A couple of books have come out recently that seem related to Matthew Crawford’s The World Outside Your Head, which I wrote about fairly recently. Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More than It Thinks was written by Guy Claxton, a psychologist at the University of Winchester in England. He was interviewed by Tom Ashbrook, on the NPR show On Point, a couple of weeks ago, along with Crawford.
Claxton’s arguing that a lot of our thinking doesn’t happen by way of computer-like logical operations that are controlled by a rational consciousness, but rather involves processes that happen outside of the brain and engage the physical world directly. His evidence for this has some things in common with the argument made by Daniel Kahneman (based on research he did with Amos Tversky), in Thinking Fast and Slow, but his emphasis is very different and his argument, in places, is almost the reverse of Kahneman’s. It also recalls work on emotion that was published several years ago by Antonio Damasio. I think what he says seems plausible and convincing, though I’m dubious of any kind of absolute dualism between “mind” and “body,” even one that claims to be giving the neglected side of the binary its due.
Claxton’s and Crawford’s arguments have a lot in common, I think, as should be obvious, since they were both brought on the same show. But their emphasis is different, ever so slightly. Crawford is concerned that our view of the world is inaccurate, and influenced by others in a way that benefits them and harms us. He doesn’t put emphasis, as Claxton seems to, on the idea that we can get a better view of the world just by “listening to our bodies” more. He thinks we could get a better view of the world by, specifically, working on the world in a certain way (and in cooperation with others).
Also, a probably more technical book written in collaboration between two very eminent philosophers, Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor: Retrieving Realism. It seems they’re discussing the same kind of “mediation” that Crawford does, I’d assume in a more philosophically technical way. I believe Dreyfus is a noted scholar and interpreter of Heidegger, and Taylor is a proponent of Hegelianism. There’s a review from a point of view (pragmatism) that I find congenial at this Berkeley philosopher’s blog, and another one at the Boston Review. Except for the latter’s beginning along lines that feel like “let’s all stand in amazement at the existence of Heidegger,” they make some similar points. In particular, it sounds like they both note that the book seems to follow a line of thought associated with Richard Rorty, and then suddenly turns around and bases the next part of the argument on a refutation of Rorty. The point in question has to do with whether we should question every belief we have; traditional philosophers look for a foundational belief it’s irrational to question, while Rorty holds that there’s no such unquestionable belief—but that nevertheless it’s irrational to question everything. From the traditional point of view, this is just incoherent, so it’s not surprising that Taylor and Dreyfus object to it, and it might be interesting to see how this plays into an argument that’s similar to the one that Crawford makes.