KARL  JASPERS  FORUM

TA110 (Mind and Metaphysics)

 

Commentary 19 (to Freeman C17)

 

 

( ON  EMBODIMENT )

by Richard Moodey

13 February 2009, posted 21 February 2009

 

 

[ I have left my previous remarks in lower-case, and put my responses to Margaret Freeman's comments in caps.  -  RM ]
 
 
RICHARD MOODEY:  I have hesitated to respond to this commentary, because I have not read Johnson's 2007 work.  I have, however, studied Lakoff and Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh, which leads me to make some comments on what Müller and Adams have written.  The convention I have used is to comment immediately after a passage, in dialogue form, putting my last name in capital letters.
 
Margaret Freeman: i too have delayed in responding to Müller's commentary, but welcome to chance to add some remarks here. I therefore follow the same procedure Moodey adopts, with my comment following his.
 
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[Müller] Since what  'embodiment'  is intended to mean  did not become clear to me from the book  by Lakoff and Johnson, I have now read a more recent publication by Mark Johnson (The Meaning of the Body, 2007), in which he ties  'the aesthetics of human understanding'  to bodily experience.  I found this clarifies the question to some extent, but that it also shows up a few difficulties in the use of this concept, which I will discuss here.  I would be interested in others' opinions on these questions.
 
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He writes that his aim is to counteract the results of the search for truth which he characterizes as 'disembodied', and which I understand as a search for truth without people.   He wants to do this by an emphasis on art (poetry, painting, music) as 'meaning-making', an on feeling, which he says has been excluded in analytic philosophy.   He also sees himself working in collaboration, so-to-speak, with some of the Continental phenomenological philosophy.  One can certainly understand his motivation for such an effort.  Analytic and language philosophy have painted themselves into a corner by excluding subjectivity,  from which they can only go into either a still more extreme exclusion of objects as well as the mind, by embracing the 'analytic metaphysics'  which is illustrated by the work of some of the authors discussed under TA110;  or else into a change of direction such as that contemplated here by Johnson.  It is also clear that the body is important for thinking, which has been neglected in much of philosophy.  
 
[MOODEY:]  I strongly disagree that the search for truth is necessarily "disembodied," and that the search for truth has to be "counteracted."  "The search for truth" can be interpreted in different ways, and Johnson's claim that it is disembodied seems idiosyncratic to me.  I use the phrase to refer to the attempt formulate better - in the sense of truer -- statements about the world.  I can't imagine that Johnson gives up arguing that his statements about the world are truer than many other statements about the world.  In Philosophy in the Flesh, Lakoff and Johnson argue that what they have to say about the relationship between language and reality is truer than what Plato and Aristotle (and a lot of other philosophers) have to say about this relationship.  If they did not think that their assertions were truer than Plato's, they would not argue their case so passionately.  I interpret the effort to "counteract" the search for truth as nihilistic (nothing is true, therefore everything is permitted).  Michael Polanyi and his disciples in the Polanyi Society emphasize both the importance of the body as an instrument of knowing, the importance of subjectivity, and the heuristic passion that grounds the search for truth.  For me, trying to "counteract" the search for truth sounds like a totally dispassionate, even "disembodied," enterprise.  I did not interpret Philosophy in the Flesh as this kind of enterprise.  Not having read Johnson's latest work, I cannot comment on it.
 
Freeman: I am puzzled by the insertion of "truth" into the question. Johnson's aim, as he states it in the preface to his book is to explore "the qualitative feeling dimensions of experience and meaning" (x). His claim is that human meaning-making arises from our bodily (visceral) connection to the world. He is counteracting the specific claim underlying much analytic philosophy that the mind and the body are ontologically separate entities.
 
MOODEY:  FOR ME, "TRUTH" -- AT LEAST IN THE SENSE OF "BETTER SUPPORTED BY ARGUMENT AND/OR EVIDENCE" IS ALWAYS IN THE BACKGROUND IN SCHOLARLY OR SCIENTIFIC DISCOURSE.  IF IT IS NOT, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OTHER THAN TO SCORE DEBATING POINTS?  I BELIEVE THAT JOHNSON'S CLAIM THAT HUMAN MEANING-MAKING ARISES FROM OUR BODILY CONNECTION TO THE WORLD IS BETTER SUPPORTED BY ARGUMENT AND EVIDENCE THAN IS ANY DENIAL OF THAT CLAIM.  IN OTHER WORDS, I JUDGE IT TO BE MORE LIKELY TO BE TRUE THAN ANY CLAIM THAT HUMAN MEANING-MAKING IS NOT CONNECTED TO OUR BODILY CONNECTION TO THE WORLD.
 
