Persons and Embodiment, Part 3

N.L. Kirsch, J. Jeffrey, A. Putman, & P. Zeiger

The post below (that is, the text below the double line) requires some explanation, including a summary of the negotiation stages that led to this version.

Specifically, it is a revision of a previously posted piece that was withdrawn because its use of the word “capacity” was incorrect.  As used in DP, Capacity is exclusively a behavioral concept.  Therefore, language like, “neurological embodiment provides capacity for being a Person…” is incorrect.  An alternative might be to say, “neurological embodiment provides for capacity.” This appears to be Descriptively correct, but because that locution only includes capacity on the behavioral side, it does a disservice, of sorts, to the neuroscience “side” of the relationship (for which a conceptually incorrect but corresponding claim for “capacity” could be made) that previous posts had been trying to develop.  Since a goal for explicating that “relationship” is to demonstrate that Descriptive Psychology can offer conceptual value to neuroscientists, it is important to use language that is also meaningful to that community.  Language like “provides for the capacity…” does not accredit the neuroscience perspective sufficiently.

Additionally, “provides for capacity” also seems to do a disservice to DP, since it is reasonable to state that in describing Persons what we are interested in as a Community is not capacities, but Personal Characteristics.

Another alternative would have been to use a locution like “embodied capacity” as a way to differentiate the use of “capacity” relative to neurological embodiment from its conceptual development in DP.  Although this choice also has much to recommend it, it is concerning because it still confuses two different conceptual uses for that locution. From a DP perspective, the use of “capacity” to talk about neurological provision is a category error (and it may be that several earlier posts, re-considered now with a fresher eye, would seem to include fatal errors of that sort).  However, from the neuroscience perspective, the use of “capacity” to talk about neurological provision is simply the use of that locution as a way to discuss what embodied mechanisms provide.

Given these considerations, a search ensued for alternate language that continued to build on earlier efforts to represent the conceptual relationship between Persons and Embodiment, but that was also of value (and accreditable) for both communities.

What you will see below is the latest effort to achieve that goal, based on very constructive (though at times challenging) feedback from several people.  The decision has been to move even closer to neuroscience language, for the neuroscience “side” of the relationship.  This means that in the post below you will see the locutions “mechanisms” and “embodied mechanisms.”  These are the types of locutions that neuroscientists use.  Although it is rare to never that you will hear the latter variation, the former is a deeply “embedded” locution that does not seem amenable to change. Given whatever examples of sound neuroscientific practice we might choose to discuss, that locution will be consistent with both the “practitioner’s” intention and methodology. When, for example, a behavioral neuroscientist is investigating a cognitive domain like working memory, the point of the fMRI study they might conduct would be to discover and describe the mechanisms that provide for what we observe behaviorally as working memory. That behavioral neuroscientist may also be interested in “how” those mechanisms operate (the mechanisms for the mechanisms, if you will), or how they operate together as a system in order to, in turn, provide for working memory.

Finally, once the move was made of replacing “provide capacity for” with variations such as “human embodiment, which includes neurologically embodied mechanisms, provides for …”, the need to use the word “capacity” was eliminated entirely, even from the “DP” side of the formulation. Instead the revision below is written to address, simply and straightforwardly, the acquisition of person characteristics.

In a subsequent post, these ideas will be teased out more as a series of “Notes” or “Reminders”, as well as some methodological and neuro-rehabilitation “corollaries”.

The use of locutions like “mechanisms” and “embodied mechanisms” are probably ones that the DP community is not comfortable with, perhaps even attaining the status of anathema, and that may also be a quite sufficient reason to reject the substance of the revision below. This post is therefore offered with the disclaimer that it may be objectionable, and perhaps even simply and fatally wrong, and perhaps even objectionable, but with the intention that it serves as a step toward moving forward.


In the last post about the conceptual relationship between Persons and Human Neurological Embodiment (HNE), we dug a bit deeper into the implications of treating Persons as conceptually primary. However, there is another interesting implication worth considering: The conceptual primacy of Persons and inter-individual differences.

The conceptual relationship between Persons and human embodiment  that we’ve been developing so far argues against neurological embodiment as a determinant of individual variability, arguing instead that human embodiment, which includes neurologically embodied mechanisms, provides for being a person, which is to provide for being “an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a Dramaturgical Pattern (Ossorio, 2006/2013, p 69).” To state this in another (and perhaps redundant) way, providing for being a person is to provide for acquiring Person Characteristics, to have a world, and to behave in a world of other persons.

