Commentary on “Notes on the Relationship between Persons and Embodiment”, Notes N1 and N2

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

A. The Conceptual Relationship Between Embodiment and Persons

N1. Human embodiment, including neurologically embodied mechanisms, provides for being a person.

N1a. Providing for being a Person is to provide for being “an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a Dramaturgical pattern” (Ossorio, 2006/2013).

N1b. Providing for being a Person is to provide for acquiring Person Characteristics [that is Dispositions, Powers, and Derivatives].

N1c. Providing for being a Person is to provide for acquiring and having a world and behaving in a world of other Persons.

(Etc., etc., in a manner consistent with the DP opus, BoP, Place, WAH, etc.)

N2. A characteristic of Persons is to have an embodiment sufficient for being a Person, which is to have sufficient embodied mechanisms for being a Person.

1. Introduction. With N1 and N2 we leap fully equipped into the relationship between embodiment and Persons. This felicitous alternative offers a new way to talk about an old puzzling concern, that is, a focus on the relationship between, on one hand, our bodies, and on the other, the worlds we have and in which we take part. It offers a new way of talking because by reframing the targeted relationship in this way, we are constructively able to accredit each of these two worlds and the locutions they entail, while at the same time demarcating the relationship they share and its conceptual and methodological implications.

N1 and N2 are clear, straightforward, and offered not as empirical assertions, but as simple efforts to declare the boundaries of a target for inquiry. In fact, from the perspective of Descriptive Psychology they almost seem trivially self-evident. N1 and N2 cannot be proven or demonstrated; yet they carry the weight of tenets that guide behavior. It is our belief that by starting in this way, it is possible to discuss the relationship of neuroscience and DP constructively, to avoid many conceptual pitfalls, and perhaps most importantly, to act on the conceptual primacy of the behavioral world, that is, the world of Persons, in a way that does not degrade neuroscience.

It is absolutely critical to note that it is only because of the Descriptive Psychology opus, that is, specifically Pete Ossorio’s work, that it is possible to make a case for the relationship between embodiment and Persons as being one that is conceptually sound, informative, and in turn, useful. It is possible to do this because of the breadth and rigor of the DP concept of Person. Without such an explicated concept, it is nearly impossible to find a way to talk formally about the “Person” side of the “Person-Embodiment” relationship, but with support of that concept the waters we are diving into seem considerably less treacherous.

2. Some very highly selective background. It is important to acknowledge difficulties that have arisen for the communities that represent both sides of the Person-Embodiment conceptual relationship.

For neuroscience, the difficulty has been that as for any person who is an actor in the world of Persons, neuroscientists (being themselves competent Persons) pragmatically appreciate the behavioral focus of their research. However, they often do so without being able to formally and explicitly demarcate the conceptual parameters and boundaries of their behavioral focus of study. It is not surprising, as has frequently been noted by Descriptive Psychologists for many other areas of behavioral science inquiry, the behavioral concepts used by neuroscientists: (a) often differ significantly from one practitioner to another; (b) are “operationalized” in ways that are then challenging to compare; (c) often seem to require those very operationalizations as a primary method because the tools that would otherwise provide conceptual rigor haven’t been available; or (d) are simply identified by assertion. It is remarkable to note, in fact, that this lack of conceptual rigor about behavioral “targets” is in such dramatic contrast to the otherwise extreme methodological rigor of behavioral neuroscience experiments themselves. Because of that, it is also not surprising that the neurological mechanisms being studied (however well they are described and understood as mechanisms) therefore often seem to represent inadequately or incompletely the richness and variability of the behavioral target of interest.

In contrast, for the Descriptive Psychology community, it is the discussion of embodied mechanisms that has been approached with wariness and, we believe, this has prevented us from developing a more inclusive perspective regarding neurological embodiment as a component of Descriptive Psychology.

The reasons for this wariness, which have been discussed in detail by Bergner (2004, 2006), Jeffrey (1998a, 1998b)), Ossorio (1982), and others, are quite understandable, given claims in the neuroscience world that either ignore or at times denigrate the conceptual primacy of Persons. As observers of this wariness over the years, it appears to us that among these many reasons there are two that are of principal importance, but that we believe Descriptive Psychology is uniquely positioned to address.

The first reason, the rejection of the “causal” assertion (i.e., reductionism) by reason of non-reflexivity is, in fact, very familiar to those in the DP community, and has been discussed by Ossorio in many venues and publications. It is also a familiar argument offered by Wittgenstein (1972), where his “demonstration” is that taking the position that “uncertainty” is fundamentally necessary is untenable because to act in that way would leave no meaningful place in the “language game” we share, which includes offering locutions about fundamental uncertainty. To accept neurological determinism, just as accepting fundamentally necessary uncertainty, is to leave no place for those very assertions.

