- Embodied Mind, Meaning, and Reason: How Our Bodies Give Rise to Understandingby Mark Johnson, and: The Aesthetics of Meaning and Thought: The Bodily Roots of Philosophy, Science, Morality, and Artby Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson is widely regarded as a major figure in philosophical embodied cognition theory in the U.S., and as co-founder with George Lakoff of conceptual metaphor theory. These two theories, along with Johnson's deep rootedness in classical American Pragmatism, provide the themes for the analyses developed in both Embodied Mind, Meaning, and Reason: How our Bodies Give Rise to Understandingand The Aesthetics of Meaning and Thought: The Bodily Roots of Philosophy, Science, Morality and Art. The two texts together review and expand Johnson's earlier work, in the case of the newest book by further elaborating and providing expanded empirical support for work that by necessity began as rather more speculative than it is in its current version.
Resting on the notions of body-part projections, image schemas, and conceptual metaphor, ideas first popularized by Johnson and Lakoff in the late 1980's and 1990's, both books argue that not just some cognition, but all cognition, no matter how abstract or inspiring, is firmly seated in the neural systems that subserve the perceptual (including proprioceptual), affective, motivational and movement systems of the body/brain. This naturalistic analysis in no way reduces the mind to the brain, according to Johnson, nor does it diminish the breathtaking accomplishments of great artists, mathematicians, scientists, or philosophers; quite to the contrary, it explains how such accomplishments can be and are humanaccomplishments. Taking his lead from John Dewey's naturalistic pragmatism, Johnson argues that for human beings, organisms existing in ongoing dynamic interactions with complex and ever-changing environments, all thought is doing. All thought, ultimately, regardless of its subject matter or level of abstractness, appropriates our naturally evolved apparatuses, and for ultimately natural biological purposes—to help us to get or to stay in good standing with our physical and cultural environments. [End Page 574] Embodied Mind, Meaning, and Reasoncan be a puzzling, and even disconcerting read, for those not familiar with Johnson's work, and perhaps even for those who are. Although Johnson mentions at the end of the Introduction that this is a collection of essays, everywhere else, including in the sentences before and after that remark, the book's chapters are referred to as 'chapters'. That is a bit confusing because the essays overlap, often covering in some of their parts identical ground, re-introducing people, concepts, and theories without acknowledgement that they had appeared earlier in the book, so that the reader may feel lost, wondering what she has read and what she has not. Sometimes, one wonders how chapters are connected at all. The excellent chapter on Dewey, for example, clearly articulates the implications of Dewey's understanding of body/mind, and his characterization of thinking as non-dualistic and yet non-reductionist. It is followed without explanation, however, by a chapter, perfectly understandable in its original presentation as a stand-alone paper, on "Cowboy Bill", (or "Willy James" as he's also referred to), in which the arguments for the compatibility of James' conception of thought with embodied cognition theory are made via an extended metaphor of cattle herding, branding, and the wide open spaces of the range.
Immediately after the short chapter on Cowboy Bill comes the book's most scientific essay, co-authored with Tim Rohrer. Wild West talk is abandoned, and a whole new tone is taken. This essay argues persuasively for the power of Dewey's "continuity principle" in nature, which breaks starkly from earlier (and later) rationalist conceptions of human thought, by taking seriously the Darwinian idea that humans are animals, differing only in degree of complexity in brain structure from other species. Johnson...