary levels affect the most abstract cognitive processes , which according to the dualist conception are monopolized by agents located in the cerebral cortex. Mark Yates is studying how the simple act of moving the eyes creates patterns of response in the random generation of numbers: the movement of eyes to the right is associated with imagining larger numbers, and vice versa). Less recently, for example, we have Gordon H. Bower's research on the link between emotions and memory.

Beyond the scientific field, we could talk about how popular knowledge links certain habits of life and dispositions of the body with certain cognitive styles. We can also admit that the idea of ​​the formation of some or other abstract categories of thought from sensible impressions is quite reminiscent of David Hume .

Matryoshka Dolls

The dualist perspective is kind when it comes to being thought, because it distinguishes between agents with very specific tasks that cooperate to obtain results. However, any sample of which variables for which the body should be a bumper not only affect cognition, but modulate it, is potentially heretical for this conception of man.

Not only because it shows to what extent both parties are related, but because, in fact, it forces us to rethink to what extent it is right to continue believing in the distinction between perceptive and rational units.Any explanation of human behavior that needs to appeal to a brain that gives orders unilaterally is throwing balls out about a fundamental issue: Who gives orders to the brain? Who watches the watchmen?


THUNK - 137. Embodied Cognition (August 2022).


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