Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nondual image schemas

Here's an interesting seminar in the upcoming Science and Nonduality Conference connecting image schemas with nonduality. Recall I've done this is a number of threads.*

"Image Schema May Reveal Something New About the Relationship Between Dualistic and Nondual Experiencing  by Dr. Frank Echenhofer (Professor of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies). Abstract:

"Over the last 15 years there has been a very interesting development within linguistics that may offer new insights regarding the relationship between dualistic thought and nondual experiencing. This development has been the research and writing regarding image schema, all artfully explained in Mark Johnson's book The Meaning of the Body. An image schema is one of many recurring pervasive cognitive structures that are formed from our bodily interactions, our linguistic experiences, and our culture. In contemporary cognitive linguistics, an image schema is considered an embodied prelinguistic structure of experience that shapes the mapping of conceptual metaphors.

"Research studies in cognitive psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience support this notion of image schema. This presentation will provide a new look at the relationship between dualistic and nondual experiencing in light of what is known about how image schemas shape our experiences."

* As a few examples, see this and this link.

Echenhofer mentioned Mark Johnson, who with George Lakoff wrote my embodied nondual Bible, Philosophy in the Flesh. In my research I came upon this book available free at scribd, From Perception to Meaning: Image Schemas in Cognitive Linguistics (Mouton de Gruyter, 2005). The following excerpt is from Johnson's introductory chapter "The philosophical significance of image schemas":

“The chief problem with Kant's account is that it is based on an absolute dichotomy between form and matter. He thought there could be 'pure' form—form without empirical content—and his problem was to explain how this form could get connected to the material aspects of experience.... Kant's general metaphysical system... seems to me to be too laden with a disastrous set of fundamental ontological and epistemological dichotomies.... However, what is worth salvaging from Kant's account is his recognition of imagination as the locus of human meaning, thought, and judgment. Kant correctly recognized the schematizing, form-giving function of human imagination. Imagination is not an activity of alleged pure understanding or reason, but rather is an embodied process of human meaning-making that is responsible for the order, quality, and significance in terms of  which we are able to make sense of our experience. What Kant called the 'faculty of imagination' is not a discrete faculty, but rather multiple processes for discerning and utilizing structure within our experience.

“Moreover, we must not think of imagination as merely a subjective, idiosyncratic private 'mental' operation to be contrasted with objective thought and reason. Imaginative activity occurs, instead, in the ongoing flow of our everyday experience that is neither merely mental nor merely bodily, neither merely cognitive nor emotional, and neither thought alone nor feeling alone. All of these dimensions are inextricably tied up together in the perceptual and motor patterns of organism-environment interaction, which provide the basis for our patterns of understanding and thought. What we identify as the 'mental' and then contrast with the 'bodily' dimensions of our experience are really just abstractions from the embodied patterns and activities that make up that experience. What we call 'mind' and 'body are not separate things. Rather, we use these terms to make sense of various aspects of the flow of our experience. Image schemas are some of the basic patterns of that flow.

“It took the non-dualistic philosophies of people such as William James (1890), John Dewey (1958), and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962)--and later, the burgeoning work of neonate cognitive neuroscience—to articulate a richer embodied view of imagination, meaning, and thought. James, Dewey, and Merleau-Ponty all shared the fundamental insight that mind and body are not two things or substances somehow yoked together, but rather that what we call 'mind' and 'body' are aspects of an ongoing sequence of organism-environment interactions that are at once both physical and mental. They recognized that the human mind is embodied, that all of our meaning,thought, and symbolic expressions are grounded in patterns of perception and bodily movement" (18-19).

For more see comments below and the IPS discussion.


  1. From the referenced links above:

    I recall a recent thread linking to an Beams and Struts post that says Wilber, while trying to include a lot of different topics and fields, just gives a general overview of them and doesn't go into their details. And the devil (and god) is in the details and hence some of what Wilber "includes" is partial at best and often so incomplete as to challenge the very broad generalizations he makes. So let's return to the basis of thought in the body.

    Wilber's infamous 4-quadrant graph shows the progression from prehension to irritibility, sensation, perception, impulse, emotions, symbols, concepts in the upper left quadrant. And indeed this is the hierarchy that L&J also recognize from their research. But unlike Wilber, in their detailed study of the specifics of this early development they uncover many things Wilber glosses over or ignores. (Or perhaps he just skimmed the material for a few choice quotes or ideas that fit his preconceived agenda and moved on?) For example, due to the structure of our brains perception requires that it reduce the multitude of sensations into smaller units for processing via categorization. And this inherent, biological, neural categorization is the very basis for all further developments into the more abstract kinds of thought like symbol and concept.

    L&J get more refined that Wilber's general graph above as elucidated in this article. The basis of their hierarchy is the image schema involving sensori-motor and proprioceptive experience. These basic categories include part-whole realationships via gestalts and mental imagery. So here we have a physiological basis for the holon concept Wilber is so fond of. Holons aren't an apriori part of the structure of the universe apart from the brain that perceives them, just as math is not. Holons and math are not involutionary* but evolutionary givens firmly grounded in the body and its interactions with the environment. We can eliminate the metaphysical underpinnings of Wilber's edifice by simply going into the details of his own sources.

