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The bodily basis of thought

  1. Apr 10, 2004 #1
    Based on the article below I have been having a discussion with a friend about how thoughts arise (where they are created in the organism). We read the article very differently. He thinks that thought is not created exclusively in the brain, while I think the brain is the seat of all our mental abilities.

    From my point of view that article is only a discussion of how the brain is organized and how it gets it`s input in order to develop and it doesn`t put the basis of creation outside the brain.

    I hope someone here can take a look at the article and give me their comments.

    Below are only excerpts of the original article since it is very long:


    "The bodily basis of thought", written by Jay A. Seitz at
    Department of Political Science & Psychology, York College, City University of New York in april 2000.

    It has not been until recently that social and neuroscientists have seriously considered the nature and mechanisms of thought and cognition outside of the traditional domains of language and logic. Indeed, the latter two have often been thought of as two sides of the same proverbial coin with different systems of logic at various developmental periods undergirding the foundation of languages and numbers (Piaget, 1952). Suggest to one fortified by this belief that logic is not the sole province of these areas of cognition and immediately one is met with the usual recognizable incredulity: "Ah, but
    you are simply using the word inappropriately outside of its normal extension", goes the complaint. Yet, one is reminded of Alice's response in Lewis Carroll's childhood novel. "When I use a word", Humpty Dumpty said, "it means just what I choose it to mean .
    . neither more nor less". "The question is", said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be the master .. that's all" (Carroll, 1872/1998).

    Early theorists of sensorimotor learning and development, to their credit, recognized the central importance of movement in cognitive development (e.g., Piaget, 1952). Unfortunately, the main thrust of these theories absorbs sensorimotor learning into higher systems of thought draining it of its cognitive uniqueness and centrality in early as well as later learning. This is surprising given that the endpoint of any intellective activity is always some movement, action or activity (Montessori, 1949/1967). Indeed, movement occupies a central position in human cognitive activity (Laban, 1966). To be sure, it has been recently proposed that there is an elaborate
    information-processing system involved in movement with extensive bi-directional pathways to parallel systems in the brain that are involved in planning, reasoning, and emotion ( Leiner et al., 1986; Leiner et al., 1989; Leiner and Leiner). The cerebellum, traditionally viewed as directing and controlling voluntary movement may play a much larger role in thought itself ( Ito; Ito and Ito). The resulting "information-processing" system could conceivably go beyond the traditional control of motor functions subserved by the cerebral motor cortex to enable the manipulation of kinesthetic ideas (Leiner, Leiner & Dow, 1986). In effect, it appears that we "think" kinesically too (Gardner, 1993; Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 1998; Kennedy, 1997; Nicoladis, Mayberry & Genesee, 1999; Seitz, 1992; Seitz, 1993; Seitz, 1994a; Seitz, 1994b and Seitz, 1996). For example, it has been postulated that thinking is an advanced form of skilled behavior that has evolved from earlier modes of flexible adaptation to the environment ( Bartlett, 1958), that the body is central to mathematical understanding (Lakoff & Nunez, 1997), that speech and gesture form parallel computational systems (McNeill, 1985; McNeill, 1989 and McNeill), and that mental practice alone improves physical skills ( Hinshaw, 1992; Ogles, Lynn, Masters, Hoefel & Marsden, 1994).

    In terms of development, nonverbal behavior is central to expression and communication. Infants and young children learn to communicate with gestures before they learn to speak (Bruner, 1983) and this mode of communication continues into adulthood where a large body of kinesic behaviors augments or replaces language (e.g., illustrators, regulators, affect displays, diectics, metaphoric gestures, emblems, and a huge class of procedural knowledge and skills) ( Ekman & Friesen, 1969; McNeill, 1992). To be sure, there have been recent arguments made for the gestural origins of language and the fact that both speech and hand control originate from the same neural systems (Corballis, 1999). Choreography and dance, sports, and craftsmanship are but a few examples of nonverbal abilities. Evidences from the study of the deaf and sign languages (Klima & Bellugi, 1980), the blind and the reading of Braille text (Seitz, 1993), and use of body therapies (Feldenkrais, 1991), are a few other examples. Historically, the suppression of sign language use among the deaf has resulted in a significant deterioration in the intellectual achievement of deaf children (Sacks, 1990) and developmentally, in delays in cognitive and social development (Bebko, Burke, Craven & Sarlo, 1992). With regard to the blind, Braille is essentially the "reading" of a tactile code in which the number and spatial forms of the raised dots are critical (Hardman, Drew, Egan & Wolf, 1993). In human cultures, facial expression, gesture and posture, gaze, spatial behavior among conspecifics, touch, bodily movements, vocalization, smell, and appearance are essential and basic to communication (Argyle, 1989). Even Charles Darwin went so far as to suggest that, for example, head shaking in infants originates in the mother.child relationship (Darwin, 1872/1965).

