Driving Miss Daisy in Austria, the Umlaut in Noë, and Saggers: Bodies and All-Terrain Vehicles

30-Driving Miss Daisy in Austria

I left off last week with a Cartesian Square Dance – body in a Texas Do Sa Do with the mind’s tune. So,…what about bodies? And what do bodies really have to do with minds? Okay, hang on,…no rolling, center up those eyeballs. I’m trying to make this fun. I know it requires work. Work with me.

Let’s start here: I ask you, isn’t it much easier to understand what human beings do than what human beings are?

(cue: the Jeopardy soundtrack…)

Understanding either one, of course, is no particular piece of cake, but at least the former does not require a trip to Barnes & Noble’s Philosophy shelves. This is because it is much easier to see humanity in action than to see into humanity’s soul. And action necessarily involves our bodies, right? – that flesh and bone all-terrain vehicle that each of us steers so often unwittingly through life on earth. Just Driving our Miss Daisy Self.

I’m a fan of the cognitive science philosophe, Alva Noë* (yes, that’s him at the wheel, driving his back-seat self around). I have yet to meet anyone else who is, but this is only because he hangs with academic philosopher types, and I don’t. I like reading these guys (no gender specificity), but usually find their conversation…well, slow. Maybe it’s me who just can’t keep up. After all, speed, as Einstein has told us, is a relative thing. Depends on point of view.

Points of view. Now, this is where bodies really come in. And so, too, Noë.

Firstly, let’s agree that the phrase “point of view” can refer to a position in mental space – typically, a thought – or a position in physical space, say,…Fucking, Austria (no kidding, it’s a real town, look it up). Two examples: What’s your point of view on ‘sagging’? – mental; From my point of view, I can see a pair of very baggy low-riding cargo pants – physical.

So far so good? (I’ll pause here to let you re-read those two sentences,….again, play the Jeopardy tune in your head, and no quibbling about mental space being physical. Yeah yeah, yeah… it’s all stardust at the end of the day…blah-dee, blah-dee, blaaahdee)

Are we okay?…Good. Now, what’s of real interest here is that when a thought and a position in space hook up at the same moment we have a catalytic reaction – KABLAM! Shit happens: we cop an attitude about the world before us – Whoa…From my point of view, that butt crack should be kept under very serious wraps.

Furthermore,…if this thought happens to stop being a thought, and pops, injudiciously, out of your mouth, you are very likely to acquire a very different position in space – down on the sidewalk, flat on your back, with a broken nose, courtesy of the sagger in the cargo pants. A new thought then occurs there: That was pretty stupid…not gonna do that again. The point is that as our body moves, our thoughts also move (and not necessarily in the same felicitous direction).

Think of it this way: as you move about, your perspective on things necessarily changes, and, accordingly – in important, small, cumulative ways – the world also keeps appearing differently. According to Noë, Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum was even more off base than we thought; he should have said: I move about, therefore I know what to think about.

Bodies move in order to take up a position, a point of view (in both senses mentioned above). It could be the movement of our eyes as we read, or the plucking of a tomato to make sure the back side is not rotten (Noë knows what I mean here), or even the gliding of Stephen Hawking in his wheel chair. The point is our perception of the world is a function of our all-terrain vehicles – and we drive a very specific model – we are neither fish, nor frogs, nor fruit flys, we are upright (typically) symmetrical vertebrate bi-peds, with eight fingers, two apossable thumbs, a procreative inter-locking groin, imperceptible saccadic eye movements, and a highly conductive but water‑resistant pelt. The world is what our animated body-type tells us it is. How could it be otherwise?

Whew, if you made it this far…good for you – credit those saccadic and rolling eye movements. You can stand up now. Buckle those low-riders around your fleshy thighs if you like. Take a walk. See if the world looks slightly different today.

* Hope he’ll forgive this post…Three of Noë’s books: Action in Perception, Out of our Heads, and Varieties of Presence…Google them, if you’re up to Sensorimotor Profiles, P-Properties, Affordances, Presences in Absence, and many other potentially migraine-inducing notions. I kinda dig ’em.

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