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Embodied Cognition And Extended Selves Essay

2056 words - 9 pages

The body and mind dilemma has been of great interest by many since the first

philosophers began theorizing about their relationship and interconnectedness. There

remain two prominent, yet opposing claims. The first is the assertion that the body

provides “special and ineliminable contributions” to one’s understanding and cognitive

processes (Clark, 2006, pp. 4). The other claims a viewpoint of extended functionalism

which views physical behaviours as a method of processing information and environmental

structures as a method of storing the information (Clark, 2006, pp. 14-15). These claims

are in opposition of each other as the first requires the body of a species in order to
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4-5). He then goes on to

provide his own assertion on the mind/body problem which seeks to resolve the gap

between subjectivity and objectivity of the popular claims. Clark claims that the easiest

way to reconcile the tension between the two claims is to view the body as making

computational contributions that also influence the conscious experience of the mind but

not the process of cognition (2006, pp. 18-19). This then poses a further problem to

consider as one’s conscious experience also influences their way of understanding. Each

person’s subjective, conscious experiences supply the mind with frames to which they

make reference when experiencing and imagining the world around them (Nagel, 1974, pp.

439-440). Therefore, the process of obtaining knowledge, making assessments, and

experiencing the world all involve some influence of the body on the mind. Furthermore,

this then insinuates that one can only imagine what it is like to be a different creature or to

have a certain attribute that they do not maintain: they cannot truly know how it feels to be

or to attain that attribute. For example, once one has experienced the attribute of sight,

one cannot truly experience what it is like to be blind from birth (Nagel, 1974, pp. 440-

441). However, it is also possible to take on the perspective of another creature to a

certain extent through the process of empathy but this cannot replicate the exact

experience. Neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran discusses the important discovery of

mirror neurons in the frontal lobes of rhesus monkeys and their impact on social

interaction and empathy. These mirror neurons are also found in the brains of humans and

have been shown to fire not only when the individual performs an action but also when the

individual witnesses someone else performing that action (Ramachandran, 2000, pp. 2).

This reveals a physical explanation for the ability of empathy and how humans are able to

understand the perspectives and behaviours of others. This speaks directly to the extent to

which species can interrelate and mutually understand one another.

An illustration of this concept derives from the work of Barbara Smuts with

different domestic and undomesticated animals. Smuts spent over two years observing

and analyzing the behavioural patterns of baboons in Tanzania and Kenya. Throughout

her experience she had to alter her behaviours in such a manner that reflected the daily

behaviours of the baboons in order to gain acceptance into their general hangouts and

personal space (Smuts, 2001, pp. 295-296). By doing so, Smuts demonstrated her ability to

empathize and learn the perspective of the baboons. However, she did not truly experience

what it is like to be a baboon because her human body is designed to walk upright whereas

baboons typically walk on all four limbs, therefore, even if she attempted to walk on all

fours limbs she would experience exhaustion...

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