Human cognition, space, and the sedimentation of meaning

Peter Woelert

pp. 113-137

The goal of this paper is to explore, from a phenomenologically informed perspective, the phenomenon of the operative spatialization of human thinking, viewed in its relationship with the embodied human organism's spatial experience. Operative spatialization in this context refers to the cognitive role and functioning of spatial schematizations and differentiations in human thinking. My particular focus is the domain of conceptualization. By drawing on Husserl's discussion of the (linguistic) process of a sedimentation of meaning, I aim to show that spatialization functions in a structurally ambivalent manner. On the one hand, spatialization predisposes and thus narrows the scope of human conceptual thought. On the other hand, spatialization establishes an implicit cognitive scaffold indispensable for the development and practice of human higher-order thinking. The structure and functioning of this scaffold, I argue, is intrinsically related to the spatial structure and dynamics of human embodiment. Synthesizing insights from phenomenological studies concerning the experiential constitution of space, and classic and recent research findings from fields such as cognitive linguistics and psychology concerning the cognitive dimension of image-schemas and gestural behavior, I argue that the living human body functions centrally as the sense-constitutive "site of conversion' (Husserl) between concrete structures of spatial experience and abstract structures of conceptual thought.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11097-010-9153-3

Full citation [Harvard style]:

Woelert, P. (2011). Human cognition, space, and the sedimentation of meaning. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 10 (1), pp. 113-137.

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