Mind Embodied

The Evolutionary Origins of Complex Cognitive Abilities in Modern Humans

by Jay Seitz (Author)
©2019 Monographs XVIII, 266 Pages


How does the brain function in communion with the body to create complex thought and emotion? Mind Embodied: The Evolutionary Origins of Complex Cognitive Abilities in Modern Humans begins with an investigation of the embodied basis of complex cognitive abilities and sets out a theory of their evolutionary and developmental origins, their autochthonous beginnings in other species, their appearance at the margins of humankind, and their culmination in a panoply of highly elaborated abilities and skills in present-day hominins. This book explores and examines music, aesthetic movement, the visual arts, creative abilities, language and communication, sociality, narrative and conceptual thought, the beginnings of artificial intelligence augmentation, and even the finesse and tastes of an oenophile.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Mind Embodied
  • Chapter 1. Mind, Brain, and Body
  • Design Principle 1—Dedicated System for Execution of Motor Acts
  • Design Principle 2—Distributed System of Motor Control
  • Design Principle 3—Motor Abilities Are Directly Correlated With the Corresponding Amount of Brain Tissue
  • Design Principle 4—Emotions Are Essentially Actions
  • Design Principle 5—Shifting Actions Are a Form of Intelligence
  • Design Principle 6—We Think Kinesically
  • Motor Activity as the Basis of Human Intelligence
  • Origins of Mind
  • Another Set of Dual Circuits: Sensing the Internal and External Worlds
  • Posterior Parietal Cortex
  • Motor Logic, Motor Organization, Kinesthetic Awareness, and Kinesthetic Memory
  • Sequencing
  • Movement Initiation
  • Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Areas of the Brain
  • Body Schema
  • Chapter 2. The Body as an Accessory to the Mind
  • The Significance of the Skin
  • Efference Copies and Corollary Discharge
  • Circular Reactions, Instrumental Intelligence, and Cross-Modal Perception
  • Living in the Olfactory Mode
  • Cortical and Subcortical Organization of Thought, Movement, and the Body
  • A Universal Rhythm of the Body?
  • Proprioception
  • Biological Motion
  • Imitation
  • Motor Control
  • Gender and the Brain
  • Enteric Nervous System of the Gut
  • Chapter 3. Evolution
  • Evolutionary Basis of a Mind Embodied
  • A Thought Experiment: A Brain in a Vat
  • Computational Systems, Stereopsis, and the Subcortex
  • Canines, Chimpanzees, and Corvids
  • Navigational Abilities
  • Ludic Relations (Play) in Animals
  • Communication
  • The Edge of Evolution
  • Chapter 4. Thought
  • Numeracy
  • Mathematics
  • Science: The Structure of the Natural World
  • Categorization
  • Imagery
  • Gesture
  • Implications
  • Creative Thought
  • Perceptual Metaphor
  • Enactive Metaphor
  • Cross-Modal (Synesthetic) Metaphor
  • Physiognomic Metaphor
  • Evolutionary Considerations
  • Comparative Evidence
  • Bodily Basis of Metaphor
  • Motor and Nonmotor Areas of the Brain Overlap
  • Mirror Neurons
  • Cross-Modal Perception
  • Representation of the Body Schema
  • Multisensory and Multimodal Integration
  • Chapter 5. Disruption of Thought in Pathologies of the Body
  • Stuttering
  • Autism (Autistic Spectrum Disorders—ASD)
  • Case Study #1
  • Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior (OCD)
  • Psychosomatic Disorders
  • An Unconscious Mind?
  • Chapter 6. Communication
  • Communication in Sign
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Hominids
  • Canines, Cephalopods, and Parrots
  • Chapter 7. Art
  • Is There an Aesthetic Sense?
  • Is There an Aesthetic Sense Underlying Dance?
  • Is There an Aesthetic Sense Underlying Music?
  • Is There an Aesthetic Sense Underlying the Visual Arts?
  • The Aesthetic Sense in Other Sensory Modalities
  • Chapter 8. Personality
  • What Is Personality?
  • Dispositional View
  • The Role of the Mind-Brain-Body (MBB)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Case Study #2
  • Body Image and Body Schema
  • Mentalizing Network
  • A Thought Experiment: A Creature Without Emotions 2.0
  • Microbiome of the Body
  • Chapter 9. Physical Skill
  • Mental Practice Versus Physical Practice
  • Chapter 10. Pedagogy and Body Therapies
  • Learning and Pedagogy
  • Yoga
  • Cochrane Review
  • Australian Government Department of Health Review of Natural Therapies
  • Alexander Technique
  • Cochrane Review
  • Australian Government Department of Health Review of Natural Therapies
  • Feldenkrais Method
  • Cochrane Review
  • Australian Government Department of Health Review of Natural Therapies
  • Pilates
  • Cochrane Review
  • Australian Government Department of Health Review of Natural Therapies
  • Tai Chi
  • Cochrane Review
  • Australian Government Department of Health Review of Natural Therapies
  • Buteyko (Breathing Exercises)
  • Cochrane Review
  • Australian Government Department of Health Review of Natural Therapies
  • Therapeutic Massage
  • Cochrane Review
  • Australian Government Department of Health Review of Natural Therapies
  • Chapter 11. Theoretical Discussion: Evolutionary Origins of Complex Cognitive Abilities
  • Structural Characteristics of the Neocortex
  • Algorithms, Recursion, Pattern Recognition, and a Rule-Based Logical System
  • Statistical Learning
  • Early Sociality in Dinosaurs
  • Early Language
  • Dichotomization
  • Embodied Thought
  • The Evolution of Language
  • Evolution of Consciousness
  • Confrontational Scavenging, Collaborative Foraging, and Communal Living
  • Evolution of the Brain and Body
  • Corvid Brain and Intelligence
  • Primate Intelligence
  • Archaic Hominin Intelligence
  • The Problem With Ecological Niche-Picking
  • The Collective Behavior of Ants
  • Evolutionary Origins of Complex Cognitive Abilities

