Learning is embodied

In the Chapter II of Ethics, Spinoza posits that the mind and the body are one; both “thought” and “extension”, mind and matter, are attributes of God which can be conceived simultaneously as mind and matter. Every “body” both exists in thought and in the physical world (pp. 33 Ps 1&2, 35 P7, 39 P13). I don’t particularly want to delve into the philosophical complexities of what has sometimes been termed Spinoza’s parallelism (Jarrett, 2007, p. 64), but instead “extrapolate” some points about learning from this idea. The implications for conceptions of learning are profound; a Spinozist model for learning must embrace the notion of the “embodied learner” who is simultaneously learning in thought and extension. The mind cannot learn without the body, and vice versa. We think through the body. They are inseparable, indivisible. If we had different bodies, we would think in different ways  in the realm of “imaginative thought” – which is the level of knowledge we acquire through our senses; for example, if we had eyes in our hands and not our head, we would have an entirely different sense of sight, and talk about it in very different ways. Or if we had a “sixth sense” beyond our five senses, we would describe and see the world very different. For example, we had the ability to perceive our quantum universe properly, we might see the same event happen in different ways at the same time! So, to this extent, our bodies produce our “imaginative” thoughts. This extent our knowledge is embodied, and needs to be understood as embodied. However, there is a second level of knowledge where we have “adequate ideas” where a true idea is always a true idea no matter who has it.

For me, this notion of “embodied learner” is implicitly expressed in Propositions 1-30 of Chapter II.

Journey into Joy

Meditation: shut your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Think about the way you breath. Concentrate upon the way you breath. Breathe in more slowly, and breathe from your stomach, and hold your breath there, and then slowly release it. Now imagine you are inside your own blood stream. Take a journey around your body, starting with your feet, rising to your knees, your genitals, your stomach, your lungs, your heart, your arms, your hands, the tips of your fingers, and then up and around your brain, and your face, descending down your spinal cord, and into your anus, and back down to your feet.

Reflections: what did you think and feel about doing this?

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