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[Müller]  But whether it can be included in the way Johnson proposes is less clear to me.  Consider for instance one of his key statements, taken from the pragmatist John Dewey (1925) :   'to see the organism in nature, the nervous system in the organism, the brain in the nervous system, the cortex in the brain is the answer to the problems which haunt philosophy.' (p.121)    Johnson asserts that this is an 'exemplary nonreductionist ...' statement :  I do not understand how he can think that this is not reductionist, since it tries to reduce epistemology to biology.   Johnson writes (p.155) that his 'oft-repeated mantra'   is this :  'in order to have human meaning, you need a human brain, operating in a living human body, continually interacting with a human environment that is at once physical, social, and cultural.'   'Dewey's pragmatist continuity thesis claims that we must be able to move, without any ontological or epistemological rupture, from the body-based meaning of spatial   and perceptual experience that is characterizable by image schemas and affect contours all the way up to abstract conceptualization and reasoning.' (p.176).  
 
[MOODEY:]  Here I am on thin ice, because I haven't read the book from which the quotations are taken.  I am interpreting them in the light of my reading of Lakoff and Johnson.  What Müller seems to be leaving out is the centrality of metaphorical thinking in Lakoff and Johnson.  The body-based meaning of spatial perception is a rich source of metaphors for more abstract concepts.  Perhaps Johnson, in his most recent book, gets away from the discussion of metaphors.  If he does discuss metaphors, I suggest that it is that discussion that is the key to the movement from bodily experiences to highly abstract concepts.
 
[Freeman:] Moodey is basically correct here (chapter 9 deals with metaphor in how humans move from embodied meaning to abstract thought, the chapter title). I don't think Johnson's argument reduces epistemology to biology because it depends on the assumption that aesthetics is at the basis of all human meaning making (a idea to which i also subscribe) . Cultural institutions and practices are not biological, though their development might rise from human neurological processes.
 
MOODEY:  I MUST CONFESS THAT I AM NOT SURE WHAT PEOPLE MEAN BY SAYING THAT "AESTHETICS" IS AT THE BASIS OF MEANING MAKING.  I UNDERSTAND "AESTHETICS" TO REFER TO A PHILOSOPHICAL SPECIALIZATION, LIKE "ETHICS," "EPISTEMOLOGY," OR "ONTOLOGY."  DIDN'T HUMANS MAKE MEANING BEFORE THEY INENTED PHILOSOPHY AND ITS SUBDISCIPLINES?
 
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[Müller] The problem, as I see it, is that these opinions do nothing more than deny  that there is any problem going from the one to the other.   But this is not so; there is no 'continuity' as claimed.  If you have a toothache,  the observation, by yourself or by others,  of the inflammation, of the nerve or brain activity, or of your behaviour  that are related to it, is in no way the same as having the pain.     Or :  suppose that   during various mental experiences   you undergo an extensive scanning of your brain (and other bodily) activity, including electrical, chemical and any other possible aspects, which are made objective,  independent of what you experience,   so that you and others can observe them on a screen or in other ways :    none of the details of these observations,  nor any synthesis of them,  can possibly be identical, or continuous, with what you experience subjectively, including your (secondary) observation activity.    Furthermore, it seems to me that the important point for epistemologies is to include subjects, which have been excluded from reality for the last 2500 years, and indeed most fiercely by analytical epistemologists;  the central aspect is not the body of the subjects, but their experience (which includes the experience of their bodies).
 
[MOODEY:]  I agree that there is no continuity between an "outside" view of human experience and the "inside" view of the experiencing person.  But as long as we recognize that these are different perspectives, I don't see any contradiction between them either.  It seems to me that different perspectives can be complementary and mutually enriching.
 
[Freeman:] haven't neuroscientists established that people who suffer from not experiencing pain (suffer, because they are then in danger of not avoiding activities that can lead to pain) are missing the neuronal synaptic reactions that lead to experiencing pain? (Forgive my nonscientific articulation here.) I don't think Johnson is claiming that the experience of pain and what goes on in the brain are the "same" phenomenon, but that there is an interconnection (interactive, enactive) between them Johnson says he doesn't like the term "interactive" (ftnote 2, 118) since it implies that the two processes are ontologically separate entities (so I wonder why he continues to use it). What he is arguing against is that there are stand-alone internal representations in the mind. With respect to Müller's fourth sentence above, this is precisely Johnson's point, as articulated on p. 131, where he distinguishes between a scientist's observations of the operations of neural arrays (in frogs and humans) and what the organism experiences - not the representation but "precisely its structures of experience and reality." So isn't Johnson dealing with the experience of the body, not the body itself?
 