| xv →


Figure 1.1. Human Cerebral Cortex.

Figure 2.1. Muller-Lyer Illusion.

Figure 2.2. Corollary Discharge.

Figure 2.3. Enteric Nervous System.

Figure 3.1. Front Paw of a Raccoon.

Figure 3.2. Cerebellum.

Figure 3.3. Human Timeline.

Figure 6.1. Modern Human Evolutionary Ascendance.

Figure 11.1. Neuronal Count in the Human Brain.

Figure 11.2. Pareidolia.

Figure 11.3. Language Network.

Figure 11.4. Motor Articulatory Apparatus.

Figure 11.5. Footprints.

Figure 11.6. Cave Art.

Figure 11.7. Evolutionary Timeline of Hominins.

Figure 11.8. Language Areas in the Cortex.

Figure 11.9. Modularity in the Brain.

Figure 11.10. Avian Intelligence.

Figure 11.11. Encephalization Quotient.

Figure 11.12. Hominoidea Superfamily.

| xvii →


I would like to personally thank Meagan Simpson, Acquisitions Editor, and Liam McLean, Editorial Assistant, both at Peter Lang in New York, for assistance with the manuscript and all of the details that go into writing a book. Similarly, I must thank Arwen Armbrecht, Digital Communication Manager, at Peter Lang in Berlin, for assistance in making my Blogs for this book on Medium even better. Most of all, I would like to thank my sister, Patricia Seitz, Head of the Graduate Program in Architecture at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Principal at Seitz Architects, Inc., for writing support on the North Shore of Massachusetts, as well as my brother, Donald Seitz, CEO of Inkubate and Assistant Director, Alumni Engagement, Princeton Entrepreneurship Council of Princeton University, for support and encouragement.

