Philosophy in the Flesh - the mind-body dichotomy

  • February 27, 2011 · 1:00 PM
  • This location is shown only to members

Philosophy in the Flesh - the mind-body dichotomy


"We are neural beings," states Berkeley cognitive scientist George Lakoff. "Our brains take their input from the rest of our bodies. What our bodies are like and how they function in the world thus structures the very concepts we can use to think. We cannot think just anything - only what our embodied brains permit."

His new book Philosophy In The Flesh, coauthored by Mark Johnson, makes the following points: "The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical."
Lakoff believes that new empirical evidence concerning these finding of cognitive science have taken us over the epistemological divide: we are in a new place and our philosophical assumptions are all up for grabs.
He and Johnson write: "When taken together and considered in detail, these three findings from the science of the mind are inconsistent with central parts of Western philosophy, and require a thorough rethinking of the most popular current approaches, namely, Anglo-American analytic philosophy and postmodernist philosophy."
According to Lakoff, metaphor appears to be a neural mechanism that allows us to adapt the neural systems used in sensory-motor activity to create forms of abstract reason. "If this is correct, as it seems to be," he says, "our sensory-motor systems thus limit the abstract reasoning that we can perform. Anything we can think or understand is shaped by, made possible by, and limited by our bodies, brains, and our embodied interactions in the world. This is what we have to theorize with."
He then raises the interesting question: "Is it adequate to understand the world scientifically? From this perspective, the brain could only be a means to implement abstract "mind" - wetware on which the "programs of the mind" happened to be implementable. Mind on this view does not arise from and is not shaped by the brain. Mind is a disembodied abstraction that our brains happen to be able to implement. These were not empirical results, but rather followed from philosophical assumptions.


Join Plato's Cave philosophers as we contrast past concepts of mind with the latest scientific literature and the evidence of recent discoveries.

Be sure to track the on-going discussion on this web site and check the files section for relevant documents before committing to attend this meeting.

-Steve, Plato's Cave Organizer

Join or login to comment.

  • John

    Didn't really talk much about Lakoff and Johnson per se, but still a nice discussion as always

    March 1, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    I appreciated hearing everyone's views on this complex topic. It was great meeting our newest members (e.g. Don) and also a pleasure to catch up with folks who I have not seen in a while (e.g., Stephanie, Jon). Looking forward to our next MeetUp! :-)

    February 28, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    When I take refuge in the Buddha (our ability to reach perfection, enlightenment), the Dharma (teachings), and the Sangha (living monks, nuns, teachers, community of practitioners), I do that symbolically by bowing and prostrating to the floor to an image of a Buddha. In that ritual, I keep in mind that my body is the brain, my mind is the heart, and my throat is my speech (instrument of words). So this Buddhist idea that "the body is the brain" (intellectual reasoning) sort of matches what cognitive science is discovering (ie that the body-brain is the source or embodiment of our reasoning).

    February 28, 2011

  • Ben Forbes G.

    Metaphoric!

    February 28, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    start living the moment you realize you are going to die.

    February 24, 2011

  • Rami K.

    some have parroted that you start dying the moment you are born. I challenge that; you start living

    February 24, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    “Thinking creates an image. Images control feelings. Feelings cause actions and actions create results.”

    ~ Bob Proctor

    I wonder if there is some feedback going on here between thought, images, feelings, etc. Like an image can cause thoughts, and so forth.

    February 24, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Joseph, according to Madame H. P. Blavatsky and others, human history goes in cycles, and many traditions and myths point to cycles where civilizations progress to a peak and then they regress and sometimes disappear or go into hiding. Could be the peoples of Atlantis. Could be the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Greeks, and many before them. So to make us feel better, today's anthropologists and evolutionists say we are the most advanced, but actually we are in decay.

    February 24, 2011

  • christopher

    Dorinda, I've not read this particular book, so I personally can't vouch for it. However, scanning through the table of contents on Amazon, I'd recommend (assuming he's in-line with his reductivist/eliminativist peers) chapters 2, 3, 9, 12, and 13.

    February 21, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    I have failed to find a Philosopher with whom I totally agree. I have had to gather ideas from many sources and try to shuffle them into a practical guide. And that makes for a long winded black pot. It is frustrating that Earthlings have learned more and have longer explanations for every thing, during the last 100 years, and yet we are no closer to a natural life enhancing conclusion than the naked Panentheist sacrificing to the lightening god, 12,000 years ago. Aren't we proud ?

    February 21, 2011

  • D.F.

