The growing body of research that describes cognition as embodied, enacted, embedded and extended seems to run counter to the post-structuralism of the late Twentieth C. Then, knowledge was seen as arising almost wholly from arbitrary symbolic systems, such as language. The body was seen largely as a symbolic construction, a product of knowledge systems. As such, the phenomenology of philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty was seen to be too limited to a particular symbolic value of the body to be of great relevance. The recent return to the body as the primary instrument of knowledge, albeit understood to be subject to a range of cultural conditioning that both directs and elides the relationship of the body to the lifeworld reflects the recognition of the limitations of interpreting the world as a purely symbolic structure. I suspect critique may have arisen at this time may have something to do with the difficulties in creating artificial intelligence using typical computer algorithms. After all, if a computer cannot be made to think using arbitrary symbols, as Searle’s Chinese Room though experiment argues, then knowledge must be found or based in something else.

Charles Saunders Peirce, went from studying formal logic, into founding the modern discourse on semiotics, to finally exploring the tacit logics afforded by the body. I will jump ahead here, and suggest that if symbols are given meaning by the body, a corollary of Pierce’s later work on abductive logic, and logic itself is a semiotic system, then we can hypothesise that logic arises from our body as always/already in the world. The tacit knowledge that Polanyi talks about is one facet of this embodied logic. The ‘knowing how’ that can only with often great difficulty be translated into the ‘knowing that’ is a feature of tacit knowledge. The logic by which we grasp of, function through, and relate to the lifeworld in which we are finding ourselves minutes by minute and life-time through life-time reflects our specifically fleshy body as a continuum of the life world. Logic reflects the decisions of how we grasp the world that we are intrinsically a part of, and is not an external algorithm imposing meaning on us. Thus Peirce’s thought followed a trajectory that I argue found that abductive logic, the empirical logic of the imagination, was the logic that sprang from the body coping in its life world.

This concept of life world includes the body not just as an atomistic object but intrinsically embedded in the world around it. The term continuum or plenum well characterize this view of the body-world relationship. The body is part of the world around it and speaking of the body as a separate entity reflects the problem of language being inadequate to describe much of the lifeworld which we skillfully cope with. Ethnographic descriptions of craft work often describe how knowledge is passed wordlessly between craft workers, either to coordinate the making process, or to mentor less experienced members of their craft community. The translation of ‘knowing how’ to ‘knowing that’ in that particular situation is often supported by the body of tacit knowledge (or the tacit knowledge of the body?) so that, to paraphrase Louis Armstrong “We don’t have to ask what jazz is, we already know”.

This poses particular problem when conducting life world research;we already often know(how) to do something, to the point where it seems trivial to discuss such experience as ‘knowing that’. Framing tacit knowledge with expressions like ‘It seems to me’ or ‘it works for me’ or ‘that is how we do’ it appears inadequate to scholarly exegesis that favours the conceptual, the propositional approach of ‘knowing that’. Yet these expressions reveal skilful coping that does work, and that reflects a successful experience of being in and of the world. This is also the problem that we do somethings so well they are invisible–yet we would never argue as scholars, that these things are not important. Thus my own current focus, on presence, or what is sometimes called social presence, reflects our common experience of being with another self-aware entity, and experience that as yet remains unexplained as to its origins and underlying operation. I suspect that clues to moving from the ‘knowing how’ to ‘knowing that’ of presence will lie in gathering phenomenological accounts, which focus on the embodied and enactive experience of responding between oneself and another. The methodological issue will be how to bring forth an account of an experience that is fundamental to our life worlds, fundamental to the degree that it is almost transparent.

The ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ relationship is imbued with an intertwining, yet we must in practice conjecture what the relationship means to the other, the ‘thou’ with whom our relationship reveals itself. Imperfectly ‘knowing that’ as to the other’s internal life, yet generally skilfully ‘knowing how’ to respond and grasp the other in relationship. How is such a relationship possible? perhaps by gathering accounts of this experience we can begin to describe the ‘knowing that’ of the sense of presence that underlies ‘i’ and ‘thou’.

By basing my questions as arising out of an abductive logic account of cognition, I appeal to imagination as potentially fundamental to achieving this. And with imagination and the body, aesthetics, the fusion of affect and sensation, becomes a route to exploring this question and formulating questions that more closely address the character of our experience of presence, and any ontological claims that we could make about it. I began this post by contrasting theories of embodied cognition against purely symbolic theories of knowledge. I end it by raising some potential questions and issues:

Can aesthetic methodologies offer answers where purely deductive (rationalistic, idealist) and inductive (empirical, positivistic) logics cannot?

Mark Vagle argues that phenomenological research must be crafted(craft or cræft implying a responsive, singular and wholistic wisdom) along the way, moving between theory and data gathering. How can rigour be realized in this framework?

How can participant accounts be elicited such that they directly address their own experience, and not fall back into what amounts to cliches, or appeals to prior experience? This is especially challenging because we don’t usually question the ‘presence’ of another;it is assumed.

What is the ontological relationship of aesthetics(tentatively defined as the related experience between sensation and affect) to cognition? Authors such as Dieter Mersch argue that aesthetics undergirds cognition, so cognition is a product of aesthetics. This challenges Kantian notions of aesthetic experience as disinterested and aloof, in favour of resting in the lifeworlds of fleshy bodies. If logic is an epiphenomena to the body, which is the apparent trajectory of both Peirce’s and Merleau-Ponty’s later thinking, then explaining cognition primarily in aesthetic terms seems to better address what it means to have cognition, and hence experience, defined as the bodily knowledge of being aware of the world including one’s own awareness as part of that world.


Langlands, Alexander. Craeft: How Traditional Crafts Are about More than Just Making, 2018.

Kaag, John J. Thinking through the Imagination: Aesthetics in Human Cognition. First edition. American Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge, 2012.

Mersch, Dieter, and Laura Radosh. Epistemologies of aesthetics, 2015.

Newen,A. L. de Bruin, S. Gallagher (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of 4e Cognition. Oxford University Press (in Press)

Polanyi, Michael, and Mary Jo Nye. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Enlarged edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Searle, John, “Minds, Brains, and Programs.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 1980, p417-424.

Vagle, Mark D. Crafting Phenomenological Research. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Inc, 2014.