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Mind Embodied

When I first embarked on these studies on the embodied nature of thought, like most people, I was struck by the strangeness of the idea that the body could somehow be implicated in thinking—something we typically associate with the workings of the mind-brain, as it turns out, a subaltern term. But when I began observing my own and others’ actions and well as the actions of other species it was obvious that thought was, almost always accompanied by some movement, action or activity. Even the daydreamer is scanning the environment when lost in thought. She is just not particularly conscious of her awareness of the external environment suggesting that daydreaming, a common human mental activity yet unique in its own right, is a special cognitive state, somewhat akin to the phenomenon of hypnosis where one part of the mind is walled off or unaware of what another part of the mind is thinking or doing. Yet this scanning of the environment in daydreaming and many other cognitive states are not done in isolation from one’s own body which, after all, is the mechanism by which sensations enter and stimulate thinking or modulate its progression in the first place. Think of Stephen Hawking, the physically challenged astrophysicist, but still reliant on his senses and head and eye movements for reading and writing.1 So, the first principle that I will articulate in ← 1 | 2 → what follows is that thinking always involves some movement, action or activity. This brings me to a personal story that exemplifies the second principle.

When I was quite young, I held a fascination for science fiction film and one in particular would keep me up all night. It was the story of a 9-year-old boy who witnesses a spacecraft landing in the sand dunes behind his beachside home. His parents don’t believe a word of it when he tries to tell them about it but when his father finally traipses out on the sand dunes to prove his son wrong, he returns acting strangely different. The boy notices something foreign implanted in the back of his father’s neck and the same fate is soon to await his mother. Finally, he too is brought forcibly back to the dunes by his parents and the three of them are swallowed up by a large fissure that opens up in the sand below them. Beneath the dunes is a series of tunnels created by the inhabitants of the spacecraft and quickly they are escorted off by tall, dark, Giacometti-like drones to meet with their master being.2 The master being was depicted in the movie as a head inside a glass-filled dome carried around by dutiful drones.3 Intelligence is thus portrayed as a brain-based phenomenon. Indeed, that appears, to be the modern view of human intelligence and mentation and, quite frankly, as I will attempt to demonstrate, a mystification of human and animal cognition.

It’s like a piece of government propaganda that is slowly absorbed by the tissues of the mind-brain-body (MBB) until all thought ossifies and we begin to think, almost exclusively with background assumptions that color our views on a particular subject or issue. The war in Iraq (2003) is a good example, whatever your particular views, the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, which drew strikingly black and white distinctions, and so is the idea that thinking occurs solely in the brain.

But thought is not just “in the head” as if the connections we have with the external world of other people, the environment, culture, as well as the connections with the tissues of our own body are of no fundamental importance. Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer, was really just a fancy calculator that could perform one thing quite well (play chess) not a thinking body or embodied mind that could strategize; taunt; desire; procrastinate; move chess pieces; think about another’s thoughts and in this case its opponent, Gary Kasparov, the reigning world grandmaster; overhear and react to conversations in the room; fidget in its seat; be proud or sad; tap rhythmically in anticipation on a keyboard or other input device; sweat; change its mind; orient to smells, colors or forms in the room; scratch its head in thought; and scan the room for visual or conceptual ideas.4 Therefore, the second principle is ← 2 | 3 → that thinking is a completely embodied activity with intelligence distributed throughout the MBB even though certain important functions are housed—more or less—in specific areas, such as the brain or body, yet networked with each other and with the internal and external environments. Thought, then, is not just in the head.

Why would anyone think otherwise? There is a long history of writing in Western thought with a set of largely unexamined background assumptions that have profoundly colored how we think about thinking as well as many other things. For example, the role of women and men in society, the nature of religious beliefs and worship of superior or transcendental forms, and the concept of race, which is itself a misnomer as there is only one human species, Homo (H.) sapiens, and it cannot be further divided into subspecies or races. Instead, we prefer to talk about ethnicities or cultural groups.

