JOHNSON, 2016 – Translating Embodiement


JOHNSON, Samantha E. Translating Embodiment: a look at language and cognition of dance performance from studio to stage. Dance Master’s Theses, Department of Dance of the College at Brockport, State University of New York, 2016.

  • I ask where art might fit into these ideas of correctness, understanding, information saturation, signal, noise, and sensation and perception? Specifically, where might dance, a wholly embodied physical art form, fit into our cognitively based need for reason and analysis? Where might body sit within its relationship to the active sensing brain? How might dance erode this definition of ‘answer’ and how might it elude a need for correct, universalized response? p.6
  • Edward C. Warburton’s claim that “the conjoinment of dance with enaction defines the knowledge domain and real-world context of dance action and performance,”3 p.7
  • how might cognitive science notions of the “thinking body,” autopoiesis, appraisal and arousal, mirror neuron systems, and linguistic determinism play into answering the questions of corporeity and embodiment explored so exquisitely in dance creation and performance and what types of perceptual processing mechanisms might be at play? p.8
  • every individual body carries within it a mute rhetoric—an ability to express and interpret meaning from other bodies by means of movement and interaction. p.9
  • Embodied cognition, on the contrary, looks to understand and to define what it means “for cognition to be embodied.”13 Such an approach brings attention to the role of emotional and relational experience, in addition to the kinesthetic and algorithmic processes. p.11
  • Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, co-authors of The Embodied Mind (1991) and often considered the founders of the embodied cognition world, reject the traditional view of cognition as computation over representations, choosing instead to conceive of cognition as embodied action: By using the term embodied, we mean to highlight two points: first, that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context. By using the term action, we mean to emphasize once again that sensory and motor processes, perception and action, are fundamentally inseparable in lived cognition (1991:173).”16 p.11
  • standard cognitive science can (and is used primarily to) zoom specifically on the computational properties of the brain and nervous system. p.11
  • To say that cognition is embodied means that it arises from bodily interactions with the world. From this point of view, cognition depends on the kinds of experiences that come from having a body with particular perceptual and motor capabilities that are inseparably linked and that together form the matrix within which reasoning, memory, emotion, language, and all other aspects of mental life are meshed. Shapiro, “Embodied Cognition,” 56 – p.12
  • “the contents of perception are determined (in part) by the actions an organism takes, and the actions an organism takes are guided by its perceptions of the world.” Shapiro, “Embodied Cognition,” 53 – p.12
  • “Cognition is embodied insofar as it emerges not from an intricately unfolding cognitive program, but from a dynamic dance in which body, perception, and world guide each other’s step.” Shapiro, “Embodied Cognition,” 61. – p.13
  • Principle of Ecological Assembly – The assumption in embodied cognition is that a cognizer tends to recruit, on the spot, whatever mix of problem solving resources will yield an acceptable result with a minimum effort. Problem solving…is a function of the resources an organism has available to it in its surrounding environment. This makes problem solving an ecological affair. Shapiro, “Embodied Cognition,” 62-63 – p.15
  • Problem solving involves engaging available resources for strategies that either fit or do not fit with simplifying or reducing abstract and difficult cognitive tasks. p.15
  • Enaction is a word derived from the verb to enact: “to start doing,” “to perform,” or “to act.” (Warburton, Edward C. “Of Meanings and Movements: Re-Languaging Embodiment in Dance Phenomenology and Cognition.” Dance Research Journal 43, no. 02 (2011): 65-84, 65.) p.20
  • Cognitive scientist and emotion researcher Giovanna Colombetti describes the same VTR concept, in her case using the word enaction over embodied action, as an easing of “Cartesian anxieties”—“replacing the idea that cognitive systems represent an independent world with the idea that cognitive systems enact or bring forth their own worlds of significance.”47 She argues that modern emotion science has a tendency to “overintellectualize our capacity to evaluate and understand.”48 In such “over intellectualization” of what it means to understand or find meaning, Colombetti notes that we are rejecting the significance of the noneural body as a vehicle of meaning. As of current, emotion science is focused on “cognition [as] constantly preoccupied monitoring, evaluating and regulating the body, and with making sure that every action is performed out of (mental) reasons, not out of (bodily) passions,”49 she says. This preoccupied state of understanding blinds many emotion science researchers to the meaning-generating role of the body and thus conceives of the body as a mere container whose role is only to “separate abstract cognitiveevaluative processes.”50 – p.20
  • The term autopoiesis refers to a system “capable of reproducing and maintaining itself.”52 The original concept was developed by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in 1972—an attempt to define and explain the nature of autonomous living systems (specifically, the self-maintaining chemical mechanisms of living cells).53 However, Colombetti notes a study by Weber and Varela (2002) in which autopoiesis is applied to living systems in a much more general sense. Weber and Varela state that “…living systems are autopoietic in the sense that (1) they continuously regenerate the conditions of their own survival and in doing so (2) they establish the boundary between themselves and the environment, and thus constitute themselves as unities.”54 Furthermore, Weber and Verela state that both (1) and (2), when taken together, exhibit processes by which living systems establish a point of view, or “moreover, a concerned point of view that generates meaning.”5  – p.21
