How to do Nothing (cont.)

» June 8th, 2019

Note: My repeated references to the same book should not necessarily imply an endorsement of that book. This one, for example, has many interesting moments but ultimately falters on several structural and interpretive problems that I’m not really interested in elaborating in this space. If you want to know more about the book, or at least my thoughts on it, email me at

Odell quotes several times from a book called The Embodied Mind, and one quote that caught my attention was this: “Cognition is not the representation of a pre-given world by a pre-given mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind.” (p. 142)

Initially I was taken in by the word “representation.” The idea that our minds represent reality, rather than confront it as an objective phenomenon, seems an empowering take on what we do when we encounter the world. Next, the notion that anything about such an encounter is pre-established is certainly worth questioning, as the quote does. After all, if we consider what this premise allows–basically nothing short of the power to create our own realities–the moral responsibility to be thoughtful, reflective, and intelligent becomes paramount. I think about this responsibility a lot as a parent. It’s easy to get caught up in the rat-race of “success” for kids growing up in a world of privilege. As the father of an upcoming high school senior I’m tormented by the prospect daily. But I think what’s critical is that parents spend more time helping their children cultivate characters rooted in the broadest concept of thoughtfulness. George Eliot (aka Mary Anne Evans) has her character Dorothea Brooke (from Middlemarch)┬ásay something to the affect of “I enjoy thinking about my thoughts.” Therein lies a very basic form of happiness–and something profound. As a parent, I want to raise children who feel this way, can always retreat into the pleasures of their own thoughts and feelings, and who can creatively and compassionately enact “a world and a mind.”

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