Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Embodied mind...absent spirit?

Each of our readings has explored the process and meaning of "learning" differently. A critical element seems to be missing-- one's "spirit." I'm not talking about religion or even spirituality, but the essence that is more than mind and body (emotion, "heart," energy, intuition). If this essence does not exist, if everything is a manifestation of the mind, then what do we do with students like Adam, (who was acquired by a learning disorder in a previous reading)? Much of Adam's performance seemed tied to how he felt; he performed well when he felt like he belonged or had a friend to help him, but he performed poorly and cried more when he had to work with children who were "mean" to him or didn't help him.

I (think I) understand the idea of egolessness, but I can't embrace it because it feels empty / incomplete to me. Yes, I know that emptiness is one of their goals, but if we were going to adapt our teaching methods based on Varela et al's enactive approach, how would we serve children like Adam? What would the enactive approach look like in that case?

I couldn't find any reference to the idea of spirit in The Embodied Mind, so I (boldly / foolishly / naively?) propose the following addition to Varela et al's definition of "enactive": (p.9) "We propose as a name the term enactive to emphasize the growing conviction that cognition is not the representation of a pregiven world by a pregiven mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind AND A SPIRIT on the basis of a history of the variety of actions that a being in the world performs."


Blogger gfp said...


I think you're right. The enactive approach is all "cognitive" and leaves out the complexities of existence that it so often notes. To understand how the mind works, it would be enough (except it invalidates the existence of a mind). I think emptiness is the result of a lack of understanding, that mindlessness is, like the approaches before it, limited. Hmmm.

12:21 PM  
Blogger jmj said...

Annie, Greg:

It's an interesting question: I'm not sure that there is an answer to it in the realm of science (mainly b/c if we are to think of spirit as an abstract entity, science could not find it). What the question relates to is the experiential sense of self that Varela et al. dispute. I wonder if they somewhat stack the deck for themselves by defining the self in classical terms, as an essentially unchanging entitity. I doubt the experiential sense of self that most people possess would fit this description.

2:18 PM  
Blogger IB said...

Annie, I also felt that there is something missing in some of the readings that we have encountered. What you call “spirit” I would simply term it emotions and motivation. Is that what you are referring to? No matter if we come from a situated learning approach or an enactive approach (which I think, as I wrote in my post, to me seem to overlap more than Varela et al. might admit), emotions and motivation influence the way we experience and our emotional and motivational states influence the world around us. By mindfulness, do Varela et al. also mean to let go of emotions? But doesn’t that fundamentally deny the nature of human beings? I have so much trouble in imagining a world in which many people are mindful in the way they describe it. It seems to me that there would be so much uniformity and little individualism. And the Adam we know from McDermott’s chapter, certainly experienced emotions, positive and negative, and addressing these emotions seems crucial to me in helping him. I now think that I have raised more questions than responded to your post, but I enjoyed your post. I realize I’m still chewing on The Embodied Mind…

jmj, I hope that I understand you correctly, but I also have this dim feeling that Varela et al. “somewhat stack the deck for themselves.” As far as I know, “the self” has not been defined as fixed and unchangeable in all the theories that were published and worked on prior to their theory. Even I have written a paper a couple of years ago in which I talked about the changes in self-definition in the face of experiences. A lot of the people that they oppose certainly would not say that the self is unchanging, but have explanations for how it changes and how that fits in with experiences. I also had this dim feeling with a few other points they make, especially when they interpret Piaget I had the impression that they “stack the deck for themselves”, but I won’t go into that now, I want to read some of the other posts, too.

3:37 PM  
Blogger gt said...

I don't know the answer to your question of how Varela et al's ideas would be enacted in a school; but, it does seem that the root of all of Adam's discomfort is his self being hurt.

3:52 PM  

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