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  • Cited by 6
  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: May 2010

Embodiment and the Philosophy of Mind

Summary

Introduction: The Rediscovery of the Body and of the World

Cognitive science is in some sense the science of the mind. But an increasingly influential theme, in recent years, has been the role of the physical body, and of the local environment, in promoting adaptive success. No right-minded cognitive scientist, to be sure, ever claimed that body and world were completely irrelevant to the understanding of mind. But there was, nonetheless, an unmistakeable tendency to marginalize such factors: to dwell on inner complexity whilst simplifying or ignoring the complex inner–outer interplays that characterize the bulk of basic biological problem-solving. This tendency was expressed in, for example, the development of planning algorithms that treated real-world action as merely a way of implementing solutions arrived at by pure cognition (more recent work, by contrast, allows such actions to play important computational and problem-solving roles). It also surfaced in David Marr's depiction of the task of vision as the construction of a detailed threedimensional image of the visual scene. For possession of such a rich inner model effectively allows the system to ‘throw away’ the world and to focus subsequent computational activity on the inner model alone. More generally, the whole vision of cognition as inner operations on internal world models reflects an explanatory strategy which might reasonably be dubbed isolationism:

(Isolationism)

The world is (just) a source of inputs and an arena for outputs, and the body is (just) an organ for receiving the inputs and effecting the outputs (actions). […]