Perched At The Center
Integrity as a fractal framework
I woke this morning to an essay by one of my favorite writers, Sophie Strand, about the notion of embodied cognition. First, her description of the relationship between a spider and its web caught my attention. She tells us:
A spider does not perceive the world in the same way that a human does. The spider, practically blind, “sees” through miniscule vibrations. And where do these vibrations come from? Through the exquisite structure of its web, each tenuous chain of microscopic “balls”, transmitting back the music of the ecosystem into the spider’s body. Sitting like the iris inside a lacy eye, the spider tugs and flexes and tightens its grip on different strings, creating an interrogative experience with web and with world. Scientists have likened this behavior to the activity of a brain itself, sifting through and reacting to stimuli. Each tug is a question, each returning vibration a reply.
This called to mind another web of relationships described in Dr. Brené Brown’s recent book, Atlas of the Heart. Brown describes the interrelationship she discovered between feelings, thinking, and behavior as a small kid growing up in a chaotic household, which then translated out into her wider world and allowed her to survive any number of complex and stressful situations. She writes:
What surprised me the most when I was growing up was how little other people seemed to understand or even think about the connection between feelings, thinking, and behavior… Everyone, including me, seemed so desperate to feel more connected to their own lives and to one another, but no one was looking in the right places. No one was thinking about how it all works together. Everyone seemed disembodied from their own inner world and disconnected from other people. Too many lonely and secret lives.
Feelings are embodied. We feel things in and with our bodies. So, we could as easily approach Brown’s triumvirate as an interrelationship between body, mind, and actions. Except Strand then loops back in with the notion of embodied cognition and challenges our notion of the boundaries of “mind” entirely, erasing the border between self and environment. She quotes cognitive philosopher Evan Thompson, who writes:
Part of the problem, however, comes from thinking of the mind or meaning as being generated in the head. That’s like thinking that flight is inside the wings of a bird. A bird needs wings to fly, but flight isn’t in the wings, and the wings don’t generate flight; they generate lift, which facilitates flight. Flying is an action of the whole animal in its environment. Analogously, you need a brain to think, but thinking isn’t in the brain, and the brain doesn’t generate it; it facilitates it. The brain generates many things—neurons and their synaptic connections, ongoing rhythmic activity patterns, the constant dynamic coordination of sensory and motor activity—but none of these should be identified with thinking, though all of them crucially facilitate it. Thinking is an action of the whole person in its environment.