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Embodiment is the way in which human (or any other animal's) psychology arises from the brain's and body's physiology. It is specifically concerned with the way the adaptive function of categorisation works, and how things acquire names. It is distinguished from developmental psychology and physical anthropology by its focus on cognitive science, ontogeny, ontogenetics, chaos theory and cognitive notions of entropy - far more abstract and more reliant on mathematics.

Philosophy of embodiment

In essence embodiment as an idea binds two worlds of substance and spirit (or culuture, thought of as intentional objects and phenomena), contrary to a duality long posited by notables like Descartes. The core idea looks to find the biological substrate not as a vessel, but as the being itself. The mind and spirit are not a sublimation of the biology, but are a method of its workings. Thus body and mind are fused into a single being - the only distinction between matter and person being the way of observing the being.

Some consider such a reduction to mathematics, or alternatively an attempt to explain mathematics (as in the cognitive science of mathematics), to be at best premature. Critics of embodiment argue that there is no one process by which the brain and linguistic and categorization categories bind to things in the environment, be they ecological or social. Thus no one model could exist.

The political ramifications of some of these points of view are extreme, as they imply both psychological and political notions of environmentalism - in effect, if embodiment is valid as an idea, then a single process may bind the mind to its body, family, language, and ultimately even to its environment (eco-somatics), society, species, and planet. Those who accepted some limited biological aspects of it as useful theory would find it hard to argue with more general application of it as a political or moral principle - exactly as happened with evolution.

Another concern is that embodiment theory simply reiterates ideas from behaviorism and sociobiology, combining them with theories of massive neural networks and a society of mind from computer science. It does to a degree treat ecology and environment as a homunculus, and assumes that these are beyond direct human investigation, and certainly beyond more than a very dilute control.

This in turn can offend those who believe in human dignity or the ongoing human control of Earth after a technological singularity. Embodiment theory tends to contradict many common understandings of humanism including, high on the list, that of free will. Defenders however point out that free will itself is not so compatible with real life on a planet with many incalculable forces:

If an unknowable process guides our conceptual development as a whole, starting with our neural structure, then our impressions of our family, then our home, then our local ecology and society, can we knowing that all of these are affected by global processes really feel in control of ourselves?

Key ideas

Key ideas applied in embodiment theory are:

Embodiment in Artificial Intelligence

Embodiment theory was brought into Artificial Intelligence most notably by Rodney Brooks in the 1980s. Brooks and other scruffies showed that robots could be more effective if they 'thought' ( planned or processed) and perceived as little as possible. The robot's intelligence is geared towards only handling the minimal amount of information necessary to make its behavior be appropriate and/or as desired by its creator. Brooks (and others) have claimed that all autonomous agents need to be both embodied and situated. They claim that this is the only way to achieve strong AI.

The embodiment movement in AI has in turn fueled the embodiment argument in Philosophy, see in particular Clark (1997) and Hendriks-Jansen (1996).

See also


  • Clark, Andy (1997) Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again, Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
  • Hendriks-Jansen, Horst (1996) Catching Ourselves in the Act: Situated Activity, Interactive Emergence, Evolution, and Human Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

External links


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