The Science (Fiction) Of Embodied Cognition

John Pavlus writes on

Science fiction has long played with the idea of projecting unified personalities/minds/”souls” into different bodies. The premise is baked into the plots of stories like Avatar and Caprica. But how would it work in the real world?

Avatar: Jake Sully In New Body

That’s what the science of “embodied cognition” is all about. The basic idea in this new(ish) research area (which overlaps with cognitive psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics, and others) is this: Your mind is defined by your physical form. Not just in terms of “the mind is what the brain does”-we all are pretty down with that already. This takes it further to encompass the whole enchilada: your mind-your “I”-is a function of a cephalized, bipedal, plantigrade, bilaterally symmetrical body between 1.5 and 2 meters tall with two arms terminating in five-fingered hands with opposable thumbs, two lungs, a warm-blooded vascular system, mostly hairless skin, two front-focused eyes, etc. etc. Change any aspects of that physical configuration-in subtle or radical ways-and the mind will inevitably change too.

That might sound a bit “no shit, Sherlock” at first blush, but it’s actually got profound implications about what it means to be recognizably human “on the inside.” In fact, that very phrase might not even make sense. After all, there’s no “little you” inside your body “looking out”, Terminator-style. Your perceptions, actions and thoughts all feel direct, integrated, and grounded. You don’t “drive” your body, you ARE it. So why do we still assume that we might take that “little man” out and plop him into a different body to “look out of”, without any consequences?

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4 Comments on "The Science (Fiction) Of Embodied Cognition"

  1. Yes, you do 'drive' your body, and no, you 'aren't' it.

  2. I most certainly am not my body! Are you so jammed-in you think you are? Wow! You need to think outside the – uh- box!!!

  3. Joe Blow from Mexico | Mar 27, 2010 at 4:25 am |

    So if someone loses their arms they’re no longer themselves? That doesn’t make any sense.

  4. Joe Blow from Mexico | Mar 26, 2010 at 11:25 pm |

    So if someone loses their arms they're no longer themselves? That doesn't make any sense.

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