Friday, January 4, 2019

Excavations and Turns

"To take embodiment seriously is simply to embrace a more balanced view of our cognitive (indeed, our human) nature.  We are thinking beings whose nature qua thinking beings is not accidentally but profoundly and continuously informed by our existence as physically embodied, and socially and technologically embedded organisms."
 -- Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension, (217).  

I've reached a point in my field-related research that I've internalized certain ideas to the extent that they have become the conceptual bedrock of my current project. However, as I dug up my annotations of Andy Clark's Supersizing the Mind, I realized that I have taken certain assumptions for granted ... and had briefly forgotten that I didn't always think the way that I do about phenomenology, materialism, and particularly distributed cognition. Apparently, as little as seven years ago, I wasn't convinced of Clark's hypothesis regarding the ways in which our cognition is functionally and essentially contingent upon our phenomenal environments. Now, of course, I am. But reading my sometimes-snarky comments and my critiques/questions about his work gave me valuable insight into my own intellectual development, and pointed at ways to sharpen my arguments in my current project.

Seven years ago, I was still thinking that language was the mitigating factor in the qualia of our experience. In fact, I had written a chapter for an anthology around that time, working under the aforementioned idea. Now I realize why that chapter was rejected and left to literally collect dust in my office. The rejection of that chapter really affected me, because it was an anthology in which I really wanted to be included. I knew that something was off with it. It never felt quite "right."

Then, filed next to those notes, was a different set of notes written around eight months later. Those notes represented a complete 180 degree turn in my thinking. Unsurprisingly, that chapter was accepted into a different anthology ("Thinking Through the Hoard" which appeared in Design, Mediation, and the Posthuman).  That piece was really the beginning of my current journey. I suppose Clark's ideas had "sunk in" with the help of other authors who pointed out some of the broader implications of his work (like Jane Bennet and Hans Verbeek).

There are a couple of takeaways from this anecdote: 1) as academics/researchers, our ideas are always evolving. Several philosophers, including Heidegger, experienced "turns" in their thinking, marked by a letting go of what seemed to be foundational concepts of their work. My own work in posthumanism has made a couple of turns from its original literary theory roots, to an emo existential phase, to its current post-phenomenological flavor. 2) Embrace the turns for that they are. There are reasons why we move on intellectually. Remember why we move on is helpful when anticipating critiques to your current thinking.