What is meant by embodied cognition and what is its importance?
December 12, 2017 10:25 PM   Subscribe

I've seen the word embodied cognition thrown around a lot like some kind of buzz word. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to ever get clearly defined or when it does get defined it isn't clear why it is important. Clearly, our brain is in our body and things such as alcohol/drug consumption, energy levels, brain damage and the amount of adrenaline in our bodies affect how we think. So why do we have this fancy term? Is there more to this than meets the eye or is just a pretentious way of stating the obvious?
posted by casebash to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I forgot to add. Any good resources for further reading or watching will be greatly appreciated, particularly if they are short.
posted by casebash at 10:28 PM on December 12, 2017

The Wikipedia page on Embodied Cognition has quite a lot of useful information. The concept has both a philosophical and a scientific aspect. In terms of the science, there are quite a few studies in perceptual psychology which back up the idea - so it is not just a buzzword. It is also a field of study in AI and robotics - again engineering rather than waffle.
posted by rongorongo at 11:13 PM on December 12, 2017

Antonio Damasio writes engagingly and accessibly about neurobiological aspects of emotion which overlap and interact with broader theories of embodied cognition. His Descartes' Error is very readable and relatively short (but perhaps more narrow than what you are seeking?)

This article from Scientific American provides a very broad overview (though it is several years old), and The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has this overview.
posted by Dorinda at 5:51 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I first encountered the notion in Hubert Dreyfus's book, What Computers Still Can't Do.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:03 AM on December 13, 2017

In my experience with the study of embodied cognition, it has a lot less to do with chemical factors or other obviously brain-related factors that you're mentioning, and more to do with the idea that your brain is interacting with the world as part of your body. That's probably still quite obvious, but on the other hand, if you look at the history of cognitive science, most of the studies try to take the body as much out of the equation as possible. Controlling for things like handedness, gender, etc, and then putting people in a lab and testing how quickly they can react to dots on a screen is ... pretty removed from how real people in the real world are experiencing things. Here's a short video that might help.
posted by freezer cake at 7:08 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Embodied cognition means that our cognition is grounded or at least connected to perceptual and action-based systems in our brain, that when we think of things mentally, like a chair, we are not just thinking "chair" with no connections to action-based or perceptual information, but drawing on those sources of information too.

A good example is when we think of a car, we think of it in relation not only to what it looks like but what it feels like, how we could interact with it, if we drive, how we would drive it. There is research done by Kosslyn (1978) that asked people to remember different images on a map, and people took longer to remember things that were farther apart on the map.

Larry Barsalou is who I think of when I think embodied cognition (I did a phd in a related field and heard him speak about this years ago), and these two papers cover a lot.


posted by lafemma at 7:10 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists is a lovely blog with some excellent posts explaining embodied cognition, what it is, what it is NOT, and why it's important to the field of psychology in general.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:43 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

In the philosophy of cognitive science, it's widely associated with (but not identical to) the 'extended mind' hypothesis. The idea is challenging to a range of widely held views about what the mind is like.

Here's an artificially simple nutshell view: the mind is a bit like the software that runs in the brain (the brain is the computer, the mind is the program that its running). In this sense, everyone accepts that the mind is 'embodied', but most people want to say that the cognition (things like thinking) is specifically a brain-based activity.

The 'extended mind' hypothesis, which is put forward in a highly readable piece by David Chalmers and Andy Clark from 1998 (philpapers link), suggests that limiting mental activities to things that go on 'inside the skull' seems to be a mistake. If Otto, a person with a very limited short-term memory, refers to a notepad with the same kind of regularity and ease of access that other people draw on 'brain-based' remembrance, we should say that the notepad in some sense constitutes Otto's memory – to object is to be simply dogmatically committed to the idea that cognitive processes have to be ringfenced to things that happen in the brain.

While Clark and Chalmers are arguing for a wider role of the 'environment' generally in co-constituting cognitive and mental activities, a major consequence of the extended mind hypothesis is that we can then start to appreciate how much more of our (bodily, beyond the brain) behaviour is plausibly 'cognitive'. Clark's Supersizing the Mind explores a number of these themes, and there are a number of positions which are identified as distinct instances of 'extended cognition', including 'embodied', 'enactive', and 'affective' cognition.

In analytic philosophy of mind, many identify Susan Hurley's 1998 Consciousness In Action as a watershed publication (a precis appears here), where she challenged the received or dominant paradigm for what counts as cognition, which she labelled the 'sandwich' view of the mind. According to the sandwich view, we can separate out an 'input' and 'output' of cognition. Perception (seeing, feeling, touching, hearing etc) feeds information into the cognitive agent. The agent then cognises (thinks, reasons, processes the information, crunches the data), and this eventually elicits an output, which might be a new thought (more information), or some sort of activity / behaviour (movement, reflex, reaction, chemical change). On the sandwich view, the bread layers are not to be considered explicitly cognitive. Cognition is the sandwich filling in the middle – the 'processing' or 'crunching' is the bit where cognition happens. The bread layers are vehicles which carry information in or out, the filling is where the mind lives. Hurley's book rejects the sandwich view of cognition. In ways that Chalmers and Clark explicitly echo in later work with their extended mind hypothesis, she points out that it is entirely arbitrary to restrict the 'cognitive' dimensions of these processes to the interior bit. She notes that in many instances, organisms in some sense bypass the middle of the sandwich – perceptions are tied to actions and actions are tied to perceptions in ways which admit of no significant informational 'crunching' (imitation is a key example Hurley cites for this). One way to describe this is to say that the process is non-cognitive, but Hurley instead points to a better analysis: that the seeing and the acting are together constitutive of a cognitive process – cognition is not its own layer in the sandwich.

Mog Stapleton has put together a handy resource on Embodiment and Situation Cognition in philosophy and cognitive science over on PhilPapers here, which has a great summary, some key resources, introductory readings and so on. If you have difficulties getting access to anything you might be tempted to read, consider using sci-hub (the domains change fairly regularly, so google for whatever's current, I think sci-hub.org is dead but .tw was working recently) to unlock the knowledge. Alternatively get on Twitter and tweet the paywalled/locked DOI or link along with the hastag #icanhazpdf + a burner email address for people to send things to. Or memail me.
posted by Joeruckus at 3:52 PM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I found: http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.com.au/p/the-rough-guide-to-blog.html as recommended by overeducated_alligator very interesting. After reading through a bunch of resources that people linked me, I came to the conclusion that embodied cognition has some interesting ideas and has lead to some new research directions, but that the philosophical basis is flawed as it tends to rely on word games in order to prove key propositions.
posted by casebash at 2:41 AM on December 28, 2017

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