    The experience of music is an elegant specific example of the body in thought: Loudness, tonal colors, musical beat and tempo, dynamic changes, melodic phrasing and contours, chromatic harmonies, musical accents, accelerando, syncopation, rhythmic ostinato, among other aspects, form the bodily basis of meaning in the musical domain. Indeed, pedagogical practices such as the Dalcroze, Kodaly, Orff, and Suzuki methods capitalize on the fact that basic elements of music (rhythm and musical dynamics, intervallic relationships such as pitch and melody, and sonority) can be most
    effectively taught through physical motion using such devices as rhythm, rhythmic solfege, and improvisation (Jaques-Dalcroze, 1930/1976).

    One reason for the importance of studying motor abilities is the recognition that evidence from the study of children's and adult's motor capacities can address long-standing questions in other psychological domains such as the nature of human learning and memory, planning, and categorization, to name a few. Another reason is that it throws into relief some of the major problems with the contemporary "representational" view of the mind. Classical cognitivist and connectionist models posit a Cartesian disembodiment of mind assuming that brain events can adequately explain thought and related notions such as intellect. While much has been written about the subject, little is known about how the mind actually represents anything. That is to say, how does the brain give rise to mental states that "represent" the external world (McGuinn, 1999)? One problem with the representational view is that it presumes an hierarchical system in which the brain is a distributor of commands and the body is an ambassador of purpose or, to put it another way, the brain regulates our bodies as does a CEO a corporation:
    the knowledge flow is one way and top-down. Linked to this view is the computer metaphor of the mind in which thinking is solely a brain-based (or CPU-based) activity. This standard view has been popularized in such early movies as "Invaders from Mars" (1963) in which a head in a glassfilled dome commands a motley assortment of unintelligent drones as they attempt to invade and take over the human world.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 10, 2004 #2
    What has been left out of these accounts of cognition is the central importance of the body in thought. And when one puts the body back in thought, or what are now called "embodied mind" approaches to human thought and intelligence, one is left with a very different perspective on human thinking. For instance, the human propensity for categorization is structured by metaphoric, imagistic, and schematizing abilities that are themselves undergirded by perceptual and motor capacities (Jackson, 1983; Johnson, 1987). Moreover, these capacities rest on a biological infrastructure.


    "In fact, there is evidence of cerebello-thalamocortical loops from the dentate part of the cerebellum to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex involved in spatial working memory that would suggest nonmotor functions ( Middleton & Strick, 1994). Moreover, the parallel evolution of both the dentate nucleus and regions of the frontal lobe in hominids as well as the integration of stereoscopic vision and use of the hands in primate evolution ( Sanides, 1970) suggests motor activity as the basis of intelligence. Indeed, it has been postulated that the core of human intellect is the capacity of more
    recent abilities to draw on computational domains that evolved for other tasks ( Rozin, 1976)."


    "...movement and thinking do not exist in a cognitive and biological vacuum. Sensory systems guide movement and thought (Reed, 1982). The nervous system does not so much as direct behavior as shape the dynamics of the coupled system of brain, body, and environment ( Chiel & Beer, 1997)."

    "...the context in which each part functions is essential to understanding the overall operation of the system. That is, the central nervous system is a massively parallel, adaptive system in which the biophysical makeup of the brain and its functioning are inextricably interwoven, continuously updating, modifying, replacing, and generating new neural connections (Koch & Laurent, 1999)."

    "The use of sign language as a medium of communication illuminates the role of movement and language use. American Sign Language (ASL) depicts complex linguistic structure by encoding it in spatial contrasts by way of the hands and the body (Sternberg, 1999). That is, the body is a vehicle for thought. ASL uses the spatial relationships of the hands and body to depict syntactic information such as verb objects and nouns by manipulating loci of the hands and body and relations among these loci in the immediate plane of signing space. Indeed, only deaf signers with damage to the left hemisphere show language aphasias. Right hemisphere damage results in distortions of space and spatial perspective and neglect of the left side of space (e.g.,
    spatial descriptions of office layouts) but not competence in ASL, suggesting similar brain organization for both sign and spoken languages ( Bellugi & Klima, 1997)."


