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Could the future taste purple? Reclaiming mind, body and cognition

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This article examines the primacy of real-world bodily experience for understanding the human mind. I defend the idea that the peculiarities of the living human brain and body, and the bodily experiences they sustain, are essential ingredients of human sense-making and conceptual systems. Conceptual systems are created, brought forth, understood and sustained, through very specific cognitive mechanisms ultimately grounded in bodily experience. They don't have a transcendental abstract logic independent of the species-specific bodily features. To defend this position, I focus on a case study: the fundamental concept of time flow. Using tools of cognitive linguistics, I analyse the foundations of this concept, as it is manifested naturally in everyday language. I show that there is a precise conceptual metaphor (mapping) whose inferential structure gives an account of a huge variety of linguistic expressions, semantic contents, and unconscious spontaneous gestures: Time Events Are Things In Space. I discuss various special cases of this conceptual metaphor. This mapping grounds its source domain (space) in specific spatial bodily experiences and projects its inferential structure onto a target domain (time) making inferences in that domain possible. This mechanism allows us to unconsciously, effortlessly, and precisely understand (and make inferences with) expressions such as ‘the year 2000 is approaching’ or ‘the days ahead of us’. The general form of the mapping seems to be universal. The analysis raises important issues which demand a deeper and richer understanding of cognition and the mind: a view that sees the mind as fully embodied. In order to avoid misunderstandings with a general (and somewhat vague) notion of ‘embodiment’ which has become fashionable in contemporary cognitive science, I describe what I mean by ‘full embodiment’: an embodied-oriented approach that has an explicit commitment to all of cognition, not just to low-level aspects of cognition such as sensory-motor activity or locomotion (lower levels of commitment). I take embodiment to be a living phenomenon in which the primacy of bodily grounded experience (e.g., motion, intention, emotion) is inherently part of the very subject matter of the study of the mind.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Cognitive Studies, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.

Publication date: 1999-11-01

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