Chapter 2: The Embodied Mind
Thesis #5: One’s experience is phenomenological in nature and derived from the senses; the development of the mind and our understanding of the universe is therefore derived from sense experience and interpretation of said experience
In the previous chapter1, I established that all knowledge is experiential. Even matters of “divine revelation”, ESP, or any other alleged spontaneous acquisitions of knowledge are still experiential in nature, as one is still experiencing such an event within their own mind, regardless of whether or not it is actually happening in a manner consistent with how one perceives it taking place. When we first addressed this state of affairs, it was in the context of one being solely informed by experience. In this instance, we are approaching it from an incrementally more nuanced position: that one’s experience is phenomenological in nature and derived from the senses.
Man has an inborn faculty of intellect. The intellect is a complex and frustratingly mysterious thing; I will describe it in as concrete and simple terms as possible. In the words of medieval philosophers, the intellect is the capacity to which matters of fact make themselves apparent, “like a landscape to the eye”2. This is the primary faculty by which one experiences the world, providing man with direct apprehension of the things around him. Essentially, intellect is the seed containing the mind, the ratio3 within man. This is seen in an infant as he begins to focus on various elements within his environment and as he gathers rudimentary sense data.
With sufficient time and experience, the capacity (seed) of intellectus can grow into the faculty of reason. Again, using the medieval scholars, “Ratio is the power of discursive, logical thought, of examination, of definition and drawing conclusions.”4 A more modern and specific definition would be, “possessing the qualities of, or capacities for, self-awareness and a fundamental potential to learn and think logically”. The manner in which the intellect receives those experiences is sensational5; an infant may have a very basic set of instinctual “programs” by which they “know” how to feed, breathe, cry, and squirm, but they do not even have control over the movements of their own limbs, let alone any cognitive faculties. The intellect allows the infant to begin gaining control of their movements through the repeated cycle of stimulus and response in each of its limbs. Through prolonged exposure to patterns in environmental stimuli, the infant begins to expect the patters to continue in the same manner: the first fledgeling sparks of reason.
Before continuing to analyze the relationship between intellect and reason, it would be prudent to expand on thesis number two. “Reason dictates one’s understanding of the universe.” Reason, or the ratio we defined above, is a uniquely human experience. As mentioned previously, animal “experience” is nothing more than a perpetual cycle of stimulus and response. Conversely, humans have the experience of experiencing; or rather, the intellect serves as an intermediary step between stimulus and response. The intellect, as it develops into reason, begins to identify apparent patterns and categories. This pattern recognition is not infallible6, but is the basis of all human experience. While reluctant to abandon his skepticism, Bertrand Russell expresses a very similar and more detailed opinion as this in his Problems of Philosophy7. His term for this process, which I will borrow, is “induction”.
Following induction, both Russell and I approach “deduction”. Deductive reasoning, also called syllogistic reasoning, are matters of logical calculation. Through induction, one can begin to assume patterns, and can even express them syllogistically. “If the stove top is red, it is hot” is a simple premise, which can be derived from simple experiences. Upon witnessing that the stove top is in fact red, one can assert, “if the stove is red, it is hot. The stove is red. Therefore it is hot.”. This is an assertion which is derived from a combination of experience and reason. However, no degree of experience can account for the initial element of reason that dictates that such a syllogism is possible, let alone reliable. Modern research into early human development, though, has discovered that there are strong indications of innate mathematical reasoning within infants. I assert that these mathematical operations are an example of that very intellectus earlier mentioned. Ultimately, mathematics is an expression of logic in it’s purest form8, meaning that logic is something more than just a mere brute fact9: it is a faculty inherent to man.
Deduction can express hypotheses beyond the realm of immediate experience. While our first example was purely experiential and practical, a brief survey of the philosophical tradition will show that deductive reasoning can be (and is) applied to every imaginable circumstance. The accuracy of these deductions is wholly contingent on two virtues, the accuracy of premises as they relate to reality and its adherence to what Russell calls the”Laws of Thought”10. They are as follows:
- The law of identity: ‘Whatever is, is.’
- The law of contradiction: ‘Nothing can both be and not be.’
- The law of excluded middle: ‘Everything must either be or not be.’
In other words, the “Laws of Thought” is another manner of describing the principle of non-contradiction. The best formulation I have seen of the PNC to-date is, “The logical principle that something cannot both be and not be in the same mode at the same time.”
