ED 610 Week Nine (Fall 2020)

Hi everyone,

This is Thanksgiving week, and I know that many of you are trying to spend as much time with family as possible. And, some of you, if you are feeling like me right now, probably feel as though you need a few days of rest. Given all of this, the information I present here today is something for you to look at if you have time. I am not asking you to develop any sorts of responses.

I would like to share with you some more information by George Lakoff on embodied cognition. In my mind embodied cognition is the most significant educational research and set of theories we have to help us understand our educational practices. As you probably sense from last week’s lecture, or from what you already know about embodied cognition, the narrative breaks away from some of the the linear processing, tabula rasa, spectator, representationalist, ideas that were thought of as far back as the early Greek philosophers. It is difficult now, given what we know, to justify practices that don’t take embodied learning into consideration.

Embodied cognition helps us understand that children’s brains and adult brains are much the same. So the pedagogical vs andragogical differences have to be questioned in ways deeper than Knowles’ seems to do in his book. It also helps us understand that learning and perception do not act independently from the body. Learning is movement.

We also learn from Lakoff in his summaries of embodied cognition the importance of metaphors and frames. Adults have connected neuronal cell assemblies in ways that have produced metaphors and frames that children have yet to wire together. Given this fact alone means that we can’t teach adults and children the same things if what we are doing is creating environments that help them connect different cell assemblies that they already posses so that they have even more elaborate assemblies when we have learned. And, we come to understand why we can’t simply tell someone something and expect that they have been able to attach meaning to it.

I share with you another talk by George Lakoff on embodied cognition. Some of it may sound familiar. Some of it will be new. But it will, I am sure, help consolidate some of the ideas you are already thinking about. I hope you are able to listen for your pleasure rather than feeling you have to write up something for me. Instead, I have transcribed, in point form, much of his talk for you.

So, what follows is Lakoff’s talk and my transcriptions. I hope you enjoy this. And I hope you have a relaxing Thanksgiving Break 🙂


The Neuroscience of Language and Thought, Dr. George Lakoff Professor of Linguistics


Embodied Cognition

Regarding motivation: There is no such thing as internal and external motivation from the perspective of the lived experience.


“I and many of you were brought up with the idea of enlightenment reason, critical thinking, and enlightenment reason had a number of properties and it turns out that most of them are not true.”

Enlightenment reason is inadequate to explain how human beings think and understand the world.

Enlightenment reason believes that thinking is largely conscious. But we have come to understanding that reason is mostly unconscious. Most of out though, approximately 98% is unconscious, occurring below the surface of our awareness. “The brain is doing about 50 times as much as what you are conscious of.”

Another interesting point that Lakoff makes regards reading or listening. One has to fill in about 50 times as much as the sentence provides to understand all the possible next sentences.

We are given the impression that reason is linear, and yet we know that that is not the case.


Thought is abstract and disembodied.

Science: Thought is physical, a matter of brain circuitry. Thought is made meaningful via neural connections to the body.”

Myth: You can reason directly about anything in the world.

Science: Because you think with an embodied brain reason is indirectly connected to the world. You can only reason about and understand what your body and brain allow. You cannot understanding just anything.

Myth: Ideas are made meaningful via their direct connections to the external world. Meaning is a matter of truth conditions.

Science: Ideas are made meaningful via the brain’s connections to the body and our embodied experience.

Myth: Emotion get in the ways of rationality. The enlightenment view believed that motion was the enemy of reason.

Science: Emotion is necessary for rationality.

“Descartes’ Error — you can’t reason without emotion. One has to know what ‘like’ and ‘not like’ to set goals. Rationality requires emotion.

Myth: Reason uses mathematical logic

Science: Reason uses the logic of image-schemas, frames, conceptual metaphors, prototypes, and narratives. We can see this in the basic results of behavioral economics.

Image schema: “brain structure that structures imagery” . . . . container schema. Our lives are full of what we refer to as containers, from bodies, and rooms, cups and windows. “There is a brain structure that can compute any type of container.” There are many different sorts of schemas. Source Path Goal is another. Image schemas also structure space — relative to the body. The body is represented in the brain. The body map allows you to locate things relative to your body.

Process schemas, are also computed by neural circuitry of the brain.

All languages use the same structures.

Much of our reasoning come out of, or rely, on those schemes.

Frames: example given — hospital. Restaurant. Every word is defined relative to some frame. Words activate frames. Frames are structures of our world.

Metaphor: modes of thought. Example of relationships. Love as a journey.

Our brain has tens of thousands of metaphors. None of this is in enlightenment reason or logic, or critical theory.

Myth: Reason serves self-interest.

Science: Reason serves empathy and social connection, as well as self-interest.

Empathy is physical. Grasping neuron story given.

Myth: Rational thought is value-free

Science: Rational thought is value-based.

“Descarte’s assumed rationality was the same for everybody. That it was universal. That what made us human beings was being rational, logical. And that everybody had the same mode of reasoning. If that’s true . . . then you could tell people the facts and everybody would reason to the same conclusion. . . . That doesn’t happen. It is not true that all concepts are universal and accessible to everybody. . . . It is also false that No concepts are universal. . . Many concepts are universal, and many are not.

Myth: All concepts are universal. All of the same concepts are accessible to everyone.

Myth: No concepts are universal. All thought thought is determined by particular languages.

Science: Some concepts are universal and accessible to everyone.  Others are not. Some thought is determined by particular languages. Some thought is language-independent.

It is probably important that we do know what parts are shared by all of us.

Myth: There is an objective, rational structure to the world, and human reason can fit it directly, characterize it literally without frames or metaphor, and reason about it adequately with formal logic alone.

