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Body Memory and Affectivity


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Giovanna Colombetti
Emotion, Memory, & the Mind
The Human Mind Project

Published in: Education
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Body Memory and Affectivity

  1. 1. BODY MEMORY AND AFFECTIVITY Giovanna Colombetti Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology University of Exeter
  2. 2. MY BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH - Philosophy of cognitive science - ‘4E cognition’: cognition is embodied, embedded, enactive, extended - ‘Cognition is not all in the head’ = the physical basis of cognition is not just the brain
  3. 3. MY BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH - My focus: affectivity/affect (emotions, moods, feelings, …): - Are affective episodes ‘in the head’? Can we think of them as embodied, enactive, etc.? - Method: philosophy of cognitive science and emotion, phenomenology, affective science (psychology, neuroscience)
  4. 4. PLAN OF MY TALK (1) The notion of ‘body memory’ (2) The relation between body memory and affectivity Main aim: invite you to think of ‘memory’ in a (perhaps) new way, and to see its close link to affectivity
  5. 5. BODY MEMORY Part 1
  6. 6. - Memory is not just the capacity to explicitly recall the past - Memories can also be implicitly ‘engrained’ in our present bodily skills and actions - Philosophical roots: Bergson (1896): 1) souvenir-image: an imagistic form of memory 2) mémoire habitude (habit-memory): the act of remembering via repetition (e.g., learning by rota; learning sensorimotor skills such as playing an instrument) Merleau-Ponty (1945): the habitual body 2012
  7. 7. MERLEAU-PONTY I am a bodily being I can I am a thinking thing I think
  8. 8. MERLEAU-PONTY - The body that I am is not a thing (an inanimate object), but a subject (Körper vs Leib) - The body that I am is subject to a process of habituation - This process of habituation happens through sedimentation
  9. 9. HABITUATION Best illustrated by the learning of skills such as…: Skills are performed ‘spontaneously’ or ‘pre-reflectively’; no need for continuous continuous reflection or self-observation
  10. 10. SEDIMENTATION - Habituation happens through sedimentation: - The body gradually accumulates skills - My bodily skills, at any time, are the product of my body’s ‘layered’ past
  11. 11. THE BODY AND THE WORLD - The lived body is also that ‘in front of which’ the world ‘shows up’ in the way it does - E.g.: I experience the cup as something I can grasp - As my body changes, its relation to the world changes too, and relatedly my experience of the world in terms of what I can do in it
  12. 12. THE BODY AND THE WORLD E.g.: learning to climb: 1) One learns a set of bodily skills 2) One also changes how one perceives the world: a previously impassable rock face now looks climbable
  13. 13. IN SUM SO FAR - My body is an ever-changing entity that also continuously changes its relation to the lived world - The body that I am now is the product of a long process of sedimentation of skills, and of habits of acting and interacting with the world - So, my present body is itself a form of memory: by being as it is (with its structure and skills), and by acting in the world as it does, my body remembers what it has learnt, how it has interacted with the world
  14. 14. ONE MORE: OBJECT- INCORPORATION 14 Objects can be ‘taken into’ the experience of one’s own body The blind person’s cane is experienced not as an external tool, but as a part of the body, as an organ of perception
  15. 15. OBJECT-INCORPORATION Relation to body memory? The body habituates not just in the sense that it learns and remembers to move in certain ways It also integrates objects into itself By taking an object into itself, the body remembers: it ‘retains’ a certain relation to the object
  17. 17. AFFECTIVITY - Affectivity, affect: the capacity to be affected; lack of indifference - A variety of affective states: - Emotion / emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, envy, pride, shame, … - Moods: depression, anxiety, irritability, feeling down/up, feeling elated, relieved, discouraged, ... - Motivational states: hunger, thirst, lust, pain ...
  18. 18. BODY MEMORY AND AFFECTIVITY: A MULTIFACETED RELATION - No simple relation between these phenomena - Body memory itself is affective, and at least certain aspects of affectivity involve body memory - Some sparse ideas, at a glance: 1) Expressions of emotions and moods are a form of body memory 2) The body remembers pain and trauma 3) The habitual body is normative 4) Objects can be ‘affectively incorporated’ into the habitual body
  20. 20. (1) EXPRESSION OF EMOTION These expressions are forms of body memory They are the outcome of a process of sedimentation of various expressive habits: - from early expressions (shaped by evolution, possibly pancultural) to those we develop in the course of our lifetime We develop personal affective styles
  21. 21. (2) PAIN AND TRAUMA - ‘Pain memory’ and ‘traumatic memory’ (Fuchs 2012): the body can retain a memory of traumatic experiences (panic and pain re-enacted in situations related to the originally traumatic one) - Important: not simply a set of “dispositions” - Existential dimension: -trauma affects how the person experiences the world and the possibilities of action the world offers (“I can”) -a pervasive sense of vulnerability, a sense of the world as threatening - A traumatized person may not always ‘re-enact’ episodes of panic or pain, but her/his experience of the world has changed
  22. 22. (3) NORMATIVITY - Our bodily habits are normative: they exhibit values that have been engrained, via more or less explicit rules, into our ways of acting and feeling -The acquisition of bodily habits is affectively moulded (via encouragement, scolding, mimicry…) - We gradually develop a way of doing things and a sense of the right/wrong way of doing things
  23. 23. (4) AFFECTIVE INCORPORATION OF OBJECTS - Back to the phenomenon of ‘object incorporation’ - The object is experienced as part of one’s own body (1) Incorporated objects become particularly salient and valued as that ‘through which’ we can have certain experiences of the world; - We come to care about them as objects that have become part of our subjective, experiencing self
  24. 24. (4) AFFECTIVE INCORPORATION OF OBJECTS (2) Objects can also be incorporated into our practices of affective self-regulation “Expressive incorporation”; “physiological incorporation”
  25. 25. Relation to body memory? - The body acquires a certain habitual relation to an object, and a certain habitual way of feeling when ‘coupled’ with this object - When the object is not present, the body seeks to re-establish its relation to it - There is thus a memory, engrained in the body, of a certain affective relation with an (4) AFFECTIVE INCORPORATION OF OBJECTS
  26. 26. THE PICTURE, IN SUM - The overall picture is that we are not simply biological entities that grow and change with age, and who experience feelings (of pain, pleasure, emotions, etc.) - We are sedimented lived bodies, and as such the ever- changing product of our activities and interactions with the world - How we behave, feel and relate to the world now is the result of this process of sedimentation - This is a form of memory - a body memory that is itself thoroughly affective (normative), and that also characterizes our affective (emotional, motivational) ways of being in the world