We are fortunate that we are inherently conditioned such that these principles are immediately apparent to us as they are, themselves, unprovable. Our experiences can serve to reinforce these principles and, through their applications, prove their utility even if one cannot prove them in themselves. Through experiences of particular instances, we can come to a greater understanding of the nuances of such a simple and self-apparent set of principles. All the laws of reason, which will be explained and elaborated as they become pertinent in this work, are simply expressions of the particular nuances of the PNC.
The more abstract or complex lines of deductive and inductive thought are no doubt somewhat removed from immediate experience, either by way of their conceptual nature setting them apart from the physical world or by speaking of physical events that are not within a proximate vicinity to the one deducing. This does not make the reasoning any more or less valid. For example, one can engage in mathematical exercises concerning triangles without referring to any actually existing instances of a triangle. Another instance would be a deduction that determines all kangaroos are mammals, even if one has never seen one before (and isn’t likely to… how many people go to Australia, really?). Both of which are valid regardless of whether the one doing the deducing is immediately experientially present to the subject matter or not.
These rules of logic and their applications obtain in such a manner that renders relativism (in all but its softest forms) impossible. Something is said to “obtain” if it is necessarily true in every instance, such as triangles having three sides or the PNC. I say that these obtain in such a way so as to render relativism impossible because relativism is, fundamentally, a denial of objective truth. Extreme relativism denies all objective truths whereas softer forms only deny particular categories of truth such as moral truths. This denial necessarily results in violations or denials of the PNC. Any instance in which one says, “there is no objective truth,” is an instance in which they are categorically denying categorical statements. This is an age-old objection to relativist thinking11 which has simply been hand-waved by the proponents of relativism. Admittedly, there are more refined and delicate relativist arguments, but they all fall prey to this fallacy at some point or another.
Thesis #6: The mind is an embodied entity; all language and imagining is clearly based in bodily experience and all imaginable entities outside the immediate physical world are conceptualized in a sensational metaphor.
This experiential and embodied basis of our knowledge is clearly evident in our language. Every aspect of our imagination physical in nature. It is fitting that, when discussing material circumstances, one should use material language. For instance, “that dog is sitting under the tree.” That statement can be a literal expression of a matter of fact. However, while it may feel intuitive, the same material language is used to express abstract concepts. For instance, “The prospect of war weighs heavy on my heart.” In this case, “the prospect of war” is immaterial and possesses no weight as a result. Additionally, one’s heart is unaffected by some immaterial state of affairs external to the person in whose chest it resides. I do not mean to claim that the above statement is devoid of meaning or veracity, but wish to illustrate the metaphorical nature in which we express immaterial concepts. While I lack the space and attention span to enumerate the various metaphorical uses of material language in the style of Wittgenstein, I contend that there is no instance of using language in a literal and comprehensible manner when expressing an immaterial state of affairs.
Upon brief inspection, I see three common uses of embodied language as referencing phenomena metaphorically. Firstly, it is used with regards to invisible material things, many of which we see the effects of but never the things themselves. Secondly, it is used with regards to metaphysical or spiritual12 entities. Thirdly, we employ embodied language with regards to ontological, or divine, concepts13. It would be prudent to, at least exemplify each of these categories and the relationships between them.
Many will object to me asserting that we use embodied language with regards to material objects metaphorically. “Of course we use material language when speaking of material things!” they say, “why would it be a metaphorical use?” With some invisible material things, like most gasses or electrical currents, metaphorical language in unnecessary; it is literally the case that air can push, pull, heat, or cool things as well as electric currents14 and the like. However, in the case of more esoteric fields such as particle physics or quantum mechanics, we do use physical language metaphorically. A couple easy examples would be the “color” of quarks or the “spin” of particles. Quarks are too small to be directly perceived by way of light and color, but the choice of “colors” provide certain useful conceptual assumptions based on our knowledge of actual colors. The same type of metaphor applies to the “spin” of particles, providing those that study and discuss these things with applicable and comprehendable language to do so even if the terms are literally meaningless is such a context.
Admittedly, I have not yet allowed metaphysical or ontological existants15 into this framework but that doesn’t disallow this analysis of language to enter into our discussion. Even if such immaterial things do not actually exist, we still speak of them and the manner in which we speak of them is indicative of the point I am making presently. Metaphysical entities, such as the principles of logic which were discussed earlier or the fundamental laws of physics, are frequently discussed in the language of math or logic; however, they are frequently expressed in physical language in order to make it practically useful. In the case of a particle’s “spin”, quantum particles travel along vectors as if they have angular momentum, like a spinning object, despite not necessarily spinning. Additionally, in the case of non physical narratives, whether fictional or real, such as dreams, out-of-body experiences, revelations, ghosts, angels, etc. are expressed in physical metaphor. An easy example would be the common narrative which occurs in reports of out-of-body experiences, “I was outside my body, kind of floating above it. I was there, but I wasn’t; I could see everything, but not like one does with their eyes. I was also in the next room over and still inside my body at the same time. I could see a long, dark tunnel, but it wasn’t really there, with a light at the end.” The only intelligible manner in which we embodied creatures can describe a circumstance which was clearly non-spatial and non-bodily is by use of spatial and visual language in an approximate metaphor.
