Introduction: The Interplay of Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture
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Introduction: The Interplay of Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture While traditional theories of cognition tend to conceive of mental capacities as disembodied or merely supervenient on brain states, in recent decades the insight has spread that mental processes cannot be confined to activities inside the skull alone. The paradigm of enactive embodiment endeavors to overcome the limitations of traditional cognitive science by reconceiving the cognizer as an embodied being and cognition as enactive. According to a well-known early definition, cognition depends on “the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities” (Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1991, 173). It is important not to overlook the other part of the definition of “embodied” in the enactive sense, namely, that “these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context” (ibid.). Since Varela, Thompson, and Rosch’s The Embodied Mind, a great number of books on biological and psychological aspects of embodiment have been published. The cultural context of enactive embodiment, by contrast, has not yet been explored in an interdisciplinary volume dedicated to this purpose. The present book does exactly this and thereby offers a starting point for more extensive studies of the cultural context of embodiment. It is a multidisciplinary investigation into the role of culture for embodied and enactive accounts of cognition , encompassing fundamental philosophical considerations, as well as the newest developments in the field. Here we have brought together philosophical, neurophysiological, psychological, psychiatric , sociological, anthropological, and evolutionary studies of the interplay of embodiment , enaction, and culture. The constitution of the shared world is understood in terms of participatory and broader collective sense-making processes manifested in dynamic forms of intercorporeality, collective body memory, artifacts, affordances, scaffolding, use of symbols, and so on. The contributors investigate how preconscious and conscious accomplishments work together in empathy, interaffectivity, identifications of oneself with others through emotions such as shame, we-intentionality, and hermeneutical understanding of the thoughts of others. The shared world is seen as something constituted by intersubjective Christian Tewes, Christoph Durt, and Thomas Fuchs 2 C. Tewes, C. Durt, and T. Fuchs understanding that discloses things in the shared significance they have for the members of a culture. Special emphasis is put on phenomenological approaches to cognition and culture and their relation to other approaches. Our introduction explicates the key concepts, relates them to relevant empirical research, raises guiding questions, and explains the structure of the book. Starting with a phenomenological approach to the intertwinement of mind, body, and the cultural world, we continue with an exploration of the concepts of intercorporeality and interaffectivity. The ideas underlying these concepts are put in dialogue with central tenets of enactivism. We then consider further cultural conditions, such as those of cognitive scaffolding, and explain how these cultural conditions in turn depend on the embodied interaction of human beings. Finally, we outline the book’s structure and introduce the individual chapters. 1  The Intertwinement of Body, Mind, and Cultural World The concept of enaction is generally meant to capture the active sensorimotor engagement of the organism with its environment by which the organism makes sense of the environment and potentially changes it. For humans, sense-making is largely a collective activity through which their environment becomes a world of shared significance. Humans collectively constitute the world not by creating it in a constructivist sense but by disclosing its intersubjective significance. Cultural forms of constitution include communication as well as collaborative interactions with others; these also shape and change the environment according to the needs of the group or community. Over time, the shared ways of sense-making and interaction are established as rituals, codes, or institutions and as such may be transmitted to subsequent generations. This cultural context impregnates and structures all conscious experience, as Merleau-Ponty explains with his notion of the “intentional arc”: The life of consciousness—cognitive life, the life of desire or perceptual life—is subtended by an “intentional arc” which projects round about us our past, our future, our human setting, our physical, ideological and moral situation, or rather which results in our being situated in all these respects. It is this intentional arc which brings about the unity of the senses, of intelligence, of sensibility and motility. (Merleau-Ponty [1945] 2005, 157) Anticipating current enactive accounts, Merleau-Ponty regards conscious life as marked by an inherent connection between desire, cognition, perception, and motor agency, which he refers to with the Husserlian expression “I can” (Merleau-Ponty [1945...