  • So what does this concept of autopoiesis have to do with generating meaning between moving, interacting, embodied humans? Simply, autopoiesis points to meaning generation rooted in the living system itself—“it is generated and at the same time consumed by the system…meaning is always relational in that sense that it depends on the specific mode of codetermination, or coupling, that each system realizes with its environment.”56 The environment is never a neutral environment—it is instead an environment made meaningful to the individual body through physical representation of, interaction with, and evaluation of the dynamic living system and its surroundings.  p.21-22
  • the body itself therefore has a prominent role in the generation of meaning making—on both the macro (autopoietic) scale and on and micro (cellular) scale. p.22
  • For instance, metabolism, characterized by a set of “lifesustaining chemical transformations”58 that allow the body to find homeostasis, is a significant component of sensory processing outside of the brain’s control center.  p.22
  • Active decision-making involves anunconscious physical response to conditions of uncertainty, and thereby must “account for individual variances to emotional reactions to the same event. p.23
  • However, appraisal and arousal research has shown that the nonneural body does in fact contribute to an emotional and kinesthetic formulation of meaning within the body. Examples of such research can be found in studies that specifically look at the dynamic correlation and integrated connection of appraisal and arousal—the bi-directional interplay between the two. Studies have shown that “uninterpreted arousal (arousal for which subjects do not have na explanation) is not meaningless or experienced as emotionally neutral.”67 Such results allude to an integrated system of body and mind; emotions are not always understood even though they may be experienced physically. In fact, physical arousal seems to exist even with no apparent conscious appraisal of a non-neutral circumstance or environmental stimulus.68 With these ideas in mind, we can assume that meaning is appraised through means of being embodied and situated within a physical body.  p.24
  • such complexity in structure and function points to a reciprocally constraining process of positive and negative feedback that collectively produce a integrated understanding of our world through the brain, the body, and the environment. p.25
  • Mirror neurons are specialized neurons that are activated both when performing and observing an action. For instance, the regions of the brain implicated in the mirror neuron system (see below) will present similar neural activity patterns both when an individual is grasping for a ball and when that same individual observes another person grasping for a ball. In essence, the neuron “mirrors” the motor behavior of the other individual, as if the motor behavior is being executed by the observer himself. Mirror neurons are believed to be essential for mediating and understanding behavior action and intentionality. Mirror neurons are also implicated in fields of study surrounding emotional connectivity, empathy, and neurological disorders. p.25
  • Current research points to the implication of mirror neurons in imitation, empathy, intersubjectivity, emotional attunement, and social cognition.  p.27
  • As examined above, specific areas of the brain have been identified with localized clusters of mirror neurons that actively respond to movement when both performing and observing a movement. The question that follows is whether such brain activity in localized areas of the mirror neuron system can be applied to integrated motor patterns, not simply grasping tasks. p.28
  • Mirror neurons are at the root of allaction observation, simulation, and embodiment and therefore it is no surprise that all of these circuits involve the same localized areas of the brain. The goal of this specific study was to observe the impact of embodiment on action simulation in dancers. Dancers were taught several phrases and then shown videos of movement. Some movements were familiar, practiced movement to the participants and others had never been seen or rehearsed before. Researchers found that STS, PMv, IPS, and SMAr showed more pronounced activity when dancers had been exposed to the movement in rehearsal before simulating the action during testing. This result points to the significance of embodiment on the mirror neuron system. p.29
  • Mapping neural activity within the action simulation circuit of novel movement phrases alludes to the innate plasticity of neural response mechanisms in response to learning new movement phrases. If neural activity is directly correlated to the physical embodiment of a particular action or sequence of actions, what does this say about the mirror neuron system and how it may impact our understanding of doing and viewing dance performance? p.29
  • I wonder if language surrounding our conceptions of the world might stifle the innate breadth of cognitive, kinesthetic, and emotional understandings we have situated in our bodies. Do such ‘defective concepts’ formulated within a specified language, be it verbal or nonverbal, hold us back from trusting our ability to appraise our understanding at the level of both mind and body?  p.30 — se os conceitos e metáforas primárias, de acordo com Lakof e Johnson, são construídas a partir das experiências ainda na fase pré-verbal, as experiências pessoais definiriam as diferenças em linguagem?

