By Jesse Jinna Ruiz
Embodied Cognition by Lawrence Shapiro is a thorough and incredibly useful introduction to the emergent philosophical field called embodied cognition. Shapiro discusses three major schools of thought currently competing in the problem space of cognition. These schools are umbrellas for different hypotheses, which are competing against the standard cognitive science approach to cognition.
The standard cognitive science approach to cognition analyzes cognition in terms of computations. In this way, the body is a kind of receiver of information and cognition emerges from the computational processes that happen between the body and the world. The result is a focus on these computational processes and less concern with the interaction between the body and its environment.
The first school of thought competing against standard cognitive science is the conceptualization hypothesis. Instead of just receiving information from the world, computing things and so forth, the conceptualization hypothesis says that the unique constitution of the human brain and body gives us certain concepts that give rise to cognition. The body is seen as a unique interpreter of stuff through which we get cognition and every unique type of body (e.g. species of animal) has specific cognitive abilities in virtue of its body.
The second school of thought competing against standard cognitive science is the replacement hypothesis which directly aims to replace the standard cognitive science approach to cognition. The replacement theorists think its methods and theory are better because they do not see cognition as computational but instead as a dynamic and constant relation between body, world and mind. In this way, the body is a dynamic system deeply intertwined with its environment.
The third and last school of thought competing against standard cognitive science is the constitution hypothesis, which aims to show that cognition extends beyond the mind. The body is a hybrid of both its mind (internal to the body) and things outside the mind (like other parts of the body or even things outside the body). So instead of cognition as a computational model where the body receives stimuli from its environment through its body, the body is a unified whole with different components and cognition takes place within the mind but also extends beyond the brain to different component parts.
Now, these hypotheses all have their objects of study. I won’t go into the studies themselves because it gets confusing pretty fast. However, in the concluding remarks, Shapiro assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each school. The hypothesis that comes out on top is the constitution hypothesis because it can work in harmony with standard cognitive science and contribute beneficial insights to the robust and plentiful methodologies and tools of standard cognitive science. This book is a great introductory book for an academic setting or for highly motivated readers who are interested in the philosophical ramifications of cognition. However, the bulk of the material is not easy to get through if you have little to no experience with philosophy or cognitive science fields.