Embodied Minds in Action

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* Book: Embodied Minds in Action. Robert Hanna and Michelle Maiese. Oxford University Press, 2009



Robert Hanna and Michelle Maiese:

"This book began life as another book and also as a Ph.D. dissertation. In the early 2000s, Robert Hanna and Evan Thompson started a book together on the mind–body problem and mental causation. Shortly after that, Michelle Maiese began her Ph.D. dissertation project under Hanna’s direction at the University of Colorado at Boulder, on mental causation, the emotions, and intentional action. This three-way collaboration proved to be highly fruitful. Maiese successfully completed her Ph.D. in 2005. Hanna and Maiese then wrote Embodied Minds in Action, and in the meantime Thompson wrote another book on his own, which he had begun in the mid-90s with the late Francisco Varela — Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of the Mind. The two books are independent projects, but complementary. They jointly offer a new and unified approach to consciousness, intentionality, the mind–body relation, mental causation, and intentional action."


Contextual Quote

"If the Essential Embodiment Theory is correct, then it subverts the traditionally opposed and seemingly exhaustive categories of Dualism and Materialism, and presents a new paradigm for contemporary mainstream research in the philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience. And that in turn will also have revisionary implications for action theory, and the metaphysics of freewill and moral responsibility. If we are correct, then the natural world basically includes conscious, intentional, deeply free, rational, and morally responsible complex dynamic living organisms, who substantively enrich and extend nature through their spontaneous mental activities and their intentional body movements, without being in any way reducible to the merely non-living, mechanical, deterministic, or stochastic parts of nature. In other words, we are essentially minded animals who help to create the natural world through our own agency."

- Robert Hanna and Michelle Maiese [1]


Robert Hanna and Michelle Maiese:

"Our particular focus in the present book is a unified treatment of three fundamental philosophical problems arising from these intimately-related topics:

  • What accounts for the existence and specific character of conscious, intentional minds like ours in a physical world?
  • What accounts for the causal relevance and causal efficacy of conscious, intentional minds like ours in a physical world?
  • And what accounts for the categorical difference between the things we consciously and intentionally do, and the things that just happen to us ?

Our unified treatment of these fundamental problems rests on two basic claims. The first is that conscious, intentional minds like ours are essentially embodied . This entails that our minds are irreducible to our brains, not because they are in any way immaterial properties or facts, but instead because they are necessarily and wholly spatially spread throughout our living, organismic, material bodies and belong to their complete neurobiological constitution. The second claim is that essentially embodied minds are self-organizing thermodynamic systems. This entails that our mental lives consist in the possibility and actuality of moving our own living organismic bodies through an egocentrically-centered, orientable (i.e., intrinsically directional) space and in thermodynamically irreversible time, by means of our conscious desires.

Otherwise put, our two core ideas, which we call the Essential Embodiment Theory, are these:

  • 1) Conscious, intentional minds like ours are the irreducible and truly global—or inherently dominating—intrinsic structures of motile, neurobiologically complex, situated, forward-flowing living organ-isms.
  • 2) Nature basically includes complex dynamic organismic life, and essentially embodied minds like ours are alive. So because organismic life is basically causally efficacious, then essentially embodied minds like ours are basically causally efficacious too."



The Definition of Essential Embodiment Theory

Robert Hanna and Michelle Maiese:

"the Essential Embodiment Theory. This view entails that creatures minded like us are neither ghosts-in-machines nor machines-in-machines. On the contrary, creatures with minds are essentially embodied minds and self-organizing thermodynamic systems. And because nature basically includes causally efficacious living organisms, then minds are causally efficacious in the same basic way. Or, in other words, creatures with minds are motile, neurobiologically complex, situated, forward-flowing living organisms that are truly globally intrinsic-ally structured by irreducible consciousness and intentionality, and are thereby inherently capable of performing intentional body movements under favorable endogenous and exogenous conditions. Or, in still other words, and not so longwindedly:

Because minds are alive it necessarily follows that, with a little bit of luck, creatures with minds can intentionally move their own living organismic bodies when they want to.."


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