Friday, December 23, 2005

Embodied Knowledge - Part 1. Sensory Experience.

Human Understanding Is Grounded In Experience.

    To get a good feel for something, you need to get some kind of experience of it. To learn how to fix bikes you need to actually work on bikes - seeing what they're made of and how the parts move together.

    Lesson 1:

    We need to see, touch, taste, feel, and/or smell things in order to make sense of them.

    We start this process soon after we're born, and we continue for our entire lives. Through our senses we learn about the world, about our mothers and fathers and brother and sisters, about water and wood and rocks and trees and food and drink and glass and plastic and red and blue and bright and dark and sharp and blunt and hot and cold and so on... Watch a growing child, and you will see that new learning is always incorporated through the senses:

    Lifting
    Pushing
    Licking
    Smashing
    Smelling
    Looking
    Listening

    Higher level learning, like learning to read, is based on these experiences. If you don't remember this from your own life, just watch and listen to a class of first graders learning to read.

    EH, BEE, SEE, DEE, EEE, EFFF, GEEE...

    or learning to write:

    AAAAAAAA, BBBBBBB, CCCCCCCC, DDDDDDD


    There are plenty of sights and sounds and movements going on...

    Because all human understanding originates with our senses, the most direct, grounded, way to learn something new is to explore it directly with your senses.

    • Toying with bike parts helps you understand how to fix bikes…
    • Seeing the way body parts fit together is the best way to learn physical anatomy (which is why so many health professionals learn anatomy in cadaver labs).
    • Feeling the muscles underneath the skin is the best way to learn about the physical anatomy of massage.
    • Finding out how heavy something is helps you guess what it is made of (wood, metal, plastic?).
    • Deciding if your soup is salty enough is done by... you guessed it... tasting it!

    This is true for every kind of human knowledge. The most grounded knowledge, that which is used to create all of our understanding, is direct, observable, sensory experience.

    Part 2 will discuss how we use sensory experience to understand things that are too difficult or complex to understand with direct experience alone.

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