[MOODEY:] JOHNSON AND I DISLIKE USING "INTERACTION" FOR THE SAME REASON.  MY ONLY (SLIGHTLY) NEGATIVE COMMENT ON WHAT FREEMAN SAYS HERE IS THAT I DON'T SEE WRITING ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE OF THE BODY AND WRITING ABOUT THE BODY ITSELF AS AN EITHER-OR. 
 
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[Müller] Johnson  appears  to base himself on a realistic epistemology, without considering that this implies traditional metaphysics.    Actually he rejects metaphysics - as well as objectivism  - explicitly :  'one of the greatest obstacles to a general acknowledgment of the embodiment of mind ... is the persistence of ... the representational theory of mind ... [that] has its source in dualistic metaphysical views' (p.112).    I quite agree that a   complete de-construction of metaphysics-ontology   is required for a valid access to 'consciousness' and the  'mind-brain relation' puzzle :   because metaphysics-ontology is by definition a discipline that deals  with mind-independent reality.   And that in turn excludes, by definition, the mind, which cannot be mind-independent, from reality.    But then he wants, nevertheless, to present 'the ontological framework that is required for a theory of cognition as embodied'  (p.145), and he talks about ontology a great deal throughout his book,  without mentioning that ontology is a branch of metaphysics and excludes the mind. 
 
[MOODEY:]  Here I part company with Johnson, even with the Johnson that is part of the Lakoff and Johnson collaboration.  I don't reject metaphysics-ontology.  I think that my embracing of the goal of making truer statements about the world entails a kind of representational theory of mind (critical realist, rather than naïve realist).   I do not agree that a "complete de-construction of metaphysics-ontology is required for a valid access to 'consciousness.'" (Actually, I think "consciousness" is a hopelessly abstract construction, and would like to see it banished from discourse.  We have conscious experiences and intentions, but that does not justify using the reified noun form "consciousness." 
 
[Freeman:] Müller says that metaphysics-ontology is "by definition" a discipline that deals with mind-independent reality.  Shouldn't that be phrased rather as "dualistic metaphysics-ontology"? Surely there is an ontology that doesn't make the presupposition that what we call "mind" is excluded from consideration? Note that we are reifying when we use the term "mind," just as we are with "consciousness." 
 
[MOODEY:] I LIKE LONERGAN'S NOTION THAT IT IS AN EPISTEMOLOGICAL QUESTION TO ASK "WHAT DO I DO WHEN I AM KNOWING?" AND A METAPHYSICAL QUESTION TO ASK: "WHAT DO I KNOW WHEN I AM DOING THOSE THINGS?"  IT SEEMS TO ME THAT WHETHER OR NOT MY METAPHYSICS DEALS WITH "MIND-INDEPENDENT REALITY" DEPENDS ENTIRELY UPON HOW I ANSWER THE METAPHYSICAL QUESTION.  ALSO, I TREAT "REIFICATION" AS A SYNONYM FOR WHITEHEAD'S "FALLACY OF MISPLACED CONCRETENESS," THE MISTAKE OF TREATING AN ABSTRACTION AS IF IT WERE CONCRETE.  HE HAS CONVINCED ME THAT EVENTS ("PREHENSIONS," "ACTUAL OCCASIONS," "CONCRESCENCES") ARE CONCRETE.  I REGARD MY EXPERIENCES, INSIGHTS, JUDGMENTS, AND CHOICES AS "MENTAL EVENTS."  THIS LEADS ME TO REGARD "MIND" AS A CONSTRUCT VERY SIMILAR TO "I" OR "THE SELF."  SAYING THAT IT IS A CONSTRUCT DOES NOT MEAN THAT I DON'T THINK IT IS REAL.  WHITEHEAD, FOR EXAMPLE, SAYS THAT WE FORM OUR NOTION OF "PERSON" THROUGH ACTS OF "CONSTRUCTIVE ABSTRACTION."  BUT HE DOES NOT SAY THAT WE FALL INTO THE FALLACY OF MISPLACED CONCRETENESS (REIFICATION) WHEN WE ATTRIBUTE ACTIONS AND INTENTIONS TO PERSONS.
 
