Saturday, March 17, 2007

The main problem posed to theory is how it abstracts embodied practices

Re: integral ideologies 101 by Richard Carlson by Rich on Fri 16 Mar 2007 06:00 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
I am currently in dialog with a text of N. Katherine Hayles who considers just this type of problem as she reflects on the problems associated with defining humans as essentially information versus as embodied beings whose materiality can never be abstracted into cybernetic categories. Below she writes the following about the work of Pierre Bourdieu.
"A further implication of embodied interaction with the environment is developed by Pierre Bourdieu. He argues that even if one is successful in reducing some area of embodied knowledge to analytical categories and explicit procedures , one has in the process changed the kind of knowledge it is, for the fluid contextual interconnections that define the open horizons of embodied interactions would have solidified into discrete entities and sequential instructions. He makes this point – that largely unnoticed and unacknowledged changes occur when embodied knowledge is expressed the analytical schema – in his discussion of the season ritual of the Kabyle , a group of Berber tribes living in Algeria and Tunisia . The calendar that the Kabyle enact through improvisational embodied practice is not the same calendar that the anthropologist extracts in schematic forms from data provided by informants Whereas the anthropologist schema will show fields, houses, and calendars arranged through such dualities as hot and cold , male and female , for the Kabyle this knowledge exists not as abstractions but as patterns of daily life learned by practicing actions until the y become habitual. Abstractions thus not only affects how one describes learning but also changes the account on what is learned.
Bourdieu’s work illustrates how embodied knowledge can be structured elaborately, conceptually, coherent, and durably installed without ever having to be cognitively recognized as such. “Through observation and repetition the child attains a practical state of mastery of the classifications schemes which in no way implies symbolic mastery” By transposing terms of symmetry relations, the child is able to grasp the rationale of what Bourdieu calls “habitus” defined as the durably installed generative principles of regulated improvisations” The habitus which is learned perpetuated and changed through embodied processes, should not be thought of as a collection of rules but as a series of dispositions and inclinations which are both subject to the circumstances of orientation and movement of the body as it traverses cultural spaces and experiences of temporal rhythms . For the Kabyle the spatial arrangements of home, village and field instantiate the dichotomies that server as generative principles stimulating improvisation within the regulated exchanges defined by habitus. Living in these spaces and participating in the organization form the body in characteristic ways , which in turn provides a matrix for permutations of thought and action.
To look at thought in this way is to turn Descartes upside down The central premise is not that the cogitating mind can be certain of its ability to be present to itself but rather that the body exists in space time and that through its interactions with the environment , it defines the parameters within which the cogitating mind can arrive at certainties which not coincidentally almost never include the fundamental homologies generating the boundaries of thought . What counts as knowledge is radically revised, for conscious thought becomes an epiphenomena corresponding to the phenomenal base the body provides. In eye of mind Merleau-Ponty articulates a similar vision to Bourdieu’s when he states that the body is not “ a chunk of space or a bundle of functions “ but an intertwining vision and movement. Whereas the casual thinking of Descartes admired in geometry and sought to emulate in philosophy erases context by abstracting experience into generalized patterns , embodiment creates context by forging connections between instantiated action and environmental conditions… (Hayles: How we became Posthuman 1999)
by rjon on Fri 16 Mar 2007 08:10 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Hi Rich, C. G. Jung has written about this unavoidable subjectivity of our perception (and theories) of the world. I just reread a posting I made a couple of weeks ago, and was again struck by how prescient his thinking was ...
Here's the ref: On ... the Psyche" by C. G. Jung E.g., Jung quotes Wolfgang Pauli:
"It is undeniable that the development of 'microphysics' has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the newer psychology: but whereas the former, on account of the basic 'complementarity' situation, is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, ..." which I think supports your point "that largely unnoticed and unacknowledged changes occur when embodied knowledge is expressed [in] the analytical schema ..."
Interestingly, the Pauli quote continues with this:
"... the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality." Jung emphasizes this idea in his essay referenced above. As he puts it, "... archetypes must have a nonpsychic aspect..." Which sounds a bit like Sri Aurobindo's idea of the psychic center. What do you think Rich? ~ ron

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