    "It has been suggested that our mathematical conceptual system is grounded in basic sensorimotor experiences and is heavily dependent on metaphorical mappings (Lakoff & Nunez, 1997). For instance, arithmetic is object collection (i.e., numbers as collection of physical objects), object construction (e.g., quantity), and physical motion (i.e., number locations as situated on a path or continuum). Moreover, the parietal lobes and the intraparietal sulci shape the neural circuit that underlies handshapes and finger movements which appears to contribute to finger counting and finger calculation (Butterwork, 1999). The latter is a universal cross-cultural stage in the learning of numbers by children. Indeed, it appears that the cortical representation of finger movements and numbers occupies an interrelated neural circuit (i.e., spatial layout of the fingers on the hand, the cerebral representation of the fingers, and the location of number on a number line) and obeys similar principles of cerebral organization. That is, there is a close relationship among our body maps, spatial maps, and the representation
    of number on a number lime (Dehaene, 1997). Indeed, in a rare disorder of "arithmetic epilepsy," there is periodic rhythmic discharges of the body.

    Recent evidence indicates the mathematical intuition emerges from two distinct neural systems that underlie exact and approximate arithmetic (Dehaene, Spelke, Pinel, Stanescu & Tsivkin, 1999). Whereas the former is acquired in a language-like format and uses neural networks involved in word association, the latter is language independent and uses bilateral areas in the vicinity of the intraparietal sulci (Brodmann's area 39) that are active during visual guidance of eye and hand movements, mental rotation, and orientation to the environment. These areas are posited to be related to preverbal numerical abilities in both human infants and diverse animal species. Moreover, the Gerstmann syndrome, which involves deficits in the left inferior parietal region, is characterized by difficulties in writing, representing the fingers of the hand, distinguishing left from right, and acalculia. This suggests that the inferior parietal area may be the central brain region for numerical abilities including the representation of continuous quantities, abstract maps of spatial layouts of objects in the environment, and may be further subdivided into microregions specialized for finger movements and graphic abilities such as writing (Dehaene, 1997). Indeed, studies purporting to enhance spatial.temporal reasoning skills by exposure
    to music (e.g., Mozart Sonata, k. 448) or keyboard training and math video games, may be tapping into this composite neural circuit (Graziano, Peterson & Shaw, 1999; Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Wright, Dennis & Newcomb, 1997)."

    "Practice in sports, chess, and music contribute to world-class performance ( Goleman, 1994). Depression is closely associated with negatively distorted body images ( Noles, Cash & Winstead, 1985). On the other hand, is it that our brains are largely formed independent of type of input? What will become of human minds in a "digitized" culture?

    While it is largely true that physically handicapped children eventually develop normally in spite of motoric impairments, their success is largely due to their ability to compensate for their motor limitations and not because of them (Bebko et al., 1992). The physically impaired seek out intellectual, social, and environmental stimulation and make optimal use of what motor abilities are still intact (e.g., visual saccades or auditory scanning) as the nervous system reroutes degenerated sensory modalities and reorganizes defective brain regions (Gazzaniga et al., 1998). Technological innovation
    has enabled the blind to "read" printed text (e.g. Optacon scanner). The evolution of brain areas that subserve mechanical skills underlies technological development that abetted modern civilization (Seitz, 1992 and Seitz, 1993). The rise of modern technology has freed the hand to "think" and the voice to proffer instruction (Corballis, 1999). Indeed, sign language systems satisfy every criterion of a language in terms of generativity, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics ( Sacks, 1988). To be sure, there is a syntax of movement as there is a syntax of speech and a logic of numbers as there is a "physiology of logic"; as all skillful behaviour involves the same aspects of sequence and seriation or a "generalized schemata of action" ( Lashley, 1951). Kinesthetic thinking lies in orchestrating a sequence of activities; integrating intellective, emotional, and multisensory experience; and selecting and executing appropriate movement, action or activity.

    Throwing, hitting, typing, writing, signing, singing, dancing, driving a car, playing a musical instrument, and so on, suggest that motor capacities are deeply involved with, and constitutive of, other intellective competencies. All the aforementioned activities partake of timing, force, selection, and sequencing, orchestration, and integration that lie at the core of human intellectual activity. Therefore, the boundaries between perception, action, and cognition are porous. If human communication evolved from the capacity to recognize actions in early hominid populations to a mirror system for
    intentional gestured and spoken discourse, then thought, action, and perception are indissolubly tied. The organization of the brain and body is not top-down but organized at the level of the system that is dependent on local, distributed, and contextual factors and constraints."

    "Thinking is an embodied activity. Although humans may be best characterized as symbol-using organisms, symbol use is structured by action and perceptualsystems that occur in both natural environments and artifactual contexts. Indeed, human consciousness may arise not just from some novel feature of human brains, but way of the body's "awareness" of itself through its exteroceptive and prioprioceptive senses. Indeed,the body structures thought as much as cognition shapes bodily experiences."

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