"Mind in Life" with Evan Thompson (BSP 89)


Evan Thompson, PhD


Embodied Cognition is a movement within cognitive science that argues that the mind is inseparable from the fact that the brain is embedded in a physical body. This means that everything that the brain does, from the simplest perception to complex decision-making, relies on the interaction of the body with its environment.  Evan Thompson's book, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, is an in-depth look at what he calls the "enactive" approach to embodied cognition. The enactive approach was pioneered by Thompson's mentor Francisco Varela, and it emphasizes the importance of the body's active engagement with its environment.

In a recent interview (BSP 89) I talked with Thompson about some of the key ideas in Mind in Life. Unlike most episodes of the Brain Science Podcast, this is not really a stand-alone episode. It is part of my ongoing exploration of both embodied cognition and the controversial topic of emergence. It is also intended as a follow-up to my recent interview with Terrence Deacon.

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Related Episodes: 

  • BSP 5: A bried introduction to philosphy of mind
  • BSP 25: Embodied Intelligence with Rolf Pfeifer
  • BSP 36: Art Glenberg on Embodied Cognition
  • BSP 53: Discussion of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? (emergence and free will)
  • BSP 62: Warren Brown, co-author of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?
  • BSP 73: Lawrence Shapiro, author of Embodied Cognition.
  • Books and Ideas #47: Terrence Deacon, author of Incomplete Nature.


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Embodied Cognition with Lawrence Shapiro (BSP 73)


Lawrence Shapiro

n his new book, Embodied Cognition, Dr. Lawrence Shapiro provides a balanced introduction to embodied cognition's attempts to challenge standard cognitive science.  His interview in Episode 73 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of a few of his book's key ideas. It also continues our ongoing exploration of the role of embodiment. 




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Related Episodes:

  • BSP 25: Embodied Artificial Intelligence with Dr. Rolf Pfeifer.
  • BSP 36: Introduction to Embodied Cognition with Dr. Art Glenberg.
  • BSP 58: "Extended Mind" with philosopher Alva Noë.
  • BSP 66: Computational cognitive science with Dr. Randy Gallistel.

Some scientists mentioned in this episode:



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Embodied Cognition with Art Glenberg (BSP 36)

Art Glenberg, PhD

Episode 36 of the Brain Science Podcast  is an interview with Arthur Glenberg, PhD, about embodied cognition.  Dr. Glenberg recently moved to Arizona State University, after over 30 years at the University of Wisconsin's Laboratory of Embodied Cognition.  His research focuses on the relationship between embodiment and language.  In this interview, we explore the experimental evidence for a theory of language that embraces the concept that our language abilities are actually rooted in our perceptual and motor abilities.  Dr. Glenberg also explains how his work has practical implications in helping children learn how to read.

Since Dr. Glenberg has had a long career as a working research scientist, this interview also provided an opportunity to explore how scientific hypotheses are formed and how experiments are designed to test these hypothesis.  I think this interview will give you a fascinating look into the real world of cognitive psychology.

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Links and References:

Arthur Glenberg, PhD

Other scientists mentioned in the Episode:

  • George Lakoff: pioneering linguist.
  • James Gibson: known for his ideas about affordances.William Epstein-emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin.
  • Joseph Campos: University of California (Berkelely).
  • Amy Needham and Amanda Woodard-experiments with velcro mits and infant cognition.
  • David A Havas: graduate student and co-author with Dr. Glenberg.
  • Mike Kashak: Florida State University.
  • Mike Rinck: German co-author-see paper under Glenberg (more papers).
  • Vittorio Gallese, Dept of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Italy (where mirror neurons were discovered): extensive experimental with motor neurons in monkeys.
  • Fritz Stack (Germany): experiments showing that facial experiments affect mood and cognition.


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Some Recent Research About Embodied Cognition

There is an ongoing debate on the Brain Science Podcast Discussion Forum about whether the importance of embodiment is an essential obstacle to trying to simulate human cognition with computers.  Meanwhile, the role of embodiment in cognition continues to be a growing area of research.  I enjoyed a recent post on the Scientific American Community website entitled, Thinking with the Body, by Art Glenberg from Arizona State University.  He reviews recent research by Holt and Bellock.  The bottom line is that even when people are involved in verbal tasks, like reading sentences, their comprehension is influenced by their body knowledge of what is being described.

You can read more at Mind Matters: Neuroscience, Psychology, Psychiatry, and More.