The neurosciences and cognitive sciences have greatly illuminated many important functions of the central nervous system (CNS), how it develops and even how it may have evolved, but almost in complete isolation from the rest of the body. The enteric nervous system or brain of the gut, and the third division of the autonomic nervous system that regulates our internal organs, has only recently been given its due, although it appears to play a central role in many psychosomatic disease states such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome, and indigestion or dyspepsia. The enteric nervous system is housed within the walls of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and is a crucial boundary that separates us from the outside world of sundry toxins and microorganisms, among other things. These antigens—the body in its own tactical maneuvers produces antibodies to these foreign antigens—are kept in often uncertain balance within the individual through the actions of the GIT mediated by the enteric nervous system. Social capital, however, or our network of relationships with others including family, friends, co-workers, and group and community affiliations, is now thought to modulate an individual’s internal mental state (our brains), which influences the hormonal milieu of the body that alters our susceptibility to infection. In this case, the central nervous system is being affected not just by our bodies but by the surrounding culture and environment. New frontiers in neuroscience and cognate fields are beginning to illuminate these intimate connections between brain, body, and culture.

The third principle is that perceiving and acting—noticing and doing—are two sides of the same coin. Even though, technically, they can be neurologically dissociated in disease states, they are the two vertices of the cognitive triangle of ← 3 | 4 → perceiving, acting, and thinking. Even this distinction is a false analogy because in everyday experience the three are indissolubly intertwined. What we perceive and interact with we often think about consciously or unconsciously. And what we perceive in our experience we can’t fail to often engage in some kind of action, movement or activity with an object, thing or person. The exception to this rule is the intrusion of basic reflexes such as pulling one’s hand away from a hot stove or the carrying out of short, ballistic movements in which great speed and efficiency very briefly trumps the cognitive triangle as prepared by hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

So, thinking (1) almost always involves some movement, action or activity, (2) is an embodied activity distributed across the MBB, and (3) is one vertex of the cognitive triangle of perceiving, acting, and thinking. Gilbert Ryle, the British philosopher, believed that Cartesian dualism or René Descartes’ claim that mind and body were different substances was false; mind was just the ghost in the machine.5 Descartes was the 17th century French philosopher who famously said, “Ego cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.” His argument for the belief in our own cognitive powers was grounded in the “evil demon” thesis. If an evil demon could deceive him about the information from his senses and the external world was merely a mirage, then the only thing that could sway him with surety was the reality of his own thoughts. He used the same argument to argue for God’s existence since God was not evil nor deceptive and thus must exist. Nonetheless, he could have just as easily said, “Ego moventur, ergo sum” or “I move, therefore I am.” This is because mind and body aren’t different things, they are essentially one and the same. Derek Melser, the 21st century philosopher, argues from a neo-Rylean perspective that thinking is nothing more than the “covert tokening of concerted activity.” That is, thinking is essentially embodied action. When we are thinking we are responding to the environment in some way such as reading, looking or doing and then reacting to it in some other way such as writing, talking or acting. We will return to Descartes’ argument again when we examine the modern version of it in computer science: “A Brain in a Vat.”

One might also question the role of the emotions in an embodied theory of thinking. The Harvard philosopher, Nelson Goodman, a cognitivist, once remarked that we probably rely more on feelings in our everyday lives than disembodied rationality.6 To be sure, much of thought is bound up with our emotional life. For instance, as mental health clinicians have frequently pointed out, strong emotional arousal tends to narrow our range of attention. Attention is a cognitive process in which we (a) selectively focus on one thing in consciousness while we ignore other things, (b) divide our attention among ← 4 | 5 → several things or (c) sustain our attention over a period of time, that is, a hypervigilant attentional state. What we focus our minds on and think about is highly determined by our level of emotional arousal—as in deep interest in a topic or a sensation such as a pleasing aroma—as well as the range and kinds of emotional states we experience.

