Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Evan Thompson on the mind

See his recent blog post here. A few excerpts consistent with themes in this blog and IPS forum:

"Asking how the brain generates the mind may not be the right question. [...] Instead, we should ask how the brain facilitates the mind. [...] Part of the problem, however, comes from thinking of the mind or meaning as being generated in the head. [...] You need a brain to think, but thinking isn’t in the brain, and the brain doesn’t generate it; it facilitates it. The brain generates many things—neurons and their synaptic connections, ongoing rhythmic activity patterns, the constant dynamic coordination of sensory and motor activity—but none of these should be identified with thinking, though all of them crucially facilitate it. Thinking is an action of the whole person in its environment."

"Science already provides a wider view in the form of 'embodied' cognitive science. To say that cognition is embodied means that it directly depends on the whole body and not just the brain. To put it another way, bodily activity and not just brain activity is part of cognition. Take perception. From the embodied cognitive science perspective, to perceive isn’t to be in a particular internal brain state; it’s to be in an interactive relationship with the world, one in which bodily movements and not just neuronal states are part of perception."

"To say that cognition is embodied also means that it’s 'embedded' in the environment. The brain, the rest of the body, and the environment form a system, in which cognitive behavior, such as visual recognition or gesture and speech, happens as a systemic process. In the words of cognitive scientist, Randall Beeral: 'Behavior is a property of the entire coupled brain-body-environment system and cannot in general be attributed to any one subsystem in isolation from the others.'”

"For human beings, the brain-body-environment system is the one of symbolic culture. Psychologist Merlin Donald) argues that we’re able to think in the ways we do because over millennia we’ve constructed symbolic cultures in which we’re thoroughly embedded. Technological devices, such as writing and computers, provide a new kind of 'external memory.' How much mathematical thinking could you accomplish without this kind of memory? Biological memory and external memory together make up a hybrid cognitive system. Much of what we think and do would be impossible without this kind of system."

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