    Just asking about Lakoff's book here. It is about 500 something pages long. I bought it because his later work on framing arguments through metaphor in the political arena was very interesting. I can find time to read some chapters by next Sudany and will be looking at those on the Pre-Socratics and Chomsky. What chapters are of interest to others?

    February 20, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    I have not found any one, whose opinions I agree with in total. I have collected opinions that I think offer the best chance for practical, beneficial results. Did God do it, did the Devil do it, or did a self starting Universe do it ? Do the results provide practical, life enhancing benefits ? What is the origin of your thoughts ? Disagreement is what keeps the bordom alleviating word game going. Available from your local clan distributor labeled, 'Boxed Hot Air'.

    February 20, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    The twisting and winding of words to keep the game from reaching a practical conclusion. Semantical garbage ? Are the thoughts of the Nuro-Scientist as clear as when they were called Nuro-Surgeons ?

    How much of your life is Determinism and how much is Free Will ? What is the origin of your thoughts ? What do we really mean when we use words such as love-hate-soul-spirit-physical-nous-oneness-knosis ? We use these words because we don't have words with an agreeable tighter definition.

    February 20, 2011

  • christopher

    ^ are your claims to enjoy a privileged status, exempted from scrutiny? I'd concede that a naive version of property dualism could probably resolve the contradictions Alan mentions. My problem is that Buchner's (proto-) property dualism, along with panpsychism, are theories about consciousness made in complete ignorance of the brain. Why should anyone look to them for answers?

    If that's 'hot air' to a self-ascribed pragmatist, well...

    February 19, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    Geee !
    And there was po-practical-Joseph,,, 1-Sticking his head into a room, thinking that he might learn something of 'practical value',,,
    2-Blasted by the 'boxed hot air' of the 'impractical wordy endless game' designed to 'alleviate civilized boredom',,,
    3-Then Joseph quietly attempts to recede into the practical 'wood work' and 'furniture' where he belongs,,, Now he has two e-mails from 'expert endless wordy game players',,, Geee !
    What's a po-practical-thinker to do ?

    February 19, 2011

  • Alan G.

    Joseph, the problem with Buchner, Whitehead, and Panpsychism being the answer is that those writers and that creed hold several contradictions: Buchner's materialism contradicts Whitehead's assertion of timeless entities. Buchner's denial of "spirt" contradicts Panpsychism's assertion of the omnipresence of "spirit". Which particular resolution of these contradictions are you purporting is "the solution"?

    February 19, 2011

  • christopher

    Joseph, I take it you hold that we arrived at 'TEH CORRECT ANSWER' from the armchair some 100 years ago, and the inventions of brain science and cog sci in the intervening years have little or nothing to say on the matter?

    February 19, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    I enjoy the post offered here. They provide a short summary on a variety of topics which I can follow through the web for greater depth. Your post are appreciated.

    February 16, 2011

  • amanda m.

    A friend of mine years ago used this SUOS - stand alone universal operating system. Can you guess what this is in our lives?

    February 15, 2011

  • D.F.

    In reference to Jeopardy and Watson here is an MIT trained computer scientist friend's take on the situation. I agree with him that the use of written transcripts for Watson and verbal cues for the human contestants stacks the deck. The point he makes about the clustering of noun phrases is interesting. Why does the computer get the handicap? http://www.open.salon.com/blog/kent_pitman/2011/02/15/computers_in_jeopardy

    February 15, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    George Lakoff butts heads with
    Noam Chomsky : "I was attempting to unify Chomsky's transformational grammar with formal logic.,,,,,,,,,,,,, I found quite a few cases where semantics, context, and other such factors entered into rules governing the syntactic occurrences of phrases and morphemes. I came up with the beginnings of an alternative theory in 1963,,,,,,,,,,,,,,"

    Semantics verses Syntactic,,,
    HOT AIR ! LUDWIG BUCHNER + WHITEHEAD + PANPSYCHICISM IS THE CORRECT ANSWER !

    February 13, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Lakoff is wrong! We are spirits inhabiting carbon-based neural networks with the ALU as the brain, the sensors as the eyes, ears, etc.

    February 12, 2011

  • D.F.

    Here is what Lakoff had to say about the book in 1999.

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/lakoff/lakoff_p1.html

    February 8, 2011

  • christopher

    The new school of thought, sometimes called connectionism, PDP (parallel distributed processing), or the neural network paradigm, is the perspective above in which the mind (the content of mental states) is, literally, embodied within the brain (ie, the content IS the architecture and configuration of a population of neurons -- in other words, the activation pattern).

