Emplaced.... you are in relation to where you are…


There is a lot of talk about embodiment these days. But what we forget is what I call “emplacement”. Where we live, in what environment we live in. And how that affects us.

We too come from nature - we are nature...

I study Cognitive Science – and one branch of it is called 4E Cognition. It stands for embodied, embedded, extended and enactive. Some also add “ecological”, turning it into 5E Cognition.

These parts of Cognitive Science, gathered under the umbrella of 4 or 5E Cognition all deals with, to a greater or lesser extent how our cognition is not only something that happens in the mind (not for us humans and not for any other being). It deals with how we interact with what we have around us, and how that which we have around us responds to our interaction – and how a dialogue, or a relationship develops between you as a human and whoever and whatever you have in your surroundings and how this surrounding and you effect each other, cognitively, emotionally, socially, biologically… (which is why I always bring up equine welfare as a question of what a horse needs not only biologically, but also socially, emotionally and cognitively, to develop and thrive).

How we learn about the world, when we move around in the world, decides who we become and how we function. A term used in 4E Cognition is “affordance”. It asks what the environment a being is in is affording the being to do (what it lends itself to), and then it asks – how competent is the being to navigate and use those affordances?

In this – there is the part of us (as the agent), how we move (movement/motion per se) and where we move – and what where we move impacts us (again pertaining to how we physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially move). How where we move affords us different “things” (outcomes, resources, developmental and learning potential, but also more concretely put, different amounts of safety, learning challenges, companionships, explorations ec). How we by reaching out, being in our environment, being embodied, being embedded in it, extending out into it, enacting ourselves in it – in our specific ecological niche (as a species but also as a social-cultural being).

This thinking helps me see what happens in Equine Assisted Interventions. This thinking, together with my own very experiential and concrete experiences as a client in equine assisted interventions. Because it is about seeing the coupling between the concrete and the abstract, how working with the concrete impacts the abstract – not only referring to abstract thoughts here, but emotions and social intelligence.

We are much more concrete beings than what we perhaps like to think? Our cognition, our ability to mentalize, to think abstractly and logically comes from how we develop our thinking very concretely. That is why experiential learning work so beautifully in re-learning and re-patterning. What you do does not only “stick better” – but it opens up new ways of thinking, processing and abstracting/mentalizing. How we think comes from how we do. How we do come from how we move around in the world and take action, have interactions. And how we can do that – is impacted by the environment we find ourselves in. It is – not so much about what you say as a therapist/teacher – it is about what environment you can afford your clients where you are part of the environment. What learning and growth do your environment (including you) afford to your clients? How can your clients concretely learn, or re-learn? As in doing is really strongly supporting plasticity, re-mapping, re-pattering.

Each time we move to a new environment, our brain need to make a new map, to know where it is. If only few things in that environment has changed, the map is not re-made, but updated. This making of maps takes a lot of energy. How we make maps of our environment, how we navigate it, take actions in it, interact with everything in it – is how we build or thinking and thinking patterns. Which is part of who we are and how we function.

To do this effectively we need access to our bodies, but where our bodies move around is also a crucial factor, because different environments affords the mover different options. That includes also on a “higher cognitive level” as in how do we move around in concepts, how do we problem solve, how do we make decisions etc – which is also about navigating, making sense of a more abstract environment and what it lends itself (affords us) too. But this abstract environment is also created from this more concrete, “lower cognitive level” environment and the actions taken there and the understanding that is built there.

(An example. If I throw a ball at you, your brain will estimate where it will end up and you can reach out your arm to catch it. If you repeat that many times, your brain will make better and better predictions of where the ball will end up and you will catch it more often (this has to do with how our vision works, how our visual cortex works and how that visual cortex is coupled to calculations and motor output e.g.). This is the same for mental actions. If someone throws an insult at you, or oozes of anger, your brain will make predictions in the same way. The more insults, the more rage eruptions that are thrown at you, or you are exposed to – the better you will get at do whatever you find most productive to handle them, to “catch” them.)

