Thinking is not the property of the brain that acts something like a biological computer simply housed in a body that merely supports its functioning. Thought and the brain are best understood as being functionally inseparable not only from the body — but from the body in action interacting with the immediate environment. What actually thinks if not a brain? A brain-body acting in a tightly connected immediate environment.
Embodied Cognition has developed a strong alternative scientific program to the classical idea of the brain as a discreet information-processing system. Embodied Cognition’s model of thinking goes by the dry but almost catchy moniker “4EA”. This model conceptualizes thinking as the coming together of how we are Embodied, Extended, Embedded, Enactive, and Affective (hence 4EA):
- Embodied: Our brains are part of our unique bodies. Having the types of bodies we do — moving, grasping, sensing, and acting with specific bodies gives rise to our forms of thinking, which in turn feeds back into the forming of our bodies’ abilities.
- Extended: The kinds of thinking that we do could not happen without tools. In thinking, the appropriate set of partners are assembled: diverse brain regions + specific embodied actions + necessary external artifacts, into a holistic coalition to carry out the task of thinking.
- Embedded: Thinking is embedded in a concrete environment, and this environment shapes and patterns thinking. Chairs, rooms, houses, streets, and patterns of sidewalks and lawns might seem incidental but are fundamental not simply to thinking in general but to why our thinking gravitates toward certain patterns, logics, and outcomes.
- Enactive: Thinking is fundamentally tied to acting — to doing where meaning arises via our actions. Meaning and thought arise during situated actions that are in the context of being co-determined along with our environment. Doing en-acts meaning into being.
- Affective: We equate thinking with rationality, logic, and high-level conceptualizing. Our intellectual lives and all of our thinking rests upon an emotional foundation that is continuous with colors and saturates all experiences. Experience and thoughts bubble up out of an emotional atmosphere — tone — that is our most basic sense of being alive.