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The Philosophical Perspective of an Embodied Mind

By Frank Simons

This lecture offers a philosophical examination of a range of psychological phenomena involving our perception of our own bodies. An image of our own body is laid out across the sensorimotor cortex, but the importance and plasticity of that body image is only now becoming clear.

Video Presentation
Philosophy of Mind: Part 8, “Body Image
By Frank Simons
Thu, Jul 27, 5:30pm
Meditation Center
Callejón Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted

How do we learn our bodies? In some ways the body is a mental construct. Human infants take a significant amount of time to learn how their bodies move. In some ways the body is a social construct. We have all incorporated cultural stereotypes of “normal bodies” and “perfect bodies.”

This lecture emphasizes a perspective different from that in much of the history of philosophy of the mind: the perspective of an embodied mind. A standard thought experiment is the brain in a vat. How do you know you are not just a brain in a vat?

The somatosensory cortex registers sensation from different areas in the body and reveals much about the mind’s body. The areas of your body that are more sensitive to touch occupy a greater proportion of the somatosensory cortex. Just as the area of brain tissue corresponds to the sensitivity of body area, the organization of brain tissue corresponds roughly to the organization of the body. The mind’s body is not permanent. The plasticity of the brain allows for a takeover of one area for another function. Finger sensitivity areas in people who use their fingers for fine coordination are larger than those in the brains of people who do not. Some amazing cases show the degree to which brain function can be made up by parts of the brain not intended for those functions at all. It is possible to rewire visual perception to the auditory cortex, allowing sight to be produced by the part of the brain designated for sound.

How do we learn our bodies? A distinction can be drawn between your conscious impression of your body and your unconscious body schema. In learning a skill, what is first intensely conscious can later submerge into body schema. To a great extent, our sense of our own bodies must be learned because our bodies change over time.

Consider this thought experiment: If it were possible to hook up a human brain to the body of a cat, do you think the brain could “learn” the cat’s body?

Professor Patrick Grim, as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s presidential and chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


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