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Embodied cognition

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V048-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2019
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

The embodied view of cognition emphasizes the contribution of nonneural factors to the production of intelligent behaviour and to the shaping of conscious experience. Such factors include (a) the body’s physical form (both gross and specific), (b) the body’s particular dynamics (the characteristic ways in which it moves), (c) the neural representation of the body and of its dynamics, and (d) the kinds of interaction with the environment (including other agents) afforded by all of the preceding factors. Thus, the embodied-cognition movement provides a broad umbrella, covering a multiplicity of hypotheses and research programs. A core idea binds them together, however: that the material bases of cognition, particularly those beyond the brain, determine the nature of a creature’s cognitive processing, in a way that renders the result highly contingent on what bodily materials a creature happens to be made of, how that material happens to be organized, what goals and drives a creature happens to have, and on the structure of the environment in which that creature happens to function.

In order to appreciate the import of the embodied-cognition movement, it may prove fruitful to contrast it with an influential alternative: the computer-based approach to cognition and the research programs to which it gave rise. During the early decades of cognitive science, much research was dominated by the idea that cognition is computation. In this vein, computational solutions to problems were often explored independent of data on human performance, driven instead by mathematical and logical considerations alone. It may well be an interesting question in its own right how, for example, to search optimally through a given data base with the goal of solving a certain sort of problem as quickly as possible. According to embodiment theorists, though, this kind of research yields little of interest concerning actual cognition. On their view, considerations of optimal search or maximal problem-solving efficiency (say, identifying the best move in a game of chess) are largely a distraction to cognitive science. Instead, embodiment theorists insist that, if one hopes to model the cognitive activity of members of a given species, one must treat cognition as a solution to a problem for that kind of creature, with its body, in its environment, with its particular set of resources that can be assembled in more or less ad hoc and task-specific ways.

Citing this article:
Rupert, Rob. Embodied cognition, 2019, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V048-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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