The better emplaced we are in our environment, the easier we will have to build the foundation of our thinking, the brain can focus on growing instead of e.g. updating its maps. Also here, as in all learning – just the right amount of challenges are necessary. A very fixed environment and restrictive is stopping all expansion and growth of a mind. A constantly changing environment is simply overwhelming the system. And abrupt changes between “naked” environments and too rich environments are anxiety provoking, especially if the shifts between them cannot be impacted or foreseen by the one shifted between them. Then we have abusive or/and neglective environments. They will also cause learning to happen and predictions to be made, and a shift between abusive or/and neglective environments and more normal environments will be very daunting to handle. The more of the abuse and neglect that your mind will be able to foresee and prepare itself to – the safer and more in control you will feel. But the more diverse environments you live in – the adaptations between them will take up a lot of energy.

A wild animal lives in an environment that is the same (even the migrating ones migrate to the same places over and over), but also changes. By being in an environment that is known and mastered, but changes enough to stimulate constant learning, a being builds his functional competence toolbox.

So how emplaced and embodied are you? Since these two states work and develop in tandem, one is not really possible without the other. How embodied and emplaced are our horses?

How do we facilitate communication in our relationships, on our “relating” to the world?

How much uncertainty and anxiety does it create to not be embodied or emplaced? Being without your tool (your body) and not in an environment that stimulates your learning in an environment that is predictable, but changes enough to challenge you – how do you grow into your potential? How do you communicate about where you are in this? Do you even share language with someone in the environment you live in?

In your environment there are also social interactions, and all this will impact your emotions, how you develop an understanding of them, how you develop to manage them. The key to abstraction lays in the concrete… when it comes to thoughts emotions, social development. To develop into a full being – the beings that is in your environment, part of your environment (as we are part of our horses environment) – will impact the total sum of who a being is, function and communicate.

From my own experience also think lack of embodiment and emplacement affects the ability to know where you are, and in what time you are. Time can become a fuzzy thing and your ability to trust your proprioception might be impacted, which will then impact your neuroception.

So to care about our environment does not just boil down to us being nature lovers wanting to take care of our earth. We are nature, we are in a constant relationship with our environment, and we know from research that if that environment is natural, instead of constructed, our senses can make more sense of it.

When I say we humans are highly relational beings it is not only about social relationships. Our social relationships will be impacted by what other relationships you have, with e.g. your own body, but also your environment. We relate constantly. With beings, with things, with concepts, with ideas, imagination… When we can’t relate to e.g. humans in our environment, or with much else in our environment, we either shut down – or relate with what is there (which could be our imagination e.g.).

But how we were able to relate when we grew up, with other beings, with our surroundings, will impact our ability to relate, to form adult relationships, but also how we relate to things, nature, challenges, ideas… and it will impact or fears or curiosity to relate in different speres of our live.

As anything can become a coping strategy also “over-relating can become that – which I call having an overactive social engagement system (which I wrote about here: http://livethechange.se/index.php/blog/an-overactive-social-engagement-system)

What to me is so beautiful is how we can help ourselves, help others to learn and relearn how to relate in way that works for each one of us. And by doing that with experiential learning, you help yourself – or someone else to concretely rebuild or build what was missing – or remove what you or someone had too much of. So to me it makes all the sense in the world why doing this in natural settings – in nature – together with living beings – is affording so much growth… and why competency of those offering these services much be high – since this is so effective – you need to know what you are doing. It really helps me to look at what I offer, from these perspectives. I find that Cognitive Science can offer new perspectives on what psychology already says, and how we can understand all these layers and how they interact in what we offer. For me, the science way works best, if joined in with intuition. But pure science and pure intuition works less well for me, but perhaps works great for others.

I will expand on what this thinking means in how we tend to our horses’ welfare, but also later on what this means for our services in equine assisted interventions.

When thinking about equine welfare for your horse - you can start to use this to ask questions like: What does our horses' environment let them do in and with it? That they can use to grow and learn? Do they have herd mates? Interesting things to explore? Can they move and learn by doing and moving in their environment (without being set in motion, instructed what to do)? How can your horse make use of the beautiful spatial cognition he is born with? What does his environment afford him and how competent of an agent is he to interact and enact in it? interventions.

Did I make all this too complicated? Or too messy? Does it make sense to you?

Copyright Protected © Katarina Lundgren 2020

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Tuesday, 21 May 2024