Emobodied Knowledge

Embodied knowledge is a type of knowledge where the body knows how to act.

A simple and general example is riding a bicycle. Most of us know how to ride a bicycle, and we are able to do it without any deliberation. There is no need to verbalize or represent in the mind all the procedures required. The knowledge seems to be imprinted in one’s body. The knowing-subject here is the body itself, not the mind. Or more precisely, the knowing subject is the minded-body or embodied-mind.

The notion of embodied knowledge is derived from the phenomenology of the French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961). In Phenomenology of Perception (1945/1962), referring to knowing how to touch type, he explains it as follows:

To know how to touch type is not, then, to know the place of each letter among the keys, nor even to have acquired a conditioned reflex for each one, which is set in motion by the letter as it comes before our eye. If habit is neither a form of knowledge nor an involuntary action, what then is it? It is knowledge in the hands, which is forthcoming only when bodily effort is made, and cannot be formulated in detachment from that effort.
[Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/1962). Phenomenology of Perception, Routledge, p.144.]

What Merleau-Ponty described as 'knowledge in the hands' is the particular type of knowledge which is not distinctly explicit, conscious, mentally representative, or articulated. It is, however, well known by the body or through the body, when it is practiced. The knowledge of how to touch type is just lived by the hands or by the body. Merleau-Ponty also refers to it as 'knowledge bred of familiarity' (savoir de familiarité). This is the original source of embodied knowledge.

Embodied knowledge is similar in concept to the procedural knowledge (as contrasted with declarative knowledge) of cognitive science, which can be better presented by performance than by verbal explanation. However, in contrast to the ideas of Merleau-Ponty, in mainstream cognitive science Cartesian mind-body dualism (and the reduction of mind to brain which derived from it) is still dominant, and the embodied nature of this knowledge seems to be overlooked. For example, Raymond Gibbs states:

One of the traditional beliefs in the cognitive science is that intelligent behavior, including the ability to perceive, think, and use language, need not arise from any specific bodily form. Thermostats, computers, robots, and brains in vats may all, under the right circumstances, exhibit sophisticated cognitive skills.
[Gibbs, R. W. (2006). Embodiment and Cognitive Science. Cambridge U. P., p.2]

This tradition has not fully changed yet, although there exists many embodied approaches today.

Descartes, with his famous methodological skepticism, separated mind and body, and at the same time rejected any knowledge that could be doubted. Thus, in the Cartesian world-view, the knowing-subject, which certain knowledge belongs to, is only the mind. The body is a mere known-object. There is no place for any 'embodied' knowledge.

What I propose as the embodied knowledge is not constituted upon such dualism. For the mind, it is not apparent as knowledge since it is not clearly represented; nevertheless, we experience it with certainty through our own body. It is not confined only to the motor skills, but is concerned with the variety of human experiences which occur within the Lifeworld (Lebenswelt).


In detail, please refer to;
Tanaka, S. (2011). The notion of embodied knowledge. in P. Stenner, et al. (Ed.) Theoretical Psychology: Global Transformations and Challenges. Concord, Ont.: Captus University Publications. pp.149-157.
(available at Academia.edu: http://u-tokai.academia.edu/ShogoTanaka/Papers)