Descartes and Embodied Cognition

As a factoid from intellectual history, there is reason to
believe that Descartes would be much more sympathetic to the hypothesis of embodied
cognition than his critics (e.g. Haugeland, 1998, Rowlands, 1999, 2003) and
some of his supporters (e.g., Grush, 2003) have suggested.  There is, for example, the well-known passage
from Meditation VI in which Descartes claims that,

Nature also teaches me, by these sensations of pain, hunger,
thirst and so on, that I am not merely present in my body as a sailor is
present in a ship, but that I am very closely joined and, as it were,
intermingled with it, so that I and my body form a unit.  If this were not so, I, who am nothing but a
thinking thing, would not feel pain when the body was hurt, but would perceive
the damage purely by the intellect, just as a sailor perceives by sight if
anything in his ship is broken. 
Similarly, when the body needed food or drink, I should have an explicit
understanding of the fact, instead of having confused sensations of hunger and
thirst.  For these sensations of hunger,
thirst, pain and so on are nothing but confused modes of thinking which arise
from the union and, as it were intermingling of the mind with the body.  (Descartes, 1641, translated by Cottingham,
Stoothoff, and Murdoch, p. 56)

Surely this could be read as endorsing Haugeland’s idea of
the “intimacy of the mind’s
embodiment and embeddedness in the world.” (Haugeland, 1998, p. 208).  Much more striking is the following passage
from a letter to Mersenne that seems to be a pretty clear endorsement of the
hypothesis of extended memory:

But, I think that it is the other parts of the brain,
especially the interior parts, which most serve memory.  I think that all the nerves and muscles can
serve it, too, so that a lute player, for instance, has a part of his memory in
his hands: for the ease of bending and disposing his fingers in various ways,
which he has acquired by practice, helps him to remember the passages which
need these dispositions when they are played. You will find this easy to
believe if you bear in mind that what people call Local Memory is outside us:
for instance, when we have read a book, not all the impressions which can
remind us of its contents are in our brain. 
Many of them are on the paper of the copy which we have read.  It does not matter that these impressions
have no resemblance to the things of which they remind us; often the
impressions in the brain have no resemblance either, as I said in the fourth
discourse of my Dioptrics.  But besides this memory, which depends on the
body, I believe there is also another one, entirely intellectual, which depends
on the soul alone. (Cited in Kenny, 1970, pp. 72-3).

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