In 7 Quotes or Less: The Embodied Mind by Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch

Posted on May 8, 2009 by


I’m going to start a new thing here.

I read a bunch of books from the pub library and take lots of notes that I almost never read again. That is a big problem.

I still value these notes because they often represent a burst of thought I’ve had in the moment.  The books I read usually have lots of good quotes from the authors that inspired my bursts of thought.  I remember maybe 1 or 2 of the best quotes from every 3rd book I read, so I miss a whole bunch of insight and the quotes and thoughts are lost till I somehow randomly come across ’em again.

Not to happen anymore!

I will now do the web 2.0 thing and now share 7 profound quotes or less from each book I read.

They will be marked by the title headline In 7 Quotes or less.

I will go find 7 quotes or less that will summarize the best and most profound insights of a work, be it a book, an article.  “Best and most profound insights” meaning the quotes that I think the reading public would be best served circulating their consciousness.  The quotes aren’t necessarily summaries of the work as much as they are tools to “make you think.”

Per fair use law and to put my own writing out there, I’ll comment directly afterward about its importance to the public and popular discourse and my own thoughts.

The book:  Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch, The Embodied Mind;  Cognitive Science and Human Experience, MIT Press 1991


There is no abstract knower of an experience that is separate from the experience itself.  (26)

In my humble opinion, the quote above is a thrust at the idea of objectivism.  We only know things at the human level;  we can’t know things as they “really” are.  We can’t really “know” a molecule or an atom, except via scientific instruments.  We can know some of their parts and can manipulate them, but we can’t really see, hear, feel, taste, or touch a single molecule or atom.


…We do not really have knowledge of the world, we have knowledge only of our representations of the world. (142)

This is the one that makes me sad, nihilistic about the world, but also is the one that makes me happy to shoot down arrogant objectivists and libertarians, yet again.  Someone quoting Ayn Rand and pretending there is some kind of objective, bias free knowledge seriously upsets my day and my stomach.


All loss and gain, pleasure and pain arise because we identify so closely with this vague feeling of selfness that we have.  (63)

The concept of self seems to exaggerate feelings either in the way of pain and pleasure.

True story, but in the past few months of the establishment of this new identity-establishing of mine as a “real” adult male, by which I mean to imply a richer concept of self, I’ve felt the most pungent feelings of pain mixed in with bursts of electric ecstasy.  I don’t remember ever being quite as disgusted by certain people and things nor being as happy from certain people and things.

Off-topic:  I tend to think that a richer concept of self, means a richer representation of self.  A richer representation of self includes a richer array of episodic, event-driven memory…


Buddhism is not telling anyone that he should believe that he has a self or that he does not have a self.  It is saying that when one looks at the way one suffers and the way one thinks and responds emotionally to life, it is as if one believed there were a self that was lasting, single and independent and yet on closer analysis no such self can be found.  – Tsultrim Gyamtso (72)

The last line is the clincher;  the part about lasting, single, and independent, which we are clearly not.  I’d extend the lasting, single, and independent to include “isolated,” and “fixed” which seems to permeate a lot of the individualist American-ist discourse.   Richard Nisbett’s book The Geography of Thought talked a bit more about that.


Perhaps it is not fair to ask more of science.  To borrow the words of Merleau-Ponty, the strength of science may lie precisely in the act that it gives up living among things, preferring to manipulate them instead.  (81)

A view that sums up one beef of mine with social science, specifically something like experimental psychology, where factors are controlled in the culture of the laboratory in opposition to the ethnographic, participant-observation work of an anthropologist.  Not that the ethnographic, participant-observer work is free of its own mistakes.