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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Towards a New Paradigm, 23 Feb 2008
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J. Dance "Konrad Jansma" (Newcastle, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a good and interesting account of the concept of "Embodiment" with a particular slant on how this view impacts on theories about Meaning. It is a philosophy book , but one in the cognitive sciences mold in that the author is wide ranging in his search for evidence. The philosopical investigation is supported by evidence from a wide range of other disciplines which "cognitive science" pulls together. Examples of subjects coming together under the umbrella of CogSci are neuroscience, psychology of various kinds, ethology, linguistics ...

The idea of Embodiment, in recent times, has been intensively explored. What it involves is a radical re-think of the existing philosophical orthodoxies. Many thinkers have realised for some time that analytic philosophy has failed to provide answers. Its presuppositions, axioms, tools have been applied to problems and it seems fair enough to say that virtually no useful light has been thrown upon any significant ontological problem. So what to do? The simple yet radical thing is to go back to basics using what we, in the light of scientific discovery, can say we can be sure of. Descartes I suppose, attempted the same thing. Unfortunately he got it completely wrong. Even more unfortunately he continued to be a dominant influence right into the 20th. cent. Embodiment however was able to call on a more advanced knowledge base than Descartes. The really significant development which was to change the whole face of science and philosophy (though sometimes rather slowly) was Darwin's theory of evolution. Embodiment sees no evidence of a ghost in the machine. It starts (in this particular investigation by Johnson)
with the movement of cells and the giving of birth. When we ask ourselves, as human beings, what we are and where we come from, we have to go back to this point (logically perhaps we should go back even further to the condensation of matter out of radiation, but we can take all that as read, for the purposes of the current research). Cells - their movements, growth and interaction with their environment - this is all there is. The big problem, which might be described as the raison d'etre of CogSci, is how do things like consciousness, thought, meaning, language and so forth, come into being out of this rather basic chemical stew. A lot of research (and I mean a LOT!) is being done on this at present from all kinds of perspectives, from quantum physics to ethology, but most particularly by philosophers and neuroscientists. Johnson, as mentioned, is by training a philopher and his book has a distinctive philosophical slant - the problem of meaning is a particularly philosophical problem. But he also looks to neuroscience and other areas for answers.

His position is that everything that it is to be human derives from the bio-chemical facts of our conception and birth. All human thought however abstract derives directly from this. There no need to add little explanatory extras like "souls" or immaterial minds, or transcendental egos. Given the premis, even things like logic or mathematics are founded in the fact of our Embodiment. All meaning can certainly be traced back to this fact of our being. Proving it is another thing. But progress is being made and Johnson's current book is an important contribution. His main argument turns on the concept of Image Schemas which can be defined as recurring patterns of organism / environment interaction which are instantiated in neural nets. This not a thing that can be concisely explained in a review - go to Johnson's excellent account for further clarification!

The book is also about art and aesthetics. This discussion takes the form of an example of the practical working out of the main thesis (which occupies most of the text). Art certainly has meaning. Who would be so pig headed as to deny it? We don't understand everything in art, but much art uncontestibly has meaning for us. And it is a type of meaning that does not need language. This is where Johnson is so at odds with orthodox analytic philosophy - this viewpoint holds that there can be no meaning or understanding without language. But this is simply not true. We do not need to be professional philosophers or brain specialists to see this. We have only to observe our babies, or even our household pets. Or take a trip to the nearest art gallery!
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The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding
The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding by Mark Johnson (Paperback - 14 Nov 2008)
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