Experience is embodied

tbyramnar“We only believe those thoughts which have been conceived not in the brain but in the whole body.” W.B. Yeats

This quote reminds me of a book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson who presented an opinion that the mind is ‘embodied,’ and our mental capacities, such as categorization and metaphor, grow out of bodily experience. They believe we build up complex representations of the world out of basic level categories (of objects, actions, emotions, social concepts, and so on). These basic level concepts result from bodily experience in the world in which we move, eat, sleep, experience and live.

For example, Lakoff and Johnson report that spatial relations concepts ‘are at the heart of our conceptual system.’ Examples of such concepts are the Container Schema, the Source-Path-Goal Schema, and bodily projections (such as above-below, in front-behind). The body itself is experienced as a container, with an inside and an outside, and we project this experience of ‘container like-ness’ onto other people and objects (a car, a building).j0427841

The child gains a bodily experience of these schemata from the first moments after birth when he/she (a) moves to the breast (Source-Path-Goal) and (b) opens and closes the mouth around the nipple, sucking in the milk (Container). In fact, infants have a habit of putting almost anything they can get their hands on into their mouths. In this way they learn the differences between inside and outside, ‘me’ and ‘not-me’. Later the infant learns to crawl towards objects in space as well as to stand, walk and run, all of which give new experiences of the ‘Spatial Self ‘.

One of the primary developmental tasks of the first year of life is achieving a sense of the wholeness of one’s own body, achieving a relationship to space (objects in the space above the crib; mother who comes and goes…). The basic cognitive elements of thought derive from bodily experiences before the emergence of spoken language.

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1999) Philosophy In The Flesh: the Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. Basic Books.

Lakoff, George (1987) Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. University of Chicago Press

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