How Does Action Shape Thought?

First Comes Movement

A creature didn’t think in order to move; it just moved, and by moving it discovered the world that then formed the content of its thoughts.

…..Larissa MacFarquhar, “The mind-expanding ideas of Andy Clark,” The New Yorker

Action Shapes Thought

How do we think? The natural answer is: with words. Everything from ancient philosophy to the theory of evolution is assembled and transmitted through language. But our ancestors did not speak, and neither do infants – yet they still think. So, if we can think before we have language, then what are our thoughts made of?

In Mind in Motion, psychologist Barbara Tversky makes the case that movement and our interactions in space, not language, are the true foundation of thought.

Spatial Thinking

Spatial thinking enables us to draw meaning from: our bodies and their actions in the world; shape, size, and relation; and transformation, trajectory, and speed. Actions on thought are like actions on objects.

Spatial thinking underlies our ability to create and use maps, assemble furniture, devise football strategies, design buildings, create art, and understand the flow of people, traffic, water, and ideas. Spatial thinking even underlies the structure and meaning of language: why we say we push ideas forward or tear them apart, and why we’re feeling up or have grown distant.

Science, art, literature, and the great ideas of the world – these originated not just in our brains, but in our entire bodies.

Mind in Motion
Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought

Barbara Tversky

 

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