Thinking with your Body and Other Things
David Kirsh, Department of Cognitive Science, UCSD
ABSTRACT: Where does thought, creativity and understanding come from? For the past five years I have been studying the creative practice of a super expert choreographer. I have also been studying problem solving, design thinking and new approaches to situated cognition. A common element running through these studies is that in natural contexts people use resources of all sorts to think with. They use their bodies, their gestures, instruments, tools, representations and everyday objects. The simple thesis I advance is that people often think their ideas through by modeling them. The models they create are partial and personal. Sometimes these models are encoded in recognized forms: words, drawings, writing. But often people use their body to create a partial model of the thing they are trying to understand. For instance, when thinking through the structure of a movement, dancers will usually ‘mark’ the movement rather than dance it full out. Marking is a movement reduction system like gesturing. This external modeling is itself a form of thinking because it is directed, interactive and representational. It should be regarded as being as important to thought as the other modalities of expression, such as speaking, that are unambiguously expressions and enactions of thought.
To defend this view I describe how thought often relies on active perception enhanced by mental projection. Because interacting with things, including moving our bodies, can improve projection it forms part of an interactive strategy for thinking. This explains how we can harness the analog computation performed by moving objects to share the computational effort of thought, and so keep thought moving forward.
BIO: David Kirsh is Professor and past chair of the Department of Cognitive Science at UCSD. He was educated at Oxford University (D.Phil), did post doctoral research at MIT in the Artificial Intelligence Lab, and has held research or visiting professor positions at MIT and Stanford University. He has written extensively on situated, distributed and embodied cognition and especially on how the environment can be shaped to simplify and extend cognition, including how we intelligently use space, and how we use external representations as an interactive tool for thought. He runs the Interactive Cognition Lab at UCSD where the focus is on the way humans are closely coupled to the outside world, and how cognitive principles can be used to improve the shape, design and our felt experience of environments. Some recent projects focus on ways humans use their bodies as things to think with, specifically in dance making and choreographic cognition. He teaches courses on Design, Special Projects, Creativity and Studio based work. He is Associate Director of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, he is Research Advisor for Wayne McGregor | Random Dance company, he is Adjunct Professor at the Laban Conservatoire of Dance and Music, London, and he is on the board of directors for the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. Representative publications are: The Intelligent Use of Space, Adapting the World Instead of Oneself, Why We Use Our Hands When We think, Situated Cognition and Problem Solving, Explaining Artifact Evolution, Thinking with External Representations, Embodied Cognition and the Magical Future of Interaction Design.