To summarize this argument specifically relative to embodiment, it has often appeared that neuroscientists discount the world of Persons by attributing causal significance to embodied mechanisms. In it’s most extreme form, the “causal” argument claims that behavior is: (a) merely the expression of neural events that determine those behaviors; or (b) that what we take to be competent behavior (for example, a simple choice) is causally attributable to embodied mechanisms to which Persons have no “access” and which they cannot control. This extreme argument therefore eliminates the conceptual legitimacy of both: (a) Persons as individuals who make choices based on reasons they take to be the case at any time; and (b) that making such choices is a fundamental component of Deliberate Action in worlds that have meaning.

In a conceptually related way, the attribution of causal status to embodied mechanisms therefore requires the additional claim that even in the case of person A observing what person B is doing (which includes the “special” case of Person A and Person B being the same person, that is, both the Actor and Observer) that what Person A takes to be the case about Person B is also itself a mere expression of neurological events. Taken to its extreme, from this perspective there are no worlds with meaning, but instead, nothing but impressions of meaning that are themselves neurologically determined.

It is easy to see that within DP (and, of course, in the everyday lives of people), this way of talking is untenable. In contrast, Descriptive Psychology (and by extension, as argued below, N1 and N2) provides “a place to stand” even for the observer (engaging in Deliberate Action) who insists on neurological determinism, however unsustainable that observer’s insistence may be.

The second reason for wariness about a broader inclusion of embodiment in DP, as a conceptual discipline, is that it has been difficult to develop alternative locutions that are, as required, non-reductionistic, reflexive, and also importantly, accrediting to both the world of neuroscience and the world of Persons. In the absence of such locutions (and the concepts to which they stand in “one to one relationship”, Ossorio, 2006/2013, pp. 131-135), it has been difficult to offer a DP alternative to causal neurological assertions, even though the basis for such alternative locutions has already been developed by Ossorio (see for example, Ossorio, 1982 and Ossorio, 2006/2013, pp 83-89). Without such alternative locutions, it becomes understandably difficult, in turn, to do anything more than simply reject causal descriptions because of their clear inadequacy.

3. N1 and N2. In order to address these concerns, in our last post we proposed a group of “Notes”, or reminders, about the relationship between Persons and Embodiment that we believe address the above difficulties and that provide language that Descriptive Psychology can use to expand its conceptual inclusion of neurological embodiment. These reminders do so by offering a “way of talking” that accredits both behavioral neuroscience and the world of Persons, but they do so in a way that: (a) is based on the conceptual primacy of Persons; and (b) avoids the category error of ascribing person concepts to neurological mechanisms. Instead, as represented by N1 and N2, embodiment provides the mechanisms for being a Person (which, of course, is explicated by Ossorio’s concept of Person), but it is only because of the world of Persons that we understand and recognize the significance of those neurological mechanisms.

Additionally, N1 and N2 make it clear that these Notes, as a group, do not focus only, or even primarily, on the acquisition of specific abilities, or the production of a specific behavior. Instead, by conceptualizing embodied mechanisms as providing for being a Person (which is, of course, to be a specific individual who may acquire person characteristics such as abilities, given an appropriate intervening history), N1 and N2 draw attention to embodied mechanisms as providing for the acquisition of person characteristics, in general. This is a very different approach than one that, say, focuses on the acquisition of a specific skill (or deficit) as being neurologically determined (e.g., being extroverted, or being characterologically anxious). Instead, these reminders represent broader language that supports discussing the embodied mechanisms for being a Person, and then, in turn, for being a specific Person.

However, N1 and N2 were also constructed in a way that does not exclude the possibility that embodied mechanisms will themselves vary and that, in turn, the boundaries on person characteristic acquisition for any individual will vary accordingly. Since being a Person includes, as one parameter, being a version of the paradigm case formulation of human embodiment (see for example, Ossorio, 1982; Ossorio, 2006/2013), there is also a place for discussing instances of neurologically embodied variations that limit the acquisition of certain person characteristics in specific ways, or perhaps that provide for the acquisition of exceptional abilities not often shared by others.

