Embodiment Philosophy

Embodiment and feeling

  • I believe that feeling and embodiment are deeply entwined.

  • I argue that consciousness emerges initially as feeling, and that it is a whole body phenomenon. This is very different from views that understand consciousness as a phenomenon of the brain.

  • My theory understands feeling as central to human meaning-making and explains feeling in relation to the evolution of natural systems and animal sentience.

  • I outline a new metaphysics to make better sense of all the theories to which I refer.

The difference between emotion and feeling is important

In recent years a great deal of academic research and many popular science books have addressed the subjects of consciousness, emotion and feeling. Embodiment has become a major theme in therapeutic practice and in fields such as cognitive science and neuroscience.

Despite all this attention, the difference between emotion and feeling is often not addressed. The causal relationships between feeling and the physical body in the physical world are still not well defined.

Purely scientific views of emotion and feeling often end up in essentially meaningless conclusions—for example that consciousness is a hallucination or that feeling is just a by-product of brain functioning. On the other hand, therapeutic practice and bodywork can be highly informed by science but still fall back on ideas that are not really compatible with science—such as the ground of being or the oneness of mind.

Understanding emotion and feeling requires a deep conceptual shift

These theoretical problems that make it difficult to really understand feeling and emotion follow from our fundamental assumptions about the world: we actually need a new worldview. We must further our understanding of human experience by deeply considering how feeling and meaning arise, through evolution and in an individual human life. This can then inform the ways we heal and care for ourselves, each other and the natural environment.

I have been researching theories about nature, feeling and the body for more than twenty years. I recently refined and distilled this work into an interdisciplinary but accessible theory book. This book begins by showing how theories about emotion and feeling from different disciplines are pushing against their own limits, signalling the need for a deep conceptual shift.

I discuss the work of some of the major scientists currently leading research in neuroscience and emotion in psychology, philosophy and cognitive science. I explain inconsistencies across their views to show that the underlying concepts need to change.

I propose new metaphysical concepts that can account for both consciousness and the physical world. These concepts then help to organise theories from biology that deal with complex systems, emergence, the evolution of behaviour and feeling. From theories of biology I turn to theories of experience, including interaction theories from sociology and theories of child development from philosophy and psychoanalysis.

Feeling as inner sensing is the basis of consciousness

My written work builds towards understanding emotion as action and feeling as inner sensing. The new metaphysics explains that feeling arises creatively at the level of the whole body and that human beings are deeply interconnected.

Within therapeutic practice, this should help people to understand that we are complex systems with inner perspectives—feeling—and that working with the body helps the system to approach its own wholeness, to heal itself.

Beyond therapy, my book Taking Heart and Making Sense carries a strong social intention. The changes we make within ourselves shift relations with other people at the deepest level. They increase harmony among people, in groups and societies, and encourage the profound appreciation of nature and other living beings that should be integral to our actions and our lives.

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