ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2013, Vol. 45 ›› Issue (4): 481-488.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2013.00481

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Cognition and Body: A Perspective from Theoretical Psychology

YE Haosheng   

  1. (Center for Mind and Brain, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China)
  • Received:2012-08-11 Published:2013-04-25 Online:2013-04-25
  • Contact: YE Haosheng

Abstract: With the approach of theoretical psychology, this paper is to explore the possible relations between cognition and body in light of embodiment thesis. According to present author, Dualist viewpoints of mind-body relationship, until recently, have been in dominant position in western culture. The denial of the body in consideration of human mind has been a heritage of the western intellectual zeitgeist since the time of the ancient Greeks. Plato put the body in the position of distraction in intellectual life, and separated the human soul from the body. He is the earliest representative of dualism. In the 17th century, a philosopher of France, Rene Descartes, epistemologically, demonstrated the existence of the dualist world, and distinguished between physical substances and thinking substance. According to Descartes, physical substances (“res extensa”)could be measured and divided, and occupied a physical space, while the thinking substance (“res cogitans”) could not be divided, and was unextended into physical space. Following in Descartes’ footsteps, traditional cognitive science took the metaphor, the MIND IS A COMPUTER. Human mind has been modeled as a digital computer, and cognition was considered as an autonomous, logical, and disembodied process. There was a sharp line between human physical capacities and its intellectual abilities. This kind of dualist viewpoints has been challenged, however, in recent decades in cognitive science. One of the most recent developments that has implications for understanding the relationship between cognition and body is that of embodied mind. According to proponents of theoretical models of embodiment, cognition is body’s cognition, and body is the subject rather than the object of cognition. In author’s opinion, the dependence of cognition on body can be in the following aspects: (1) an agent’s body in action is a powerful constraint on how the agent conceive their environments. Because of its bodily shape and structure, some forms of cognition tend to be easier, and some kinds of cognition tend to be difficult even impossible. (2) an agent’s body can function to distribute cognitive tasks between brain and body, and between body and environment. This means that the mind extends beyond the skull and skin into the outer physical environment, and cognitive systems may loop into the world and hence constitute hybrid systems consisting of both neural and non-neural parts of the body. (3) an agent’s body can regulate cognitive activity and influence mental processes. Nodding our heads result in more positive evaluations, while shaking our heads result in more negative evaluations. This indicate our body’s influence on our mind. Generally speaking, body and mind are not separated but unified. The interaction between body and the world made the mind become possible.

Key words: embodied cognition, mind, mind-body relationship, theoretical psychology