Extended bodies

This more 'holistic' perspective on the body has been extensively studied by Hiroshi Ichikawa (1931-2002). His primary objective was to reveal 'the nakedness of Being' by looking at the phenomenon that he called the 'body-space', namely the body that is extended in space. As Nagatomo remarks, his aim was to 'elevate the human body, long degraded within the Western philosophical tradition, to the dignity of the spirit' (Nagatomo 1992: 3). In his book The Body as the Spirit, published in 1979, Ichikawa argued in favor of the unity of spirit and body by supporting the view that the body is the spirit, a counter-thesis to the well-known Cartesian dualism where mind and body are conceived as kinds of extremes. According to Ichikawa: 'our concrete life in its great part is spent within a structure which cannot be reduced either to the spirit or to the body' (ibid.: 5). This being the case, 'we should consider this unique structure itself as fundamental, and regard the spirit and the body as aspects abstracted from it' (ibid.: 5). The idea that the 'body is the spirit' must then be understood in terms of some 'fundamental structure' that allows us to understand the sense of unity, which according to Ichikawa, embraces both the spirit and the body. His starting point was the understanding of the body as 'lived from within', which far from being a disembodied being focusing on intellect or rationality, 'carries the sense of the subject being incarnate or embodied, while, nevertheless, simultaneously being an epistemological center of consciousness' (ibid.: 5). Ichikawa characterizes it as follows:

Although it is not quite an appropriate expression, we live it from within, grasping it immediately. This body is a basis (kitai) for our action, penetrating through a bright horizon of consciousness to an obscure, hazy horizon. It is always present in front of, or rather with us. In spite of this, or because of this, it in itself remains without being brought to awareness. In this sense, we should say that we do not have the body, but we are the body.

Ichikawa proposed a threefold classification of what it means 'to be a body'. The first category is called the 'innate body-space' (seitoku-teki shintai kukan). This can be defined as the body delimited by the skin that we see reflected when we look at ourselves in a mirror. The second category that Ichikawa identifies is the 'semi-definite body-space' (junkosei-teki shintai kukan). This is the body that expands through the use of tools. A classic example is the stick in the hand of a blind person. In this case, the stick becomes an extension of the blind person's arm. At the same time, a computer can be seen as an extension of the brain, a telephone as an extension of the voice, a pen as an extension of the finger. When you drive your car, you may perceive the car as an extension of your legs, or when you wear your clothes, you may perceive them as an extension of your skin, as so on. According to this approach, we humans work via extensions.

The third category is what Ichikawa defines as the 'indefinitely varying body-space' (fukaku-teki na kahen-teki shintai kukan). Going far beyond the previous two body-spaces, it has three main characteristics: (1) it is always changing; (2) it is temporary; and (3) it is non-habitual.

One of the most outstanding aspects of Ichikawa's theory is that it conceives of the human body in terms of 'corporeal extensions', which articulate themselves on these three different levels. This view has several implications for consciousness studies, particularly in the field of visual perception (O'Regan and Noe 2001). For instance, we currently know that the perception of visual space does not arise from a unified model of space in the brain, but from numerous spatial maps, many of which are located in the cortical areas involved in the control of bodily movements (for instance, of the eyes, arms, and so on) (Rizzolatti et al. 1994). This basically means that experiential space is not a uniform container, but rather a medium molded by our sensory and moving bodies: our movements 'progressively carve out a working space from undifferentiated visual information' and this 'movement-based space . . . becomes then our experiential peripersonal visual space' (Rizzolatti et al. 1997: 191). In more general terms, some current studies on visual perception have hypothesized that seeing is a way of acting: it is visually guided exploration of the world (Thompson 2001). As Kevin O'Regan and Alva Noe put it in a recent article: 'activity in internal representations does not generate the experience of seeing. . . the experience of seeing occurs when the organism masters what we call the governing laws of sensorimotor contingency' (O'Regan and Noe 2001). In this respect, Ichikawa has suggested that when we touch an object, for instance, a pen, the perception of it does not happen passively on the surface of our body, but it is rather the manifestation of a bodily 'extension' towards it (in Nagatomo 1992: 13-15). In other words, we are able to detect the pen's shape and/or hardness not by mere contact with the surface of our hand but rather by means of a corporeal extension toward it, or what he called a 'bodily dialogue' (shintai teki taiwa) (Ichikawa, in Nagatomo 1992: 13). This hypothesis has been supported by James Gibson's finding that we will score high (about 95 per cent) in the recognition of objects when we touch them (active touching), but we will score low (about 45 per cent) when we are touched by the objects (passive touching) (Gibson 1966). From Ichikawa's point of view, in the absence of a 'dialogue' with the object of our intention, we will not be able to determine a depth (or an 'inner horizon') to things around us. In recognition of this characteristic, we do not make contact with the world by means of the surface of the perceptual organs, nor do we passively receive a given stimulus from the external world. As Nagatomo observed: 'the latter is implied by the phrase body dialogue, since a dialogue is by definition a dialogue only when two or more participants are actively engaged' (Ichikawa, in Nagatomo 1992: 13).

In our everyday life, we are largely unaware of this bodily 'dialogue', which acts on a pre-noetic (or 'pre-reflective') level of consciousness. Following Ichikawa, this is characterized by an intentional structure, which is constitutive of consciousness (ibid.: 46).

The notion that a human organism can extend beyond its physical boundaries is radically different from a conventional viewpoint, according to which our perceptions of external objects are supposed to be located inside our heads, rather than outside it, and experienced there by an inner subject.

This idea has been called the 'Cartesian Theater', a metaphorical movie screen on which the drama of conscious experience unfolds before its viewing Cartesian subject (Dennett 1991: 39). In contrast, Ichikawa has a more dynamic understanding in which perception is held to reach out and actively engage with the world:

The retina does not directly touch the objects that make up the landscape, for example, but the act of visual perception extends as far as these objects seen, enabling the individual to feel depth in the scenery.

Therefore, as visual perception is lived, it extends to the objects seen.

(Ichikawa, in Nagatomo 1992: 13)

Additional evidence for this position emerges from the fact that babies are born with interpersonal body schemas for facial imitation. A growing number of studies have shown that newborns (less than an hour old in some cases) can imitate the facial gestures of another person (see, for instance, Meltzoff and Moore 1999). This phenomenon, also known as 'invisible imitation', supports the view that infants use parts of their bodies (invisible to themselves) to imitate the movements of others. For this kind of imitation to be possible, the infants must be able to match a visual display outside them (in this case, the facial movements of others). Therefore, there must be an underlying 'bodily scheme' which organizes experiences of their own bodily positions and movements, to which the newborn can relate the gestures of the other person. If imitation requires a scheme, then this scheme should be present from birth, rather than being an infant's acquisition as Piaget has postulated (1962). As I will note in the next section, Yasuo Yuasa identified this as the level of kinesthesis in his body scheme.

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