WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Mind in Motion by Barbara Tversky

In this book Tversky argues that movement and actions are the foundation of thought, rather than language. The first part of the book explores how we represent the world in the mind, and the second part how we represent our mind in the world (e.g. by actions, maps, drawing, and art).

The book shows how we think about space, and how we use space to think. She suggests that thinking is mental actions on mental objects – ideas. This is why we use language such as put ideas aside, pull them apart, turn them upside down, elevate them, etc. Spatial thinking underlies how we talk and how we think, about time, emotions, social relations and much more. There’s some really interesting content about how perspective taking relies on spatial orientation and action.

There’s also a fascinating discussion about gesture, and how it can support thinking and communication. For example, gesture can show things that we know, that we can’t yet express in words. When children are asked to gesture as they explain how to solve equations, their gestures reveal strategies not explained in speech. Gesture can show readiness to learn or to change.

As themes throughout the book, Tversky introduces nine rules of cognition:
1. There are no benefits without costs.
2. Action moulds perception.
3. Feeling comes first.
4. The mind can override perception.
5. Cognition mirrors perception.
6. Spatial thinking is the foundation of abstract thought.
7. The mind fills in missing information.
8. When thought overflows the mind, the mind puts it into the world.
9. We organise stuff in the world the way we organise stuff in the mind.

The book is beautifully written and at times the language is almost poetic rather than academic. I found the book so interesting, and a different way to think about thinking, especially for someone who is so used to language as a primary tool in my work. If you are interested in the concept of embodiment, this book is essential reading.

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