KARL JASPERS FORUM
TA 110 (Mind and Metaphysics)
Commentary 14 (to Müller, C10, and Adams, C11)
by Richard Moodey
2 February 2009, posted 7 February 2009
[This response by Richard Moodey was received from Louise Sundararajan, ‘Dialogues’. - For easier identification I present Richard Moodey’s comments in capitals. - I would like to clarify that the book by Lakoff and Johnson I was referring to was ‘Metaphors we live by’ (see TA110 C7), not ‘Philosophy in the Flesh’. - HFJM]
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.
[On C10 by 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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." BUT, PERHAPS NOT.
Johnson, Mark (2007), The Meaning of the Body. Aesthetics of Human Understanding. Univ of Chicago Press.
[On C14 by Adams]
I agree with Herbert Muller's recent comment in this forum that Johnson's book, Meaning of the Body is confused and self-contradictory. The book is part of a recent tidal wave of interest in "embodied cognition."
I once heard someone in a pizza parlor ask the clerk, "How big is the fourteen inch pizza?" That is not an unreasonable question, according to embodied cognition theorists, who have amply demonstrated that estimations of size, distance, and much else are best accomplished pre-conceptually, in terms of the body's location and activity (Klatzky et. al, 2008).
In reviewing the Klatzky book I noted, "Early theories of cognition focused on 'disembodied' information processing, problem solving, memory retention, and computational linguistics. The embodied cognition movement arose in reaction, tapping sources like William James, Jean Piaget, James Gibson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Francisco Varela, who emphasized the importance of situational context, especially bodily context, in understanding cognition." (Adams, 2009, forthcoming).
The embodied cognition movement has a legitimate complaint about the "brain-in-a-vat" computational theory of mind that dominates cognitive psychology today. But the movement overreaches when it suggests, as Johnson does, that it has a solution to the mind-body problem. The most common confusion, expressed by Johnson, is to pretend that the brain is not part of the body but somehow a physical homunculus who can substitute for subjectivity.
MOODEY: I REALLY DON'T THINK THERE CAN BE A UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTABLE "SOLUTION" TO THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM. I AGREE THAT IT IS A BIG MISTAKE TO TREAT THE BRAIN AS THE KNOWING SUBJECT, A PHYSICAL HOMUNCULUS. ALLOW ME TO QUOTE PAUL CHURCHLAND (2000: 151): "HUMANS ARE MULTILAYERED NEURAL NETWORKS THAT LEARN, UNDER THE CONTINUING PRESSURE OF EXPERIENCE, BY THE GRADUAL MODIFICATION OF THE STRENGTHS OR 'WEIGHTS' OF THEIR MYRIAD SYNAPTIC CONNECTIONS." ON THE ONE HAND, THIS IS SILLY. HUMANS ARE NO MORE THEIR "NEURAL NETWORKS" THAN THEY ARE THEIR DIGESTIVE SYSTEMS. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE "MULTILAYERED NEURAL NETWORK" IMAGE IS A GRAND METAPHOR FOR THE BRAIN, AND THE IDEA THAT EXPERIENCES CONTINUALLY MODIFY THE STRENGTHS OF SYNAPTIC CONNECTIONS SEEMS TO ME TO CAPTURE SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT ABOUT THE LEARNING PROCESS. I BELIEVE THAT I "HAVE" A BRAIN, JUST AS I BELIEVE THAT I "HAVE" A DIGESTIVE SYSTEM. I ALSO FIND IT USEFUL TO THINK ABOUT BRAINS, MY OWN INCLUDED, BY USING CHURCHLAND'S METAPHOR OF THE "MULTILAYERED NEURAL NETWORK." THE DANGER LIES NOT ONLY IN TURNING THIS INTO A HOMUNCULUS, BUT ALSO IN FORGETTING THAT IT IS A METAPHOR, NOT A LITERAL DESCRIPTION.
Nevertheless I think Johnson's idea that the purpose of the body is artistic expression is useful. Taken literally, that idea would suggest that the body itself is an expression of the mind. Some philosophers have suggested as much, especially in regard to gender (e.g., Butler,1993). But Johnson's focus on artistic expression frames the question in terms of social epistemology. If we accept that "art" is defined socially (Danto, 2000), then what Johnson is saying (or should be saying) is that the body is defined socially, although I don't think he is actually saying that.
MOODEY: I DO NOT FIND THE IDEA THAT THE "PURPOSE OF THE BODY IS ARTISTIC EXPRESSION" IS AT ALL USEFUL. I THINK IT IS HEURISTICALLY USEFUL TO THINK ABOUT WHAT IT WOULD MEAN TO SAY THAT THE BODY IS AN EXPRESSION OF THE MIND, EVEN IF, IN THE LAST ANALYSIS, I DON'T THINK THAT IT IS A TRUE STATEMENT. I AGREE WITH SAYING THAT EVERYTHING, NOT JUST THE BODY, IS "DEFINED SOCIALLY," SINCE ALL DEFINITIONS MUST BE IN A SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED LANGUAGE. (I DON'T HAVE ACCESS TO "GOD'S DICTIONARY.")
What if the body were literally, a projection, or construction, of the socially embedded mind, just like democracy money, marriage, and a host of other social objects ? Rather than being some rock-bottom grounding of cognition, it would be effect rather than cause. It would be a highly reified projection, its apparent physical givenness virtually unquestionable, but an as-if givenness nevertheless. The purpose of the body would be twofold: first, to define individual subjective uniqueness, that is, to keep us apart; and second, to enable intersubjective expression and understanding, that is, to bring us together. Johnson focuses on this second function of the body, and in that, I think he is not wrong.
MOODEY: IS THIS COMPATIBLE WITH WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF HOMINIDS AND HUMANS? IF THE BODY HAS A PURPOSE, WHO IS THE SUBJECT WHO HAS FORMED THAT PURPOSE? CAN THERE BE A PURPOSE WITHOUT A PURPOSEFUL SUBJECT? IS JOHNSON TACITLY AFFIRMING "CREATIONISM" BY CLAIMING THAT THE "PURPOSE" OF THE BODY IS ARTISTIC EXPRESSION? ISN'T THERE AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION BETWEEN "PURPOSE" AND "FUNCTION"?
Adams, W.A. (2009). Embodied cognition gropes for coherence. [Review of the book Embodiment,
Ego-Space and Action ]. PsycCRITIQUES-Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, forthcoming.
Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of 'Sex'. NY: Routledge.
Danto, A. (2000). The Madonna of the Future : Essays in a Pluralistic Art World. NY: Farrar, Straus and
Klatzky, R.L., MacWhinney, B., and Behrmann, M. (Eds.). (2008). Embodiment, Ego-space, and Action.
N.Y.: Psychology Press.
Churchland, Paul. 2000. "To transform the phenonena: Feyerabend, proliferation, and recurrent neural networks." In The worst enemy of science?: Essays in honor of Paul Feyerabend, edited by John Preston, Gonzalo Munévar, and David Lamb. New York: Oxford University Press.
Polanyi, Michael. 1958. Personal Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.