Monday, August 11, 2014

Embodying the Mind, Part II

The Guardian Spirit of Emergence, Uniter of Mind and Matter
I wrote in my blog (8/5/14) about embodying the mind: about how we are co-evolving not through some preordained destiny or higher rationality but through emergent behavior:  through our moment-by moment, ongoing interactions with our social and cultural world, the natural world, and the universe itself.

We, in the individual and collective sense along with the universe itself, are unfinished beings, fashioning ourselves extemporaneously as we go. It’s like what the famous postmodern philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein replied when asked what side he was on during a philosophical debate; he answered, I don’t know yet; the conversations isn’t over.”

That’s the truth of our lives and of the universe.

 Yesterday I received my latest Tricycle Magazine/The Buddhist Review. In a bit of synchronicity, the feature interview is entitled The Embodied Mind with philosophy professor, Evan Thompson. As opposed to most neuroscientists today who think the mind is something in the brain, Professor Thompson considers cognition as a form of embodied action:

Embodied” means that the rest of the body, not just the brain, is crucial; “action” means that agency—the capacity to act in the world—is central. Cognition is an expression of our bodily agency. We inhabit a meaningful world because we bring forth or enact meaning.”…What’s important is not just what is inside the brain but what the brain is inside of—the larger space of the body and culture. That is where we find mind and meaning.
Doesn’t that resonate with what I wrote about emergent behavior?
While most neuroscientists believe that consciousness is now largely a scientific problem of finding the neural correlates of consciousness in the brain, Professor Thompson disagrees, viewing it as yet another expression of the mind-in-the-head idea.
It’s like saying a cathedral is in the stones. You need stones, of course, and you need them to be connected in the right way. But what makes something a cathedral is also iconography, tradition, and its being a place of worship. In other words, the larger context in which the structure is embedded helps constitute it as a cathedral. In an analogous way, consciousness isn’t in the neurons or their connections. Here the larger context that constitutes consciousness—in the sense of sentience, or felt awareness—is biological: consciousness is a life-regulation process of the whole body in which the brain is embedded. In the case of human consciousness, the context is also psychological and social.
What we are talking about here is meaning; that’s the essence of it. That’s the crux of what makes us human!  And most honest observers have to admit that when meaning is included in the discussion, scientific methods are no longer sufficient. As a remedy, Thompson recommends a cross-cultural approach.
From this cross-cultural philosophical perspective, we can’t take science for granted; we have to remember that it operates within a human community of shared norms and values and practices—what phenomenologists call the “lifeworld.” Science itself is a social practice that has the force and meaning it has because of its place in our lifeworld. Science can change the lifeworld, but it can never step completely outside it and provide some absolutely neutral perspective. To put the point another way, philosophy is concerned with the meaning of science—something that science on its own can’t tell us. And Buddhist philosophy is as relevant as Western philosophy for thinking about the meaning of science.
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I’m hoping it’s not just synchronicity which has lead me to all these references to Embodied Mind.  I’m hoping that it is the beginning of a trend: that the intelligentsia is waking up and realizing that, indeed, scientific methods aren’t sufficient, in and of themselves: that they are only tools, sometimes very useful, but not the truth, certainly not truth with a capital “T.” I’m hoping that the world is waking up to realize that rather than the truth, science is an ideology which over the last 300 years has become the dominant religion of our time, certainly at least in the western world.
After writing the first draft of this yesterday, I searched for one of my photos to illustrate it, but couldn’t find the perfect one. I decided to to go to Pawtuckaway State Park, which to me is a gateway to indigenous mysteries. I’ve written about it before, The Guardian Spirit of Pawtuckaway
I knew I needed to bring my ultra-wide Nikon lens to capture this image, even though I didn’t know yet what it was. Wandering around in an erratic boulder field of giant stones at Pawtuckaway, I found what I was searching for, looming up in front of me two stories tall.  The resulting photo is at the top of the page. I lightened her eyes in photoshop to make her appear as she did to me in person. To me, She is The Guardian Spirit of Emergence, Uniter of Matter and Mind. (Click on her image to make her bigger. Look in her eyes: what is she telling you?)
xxx
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