Phenomenology of Embodiment Theory

  • Phenomenology is broadly defined as “ a philosophical argument for the foundational role that perception plays in understanding and engaging with the world.”81 Dance scholarship, specifically, has drawn heavily upon the research of French philosopher Maurice MerleauPonty regarding the phenomenology of perception (1962) and structure of behavior (1963). Merleau-Ponty has been recognized by dance researchers as a progressive contributor to dance studies due to his insight surrounding topics of corporeity. Of particular interest to dance scholarship is his theory of the phenomenology of embodiment—which “makes the physical being the site of the psyche:”
  • The body is our general medium for having a world. Sometimes it is restricted to the actions necessary for the conservation of life, and accordingly it posits around us a biological world; at other times, elaborating upon these primary actions and moving from their literal to a figurative meaning, it manifests through them a core of new significance: this is true of motor habits such as dancing. Sometimes, finally, the meaning aimed at cannot be achieved by the body’s natural means; it must build itself an instrument, and it projects thereby around itself a cultural world (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 146).8
  • Cognitive science is revolutionizing our understanding of ourselves by providing new accounts of human rationality and consciousness, perceptions, emotions, and desires, with great consequences for our understanding of the creation, interpretation and appreciation of artworks in all mediums. (Delahunta, Scott, Phil Barnard, and Wayne McGregor. “Augmenting Choreography: Insights and Inspiration from Science.” Contemporary Choreography: A Critical Reader (2009): 431-448.) p.32
  • Shapiro notes that “Cognition depends on the kinds of experiences that come from having a body with particular perceptual and motor capabilities that are inseparably linked and that together form the matrix within which reasoning, memory, emotion, language, and all other aspects of mental life are meshed.” (Shapiro, Lawrence. Embodied Cognition. Routledge, 2010, 52) p.37
  • “Cognition is embodied insofar as it emerges not from an intricately unfolding cognitive program, but from a dynamic dance in which body, perception, and world guide each other’s step.”  Shapiro, “Embodied Cognition,” 61 – 38
  • “The environment is never a neutral environment—it is instead na environment made meaningful to the individual body through physical representation of, interaction with, and evaluation of the dynamic living system and its surroundings.” (Colombetti, Giovanna. “Enaction, Sense-Making and Emotion.” Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science (2010): 145-164.) p.41
  • As noted by Columbetti, embodied cognition recognizes that  meaning is generated within the system for the system itself—that is, it is generated and at the same time consumed by the  system…meaning is always relational in the sense that it depends on the specific mode of codetermination, or coupling, that each system realizes with its environment.” (Colombetti, Giovanna. “Enaction, Sense-Making and Emotion.” Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science (2010): 145-164, 148.) p.60-61
  • Other theories of cognition might focus on building internal representations of the environment, plotting a course of action, and finally checking in with our environment periodically to be sure we are progressing adequately as expected. In this case, perception acts a secondary form of response to internal mechanisms independent of the changing surrounding environment. The Gibsonian model of perception instead favors a constant change in point of reference as the world changes around us—Gibson proposes perception as a dynamic and active process. p.67
  • Conception implies a generalized understanding of underlying principles or properties whereas perception implies a more personalized reckoning as reactionary response to such principles and properties. p.73

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