Body thinking

Viv has spotted a fascinating article from the New Scientist: Your clever body: Thinking from head to toe (paywalled). Here’s a snippet from the opening:

We tend to view the mind as an aloof disembodied entity but it is becoming increasingly clear that the whole body is involved in the thinking process. Without input from your body your mind would be unable to generate a sense of self or process emotions properly. Your body even plays a role in thinking about language and mathematics. And physiological sensations, such as those from your heart and bladder, influence such diverse personal attributes as the strength of your tendency to conform, your willpower and whether you are swayed by your intuitions or governed by rational thought.

It lists lots of experiments that demonstrate how powerfully our thinking is linked to feelings and challenges the conventional idea that our body is there to carry out the preconceived notions of our brains.

It looks at a series of curious experiments, including one that suggests the physical act of smiling is more a cause of our feeling happy than the other way round.

It’s further evidence that having meetings where people mostly sit still and listen to presentations is a shocking use of our potential; movement can significantly change the way we think. So I’m with Viv when she says

So in designing meetings, we should be thinking about how to accommodate our bodies, as well as our brains; how to intersperse periods of thinking and struggling with ideas and solutions, with movement and activities.

People still occasionally deride those who concern themselves with “touch feely emotions” as if this a low status activity to be sneered at. I’m amused at the idea of firing back a sentence about “embodied cognition” which feels like a suitable counter-play of status.


2 thoughts on “Body thinking

  1. Don Shetterly

    Without the body, the mind is just another organ operating within the body. With the mind and body joined together, unlimited power is united into creation of new ideas and concepts. There is great power when we combine all parts of our self rather than placing limits upon our life.

  2. Matthew Herbert

    I’m minded of a recent experience of watching an experienced process work facilitator at work.

    When faced with a participant struggling to articulate their thoughts and feelings he picked up on a small gesture they were making, and mirroring it for them encouraged them to enlarge and emphasise it over and over. Before long the floodgates were unlocked and the ideas and emotions were freely articulated.

    It was powerful stuff and a useful reminder that our bodies are gateways to thinking and feeling processes.

    In that respect I’d disagree with Viv’s comment about “how to intersperse periods of thinking and struggling with ideas and solutions, with movement and activities.” only in that it implies the two are separate. Whereas the experience I mention above shows that the two were intimately connected and needed to be happening in the same period.


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