The Poetics of Thought


Posted in Uncategorized by Fred McVittie on September 10, 2009

“Meaning and thought emerge from our capacities for perception, object manipulation and bodily movement.” – Mark Johnson.

In ‘The Meaning of the Body’ Mark Johnson claims that ‘Meaning and thought emerge from our capacities for perception, object manipulation, and bodily movement’. This means that the embodied, embedded, experiential engagement we have with the world provides the template for our organisation of knowledge in all its forms. Covert within Johnson’s statement is the implied existence of a ‘capacity’ from which (or within which) such thought and meaning emerge. Following the logic of the schema, this capacity corresponds to the phenomenal presence of space that both contains and provides a context for thought and meaning.

I haven’t got time to write this up right now.  I’ll probably get to it in the morning.


2 Responses

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  1. Kaposvári Márk said, on September 11, 2009 at 7:02 am

    back to Fred,

    I was curious about how you would continue from the sensorimotor account on,
    that’s not an easy task at all, the problematic leaps and bounds inevitably punctuate the seamless narrative of cognitive evolution, nevertheless I would recommend still Michael Tomasello’s notion of “joint attention scenes”
    but aside from this, I agree,
    one shouldn’t use the word metaphor so exclusively, there are distinctions (as against metonymy) that suggest that it would be more accurate to define what the mind ultimately does as troping or indeed adopting different genres of poetics in different environments as you would say
    partly connected to this and partly connected to the evolutionary narrative I would add
    that the “bit in the middle” you talk about which can be decoupled and multipurposed
    sounds similar to Margaret Wilson’s summary (in “Six Views of Embodied Cognition”) when she says something to the effect that cognition is not totally gridlocked by function, I guess,
    she says: ‘Our mental representations, whether novel or sketchy or familiar and detailed, appear to be to a large extent purpose-neutral, or at least to contain information beyond that needed for the originally conceived purpose. And this is arguably an adaptive cognitive strategy. A creature that encodes the world using more or less veridical models has an enormous advantage in problem-solving flexibility over a creature that encodes purely in terms of presently forseeable activites”
    that is: “information about the nature of the external world is stored for future use without strong commitments on what that future use might be”
    so, as I take it, there is a healthy kind of excess there
    in another context, there is an analogous argument made by Ellen Spolsky who (in “Darwin and Derrida”) is concerned with the “interface of our genetic inheritance with the environment into which we are born, that is, by the constantly changing interaction of individual needs, hegemonic cultures, and an unstable class of culturally empowered arbiters”. In this paper Spolsky is concerned more with how textuality affects the mind but, I think, she starts out (or up?) from the same plane as Wilson,
    she says: “The evolutionary success of the species would actually be compromised by an entirely rigid, that is, dependable, representational system. As I argued in Gaps in Nature, the gap between the signifier and the signified is not tragedy; it builds in the flexibility to allow the system to meet the challenge of new contexts and to use old words in new combinations and with new meanings […] Thus one could hypothesize that the human representational system evolved in repsonse to a tension between two needs, the need for good enough (reliable enough) representation and the need for a flexible representational system”
    again, instability serves adaptation which in Spolsky’s sense is “troping, reinterpretation, rerepresentation by recatogrization”
    this instability argument clearly refutes the symbol-manipulating computational model of cognition and favours a dynamicist maybe chaos-driven account, but
    in still another aspect, getting all the way down to textuality (sorry for this)
    I would liken your notion of the multipurpose “bit in the middle” with the aesthetic quality of literary textures, at least as James Guetti argues for it in his nice book Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Literary Experience,
    very briefly, he in saying that the “use of words for purposes of ordinary understanding will preclude seeing their aspects, preclude experiencing them as embodiments of multiple understandings” means to suggest that in poetic language use there is a “grammatical display” which in its ambiguities is not exhausted by a purposeful application but remains multivalent and ready for multiple venues of application…
    I hope I get across here,
    anyway, I definitely like the idea of multivalent potentials in the sensorimotor system

    and a nitpicking detail, Zoltán Kövecses is Hungarian, so I can help you out with the pronounciation, Kövecses is not kovecs but more along the line of kovetschesh, if that makes any sense 🙂

    all the best,

  2. Kaposvári Márk said, on September 11, 2009 at 7:12 am

    and the question still remains, for me at least, what motivates the bizarre kind of realization of the sensorimotor potentials, that is, why did humans distance themselves form the immediate environment? was it really the most effective enhancement of prediction? if yes, I would still say that perhaps this kind of enhanced prediction involved the conspecifics and their derived intentions and not the immediate environment only

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