TA 110 (Mind and Metaphysics)


Commentary 9


by Harwood Fisher
3 December 2008, Posted 13 December 2008




An alternate view to that of Lakoff and Johnson does not have to reject 'embodiment' as a condition to be taken into account when analyzing thought.  Insofar as embodiment is interpreted narrowly to squeeze the phenomena of thought into a sensory-motor format of action patterns, the model of thought does not reflect all that does come along with embodiment.



What is missing in the Lakoff and Johnson truncated idea of embodiment and its reflections in the forms of language and thought is twofold: 


A) Formal determination itself.  (The old term is formal cause.) That is, the action patterns of an adaptive organism are in service of the replicability and stability of form--at least of its bounds.  Some would object to this statement by citing the old idea that replicability and stability are outcomes instead of determinants. 


Aside from its circularity, the above objection leads to the second thing I suggest is missing in the Lakoff and Johnson concept of embodiment :


B) In the 'new' cybernetics, the flow of determinants of an embodied processing of information moves in more than one direction.  Accordingly, replicability and stability not only can be the outcome of actions on the environment but also can be the originative conditions--if you want 'actions'--internal and intrinsic to the intra-systemic exchanges within the individual--or body. 


Nevertheless, for a moment, stay with the idea that replicability and stability are outcomes.  You then might call them 'habits' or bodily tendencies to repeat patterns with bounds.  Even if you do focus these phenomena, these outcomes, as 'habits'; you are faced with their also

becoming points of reverse direction from which to determine further actions that can affect form. 



Here is a cogent example, in keeping with a derivative of the evolutionary concept of adaptation.  A bodily action pattern is reflected in one of Lakoff's image schemas.  You say, ‘You are entering deep water.’  Behind your image is the action pattern of increased swimming motions and adrenalin when you dive into deep water and then navigate.  But now you mean to say that a person you refer to is going to have to work harder to solve a tough problem he’s taken on.  However, you go further and you contemplate your metaphor.  You say to yourself, ‘Ah this is a metaphor; and perhaps an incomplete one—because I don’t know if that chap “is over his head”  So, you start with an image schema—but you also have a couple of thoughts about that image schema.  One is to classify it.  Another is to extend the metaphor.  As far as the classification is concerned, it is the type of thinking that follows categorical rules. 



Well, you can take the image schema just so far--and even if you like the idea of an image schema of an image schema, the transformation rules, the rules of categorization and their ordering, and the rules of logical operation needed for transactions would be left by the wayside without a concept of form and formal determinants.



Thus, to stay with the cause and effect ideas of origins and outcomes, the origins of any new form--say, a new figure of speech or a new concept--is a function of what was formerly an outcome.  Say that outcome was an image schema.  When you contemplate --or re-represent an image schema at another level of cognitive grasp, the image schema is now a cause instead of an effect.  Some, like Donald Campbell would call this reverse causation.


(I am not talking about any epiphenomenon.)



The upshot of all this is to say that a complete picture of embodiment would have to cope with different levels of meaning as well as different levels of derivation from the variety of the body’s actions that are causes and effects.  So, an explanation of thought incorporating embodiment as a key concept would have to involve a specification of not only signal systems but also the various kinds of signs that inter-relate the different functions and structures of the body in a complex intra-communicative system that has a hierarchical organization--with determinative exchanges going both from signal to more symbolic or abstract types of signs. 



Now this cannot be done without consistencies in the signal to signal relations as well as in sign to sign relations.  Moreover, there has to be some order to the way different types of signs (signals vs symbols, for example) transact--or 'get across’ to each other. 



The upshot of these comments is to say that any concept of embodiment without attention to such things as 'rules' of relating and inter-relating and such things as the forms of the signs (or of their relations or of their transformations) would be so far short of depicting the phenomenological contexts and terrain that is embodied and of describing the dynamic forces that serve as determinants, that the concept of embodiment would become inadequate and incoherent.



I say incoherent, because there is neither an account for the niceties of the differences between codes and signs nor for the omni-presence of different kinds of causal patterns-say, in dna determinants, on one hand; or, on the other hand, in the reflexive nature of thoughts and language.  That reflexive level is one that would have to constitute an origin—such as a point of influence from the conscious grasp of an idea (meaningful thought) 'downward' to a visceral action or reaction (or a neural firing pattern--both of which are essentially, themselves 'devoid’ of meaning.




Harwood Fisher
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