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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

merleau
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) was a French philosopher and phenomenologist. He continues to be credited as the most influential figure in the development of a philosophical understanding of the importance of the body and corporeality.

His most central work in this regard is The Phenomenology of Perception. Through a phenomenological examination of perception, Merleau-Ponty argued for the significance of the body in perception and conception, which was in opposition to Cartesian dualism– the view that there is a fundamental schism between the mind and body.

Merleau-Ponty instead posited that the body is entailed by perception rather than an object of it. Through this discovery, he breaks down the subject/object dichotomy and concludes that the traditional notion of the Cartesian “cogito” must be replaced by what he refers to as the “body-subject”.

His particular brand of phenomenology was influenced by the desire to refute what he viewed to be the two most misguided tendencies within Western philosophy: empiricism, the view that knowledge comes entirely from sense impressions, and idealism, the metaphysical view that the world is constructed from the mind alone. Thus, his work is fundamental in rearticulating the relationship of the mind– or subject, to the world– or to objects. Ultimately, he argued that knowledge must be constituted of practical, lived and active exposure to the world.

Merleau-Ponty was also a trained psychologist, having lectured extensively on child psychology, development and education. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by a sudden stroke at the early age of 53.

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Donna Haraway

Donna Haraway


Donna Haraway is currently a professor of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She began her career studying Zoology and Philosophy, and eventually earned her Ph.D. in Biology from Yale in 1972.

Haraway’s most central contribution to the study of embodiment comes at an intersection between her diverse scholarship in the history of philosophy, the science of biology and feminist epistemology. A critic of the traditional notion of objectivity as ‘a view from nowhere’, Haraway instead proposes that objectivity must be situated knowledge. In her own words, from Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective:

I am arguing for the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity.

Utilizing the metaphor of knowledge as vision, she argues that a nuanced understanding of vision and perception reveals that an object of sight (and likewise, an object of knowledge) cannot be conceptually or empirically removed from an embodied, structured and filtered context– from a situated point of view.

Her contributions to epistemology are paramount, but she is also acclaimed for her deconstructions of the masculinized metaphors and narratives which direct the science of primatology. She is also a major critic of essentialism, and is famous for her “Cyborg Manifesto”, wherein she utilizes the metaphor of the cyborg to fog traditional demarcations, dichotomies, conceptual divisions and social constructions regarding gender and race.

As a proponent of the power of technology to liberate, she is a constant contributor to cyberculture.

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Francisco Varela

Francisco Varela


Francisco Varela (1946-2001) was a Chilean biologist, neuroscientist and philosopher, and is on the shortlist of visionary pioneers who conceived the interdisciplinary thesis of the embodied mind.

He began his academic career studying medicine and biology but also had a wide philosophical orientation, being primarily influenced by the work of phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Varela also became a Tibetan Buddhist in the 1970’s. Undoubtedly influenced by both, he was well-positioned to join an understanding of the body in nature with an internal examination of consciousness and experience. His interdisciplinary connections were extensive, which ultimately led to the co-founding of the Integral Institute, a thinktank specifically aimed at sharing ideas between different disciplines.

The ultimate accumulation of his expertise was the publication of the canonical book, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, co-authored with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch. He is also responsible for introducing the term neurophenomenology, which conjoins the distinct methods of inquiry from phenomenology and neuroscience; a fundamental union in the development of the embodied mind thesis.

Varela is also responsible for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology, which refers to the self-creation and self-maintenance of biological systems.

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Over at Edge, a video interview and written transcript have been posted of Alva Noë discussing many of the philosophical problems concerning consciousness, and how a paradigm shift toward an embodied understanding of mind might help to resolve those problems.

Within it, Noë notes that most modern cognitivist research about consciousness and experience within neuroscience and classical cognitive science are actually just recycling many of the old problems of consciousness within a new framework. In other words, although the framework has changed, the same ways of understanding– the same paradigms– are still in place.

He uses the metaphor of a dancer to refocus instead on the importance of movement, action and the environment in the making of consciousness. He also ponders the mysteries of pictorial paradoxes about reference and meaning, and again discusses how an embodied approach offers answers.

Alva Noë is a professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff


If any single figure could be considered the guru for the current embodied philosophy movement, it has to be George Lakoff. Although technically a linguist, he is probably best known for his extensive interdisciplinary work in cognitive science, conceptual metaphor and politics. His published work includes the closest thing to a bible in the embodiment movement, Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, which he co-authored with Mark Johnson. And he co-authored the breakthrough book, Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being, with Rafael Núñez, which has spearheaded the entire field of embodied mathematics.

Arguably, Lakoff’s original foray into embodiment began within his work with conceptual metaphor, which has revolutionized the importance of that subfield within the embodiment movement. His work there can be most accessed in the books, Metaphors We Live By (with Mark Johnson) and More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (with Mark Turner). And one work which bridges many of these earlier ideas is Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. His other contributions to linguistics have included proposing generative semantics as a substitute to Chomsky’s generative syntax.

Obviously Lakoff’s work here has been canonical, but he’s also well known for his political work, which primarily regards political rhetoric and political linguistics. As a political strategist, Lakoff has often been hailed as the “liberal Karl Rove”. He is the founder of the progressive think tank, the Rockridge Institute.

George Lakoff is currently a professor of Cognitive Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972.

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This is not exactly the most engaging production, but the discussion does span a wide variety of issues related to embodiment.

Hubert Dreyfus discusses notions of embodiment throughout the history of philosophy, particularly in relation to the philosophy of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and relates it to modern research within Artificial Intelligence and the Internet.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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eschercube1In years past, the ECAP has been a welcome and informative forum for embodied computation, AI and embodied cognitive science papers. This year’s conference will he held near Barcelona, Spain, from July 2nd to July 4th in 2009.

Abstracts of around 400 words will be accepted until February 23rd, and the best presented papers will be published in a book. Go here for more information!

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