The concept of embodied mind is well exposed by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi in the book “The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision” (Cambridge University Press, 2014). The topics presented in these pages are an interesting premise for understanding the function of the body in symbolic language and the concept of embodiment in cognitive sciences. Contrary to what is claimed by Western philosophy starting from pre-Socratic thought until the end of the nineteenth century, the most recent studies on cognitive linguistics – Capra and Luisi affirm – show that human mind does not transcend the body. Thought is a fundamental aspect of the body experience. The most authentic activity of our mind develops, as well as from our brain, starting from our body.
In 1997 the primatologist Roger Fouts hypothesized that the language of the origins was closely related to the body and that the evolution of human consciousness derived in particular from the use of hands. The first hominids communicated with their bodies and developed some skills, which involved the execution of precise manual movements aimed both at communicating with their own kind, and at developing techniques for the production of instruments.
Only in a more advanced evolutionary phase, thanks to the acquisition of a greater syntactic capacity both in the repetition of complex sequences and in the manufacture of instruments (for example in the chipping of stones), also thanks to a greater effort in the expression of words, the vocal apparatus acquired its centrality in human communication. The notion of embodied mind also agrees with Damasio’s (1999, p.284) statement, according to which the execution of all conscious cognitive processes depends on the sound, tactile and visual representations to which the human body is constantly subjected. In other words, the mind is by nature embodied. TJ Csordas further analyzed this paradigm, concluding that the body is the subjective source of experience, or the channel through which our being-in-the-world is expressed (Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology, 2003).
Luisi and Capra explain the embodiment of the mind by re-proposing the example of the cat standing in front of a tree, the same one used by Lakoff and Johnson (1999). We can conceive this spatial relationship as a concrete fact exclusively because it is a projection of our bodily experience. Our body receives a set of spatial sensations that not only serve to give us an orientation, but also allow us to perceive the relationship between an object (the cat) and another (the tree). Embodied concepts are also the basis of all our forms of reasoning, which means that the way we think is also embodied. When, for example, we want to distinguish between inside and outside, we express the tendency to visualize the spatial relationship as the shape of a container with an interior, a limit and an exterior. This mental image, which is rooted in the experience of our body as a container, becomes the basis of a certain form of reasoning (344).
If we imagine, for example, a cup inside a bowl and a cherry inside that cup, with a simple observation we will obtain the certainty that the cherry in the cup is also in the bowl. “This inference corresponds to the well-known syllogistic argument of Aristotelian logic which, in its most well-known formulation, is expressed in these terms:” All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal “. The argument seems effective because, like our cherry, Socrates is within the container (or category) of men, and men are in that of mortal beings” (345). In this way, we use our body experience in a discussion of the categories of logic.
The examples proposed by Capra and Luisi allow us to highlight how the most recent advances in cognitive sciences are leading to the gradual and constant emancipation from the Cartesian separation between mind and matter. This means that the mind and the body are not separate entities, as Descartes believed, but two complementary aspects of life. Many details of this science of mind and consciousness are still waiting to be clarified and integrated. However, this discipline is already structured as a system and has falsified the Cartesian division between mind and matter which for centuries has been the foundation of Western philosophy.
In this new science of cognition, mind and matter are no longer two separate categories, rather, as a process and structure, they represent two complementary aspects of the phenomenon of life … For the first time we have a scientific theory that unifies mind, matter and life ” (347).
This incredible research by Capra and Luisi is the expression of a change of paradigm as radical as the Copernican revolution. “Today the avant-garde of contemporary science no longer sees the Universe as a machine composed of many basic components, because … it is now clear beyond all evidence that the material world is a network of configurations of inseparable relations and that the planet in the its whole is a self-regulating system: the conception of the body as a machine and of the mind as a separate entity is replaced by another idea which considers not only the brain, but also the immune system, tissues and even every cell as a living cognitive system . ” (pp. 11-12)
The image on the left shows the pattern of the relationships between parts of the human body as conceived by traditional science. As you can see, every organ is considered for itself, without any kind of relationship with the other parts. The image on the right shows instead that the systemic theory considers the human body as a series of interrelations, a totality irreducible to the causal investigation. As Aristotle already said, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”.