Embodied Cognition

There's something about the scientific search to understand the mind by concentrating on the brain that reminds me of the Mulla Nasruddin story I have told before at this blog.

In brief, the mulla has lost his keys somewhere in his house. So what does he do? He goes outside and starts to look under a street lamp...where, he says, the light is better.

Is the mind of human beings housed in the organ we call the brain? Or could it be that the mind is a field that encompasses the entire human body and extends beyond it, not only in space but in time?

Now a school of thought in science called "embodied cognition" is starting to assert itself via studies such as this one on problem solving and motion. Researcher Alejandro Lleras of Vanderbilt University says:

~ "People tend to think that their mind lives in their brain, dealing in conceptual abstractions, very much disconnected from the body. This emerging research is fascinating because it is demonstrating how your body is a part of your mind in a powerful way. The way you think is affected by your body and, in fact, we can use our bodies to help us think."

In actual practice, people tend to think with many bodily organs besides the brain. For example:

- The stomach: "He did not have the stomach for it."

- The skin: "I was itching to enlist."

- The lungs: "She found that job suffocating."

- The heart: "My heart goes out to those who are suffering."

Are these mere metaphors? The guru of metaphor, George Lakoff says:

~ "The mind is a body. And thinking is moving."

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 17, 2009

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