Similarly, Antonio Damasio, the neurologist, argues that bodily signals (visceral and nonvisceral sensations) modify the way the brain handles information, and this is accomplished primarily through use of our prefrontal cortices or lobes.7 Because they lack these body signals or somatic markers, patients with damage to the frontal lobes are unable to anticipate the future. That is, they are unable to predict future events because they possess no biasing somatic state to rely on for their decision-making. Imagine yourself standing in a buffet line and having to decide between a piece of chocolate cake and a piece of apple pie. How does anyone typically make this type of decision? Certainly, there is no logical choice between the two if they are essentially the same price or calories. That is, there is no logical calculus that one can apply to arrive at deciding whether one option or another is preferable. Instead, we make such a decision based on our experience with these two food items from past experience and the pleasure we experienced consuming them. A creature without emotions would thus be helpless in the most mundane of everyday tasks. Captain Spock of Star Trek fame is a convenient dramatic fiction not a character that has any rational basis in science or even real life. Just like children that fail to survive because of a lack of ability to perceive and respond to pain, our fictional Spock, bereft of the ability to perceive and respond to emotions in himself and others, would be unable to make even the simplest of everyday decisions—often to avoid harm—or to form enduring relationships with caregivers and others essential for survival.

Instead, our preferences are typically bound up with our previous experiences. These previous experiences are associated in our minds with positive or negative emotional experiences and are inextricably bound to both our emotions and to our bodily states. If, as a frontal lobe patient, I cannot access these previous states, then there is no biasing somatic state to urge me to choose one food option, in this particular case, over another. I am in a decisional checkmate and like Bartleby, the Scrivener, in the novella by Herman Melville, unable to exercise any choices or options. While Bartleby made a conscious decision to refrain from choosing—“I prefer not to”—the frontal lobe patient is in a much more difficult predicament because she is unable to even place these choices in her decisional scratchpad in working memory, that is, place these options in consciousness and attend to them. ← 5 | 6 →

So, emotions are important components of an embodied mind but will serve as a backdrop when I am discussing topics that appear to uniquely arise from our emotional life and that science has shown clearly impact on the MBB including, (a) pathologies of the body that disrupt thought (autism, apraxia, and Parkinson’s disease); (b) the contribution of the body to creative thought building on my own theory of early metaphoric development insofar as many types of creativity are deeply bound up with our emotional life; (c) thinking with the body through the arts and the use of the body in aesthetic expression and understanding such as music, dance, and the visual arts; and the (d) embodied nature of personality as well as the character of our communication with others.

The book is divided into ten major sections. In the first two sections I examine the neurobiological basis of the organization and mechanisms of thought, movement, and the body expanding on some of my own recent writing and theorizing on the subject. In section three, I investigate thinking with the body in non-human animals including an examination of the faculties of smell, sight, navigation, and object identification, which, I will argue, shed additional light on the biological and evolutionary basis of the embodied mind. Having a terrier companion at my side since he was 10 weeks old has surely been an asset. He has not only taught me deep humility toward Canis familiaris, but how much one can learn about and profit from the world from observing and interacting with other species. Conceptualization in science as an embodied mental activity where I investigate spatial cognition and mathematics makes up the fourth section. The disruption of thought in the pathologies of the body such as stuttering, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, as well as autism comprise the fifth sections of this book. Some of these diseases I have researched and studied, diagnosed or treated first hand, whereas others (Kallman’s syndrome) I have had to rely on case histories and the scientific and medical literature.


XVIII, 266
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVIII, 266 pp., 20 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Jay Seitz (Author)

Jay Seitz holds a PhD in cognitive psychology/cognitive development with additional training in political theory (CUNY), clinical psychology (The New School), and neuropsychology (Fielding Graduate University). He has published scientific articles on the evolutionary and developmental origins of creativity, the bodily basis of thought, and the cognitive neuroscience of music and dance.


Title: Mind Embodied
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286 pages