Science: The world is real and is whatever it is. Our bodies and brains provide understandings of the world, dependent on frames, metaphors, prototypes, and narratives. That is what permits us to create mathematics and scientific theories of the world.

Myth: Language is purely formal and abstract, characterized by meaningless symbols. The grammatical structure of a language is independent of meaning and communication.

Science: Language is a physical product of the embodied human brain. The grammatical structure of a language makes crucial use of meaning and communication.

Baseball example is given.

Statements depend upon the meaning, not just the elements of the grammar within the sentence itself.

Thing of context (meaning)

Existential Locative Constructions and Deictic Locative Constructions given as example.

“The meaning of the grammatical construction is telling you what the grammatical possibilities are.”

State of the Research

Brain Basics:

Color is not in the world. Color is determined by

  1. Wavelength reflectances of objects,
  2. Color cones in the retina,
  3. Neural circuitry in the brain.

The traditional view suggests that meaning is a matter of truth in the world. “The chair is green.” Traditional philosophy classes teach this sort of theory of meaning. Taught as the theory of meaning. It is wrong/false.

Action and Perception are linked by mirror neuron systems. Same neurons firing during actions and perception of the same actions.

That’s why there are basic-level categories.

You have motor programs for your first learned concepts.

Mirror neurons link motor actions to what you can see and what you can imagine.

Verb Roots: Have the same forms in the first and third person — I eat, he eats, I ate, he ate, eating, eats == same verb form ‘eat’ etc. In general the roots are the same with slight variations at time.

Why should we have the same verb forms for actions and perception? — mirror neurons. That’s why language is structured that way.

Imagining and Doing use the same brain circuitry: Same parts of the brain are active when you are actually seeing and when you are imagining seeing. The same for moving — kicking and imagining kicking. Also the same for dreaming. Also the same for remembering.

What does this have to do with meaning? If you can’t imagine doing something, you won’t have any meaning. If you can’t imagine Harry drinking the glass of water, then you don’t understand the sentence.

Meaning involves mental simulation. The use of the same part of the brain that you would activate while doing the action yourself. This is the basis of the neural theory of meaning and the neural theory of language.

Neuronal group (cluster of neurons). These clusters overlap. Neurons in the same cluster can be used for multiple actions. We call this a node.

Topographic Maps — neural groups that preserve closeness. Visual, auditory, spacial location, movement, speed maps, bodily maps.

There are activating and inhibiting connections both within and across maps.

Simple Functional Circuit Types: Gestalt circuits; Binding circuits; Gated Activations; Gated inhibitions.

Gestalt Circuits: Form Schemas, including frames — think of the hospital frames.

Form Complex Concepts

Link form and meaning.

Binding Circuits — example, into. Binds ‘in’ and ‘to’. ‘In’ has container schema. ‘To’ has source, path, goal. These two maps are in different parts of the brain. A third map binds the two together.

Complex concepts. Such as restaurant. Business frame, food service frame, and host-guest frame.

Learning: Means you’ve created a complex circuit by strengthening the synapses connecting the neurons and linking previous circuits. Synapses are strengthened by firing. When you learn something it is on the basis of what you learned before.

Kinds of neural learning: Hebbian Learning — neurons that fire together, wire together. Connections gradually get stronger when used.

Long-term Potentiation and Depression — in emotional situation, certain hormones (neurotransmitters, e.g. dopamine) may be released into th synaptic cleft sot that it greatly strengthens or weakens a synapse immediately.

Time-Dependent Plasticity — When the axons of two neurons impinge on each other, the neuron that fires first has the synapses in its direction strengthened and the connections in the opposite direction are weakened.

A conceptual metaphor is a neural mapping. From frame to frame across different brain regions.

Conceptual metaphors can be complex, made up of Primary metaphors and frames.

Conceptual metaphors may or may not have attached language.

There are metaphorical ideas gestures, images, and practices that are nonlinguistic.

Primary metaphors are learned before language, simply by living in the world and having worldly bodily experiences.

Affection and warmth located in the brain in different places. The metaphors fire both places at the same time. Spreading activation eventually links the two into a circuit — Hebbian learning. The one that fires first becomes stronger and becomes the source domain, the other is weakened and becomes the target domain. Up is more, not more is up. Affection is warmth, not warmth is affection.

Primary Metaphor

Hundreds of primary metaphors arise around the world via the following mechanism: When embodied experiences occur together repeatedly and activate separate brain regions, activations spread along existing pathways and the synapses get stronger (via Hebbian learning). The spreading activations eventually meet, forming a circuit. By low-level time-dependent plasticity (Narayanan), the connections with the strongest input tend to fire first and all the connections in that direction get stronger and those in the other direction get weaker. The result is a primary conceptual metaphor circuit. Complex conceptual metaphors arise via neural binding to other metaphors or frames.

Embodied cognition

Experiments show that the metaphorical structure in your brain that is fixed there linking two parts of the brain allowing you to reason about one in terms of the other determines behavior—determines what you do.

Amsterdam example.

The Big Deal — The difference between modularity vs cascades.

Old view: Functions are localized in modules. (Eg. There is a language organ, a module where all language is carried out.)

New view: Functions are carried out by cascades that are spread over many brain regions and connect to the body.

Maps and Cascades

A Map is a neural ensemble that preserves closeness, via its connections that are structured in terms of closeness in connectivity (or space). Inputs can be close in space, connectivity, intensity, frequency, timing, etc.

Narayanana has modeled linear scale phenomena using maps and bindings across maps.

Binding circuits link entities in two different maps to a single entity in a third map.

Cascades: The brain is structured by cascades, with neuronal groups linked via bidirectional circuitry. Concepts and language make use of cascades that link to the body.



Once again, I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving.


Have a great week!