Like any new and forming body of thought, embodiment is a pleasantly abstract and formless word for crystallizing free-floating ideas. I’d like to comment on a few of them.

1. This is a long-needed corrective to the hegemony of the rational as defined by reason, math models, logic of the thesis/antithesis/synthesis kind, and what is described as “concrete” facts that are the product of shared evidence.

2. “Emotion” as described in a person’s bodily response to events and memorialized in writing, song, and other arts is now respected as real evidence about the world.

3. The subconscious, which is the main business of the brain as it manages the input from the world outside the skin, is mammalian in nature and still operates on the physiology and genetic records of mammals, including those earlier than primates and hominins.

4. What is conscious to an individual is produced by that person’s experience and ability to organize the sensory records of events. Much of that must wrestle with the subconscious it is both a part of and produced by.

5. To some people “embodiment” admits intuitive and “gut-feeling” knowledge and this opens the door to the “supernatural.” I suspect that much of what we think of as the gods reaching down to inform and control us is actually subconscious convictions and expectations. I think it is closely related to “dissociation” — the formation of a new image of the world when under extreme pressure, often danger.

6. Because of empathy, which is the physiological and mental ability to share experience with other humans, we can be much influenced by role models and persons to whom we are attached.

7. Attachment to known relationships can powerfully include other people, but also places and things or other animals. Each person’s realm and nature is shaped by attachments.

8. Because the brain’s functioning appears to us as metaphor — the ability to let something stand for something else — and because we are able to form these concepts without words, these interactions are powerful, though they may or may not be conscious. Getting at them is enabled by dreams, free-association, the arts, and memory-triggers in events.

9. Embodiment focuses on the skin division between sensory impact on the person (not just thought but also comfort and wellness) but neglects the “embodiment” of the world OUTSIDE the skin and the necessity of being shaped by that influence. I’m sensitive to this because of a decade working with a sculptor who used molds, so that the division between the mold and the product were exactly the same except for reversal, while the larger existence of the mold might be plastically distortable and need another mold to hold it in place. That is, the flexible rubbery mold against the plaster desired object may have to stay stable in a “cradle” or “mother mold.”

What does this metaphorical idea have to do with the idea of a person being “held” in a culture? What is the “mother mold” of culture but the ecosystem in which the culture is held? A change in that larger ecosystem — let’s say “climate change” — does what to the culture and how does that pass on to the shape of the mold? Except people are not plaster statues: they can change to adapt to culture or drastic ecoshift like the years-long “winters” from volcanic eruptions.

10. In fact, people can change their culture on purpose and even change their ecosystem to some degree. Cost comes into play. Also access. And awareness. City people have increasingly become distant from their ecosystem unless one counts the enabling and cultural compensations like the electrical grid or food distribution. This is where wealth and government become highly relevant intercessory cultures that can be controlled to favor the powerful.

11. Embodiment ideas don’t seem to address the tension between the individual and the community, which is also intercessory and extending. One person alone is limited to the reality of that time and place. Arousal binds people into groups to meet emergencies. Those who can manage the arousal of others are able to reach into their embodiments and change their connection to their culture which contains values that may then change that individual, for better or for worse.

12. Bodies and cultures are plastic and respond to new forces with change which may be slow and subtle. Every person in thought and body must at least travel through a trajectory from conception to dispersal in death, no matter how they may manage that passage. Life is a river with banks and must interact as it goes which makes change, both sides changing and guiding limits.

13. Machines and electronics cannot be embodiments. Logic and abstraction tries to premise that a brain in a bucket of nutrients can carry an identity, but the truth is that such a brain is dead. Computers and roombas can only be metaphors that can do things our bodies do, but they can never have personalities except as we project or program them.

14. Personification in embodies are active systems developed as guesses about what’s outside of the skin. It is possible for the environment to mimic intention, like the constructs on the beach driven by the wind. To think that the construct “wants” to move, or that a shovel “wants” to dig, a “broom” wants to sweep, is projection, metaphor.

Thus cognition — the senses — can be confused with consciousness. Persons with similar consciousness might have similar understanding of the world, but deaf persons or indigenous persons might respond to different “languages” or codes that are derived from different experiences of the apparently same world. They form a culture of their own.

Indigenous languages can be based on the “intentions” of the existence stpme and trees, categories we claim do not have consciousness. This is simply defining consciousness differently, maybe just understanding the relationship of the object to its environment. Again, this approach depends upon intimacy with the ecosystem on the physical level, not just metaphorical thinking that a rock is like a person.

15. The practical sensory impact of the world always has emotional consequences, sometimes intense impacts. Humans of a certain culture have learned many distancing mechanisms in order to protect themselves, ways of making something or someone seem “other” and therefore having less impact on us. You know the expression people use when they tell a funny or scary story and get no reaction? They say, “You had to be there.”




Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.

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Mary Strachan Scriver

Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.

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