The Person concept makes this approach possible because it serves as guidance about what must be the case for Persons to be as we know them to be.

For example, two parameters of Intentional Action are K (Knowledge) and KH (Know How). HNE (i.e., the embodied mechanisms that comprise HNE), provides for acquiring Knowledge and Know How, but it does not dictate what Knowledge or Know How is acquired. For any individual, HNE may restrict what Knowledge and Know How can be acquired. That is, across individuals there will be different bounds on that Knowledge and Know How. However, within those intra- and inter-individual bounds, the Knowledge and Know How acquired will be the expression of a person’s capacity and intervening history (Ossorio, 2013, Behavior of Persons, pp. 83-84).

HNE provides for being a person, but HNE also provides for being a person of a specific kind.

Of course, descriptively formulating this conceptual basis for inter-individual variation says nothing about the mechanisms themselves by which these provisions are neurologically achieved (questions along those lines remain exclusively within the domain of neuroscience), or about the specific abilities that any person may have acquired (questions along those lines remain exclusively within the domain of Persons), but they do provide a standard that can be used to assess the behavioral adequacy of any empirically described mechanisms. As Ossorio notes, in his Chapter from What Actually Happens entitled “How not to reify biological and physical concepts” (pp. 85 – 105):

“…if a given physiological theory, no matter how rigorously backed up by experimental data, were to imply that the behavior which we observe could not occur, that physiological theory would be ipso facto false… Conversely, if physiologists had discovered only a chaotic and irregularly distributed set of structures and processes in people’s heads, we should not on that account conclude that people didn’t really feel and think or that the behavioral regularities which we see around us were an illusion.”  (Ossorio, 1971/1975/1978/2005, What Actually Happens, p. 95, emphasis in original).

What we are saying is that human neurological embodiment provides for a person of a particular type, kind or instance. Specifically: (a) human neurological embodiment provides for the general acquisition (development) of individual differences, as a conceptual component of being a person; (b) acquired in the ways people acquire such abilities, that is, in their worlds and given their histories, and then (c) the systematic description of individual differences (using tools that are well developed in Descriptive Psychology, such as Parametric Analysis as a calculation system, and Paradigm Case Formulation, which represent “families” of individual difference characteristics) may guide inquiry about neurological mechanisms both for a person and across persons. This may sound like a rather bold methodological claim, but it is a direct extension of the argument we’ve been making for the conceptual primacy of Persons (and it’s one we may expand on later).

Since individual differences can be supported or constrained in any number of ways, neurological embodiment therefore becomes interesting in regard to: (a) the embodied mechanisms that provide for the acquisition of individual differences; (b) retaining those individual differences once acquired; and therefore (c) variations of embodied mechanisms that may provide for the acquisition and maintenance of both enhanced and restricted individual differences.

There are, of course, many implications of this way of talking. However, we are moving closer to a set of locutions about the relationship between Persons and HNE that are conceptually inclusive, empirically inclusive, non-reductionistic, but perhaps most importantly, both informative and useful.

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One Response to Persons and Embodiment, Part 3

  1. Pat Aucoin says:

    Just a few statements which can be taken as suggestions. I was ready to suggest ‘provide for capacity’ as a replacement for ‘provide capacity’. In ‘BOP’ (page 82) we have capacity with learning episodes yielding abilities. Therefore, it seems that capacity belongs in a discussion of HNE. For that matter, as a DP concept, it needs to be described. I will have to ponder the alternative presented here.

    The use of ‘person of a specific kind’ in paragraph 5 could be replaced with ‘person with specific behavioral manifestations’. For example, identical twins could each become heart surgeons. The only difference would be that one is slightly more skilled than the other. We don’t say that they are different kinds of persons.

    The term ‘individual differences’ (ID) is the older one, the newer term is ‘Person Characteristics’ (PC). (I assume that this is consistent with your use of the term.) If so, then we note that PC is just one of the parameters in the IA parameter list. Sooner or later, you will need to address the others vis-à-vis the HNE.

    In the second-to-last paragraph, item (b) you have ‘retaining individual differences’. I suggest that what is retained by the HNE is actually the change in capacity. Then there might be the provision that the HNE has the wherewithal to do this (see an earlier reference to plasticity). Perhaps you have something different in mind.

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