Thursday, 8 August 2013

A sense of embodiment

I was told by a friend whom I had not seen in a while that, used to a life of the mind, he had recently been jolted into thinking more about what it was like, practically, to be embodied. Not the matter of the intellectual idea that embodiment plays a key and irreducible role in our being the subjects we are. One might hold such a view - enactivism, for example - in the academic and theoretical way one holds any epistemological or ontological thesis. But rather, he said, he had thrown himself into getting fit, working out and learning to dance.

This seems to be a sequence in increasing order of commitment to a sense of embodiment. One might get fit merely in order to move one's Cartesian ego about more effectively. Knowing the contingencies one might, more or less resentfully, put in the work to see more of the world. Working out is, perhaps, a step further. More than just moving the point of origin of one's visual field, it seems to be a requirement for a broader series of sensorimotor contingencies having to do with different sorts of practical abilities. Still, I can imagine a kind of grudging Cartesian being pulled so far by the unfortunate fact of being tied to a body in a bit more than just the way the captain sits on the bridge of a ship. But there may be no greater sense of embodiment than is captured by awareness - with Descartes - of the inadequacy of that analogy.

The idea that seems to push beyond that and to a real sense of embodiment is the third of my friend's resolutions. To see the point and appeal of dancing is not merely a concession to embodiment but a revelling in it. That there is such an appeal suggests that even if Cartesianism were a true account of our predicament as subjects it would, nevertheless, not ring true, to follow Bernard Williams' desideratum for philosophy.