    January 30, 2011

  • christopher

    I've uploaded a file that unpacks into simple language the differences between 'classical' symbol-manipulators vs sub-symbolic computational models (neural networks). The classical school of thought is just, basically, old-fashioned computationalism. It's the perspective Lakoff describes above in which the mind is like software implemented on the hardware of the brain.

    January 30, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Must watch videos of very interesting talks http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/
    The most recent is on Education and why it's not working. Now I am watching one on Democracy and the Left vs Right Brain. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ql3Jp3ydfE
    Someone commented on YouTube saying that RSA talks are better than TED talks. Steve Pinker is interviewed on http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/page/4/

    January 30, 2011

  • Steve

    I think you've got it Chris. That last paragraph is referring to the earlier historical symbol-manipulation view of mind-brain functioning. Keep in mind that Lakoff is a cognitive linguist. His co-author, Johnson, is the philosopher. They are claiming that "conceptual structure and the mechanisms of reason arise ultimately and are shaped by the sensory-motor system of the brain and body." They would take issue with Plato's notion of "ideal forms" originating independently of the embodied brain.

    January 29, 2011

  • christopher

    I think the problem here is that the statement above (about the mind not being shaped by the brain) was lifted out of context. In the file you posted, Lakoff is explaining the history of a particular approach in AI and cog-sci in which the mind was thought of as a formal system that manipulated meaningless symbols according to a set of syntactical rules. However, Lakoff seems very much in-line with the emerging neural network camp in opposing this view of the mind. I've got no problem with that.

    January 29, 2011

  • christopher

    Ah, I think what you're trying to say is that the brain doesn't shape itself, which is clearly true (synaptic weight adjustment happens as a consequence of the dynamical processing within the hidden layers in a recurrent neural network). This, however, is distinct from statements about the mind and its relation to the brain, and nothing offered so far suggests that mental states are somehow independent of brain states (which is what the latter statement above seemed to me to be saying).

    January 29, 2011

  • Steve

    Alan, I really don't think that the statements are contradictory or that complicated. What would a brain raised in a vat think about? How would it develop? Modern cog-sci research shows that some of our neural areas don't even develop without certain types of sensory input, ie.. facial recognition does not arise from the brain. As Dorinda suggested above, go to her link and click on "the perceiving brain". Listen to Nancy Kanwisher on dev of localized brain specialization at about time 20 min.

    January 29, 2011

  • Alan G.

    Steve, I don't think that response actually answered Chris's question. Again, there is an apparent contradiction between: "Anything we can think or understand is shaped by...our...brains..." and "Mind ... is not shaped by the brain." The question was: does Lakoff hold that both of these statements are true?

    January 29, 2011

  • Steve

    Chris, I think that Lakoff is simply making this point:
    The brain isn't just an isolated processing organ in the body; it, and the body it is in, have been shaped by a few million years of natural selection. Our mental concepts have obvious, built-in biases shaped by body-related metaphors. Our primary life focus is sustaining our bodies, right? So, these metaphors are rooted in our embodied experiences. Our minds love to make use of these metaphors as shortcuts. Take a look at my posted file.

    January 29, 2011

  • christopher

    Steve, I'm not as familiar with George Lakoff as I should be, but it's difficult to not see a tension between the following statements in your intro above:

    'Anything we can think or understand is shaped by, made possible by, and limited by our bodies, brains, and our embodied interactions in the world.'

    vs

    'Mind on this view does not arise from and is not shaped by the brain.' Does Lakoff hold that both of these statements are true?

    January 28, 2011

  • D.F.

    I am up grading with Charlie Rose in the background and can't pay full attention. However his brain series is available on hulu and looks pertinent to this discussion. There are 12 separate hour long episodes and one compilation of main points in one hour. http://www.hulu.com/search?query=Charlie+Rose+brain&st=0&fs=null

