|The Third Culture|
"Philosophy In The Flesh"|
A Talk With George Lakoff [3.9.99]
"We are neural beings," states Berkeley cognitive scientist George Lakoff. "Our brains take their input from the rest of our bodies. What our bodies are like and how they function in the world thus structures the very concepts we can use to think. We cannot think just anything - only what our embodied brains permit."
His new book Philosophy In The Flesh, coauthored by Mark Johnson, makes the following points: "The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical."
Lakoff believes that new empirical evidence concerning these finding of cognitive science have taken us over the epistemological divide: we are in a new place and our philosophical assumptions are all up for grabs.
He and Johnson write: "When taken together and considered in detail, these three findings from the science of the mind are inconsistent with central parts of Western philosophy, and require a thorough rethinking of the most popular current approaches, namely, Anglo-American analytic philosophy and postmodernist philosophy."
According to Lakoff, metaphor appears to be a neural mechanism that allows us to adapt the neural systems used in sensory-motor activity to create forms of abstract reason. "If this is correct, as it seems to be," he says, "our sensory-motor systems thus limit the abstract reasoning that we can perform. Anything we can think or understand is shaped by, made possible by, and limited by our bodies, brains, and our embodied interactions in the world. This is what we have to theorize with."
He then raises the interesting question: "Is it adequate to understand the world scientifically?
George Lakoff talks with John Brockman...