Consistent with concepts well known in the DP community, N1 and N2 achieve this by reminding the observer that to be a Person is to have a history (Ossorio, 2006/2013). Histories include the acquisition of skills and abilities. Given the language of N1 and N2, it is therefore also conceptually reasonable to discuss neurological “impairments” as limiting the skills that a specific individual (i.e., a version of a Person) can acquire (as is covered in some of the subsequent “Notes”). However, in doing this, there is no implication of causal determinism. Instead, there is a recognition that in providing for being a Person, human embodiment provides for the full range of possible person characteristics that humans can become, in any of the ways that can occur historically, and for the acquisition of the full range of person characteristics that Persons can acquire, including characteristics we would consider to be impairments or talents.

We believe that this way of talking is a very important “move”. Language that conceptually associates embodied mechanisms with Persons (and all of the conceptual implications of that association) is broadening and empowering. This language serves as a reminder that embodied mechanisms (however they may “work”) provide for deliberate action, choice, recognizing significance, making appraisals, verbal behavior, having relationships in which behaviors are an expression of eligibility (that is, Status), participating in communities, being subject to and having one’s behavioral Status altered by degradation and accreditation, having worlds and places in worlds, and all of the components of those and other features of Persons that are offered by the DP universe of concepts. In other words, to restate this as simply as it is stated by N1, a non-reductionistic and non-causal way of talking about embodiment is achieved by recognizing and stressing that what embodiment provides for is Persons.

4. Summary. To summarize this argument more formally, “Notes” N1 and N2, with associated sub-notes, are the primary explications of a specific conceptual relationship, with both sub-conceptual and methodological implications. Embodiment, which includes embodied mechanisms, provides for being a Person, which is to provide for “having a history of deliberate action in a dramaturgical model, (Ossorio, 2006/2013).” In providing for what we know to be the case about Persons, neurological embodiment is treated as whatever is sufficient for Persons and their worlds to be as we know them to be. N1 and N2 also support the relationship between embodiment and Persons by reminding the observer that any person requires a sufficient embodiment, whatever that embodiment may be (Schwartz, 1982; Putman, 1990).

5. Conclusion. The burden of explicating Persons and their worlds is carried by Descriptive Psychology. In doing this, Descriptive Psychology also carries the burden of identifying what must be the case about neurological embodiment (what embodied mechanisms must provide for, not what they are, how they are implemented, biologically or otherwise, how they operate, or how they interact) in order for there to be Persons and their worlds. The burden of explicating the specific embodied mechanisms by which the world of Persons is achieved, that is how those mechanisms provide for Persons, is carried by Neuroscience (at least, for humans). However, the embodied mechanisms that provide for Persons can only be identified as being what they are (that is, both predicted and recognized as having the significance of being contributing components to what is required neurologically for there to be human Persons, or in some other way for hypothetical non-human Persons), because there is a conceptually primary world of Persons that offers such guidance. What these two worlds share, and what we believe can be represented as an inextricable conceptual relationship, is recognition that there are no Persons without embodiment and that there is no significance for embodiment without a world of Persons.

There are several interesting implications of this way of talking that are then listed in subsequent sub-sections of “Notes”.

Bergner, R. (2004). Is it all really biological? Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 24, 30-49.

Bergner, R. (2006). Can psychological science be replaced by biological science? In K. E. Davis and R. M. Bergner (Eds), Advances in Descriptive Psychology, Vol. 8 (pp. 43-68). Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press.

Jeffrey, H. J. (1998a). Cognition without processes. In H. J. Jeffrey & R. M. Bergner (Eds). Advances in Descriptive Psychology, Vol. 7 (pp. 33-66). Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press.

Jeffrey, H. J. (1998b). Consciousness, experience, and a person’s world. In H. J. Jeffrey & R. M. Bergner (Eds). Advances in Descriptive Psychology, Vol. 7 (pp. 67-106). Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press.

Ossorio, P. G. (1980/1982). Embodiment. In K. E. Davis & T. O. Mitchell (Eds.),
Advances in Descriptive Psychology, Vol. 2 (pp. 11-32). Greenwich, CN: JAI Press. (Original work published 1980 as LRI Report No. 23. Boulder, CO: Linguistic Research Institute.)

Ossorio, P. G. (2006/2013). The Behavior of Persons. The collected works of Peter G. Ossorio, Vol. V. Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press.

Putman, A.O. (1990). Artificial Persons. In A. O. Putman & K. E. Davis (Eds). Advances in Descriptive Psychology, Vol. 5 (pp. 81-104). Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press.

Schwartz, W. (1982). The problem of other possible persons. In K. Davis (Ed). Advances in Descriptive Psychology, Vol. 2 (pp. 31-56). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1972). On Certainty. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (Eds). New York: Harper.

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