Friday, November 5, 2010

Further Testimony to My Underestimating the Reach of Embodied Cognition

Over at the New APPS blog, Charles Wolfe draws attention to John Gascoigne's review of Wolfe and Gal's The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge: Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science.

Very interesting. I know that John Sutton has been working on the links between history of the memory sciences and extended/embodied cognition, but I did not realize how much work had been done on this.

I should definitely look at this stuff, since I do, after all, have a PhD in the history and philosophy of science.

Here is the book description:

It was in 1660s England, according to the received view, in the Royal Society of London, that science acquired the form of empirical enquiry we recognize as our own: an open, collaborative experimental practice, mediated by specially-designed instruments, supported by civil discourse, stressing accuracy and replicability. Guided by the philosophy of Francis Bacon, by Protestant ideas of this worldly benevolence, by gentlemanly codes of decorum and by a dominant interest in mechanics and the mechanical structure of the universe, the members of the Royal Society created a novel experimental practice that superseded former modes of empirical inquiry, from Aristotelian observations to alchemical experimentation.
This volume focuses on the development of empiricism as an interest in the body – as both the object of research and the subject of experience. Re-embodying empiricism shifts the focus of interest to the ‘life sciences’; medicine, physiology, natural history. In fact, many of the active members of the Royal Society were physicians, and a significant number of those, disciples of William Harvey and through him, inheritors of the empirical anatomy practices developed in Padua during the 16th century. Indeed, the primary research interests of the early Royal Society were concentrated on the body, human and animal, and its functions much more than on mechanics. Similarly, the Académie des Sciences directly contradicted its self-imposed mandate to investigate Nature in mechanistic fashion, devoting a significant portion of its Mémoires to questions concerning life, reproduction and monsters, consulting empirical botanists, apothecaries and chemists, and keeping closer to experience than to the Cartesian standards of well-founded knowledge.
These highlighted empirical studies of the body, were central in a workshop in the beginning of 2009 organized by the unit for History and Philosophy of Science in Sydney. The papers that were presented by some of the leading figures in this area are presented in this volume.


  1. I am taking the liberty of referring you to another top-notch essay - (courtesy of John) forthcoming in Phenom Cog Sci ->

    cool stuff


  2. cheers, but you better thank/blame John for the sharp/unjust criticism. well I find it sharp, but maybe you deem it unfair. ah, philosophy! :D

  3. These days I'm trying to take the frame of mind that it's better to be criticized than ignored.

  4. Hi Ken - many historians of early modern natural philosophy are among those who Andy Clark describes in 'Memento's Revenge' as regarding the extended mind hypothesis as 'patently true', ie 'those who identify the mind with an essentially socially and environmentally embedded principle of informed agency'. Maybe the key source here, linking back to Charles's Embodied Empiricism project, is Shapin & Schaffer's brilliant Leviathan and the Air Pump (1985) on the Hobbes-Boyle disputes, replication, trust, and the origins of the experimental method: their argument was pretty much adopted wholesale in Latour's 'We have never been modern' (1993). As Andy knows, to many who could make decent sense of (and loved) Being There (eg anthropologists, HCI folks, phenomenologists, sociologists of science), Clark & Chalmers 1998 seemed a weirdly laboured and prosaic stating of the obvious in an alien discourse.

  5. Hi, John,

    Although the names you mention are familiar to me, the embodied content is not.

    One of my favorite observations regarding the modern period, however, is that Descartes seems to have been fine with extended cognition. In the meditations, he describes us as being unlike pilots in a ship. In some of his correspondences (in the Anthony Kenny volume), he mentions things like muscular memory in addition to intellectual memory. I like the irony of having one of the "fathers of confusion" having turned out to have been one of the proponents of 4E.

    I expect that accounts like that will go much the way that Bacon's account of heat went, namely, fragmentation with the advance of science.

    But, part of what this widespread intuitive appeal of 4E cognition implies to me is that this 4E kind of work is not going to be the kind of relatively short-lived enterprise that was, say, connectionism. (To my mind, there was roughly a ten year philosophical interest in connectionism. Maybe you disagree, but it seems to me that philosophical work in that area dissipated a lot by 2000, just in time for my 2003 book to be largely irrelevant.) So, rather than having run its course of the last ten years, 4E seems to me to be gaining adherents still or gaining recognition for existence adherents.

  6. to rub salt into the wound ...
    here is something I came across today, :P

    The holy grail of cognitivism -->

    2)Dimensions of mind -->

  7. I've heard that this Holy Grail is elusive. =)