barbara_tversky's picture
Professor Emerita of Psychology, Stanford University; Professor of Psychology and Education, Columbia Teachers College; Author, Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought
Embodied Thinking

Many have chosen the cosmic, appropriately in these heady times of gravity waves and Einstein anniversaries. The secrets of the universe. But how did Einstein arrive at his cosmic revelations? Through his body, imagining being hurled into space at cosmic speed. Not through the equations that proved his theories nor through the words that explain them.

Imagining bodies moving in space. This is the very foundation of science, from the cosmic, bright stars and black holes and cold planets, to the tiny and tinier reverberating particles inside particles inside particles. The foundation of the arts, figures swirling or erect on a canvas, dancers leaping or motionless on a stage, musical notes ascending and descending, staccato or adagio. The foundation of sports and wars and games.

And the foundation of us. We are bodies moving in space. You approach a circle of friends, the circle widens to embrace you. I smile or wince and you feel my joy or my pain, perhaps smiling or wincing with me. Our most noble aspirations and emotions, and our most base, crave embodiment, actions of bodies in space, close or distant. Love, from which spring poetry and sacrifice, yearns to be close and to intertwine, lovers, mothers suckling infants, roughhousing, handshakes, and hugs.

That foundation, bodies moving in space, in the mind or on the earth, seeks symbolic expression in the world: rings and trophies, maps and sketches and words on pages, architectural models and musical scores, chess boards and game plans, objects that can be touched and treasured, scrutinized and transformed, stirring new thinking and new thoughts.

When I was seven we moved from the city to the country. There were stars then, half a hollow indigo sphere of sparkling stars encompassing me, everyone; the entire universe right before my eyes. Exhilarating. The speck that was me could be firmly located in that cosmos. In the return address on letters to my grandfather, I wrote my name, my house number, my street, my town, my state, my country, my continent, Planet Earth, the Milky Way, the Universe. A visible palpable route linking the body, my own body, to the cosmic.