1/22/12

I am truly an embodied mind, a socio-biological concert of self




In my Individual and Society course I typically spend the first couple weeks (amongst other things) grounding our understanding of human symbolic interaction in a wider scientific frame, by examining the scientific 'wonder' of how life emerged and how human beings came into existence--or, at least, our best current ideas on how things happened.  From my perspective, it is hard to understand social interaction without an appreciation of its connection to our biological and environmental existence and the larger and smaller eco-complex systems in which we operate.

Anyway, to prepare for these lectures I often read general summaries of the latest developments in science, which give me useful ways to frame a lot of material in a quick way that focuses on the bigger picture.  In preparation, one of my favorite books is Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.

One of the chapters that always gets me is on the emergence of life (Ch19) and its discussion of the incredible complex and self-organizing dance done by the mind-numbingly wide number and variety of living organisms that come together to make up the human body.  I so easily forget that, as human beings, we are actually a collection of millions of smaller living and nonliving forms, from amino acids and proteins to mitochondria and bacteria and so forth.

Reading this material also reminds me that our conscious, brain-based cognition--that thing that calls itself I--has a certain astigmatism.  Living daily life engaged in symbolic interaction, we forget that this thing we call our self (this self-reflexive, conscious I) is actually a small part of a very complex system that is comprised of millions of living organisms which, when combined in the right way, allow us to exist as a symbol making complex living system.  In other words, i forget that a person, as a distinct form of structural organization, as a distinct type of living being, emerges out of, in part, a collection of smaller living beings.   

I am truly an embodied mind, a socio-biological concert of self.




2 comments:

  1. This contextualisation doesn't happen enough in introductory teaching I think; all too often, human 'social' history begins from a discrete 'break' whether Wallerstein's 'crisis of feudalism', the industrial revolution (or worse yet, the beginnings of formal sociology).

    I enjoyed the passage in Waldrop where he recounts Brian Arthur's reading of 'The Eighth Day of Creation' which spurs him into thinking about the relation of complexity to empirical order

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree. the disciplinary divisions often rigidly adhered to by faculty can be mind numbing.

    ReplyDelete