Before we discuss ontolocal language, we must first define “ontology”. Ontology, as it is frequently used, is typically assumed to mean “the philosophy of hierarchy” or “the study of existants”. In my usage, ontology is best defined as “the philosophy of that which precedes physics and metaphysics”. This means that there are ontological commitments inherent within the fields of physics and metaphysics which, themselves, require investigation. These commitments typically involve the status of things as either existing or not, the relationships and nature of substances and logical principles.
As one can assume from the above definition, ontological language tends to be complex and ambiguous at times. This area of study tends to involve exclusively mathematical concepts, the nature of eternity/infinity, discussions pertaining to God, and ideas16. Not one of the things on that list are material or sensual things. Typically, in the case of God, anthropomorphic language has become so prevalent so as to make caricatures of the actual concepts themselves (ie. God is a bearded angry old man in the sky who smites people for petty acts of impoliteness.) Not one of those terms are easily applicable to ontology, let alone accurate metaphorical language for ontological concepts. However, this gross abuse of language does not detract from the fact that the only way a human can grasp such concepts as infinity, especially when attempting to avoid instantiating an infinite17, is through metaphorical use of embodied language.
Additionally, we, as (apparently) willing creatures, tend to use mindful language to express the behavior of non-willing and/or necessary beings. Where we may have refined our language in physics since Empedocles, “Things fall because like things desire to be proximate to like things,”18 we certainly still fall into this trap. Again, it is most common in the more esoteric areas of physics and in ontological discussions, such as particles “seeking out each other” or being “entangled” despite lacking a will or an actual entangling medium. That doesn’t change he fact that we use a language that is limited to embodied experience as a metaphor for more advanced concepts.
There is yet another likely mistake that one can make in reading this chapter. That mistake would be assuming that I am conflating the mind with the body (or the brain). I will not make a case to either materialism, idealism, or substance dualism here. Instead, I intend to explore the manner in which we express such concepts linguistically.
One of the most interesting cases of language operating in an unexpected manner is with regards to the self. For example, phrases commonly used are “my body”, “my mind”, “my soul”, and “my self”. We speak of certain aspects of ourselves in the same manner we would speak of our property; “my car”, “my robot slave”, etc. This linguistic phenomenon implies two things. Firstly, it implies that one’s mind, body, soul, self, and property are each distinct entities which are not reducible to one or the other. Additionally, it implies that what exactly an individual is is either an amalgamation of the above listed possessives, or something radically distinct from them.
We will address the question of what exact relationship the mind and body have, whether they are the same thing, one reduced to the other, or as two distinct and intermarried elements, later in this book19. The additional question of what, precisely, the individual is will be addressed briefly, but it will require far more space and time in order to reach a meaningful answer than I have available in this work. It will also require more intermediary steps than the mere twenty needed to discuss the mind-body problem. For now, it will suffice to merely express the manner in which our mind is embodied, practically speaking.
For fear of being accused of making the same mistake that Nietzsche made,20 I feel compelled to leave a disclaimer at the end of this chapter. I recognize that being a young American, my sole focus in this chapter is the way an individual thinks and speaks in American English. However, I believe, based on my limited grasp of Latin and Japanese as well as my exposure to Hebrew, Greek, and Spanish, this argument still obtains in some manner or another in every human language, with some slight modifications.
1Ch1, “Epistemic Assumptions”
2 Pieper pg 139
4 Pieper 139
Also, Thesis #22
5Pertaining to the senses
6A state of epistemic affairs where one in incapable of being wrong
7Russell, Problems of Philosophy chapter 6
9Something that simply exists without the possibility of explanation
10Russell ch 7
11The discussion between Thrasymachus and Socrates in Plato’s Republic (Book one, Chapter one) is an easy example.
12 I am not equivocating the two, mind you
13 In this case, the two may at times be equivocated
15Simply defined, “a thing which exists”
16 Not to mention imaginary things like unicorns and free national healthcare
17For an introductory example of this type of reasoning, I recommend reading “The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy”.
18Aristotle attributes such a claim to Empedocles in his work De Anima
19 Chapters 8 & 9
20Namely, being a philologist instead of something a little more… real.