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Traces of (Un-) Sustainability

Towards a Materially Engaged Ecology of Mind

Peter Graham

Persons only develop in relation to environment, much in the same way we develop psychologically in relation to our parents and caregivers. Neither child nor parent is properly conceptualized, modelled, or understood without the inclusion of the other in the map or model of psychological/ecological development. Likewise, we perceive, think, and feel with and not just about environment and material artifacts. The achievement of sustainability then implies making changes to minds that are mediated, extended and distributed across brains, bodies, and the materiality of one’s environment. Our inherited world, however broken, guides our individual and collective becoming much as a parent guides the development of a child.

The traces of (un-) sustainability perspective refutes the economistic conceptual model whereby rational economic actors are misperceived and misunderstood to have the moral right, if not the duty, to actively participate in the destruction of our collective future with ethical immunity. The presumed intelligence and naturalness of the market-based economic system is exposed as primarily a historically inherited culture-based delusion. If values and attitudes can be at least partially transformed by transforming the mundane materiality which is co-constitutive of our social mind, then an important milestone will have been achieved in our understanding of (un-) sustainability.

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Chapter 3 let’s go fishing!


The hypothetical utterance “let’s go fishing” would not be possible without specific instances of an implicit, pre-existing, and recursive materially engaged ecology of mind. Such a process of material engagement would include bodies; tools (both cultural/cognitive and material); pre-existing ideas and memories (distributed among living beings, including fish) and material things (e.g., waters with fish in them); places; stories; processes; agents; and all these together constituting a richly meaningful atmosphere implicit in any invitation from a parent to a child to go fishing. The purpose of this chapter is to flesh out the implicit and recursive dimensions of such a common everyday invitation and develop theoretical connections between those dimensions pertinent to the contemporary societal imperative of sustainability.

To recap, the primary focus of this book is on the materiality of social cognition, putting mind and matter back together, and the implications of already-in-practice matter-and-mind assemblages as they relate to (un-) sustainability. As outlined in the previous chapter, the perspective I adopt begins from an understanding of cognition as “embodied, distributed, mediated, situated, extended and enacted” (Malafouris, 2004, p. 57) within material-engagement processes. From a Material Engagement Theory (MET) perspective, brain, body, tool(s), and object/materiality are co-constitutive of cognitive ←93 | 94→processes. A mind requires each of these elements to be able to function as a mind. Minds always develop within bodies acting within sociocultural and sociomaterial contexts to the point where attempts at disentanglement become simply exercises in obfuscation. In worse-case scenarios, a focus on the...

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