    *You can also see from the footnote cited above how Wilber lists the 20 tenets as part of the involutionary givens, which are based the holon concept.

    And another things occurs to me. From above we can see how later concepts like math and holons arise from very primitive brain and consciousness structures. All of which supports my oft-repeated thesis that as we meditate we go backward into these previous evolutionary structures but mistake them for involutionary or ultimate/absolute structures of the universe itself. Naturally these early brain and consciousness structures made no such claims. It was only at the latter levels of abstraction that we confused this, not having the benefit of such neuroscientific research to which L&J refer. However the likes of Wilber did have such access and if he'd taken the time to go into the details instead of shaping the broad generalities to fit his metaphysical agenda this wrong track could have been avoided. But he is not alone in this; the general developmentalist path did so too, like Commons et al but instead through the metaphysical math route. But both false reasonings arise from the same deficient-rational, formal-operational level and they don't have to with a few minor tweaks.

  2. Recall page 7 of the real and false reason thread, where Iglowitz criticized nested hierarchies thus:

    "This classical categorization therefore expresses an absolute, rigid and nested hierarchy of levels and containment. In Lakoff’s terms it expresses a hierarchical 'container schema.' Ultimately, (because they are nested), at the limits these processes specify (1) a largest concept: 'something,' (defined by no atomic properties), whose extension is 'everything,' and (2) a smallest concept: a particular 'object' in reality, (or possible reality), defined by all its atomic properties. Given the classical paradigm then, reason necessarily begins with 'something,' (the most general concept), and points, inexorably, to some 'thing,' i.e. a specific object."

    This is a prime example of kennilingus in showing the dichotomous and metaphysical relationship between strict materialism and idealism. The type of nihilistic materialism referenced above though decries the notion of a fundamental constituent part as well as a fundamental general everything. I commented in page 7 of the referenced thread, discussing L&J's basic categories:

    So our basic categories are embodied in image schemas that arise from our interactions with the world. Recall that one characteristic of these basic categories is the part-whole gestalt, aka hierarchy. Since image schemas and basic categories operate below conscious attention we’ve come to assume that they are inherent to the world themselves and thus project this notion of 'natural hierarchy,' with its most developed forms in Aristotelian nested, categorical hierarchies. All of which assumes a basic, particular and inherent 'constituent' as foundation at the bottom and/or a general and inherent 'being' as foundation at the top. Meanwhile the process actually begins in the middle of the classical taxonomy and we get more specific 'downward' and more general 'upward' from there on a useful but constructed hierarchy. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate hierarchy per se, just contextualizes it is a more naturalistic, nondual way and only eliminates its dualistic and metaphysical elements, elements which have some form of inclusivism and hegemony at its core. The notion of holons as involutionary givens is one of those metaphysical elements, and as we’ve seen this is much better explained by the part-whole gestalt properties of basic image schemas.

  3. Some comments from p. 6 of the real and false reason thread:

    Balder said:

    Related to this, I came across an article other day which supports the idea of a continuous "base state" in the brain, even through deep dreamless sleep. I do not know if this can be correlated with the phenomenological/experiential reports, or the spiritual realizations, of contemplatives, but it's a possibility.

    I replied:

    This "foundational" state has a low frequency, which relates to previous threads pointing out research on brain wave frequency over a low-to-high continuum from the unconscious (dreamless sleep, deep meditation) to subconscious (dream, reverie, lighter meditation) to conscious (rationality etc.). Also note that this state is "metaphorical" and below conscious awareness, supporting L&J's contention about the cognitive unconscious and how it builds on basic level categorization via image schemas that develop into metaphor. And also note that this state is not located in a particular area of the brain, like the brainstem which is usually associated with very slow waves and primitive drives like survival. This state operates though the brain as a whole, also supporting my contention of integration of all prior brain structures-states.

    And said integration can only occur after the emergence and development of the ego-witness, which does the "observing" and the integrating, though possibly not until at least a systematic, postformal, (aka postmetaphysical) operation (aka false and real reason). Ironically, prior to this integration formal operations tend to see such states metaphysically, as this is the very nature of formal operations.

  4. This is my way of getting at the relation of pre-reflective, “nondual” experience and the dualistic way we interpret it via egoic rationality. Which when integrated can provide a novel or postmetaphysical “nonduality” in that the experience of unity consciousness (one) and dual interpretation (two) is neither and both of those options, i.e., not one, not two and both one and two.

    And this from p. 7 of that thread:

    L&J discuss basic-level categories in PF (28-30), saying that it is the level at which we interact optimally with the environment and hence they are quite accurate. So much so that it appears as if our categories are actually representing that world as it is. Hence it is an easy step to metaphysical realism. These image schemas remind me of Dharmakirti's "pure particulars" from the prior "myth of the given" discussion, since they seem to function in much the same way, as the next of kin to reality as such and removed from it by the slimest of margins. However also like Dharmakirti anything beyond the basic-level category loses this almost direct connection.


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