Etymologies, and the Basic Idea of Embodied Cognition.

St Jerome Reading’, Georges de la Tour. (Public Domain.)

One time, I read this fascinating book titled ‘Metaphors We Live By‘ by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. It was recommended to me by a good buddy– who mostly guides my intellectual development by his whims, and who coincidentally suggested the title of this blog.

The central thesis of this book is what I guess you could call the central thesis of embodied cognitive science. This is the idea that cognition is inseperable from embodiment, and that therefore embodiment influences all cognition. It’s sort of like taking Plato backwards.

I won’t go into it any deeper than that. Instead, I’ll just briefly talk about why I like Lakoff and Johsnon so much by talking about my favorite example of their approach to language: their analysis of undertaking a ‘project.’

They suggest that starting a project involves projecting yourself into the future, which itself is intelligible in terms of literally throwing a personal image into a possibility space like a projectile, forwards in time.

They note that this is something only humans can really do in an embodied sense– our closest relatives, the chimps, aren’t coordinated enough to properly throw things at distance. Now that may or may not be so. But it makes a form of sense.

Anyway, I’ve been spending the last few weeks coming up with analyses like these for some concepts I found interesting. Just noting them down in my spare moments. Maybe some will tickle you. I hope they do. They’re basically pretend, but I think all of them have an interesting idea at the center.

1. Re-spect.

Act.: To avert one’s eyes in order to signal submission, and then to look again.

“In a dominance dispute, one primate will re-spect another when he averts his eyes from the staring contest, and then looks back again. This is a submission cue.”

“To re-spect The Lord is to avert ones eyes from the burning bush– lest ye be burned up by the image of God.”

2. An-aesthesia.

State: To lose experience completely.

Experience, being made of pain at the root, disappears along with an aesthetic that allows you to assign virtue to the pain. Without an above, there is no below.

Pain is not pain without an aesthetic lens– or without a pair of eyes.

“An-aesthetic drugs numb you to experience, but they also make beauty impossible. We should consider this from a Nietzschean perspective.”

3. Ex-istence.

State: To see one’s self solely in terms of one’s surroundings– to see one’s self mediately and consumptively.

c.f. Hegel’s Lord/Bondsman dialectic: The Lord and Bondsman before they become what they are in Hegel’s dialectic are both only ex-istent.

If you find yourself ex-isting, then it may be good advice to ensure that your room is clean.”

4. Ins-istence.

State: To find within one’s self something that is immovable.

i.e. ‘It is usually a bad idea to ignore yourself when you ins-ist something.’

(Best understood as a negative step to ex-istence.)

5. Re-presentation.

Obj.: A linguistic veil. The map that obscures the territory. This is the mental object that makes it possible to be completely wrong about yourself, someone else, or the world at large.

i.e. ‘His re-presentation of himself as a good and caring man obscured the degree to which he was a vicious degenerate when given an excuse.’

c.f. The Jungian concept of the ‘persona.’

Act.1: The process of describing or depicting an experience to the degree that it is made distant. In the process of re-presentation, shifting and dynamic emotional contents are made specific. This makes them easier to deal with, though it may make one liable to re-present themselves as a falsehood in the future.

i.e. ‘Though journalling, I was able to re-present the days around my mother’s death to myself. It was a painful process, but I think I’ve found closure now.’

Act.2: The process by which you form a map of an otherwise nebulous and confusing world. This is involved in meaning-making.

c.f. The process of ‘problem formulation’ in cognitive science.

6. In-formation.

Verb. Impressing the form of fact onto the otherwise fizzing and indeterminate foam of reality. Otherwise: “to in-form.”

Obj. The record of impressions. Statements that direct attention to some phenomena, taking positive positions.

Thesis: There is no information that is not interpretation.

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