Brains, bodies and places

Neurons used to be compared to simple on/off switches, but they’re actually much more complex. Each one works like a little brain and is in conversation with thousands of cells via hundreds of chemical signals. Your cranial brain has about 23 billion neurons, so no wonder it’s often claimed as the most complex object in the known Universe!

Now let’s consider the rest of the body. As well as the billions of neurons in the spinal cord, there’s 100 million in the gut that form a kind of second brain. The heart has a nervous system too – again complex enough to be called a brain. All that is integrated with the endocrine system which communicates information body wide. That’s a very simple overview of the bodymind system, but it will serve my purpose.

So far we’ve only considered what philosopher Andy Clark calls the skin-bag body; what about place? At a cognitive level we are totally integrated with our environment. For Lakoff & Johnson – a double act comprising of a cognitive linguist and a philosopher – the environment “is part of our being” (1999). Anthropologist Tim Ingold concurs; organism (mindbody) and environment (place) are “one indivisible totality” (2000).

To compare this matrix of brain, body and place to a computer is like describing a neuron as like a light switch. Perhaps the metaphor of bodymind/place as an ecosystem will serve us better?

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4 Responses to Brains, bodies and places

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