Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Quotes on our embodiment and our language

Our physical gestures may be part of our speech, an ability that is surely culturally conditioned but that may also be innate, one that we cannot help but express. Marco Iacoboni:

"...even though we know the gestures can't be seen, we all tend to gesture when we speak over the phone. Indeed, we gesture when we talk to the blind, and the congenitally blind also gesture when they talk, even though they have never seen people gesturing.

"Bizarre? Not really. In his book Hand and Mind, David McNeill argues that 'gestures and language are one system,' that 'gestures are an integral part of language as much as are words, phrase, and sentences.' ...if her hand moves under the left side of the [mathematical] equation, then stops, then moves again under the right side of the equation, the movement reveals that her mind is starting to grasp the concept that an equation has two sides that are separate but somehow related. ...her hand may form a narrow C to indicate the skinny glass and a wider C to indicate the wider dish. While her words focus only on the difference in height between glass and dish, her hands emphasize the compensatory greater width of the dish, compared with the glass. With her hands, she's catching on, and the words will soon follow."

This may be due in large part to the things that we think about and discuss. Many of the topics we verbalize have a physical reality. Ray Kurzweil:

"Now consider: How many of Molly's [diary] entries would make sense if she didn't have a body? Most of Molly's mental activities are directed toward her body and its survival, security, nutrition, image, not to mention related issues of affection, sexuality, and reproduction. But Molly is not unique in this regard. I invite my other readers to look at their own diaries. And if you don't have one, consider what you would write in it if you did. How many of your entries would make sense if you didn't have a body?"

Our bodily awareness comes to us at a young age before we are capable of other abstract thought. Rollo May:

"This also means that we need to recover our awareness of our bodies. An infant gets part of his early sense of personal identity through awareness of his body. 'We may call the body as experienced by the infant,' says Gardner Murphy, 'The first core of the self.' ... Since such [physical sensations, sexual and otherwise] are a way of identifying himself, the taboo would clearly imply, 'Your image of yourself is dirty.' This undoubtedly is one important part of the origin of the tendency to despise the self in our society."


Marco Iacoboni. Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. pp. 79-81.

Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. p. 134.

Rollo May, Man's Search for Himself, New York: W.W.Norton & Co., Inc., 1953. p 106.

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