embodied theory of conceptsNovember 1, 2007
From Claudia Scorolli and Anna M. Borghi Sentence comprehension and action: Effector specific modulation of the motor system
Recently cognitive science and neuroscience claim that cognition is embodied: knowledge is grounded in sensorimotor experiences, and that there is a deep unity among perception, action and cognition (Pecher and Zwaan, 2005).
The theoretical understanding of indirect connection between concepts as symbols of something real, and perceptual experiences we gain with sensory-motor systems, has been put under question.
New, embodied view of concepts considers perceptual symbols as neural representations located in sensory-motor areas in brain. This means concepts are not perceived as arbitary symbols but rather concepts consist of the reactivation of the same neural activation pattern that is present when we perceive the objects or entities they refer to and when we interact with them.
Object attributes are thought to be stored near the same modality-specific neural areas that are active when objects are being experienced (Martin, Ungerleider and Haxby, 2001).
Symbols, according to the embodied view, are not amodal, but multimodal – for example, they refer both to the tactile experience of caressing a dog as well as the auditory experience of hearing a dog bark (Barsalou, 1999; Gallese and Lakoff, 2005).
Concepts make direct use of sensory-motor circuits of the brain (Gallese and Lakoff, 2005).
The same neural areas are involved when forming motor imagery and when activating information on objects, particularly on tools.
Pecher, D., and Zwaan, R.A., 2005, Grounding Cognition: The Role of Perception and Action in Memory, Language, and Thinking, Cambridge University Press.
As a researcher with the background of natural sciences, i wonder what happens if the symbol, what we read, is not the first order symbol, directly related with the objects (real dog – word dog), but if we describe in the scientific text some micro- or macrolevel objects and phenomena (eg. cells, genes, evolution), or if the phenomena we describe are highly of abstract nature (photosynthesis). How do we embody these concepts?
Or, if we read not the scientific narrative but scientific images (graphs etc.) or scientific formulated symbol language (math or physic formulas, chemistry reactions). Presumably we need to process arbitrary concepts somehow and link them to embodied concepts at certain moment in order to grasp the thing?
If we think of scientific narratives (papers, books), we can say that they have reduced action potentialities, or embodied concepts in them, and the difficulty of the reader of such texts is to perform cognitive symbol processing to relate abstract concepts with limited affordances for action-potentialities internally with the embodied concepts that are related with real world perception. And supposedly only then we can understand the text.