Saturday, January 12, 2013

Embodied Cognition, Old and New

A friend of mine posted this and requested comment.

I told him that while I find the embodied cognition an interesting concept, I am also saddened that they are remaking the wheel decades after it was first made. The classical pragmatists and others had a version of the "simulation theory" a century ago, and I find it odd that the notion was tracked the 70s and 90s as if it were a new thing. The basics of this viewpoint was virtually assumed in my own dissertation, since it was established, and my task then was to illustrate far from obvious implications for    the interrelations of agency and representation.

I have a supposition about why scholarly and intellectual production seems to go around in circles in recent times. I suspect that much research and scholarship operates more like a conversation circle amongst a limited group, as opposed to operating with a linear forward momentum that is generally assumed. That is, I've had so many conversations with scholars of other fields that are completely unaware of how their work reproduces existing work, which is not itself a bad thing, but I am shocked at the frequent unwillingness to perform "cross-conversational" work or at least be aware of the larger conversation. For a positive example, I have had a lot of productive conversations with John Symons, despite his principle focus in analytic philosophy of mind, because his thinking is flexible enough and informed enough that we can communicate concepts without using each other's specialized language when we discuss emergence and continuity. 

I suspect that some ultimates reasons for the unwitting intellectual circling of the wagons includes disciplinary barriers and implications of the publish-or-perish phenomenon, which drives publication to be more and more like a conversation among specialists, but the conversational model is all but opposed to longitudinal studies that would include historical perspective.


  1. Perhaps, speaking from my own training, I might be an oddity since my first introduction to philosophy began with Buddhism in high school, was pluralistic (analytic, pragmatic, continental) during my undergrad years, and continued to be cross-tradition as a became a scholar (pragmatic, continental, East-Asian, historical and contemporary). I'll admit that I don't have the laser-sharp focus of some of my peers abroad, but I also may engage in many overlapping circles of conversation.

  2. could add the legacy of idealism on the structural level, just to soften the reference to psychology or sociology (if not to make it unnecessary). Disciplinary barriers, or the positivist p-o-p phenomenon are both consequences of the fault to think that logic is in the world.
    Regarding embodied cognition, and the "inner imaginings": it is not only the (more typical) pragmatists that are neglected here, it is also Wittgenstein, whose thoughts ended up in a "prospective solipsism".
    It is not by chance that embodied cognition is not recognized as old wine: it came from information technology and research in robotics (beginning of 1990ies), where a lot of nonsense gets published about this. Those guys usually do not read any of the philosophers, and hence put the myth of "embodied cognition" into academia. Yet, even cognition is a strongly misplaced, since positivistic, activity.
    The next thing science will discover is that they all rely on certain assumptions :)) aka transcendence... since Kant...



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