"Meditating on the body means meditating on body sensation, not mental images of the body."
~ Michael Taft
Grant Health and Fitness Center, January 28, 2014
by Daron Larson
An imaginary woman—
a voice that communicates
the impression of female
—invites me to enter my digits
She remains inordinately polite
in word choice and tone
regardless of my ability
to fulfill her desire for my data
I didn't quite get that
I sense the presence
of a sophisticated algorithm
calculating the odds of my legitimacy
I am at her mercy
Please try again
But she can't know
I'm assessing her for fraud
even as I'm being monitored
for virtual trespasses against her
Please stay on the line
Your call is important to us
There is much talk on screens these days
about computer programs evolving
Some predict its inevitability
based on laws governing exponential increase
We forget how difficult it remains
for us to accurately convey
the direct experience of loneliness
given the constraints of language
This is not limited to storage bandwidth or process speed
but speaks of the capacity for embodying the ineffable
You're important to me
I'm so sorry
I'm not afraid of the machines
we create in our own image
I fear our shared tendency
to overlook the intangible
sparks that signal our humanity
Excerpt from “Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally,” by Natalie Angier, New York Times (February 1, 2010):
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time.
As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore. The deviations were not exactly Tower of Pisa leanings, amounting to some two or three millimeters’ shift one way or the other. Nevertheless, the directionality was clear and consistent.
“When we talk about time, we often use spatial metaphors like ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you’ or ‘I’m reflecting back on the past,’ ” said Lynden K. Miles, who conducted the study with his colleagues Louise K. Nind and C. Neil Macrae. “It was pleasing to us that we could take an abstract concept such as time and show that it was manifested in body movements.”
The new study, published in January in the journal Psychological Science, is part of the immensely popular field called embodied cognition, the idea that the brain is not the only part of us with a mind of its own.
“How we process information is related not just to our brains but to our entire body,” said Nils B. Jostmann of the University of Amsterdam. “We use every system available to us to come to a conclusion and make sense of what’s going on.”
Research in embodied cognition has revealed that the body takes language to heart and can be awfully literal-minded.
You say you’re looking forward to the future? Here, Ma, watch me pitch forward!
You say a person is warm and likable, as opposed to cold and standoffish? In one recent study at Yale, researchers divided 41 college students into two groups and casually asked the members of Group A to hold a cup of hot coffee, those in Group B to hold iced coffee. The students were then ushered into a testing room and asked to evaluate the personality of an imaginary individual based on a packet of information.
Students who had recently been cradling the warm beverage were far likelier to judge the fictitious character as warm and friendly than were those who had held the iced coffee.