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[Müller] Actually Johnson explicitly denies (Chapter 3) the existence of the  'I'  as central organizer, just as analytic philosophy has been doing, in a manner reminiscent of, among others, Crick and Dennett, without supplementing this opinion by showing the need for structuring a self :  to achieve unity of experience and action.    'I' is not a ready-made object  -  and this seems to be the problem, despite his rejection of objectivism  -  it needs to be structured, created, like a work of art  (does a poem 'exist' ?    if so, where ?  before, or after, it has been written down ?  printed in an objective book ?)   Despite not being a ready-made object, the subject is in charge, and has to 'make meaning'.  Suppose you drive a car, who is responsible for safe driving ?   Do you tell the policeman to write a speeding ticket to your environment ?   Or you want to learn to play piano :  is it enough to say that your body wants it,  together with your cortex and piano ?    Even though Johnson claims he rejects objectivism and wants phenomenology instead :  non-objectivity is typically a problem for objectivists, not for phenomenologists.   No one can start thinking from anywhere but his subject-inclusive experience.   And besides, Johnson uses the terms  'I'  and  'we'  and  'you'  frequently throughout his book, without any evident hesitation.
 
[MOODEY:]  Bravo!  I agree that it is inconsistent for anyone who denies the existence of "I" as a central organizer to use the first person singular confidently in writing or speech.   To put it in Michael Polanyi's terms, the confident use of "I" is a tacit affirmation of the reality of "I."  At the very least, it seems that Johnson, like most everyone else, has to speak and write "as if" there were a central active principle called "I."
 
Freeman: Chapter 3 deals with the primacy of the emotional dimensions of meaning. I don't think that Johnson is denying at all the existence of self-awareness that we represent in language by the use of "I"! the passage in question deals with the language in which we tend to talk of the "monitoring" of bodily states (58). All Johnson is saying, it seems to me, is that such "monitoring" that enables the body to interact with its environment works at the preconscious level. His sentence, "however, since there is no "I" without my concrete embodiment, it is easy to fall into the locution 'I monitor my bodily states,' even though there clearly is no phenomenological awareness of my doing so" (58), is not denying the centrality of the "I" at all - it is simply claiming that there is no "I" independent of concrete embodiment (i.e. no little homunculus in the brain).
 
[MOODEY:]  BRAVO, AGAIN!
 
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[Müller] The underlying fallacy of objectivism is the unannounced (implicit) ontological leap of faith from gestalt-formation to metaphysical mind-independent reality, which includes (and approves) entities like bodies and cortices and environments as real, but not those without prior spontaneous gestalt-formation such as the unstructured matrix of subjective experience and the self-structure that is created within it.  Thus the  -  unintended  -  effect of the  'embodiment'  notion is yet another futile attempt to reduce the subject to an object.   The body is supposed to replace the mind, which has been declared persona non grata.    Without further clarification, the term  'embodiment'  will remain opaque, like the term  'the mind-brain'  which is used  (also as a 'mantra', perhaps)  by neuro-philosophers.   The denial of the subject shows most clearly why, despite his emphasis on art and feelings, Johnson's view is not able to deal with problems like consciousness and the mind-brain relation. 
 
MOODEY:  I remain a dualist, at least to the extent that I reject all attempts to reduce mind to body or body to mind.  Actually, I believe that there are more than two ways of looking at things, more than two languages that are useful for talking and writing about reality.  But I disagree that Johnson is unable to deal with (write or talk about) conscious and unconscious experience or the mind-brain relation.  He does write about such things, but not to the satisfaction of all readers.   Perhaps the body-mind problem is doomed to be "essentially contested," or perhaps even a "mystery."  
 
Freeman: "the body is supposed to replace the mind, which has been declared persona non grata." If this is supposed to characterise Johnson's argument, then I think Müller has missed the point entirely. Denying that the mind and brain are distinct ontological entities does not entail solipsism, of either the body or the mind. So I don't see at all that he is either denying the subject nor failing to attempt "to deal with problems like consciousness and the mind-bran relation."
 
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REFERENCE
 
Johnson, Mark (2007),   The Meaning of the Body.  Aesthetics of Human Understanding.  Univ of Chicago Press.
 
LONERGAN, BERNARD.  1957. INSIGHT.  PHILOSOPHICAL LIBRARY
WHITEHEAD, ALFRED N.  PROCESS AND REALITY.
 
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Richard Moodey
     e-mail < MOODEY001 (at) gannon.edu >