    1 · January 28, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    But now think about this question. When you suffer, where do you feel this experience? Point to where you feel the pain of suffering. Do you point to your brain? No. You can stick needles and even stakes into the brain and it won't feel any pain. There are no pain nerves in the brain to feel stuff in the brain. But when you suffer, I am almost certain that you feel it in the heart region, in the chest, and not in the head. You may have head aches, but those pains are mainly in the skin area.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    So psychologically, we are susceptible to suffering because of our attachment or conversely our aversion to our stuff. So the end of suffering must lie in renouncing our stuff.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    We humans celebrate births and mourn deaths. Births suggest potential and deaths suggest the end of a loved one. We fall in love with our stuff, and we suffer when our stuff falls apart. So built into impermanence and our experience of it there lies the potential for experiencing suffering. So the cause of all our suffering is our falling in love with our possessions and then undergoing the pain of having to let go of our broken possessions. So anything we own, will cause us suffering.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    But if you have a hard time swallowing the arguments so far because the word God sounds too religious and non scientific and non philosophical, then perhaps we can follow the Buddha's logic. We can start to observe scientifically and determine and recommend a law about phenomena, and that is that all things are impermanent, they are born, they stay as long as they can, and then they die. Even non living things have a life span, even rocks, and obviously clouds. Everything is undergoing change.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Now does Heaven and Hell exist? Well, if it can be imagined, then there is probably someone experiencing such states of mind. So the most horrible scary movies such as Halloween or Friday the 13th, Saw, etc. came from visions of torture and pain, and it was all imagined, so if it can be imagined, why can't there be some one somewhere in the universe suffering the same? There is no reason why it can't be possible. Therefore we must assume that there are many hells. Likewise, there are heavens.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    God unmanifest is like a bud -- It is the potential energy hidden in every particle in the universe. When this potential energy becomes kinetic and manifests itself, it takes the form of the Word, the Light, the Music and the Nectar.
    == Shri Satpal Ji Maharaj

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Initiation into Knowledge gives us access to the four facets of Divine Energy -- The Holy Word, Divine Light, Celestial Music and Nectar. We can know God through them. These four aspects are like the petals of a flower. Only a flower in bloom emits fragrance. Similarly, it is only through the manifestations of these aspects of the Divine that the full splendour of God is experienced and salvation attained.
    == Shri Satpal Ji Maharaj

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Jesus Christ was describing this state when he said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you" and, "Don't you know that you are the temples of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?"

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    The sacred and revealed books of all times and civilisations glorify this Knowledge. They place man at the pinnacle of creation, because human beings can reach the plane of absolute Truth, Consciousness and Bliss and thus realise the ultimate Reality. Lord Buddha said, "There is a state where there is neither earth nor water, nor heat, nor air...neither infinity of space...it is without stability, without change. Here is the cessation of sorrow." == from teachings of Shri Satpal Ji Maharaj

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Still these sacred books and traditions point to finding it out for yourself through the laboratory of the mind and the methods of meditation. In those investigations you will be acquiring Knowledge. Spiritual Knowledge. What is that? Spiritual Knowledge doesn't refer to information acquired via the senses or from books, but to the knowledge which is revealed from within, to the revelation and wisdom emanating from the depths of the inner Self. What can you find in the inner Self?

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    What is the evidence? Well, Western science has removed subjective experience from the equations, so there is no evidence to be found in Western science. So you have to go to Eastern science, to the Vedanta, to the Tantras, to the scriptures of the most esoteric pure teachings of any religion. So you have to start reading the sacred books and understand where they were coming from. Sure some of it you can say is metaphorical or exagerated, but try to understand the essence and the morals.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Now what is the practicality of knowing God? Well, once you know God, you don't say "I believe in God." you instead say, "I know God." But the only way to know God is to become God. And that is the meaning of Yoga. Yoga means union with God. Or becoming one with God. That amounts to liberation. Liberation in this case means liberating one's being from the body, and identifying with the All, the IT, the Brahman, God. So what happens when that happens? Well, that causes the end of suffering.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    But not the common god Jehovah or Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible. The God I'm talking about is more like the Buddhist concept of emptiness. Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. That suggests that out of emptiness comes out all phenomena. So emptiness is the non-phenomena, or the Noumenon. Another word for it is The Absolute.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    But do you think that the human mind evolved to this level going through the most common ape species and branching out to the human? No, actually, it was the other way around. It was the human soul that designed intelligently all the species and planted them in a balanced way on this earth. So actually we humans are alien beings that populated this rock once it was ready for us. The point is that we humans are the crown of the universe for a purpose. And that purpose is to know God.

    January 27, 2011

  • Jairo M.

    Now let's distinguish the difference between humans and most other sentient beings that we know of in this planet. We humans do have a highly evolved brain. But why did it evolve? It was because the Mind needed a body that would allow communication of the highest level. And one of the methods of communication is through the mind, without the senses. So in meditation we are able to exercise the sixth sense, the mind. We shut down the other senses as in sleep, and we use the third eye, etc.

    January 27, 2011

19 went

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Imagine having a community behind you

Get started Learn more
Bill

I started the group because there wasn't any other type of group like this. I've met some great folks in the group who have become close friends and have also met some amazing business owners.

Bill, started New York City Gay Craft Beer Lovers

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy