“Walking return the body to its original limits again, to something supple, sensitive, and vulnerable, but walking itself extends into the world as do those tools that augment the body. The path is an extension of walking, the places set aside for walking are monuments to that pursuit, and walking is a mode of making the world as well as being in it. Thus the waling body can be traced in the places it has made, paths, parks, and sidewalks are traces of the acting out of imagination and desire; walking sticks, shoes, maps, canteens, and backpacks are further material results of that desire. Walking shares with making and working that crucial element of engagement of the body and the mind with the world, of knowing the world through the body and the body through the world” (Solnit. 2001: p.29).
The last part of the Mark Johnson quotation that I have been drawing upon for this section of the writing cites ‘bodily movement’ as one of the capacities within which meaning and thought emerge. By this I take him to mean that moving is a coherent, organised activity involving a set of eidetic invariants which give the act of moving a schematic structure. The structured cognition that represents the act of moving is then available for repurposing such that other kinds of conceptual content can be organised using this structure. Later in this writing I will indicate some examples of how this might work.
Some of the particular structures that moving provides emerge from the way perception changes as the body moves through space. A walk through a forest or through a city causes the sights before one’s eyes to change from a single static viewpoint to a seeing that is set in motion; trees come into new alignments as one passes them and the pebble on the path up ahead grows in size as the body moves toward it. The sounds of those birds on the fence to your left becomes the sounds of birds behind you, growing quieter and quieter as you proceed until their song is lost among the approaching sound of cars on the road up ahead.
SOLNIT, R. (2001). Wanderlust: a history of walking. London, Verso.
As has already been argued, perception is a function of the sensorimotor systems, and the different modalities in which that sensorimotor system operates, the different physical senses of touch, taste, sight etc, gives structure to that perception. If Mark Johnson is correct in claiming that perception is one of the capacities from which meaning and thought emerge then the structure of meaning and thought, the organised and coherent relationships between ideas, must in turn emerge in part from structures within perception. In other words, our ability to think in organised and meaningful ways is reflective of our ability to perceive the world in organised ways.
The organisation of perception comes from the regular and consistent ways in which the physical senses operate. To take the visual sense as an example, different wavelengths of light appear to the visual system as different colours, but these differences are not random or disorganised. The colours of the spectrum always follow one another in regular and predictable ways and this regularity (as well as the range) provides an organising template for meaning and thought to base themselves upon. Similarly, there is a consistant relationship in the apparent visual size of an object and its distance from us; objects that are further away seem smaller than those close up. This also is a feature of visual experience which has structure and regularity that can be adopted by conceptual cognitive functions. Other sensory modalities, hearing, touch, taste, olfaction, proprioception, have their own set of organised variables which enlarge the number of possible structures that might be utilised as frameworks for meaning and thought, and the relationships between the modalities provides additional complexity. Some sense perceptions echo one another closely; the shape of an object tends to be similarly perceived both by the hands and the eyes; whereas other senses complement one another through their difference; the colour and the sound of a musical instrument overlap one another only at the margins.
In ‘The senses considered as perceptual systems’ J.J Gibson writes that “the senses can obtain information about objects in the world without the intervention of an intellectual process” (1966:1). It may be more accurate to say that it is not that the senses work without the intervention of intellectual processes, but rather that their operation is constructive of intellectual processes. Furthermore, the structured differences that the senses detect in the world and which we experience as perceptions give structure to the meaning and thought that make up these intellectual processes.
Gibson, J. J. (1966). The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.