April 3rd, 2007

Crying Man

Communication, Knowledge, Bodies and God: Part 6

Embodied Knowledge

So are we doomed to complete subjectivity? The basis of our understanding anything is through the category structures and cognitive models in our minds. These are not hard-wired, but based entirely on our experience of the world through a body. Our experience of the world varies hugely across various cultures, languages and geographies. Not even our bodies are the same, but male differs from female and our bodies have larger or smaller bits, and some of us even have bits missing. How can we ever hope to understand anything another person communicates?

Conceptual Metaphors

In spite of the variations in our experiences, we all have two things in common.

Firstly, we all have a brain (more or less). If we don’t have a brain then we die. Our brains are quite similar too. Most of us have a cerebral cortex, limbic system, cerebellum etc. and they all have fairly specific roles. The basic architecture is much the same for everyone. This means that our brains work in quite similar ways.

Secondly, we all have a body (more or less). Our bodies may not all have the same bits, but we all have some sort of body. Again, if we don’t have one, we die. Our bodies all come from a roughly similar blue-print, even if there are infinite variations. Having two legs, two arms, a face and hands is fairly common amongst human beings. And having these various appendages shapes the way our brains function because all the input a brain receives, it receives from the body.

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[1] Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. 1980 , Metaphors We Live By, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 2003 reprint with new afterword.

[2] Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. 1999 , Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, Basic Books, New York.

*Actually, the concepts I have described here are made up of conceptual models that are even more basic, but going into all the detail would take too long here. See [2] for more information.

Crying Man

Communication, Knowledge, Bodies and God: Part 7

The Possibility of Communication

Communication is possible, even though different people may have very different conceptual systems. It is just difficult.

The way people think varies greatly between cultures because there are many ways to form a conceptual mapping from bodily experience to abstract concept. For example, in English, when I say ‘The elephant is in front of the tree’, I mean that the elephant is between the tree and myself. In the Hasua language, saying the Elephant is in front on the tree would mean the opposite: That the elephant was on the other side of the tree [1]. In Hasua, ‘front’ means facing the same direction I am. Both are valid ways of conceptualising orientation.

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