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En-minding the Extended Body: Enactive engagement in conceptual shapeshifting and deep ecology


En-minding the Extended Body
Sets of operational concepts in collective enterprises
Sets of animal appendages
Animal movement and conceptual exoskeletons
Dynamic coordination of sets in movement
Indigenous insights
Animal locomotion: example of walking as a cognitive metaphor
Insights into shapeshifting from collective behaviour
Conceptual endoskeleton vs Conceptual exoskeleton
Identity, invariance and enactivism
Unconscious models as beasts of the imagination
Endangering species by rationalizing the environment
Memetics as the under-explored analogue to genetics
Memetic engineering: a Western discovery?
Memetic engineering: an Eastern practice ?
Neurobiological clarification
Memetic engineering: Western magical arts ?

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This is an exploration of the extent to which the phenomena of the perceived environment are effectively conceptual "coat hangers" on which individuals project dynamics that they are unable to encompass conceptually within accepted mindsets -- whether learnt or inculcated. Emphasis here is on various species of animals having been unconsciously "delegated" by humans to function as carriers for such projections. The contention is that, in a sense, the complex dynamics of living to which humans are exposed have, in part, been effectively "outsourced" to animals because of inability to handle many aspects of these dynamics.

Once outsourced in this way, the mind effectively withdraws from full engagement with the environment. With loss of recognition that functions were delegated in this way, humans then deal with the environment in an instrumental manner without recognizing what they are doing to their own humanity -- and to the ecosystem on which they depend for their survival. This process is paralleled by the development of conceptual "models" through which humans then endeavour to describe and articulate strategies of human behaviour, whether individually or collectively. The relation between the anatomy and behaviour of animal species in the environment and the operation of such models is therefore considered here.

The concern of what follows is given useful focus by the introduction to George Monbiot's critique of the prevailing social attitude with respect to the threat to humanity of climate change -- to which there is a collective refusal to respond rationally (With eyes wide shut. Guardian, 12 August 2003):

We live in a dream world. With a small, rational part of the brain, we recognise that our existence is governed by material realities, and that, as those realities change, so will our lives. But underlying this awareness is the deep semi-consciousness that absorbs the moment in which we live, then generalises it, projecting our future lives as repeated instances of the present. This, not the superficial world of our reason, is our true reality. All that separates us from the indigenous people of Australia is that they recognise this and we do not. Our dreaming will, as it has begun to do already, destroy the conditions necessary for human life on Earth.

The concern here is not with the philosophy of deep ecology -- with which it has many sympathies -- but rather with the actual way in which non-human living species carry conceptual modalities that are essential to both human survival and thrival. One consequence of this perspective is that it indicates how the environment is a knowledge carrier -- as some indigenous peoples have emphasized -- which humans destroy at their peril (Darrell A. Posey. Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, 1999; David Abram. The Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human world, 1997). Recovery of this connection is seen as a vital means of giving operational meaning and value to features of the environment that will otherwise continue to be degraded and destroyed in the name of safeguarding the human species.

More particularly, the concern is with how any individual is sustained by "en-minding" the extended body that is their natural environment. This is seen as related to the cognitive concerns of enactivism outlined by Francisco Varela alone (Laying Down a Path in Walking, 1987) and with others (The Embodied Mind: cognitive science and human expression, 1991).

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