Center for Interdisziplinary Research

The Enculturated Body: Scales of Embodied Meaning in Communication

Date: June 26 - 28, 2008

Organizers: Scott Jordan (Normal), Jürgen Streeck (Austin), Ipke Wachsmuth (Bielefeld)

The purpose of the workshop was to examine the theoretical and empirical utility of grounding meaning in the notion of complex, dynamical systems in general, and the notion of an Enculturated Body, specifically.
The conference was divided into five sessions. Session 1 examined how one might conceptualize 'meaning' in terms of complex, dynamical systems. J. Scott Jordan (Department of Psychology, Illinois State University) proposed that embodiment constitutes a defining property of 'self-sustaining' systems, what he refers to as 'Wild Systems'. Guy van Orden (Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati) then presented his research in which he finds that cognitive systems operate according to 'interaction-dynamics' versus 'component-dynamics'. Finally, Harald Atmanspacher (The Institute for Frontier Research in Psychology and Mental Health, Freiburg) presented the results of research in which he attempts to ground the notion of system semantics (i.e., meaning) within the changes that take place and become embodied in a network's complexity as it learns.
Session 2 was devoted to the Phylogenetic scale of embodiment. Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer (Department of Anthropology, Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institute for Urban Ethology, Vienna) presented research in which they model dance as recurrent states in an embodied dynamical system. They were followed by Walter Freeman (Department of Molecular & Cell Biology, University of California at Berkeley) who discussed the ontology of embodied meaning and conceptualized it in terms of the multi-scale neural dynamics that embody such meaning and ultimately provide an embodied context in which external events come to constitute stimuli. Cees van Leeuwen (Perceptual Dynamics Laboratory, Riken Brain Institute) then presented research on neural ontogeny which reveals that the brain's dynamically-optimal processing architecture emerges developmentally out of emerging neural networks and the spontaneous dynamics they generate.
Session 3 was devoted to the Cultural-Linguistic time-scale of embodied meaning. Christian Meyer (Faculty for Sociology, Bielefeld University) examined hand and index gestures among the Wolof of North-western Senegal, and how they constitute enculturated, embodied meaning. Andreas Roepstorff (Centre for Functionally Integetrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University Hospital) then examined the pros and cons of recent research in cultural neuroscience (i.e., the identification of cultural-level differences in brain dynamics) and the impact it may have on cultural-level conceptualizations of self and other.
Session 4 was devoted to the Cultural-institutional time-scale of embodied meaning. Peter Tse (Department of Psychological and Brain Science, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire) described evolutionary changes in brain dynamics that made possible the neural embodiment of metaphorical thought, abstraction, symbolic processing, morality, art, music, and dance. Tomie Hahn (Department of the Arts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York) then used examples from Japanese traditional dance to reveal how embodied cultural knowledge is transmitted via a multi-sensory experience of training and orienting the body.
The final session (Session 5) was devoted to the Social-interactive time-scale of embodied meaning. Jürgen Streeck presented research on Balinese hands and the different ways in which hand dynamics reveal the embodiment of different cultural contexts. Jacqueline Nadel (Centre Emotion CNRS, Hopital Salpetriere, Paris) presented her research on imitation and proposed that its inherent synchrony provides a scaffold upon which children learn the contingencies between self and other. Finally, Ipke Wachsmuth (Technical Faculty, Bielefeld University) presented his research on the re-embodiment of meaning in affective virtual agents in which Max, the virtual agent, was fitted with an emotional system comprised of coupled dynamical systems functioning at nested time scales. This constitutes an empirical expression (i.e., a re-embodiment) of the theoretical assumptions underlying the notion of The Enculturated Body.
All participants agreed that the multi-scale, interdisciplinary approach to the conference was quite effective. The conference organizers are now seeking a publication outlet for the proceedings.

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