The Embodied Mind and Epistemic Difference: Lessons from Disability Studies

Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: Booth 66
Oral Presentation
Victoria PITTS-TAYLOR , Wesleyan University, CT
Embodied mind theories in neurocognitive science and philosophy of mind are increasingly cited as a conceptual bridge between neuroscientific and social scientific epistemologies. Theories such as enactivism, embodied realism, and extended cognition share a preoccupation with grounding mind and consciousness in the lived, active body, with situating these in environment, and with challenging the abstract, disembodied Cartesian subject. In this sense, they echo sociological and feminist views on the epistemic significance of the body. Yet sociologists and feminists argue that an embodied view of mind must involve the recognition of differences between knowers, while neurocognitive theories assume a generic or universal body and pay little attention to epistemic multiplicity. In this paper I argue for the importance of epistemic multiplicity in forging interdisciplinary theories of embodied mind. I also put difference in more literal terms by addressing corporeal variation. How neuroscientific embodied mind theories come out on the epistemic significance of phenotypical variation can be gleaned from the debate over multiple realizability, or the idea that the same mental state can be achieved through multiple physiological processes. This debate focuses on difference only to reinstate epistemic sameness. For more considered reflection, I look to disability studies, particularly the work of Jackie Leach Scully, Tobin Seibers, and Rosemarie Garland-Thompson, to consider what phenotypical variance teaches us about the embodied mind. Disability scholarship shows us that all bodies are variant in some way; this work puts pressure on assumptions of biological universality. The example of disability also shows not only how problematic it is to assume a generic body, but also a generic fit between body and world. I argue that embodied mind theories can best grasp epistemic difference by resisting an a priori body-subject whose relevant properties are fixed in advance.