The fold and the body schema in Merleau-ponty and dynamic systems theory

Chiasmi International 1:275-286 (1999)
Contemporary thought, whether it be in psychology, biology, immunology, philosophy of perception or philosophy of mind, is confronted with the breakdown of barriers between organism and environment, self and other, subject and object, perceiver and perceived. In this paper I show how Merleau-Ponty can help us think about this problem, by attending to a methodological theme in the background of his dialectical conception of embodiment. In La structure du comportement, Merleau-Ponty conceives life as extension folding back upon itself so as to reveal Hegel’s ‘hidden mind of nature.’ In the Phénoménologie de la perception, radical reflection elucidates the body schema as an essence that reveals itself within embodied existence, qua shaping the natural perceptual dialogue in which the perceiver and the perceived permeate and separate from one another. In these two conceptions of embodiment, we progressively see how the dialectical principle of embodiment must reveal and conceive itself within embodiment itself. Science, on the other hand, follows the phenomena of the body to a certain point, but refuses to allow that embodiment is self-conceptual. I illustrate this using the example of dynamic systems theory, an inheritor of the tradition of J.J. Gibson’s ecological psychology. In this way, I show how Merleau-Ponty’s conception of the dialectic of embodiment as self-conceptual is important to problems in contemporary thought.
Keywords phenomenology   Merleau-Ponty   body   body schema   dynamic systems theory
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