How does the human body influence thinking?
Published on July 30, 2010 by Paul Thagard in Hot Thought
Embodiment is currently a hot topic in psychology and philosophy, for good reasons. Thinking is heavily influenced by physiological processes involved in perception and emotion. Embodiment is a useful extension to cognitive theories that explain thinking in terms of mental representations, but not an alternative theory.
Since the 1960s, the dominant approach to cognitive psychology has been to explain different kinds of thinking in terms of computational procedures that operate on mental representations. Such representations include not only verbal ones such as word-like concepts and sentence-like propositions, but also visual images and neural networks. In the past decade, an increasing number of researchers in both psychology and philosophy have argued that the standard approach has neglected the important role that human bodies play in cognition. Our concepts are not like the verbal and mathematical structures that are easy to represent in current computer languages, but rather combine many kinds of perceptual information that depend on the sensory systems that operate in our bodies. Psychologists such as Larwrence Barsalou have provided experimental evidence that concepts are parts of perceptual symbol systems. For example, your concept of a car is far more than a verbal description of typical cars, since it can also include sensory information about how cars look, sound, smell, and feel.