The one constant thing: The role of the body in cognition

Plan Author

  • Chandra Wade, 2015

Fields of Concentration

  • Biology
  • Religion

Sample Courses

Project Description

Embodied Cognition: History and literature review.

Faculty Sponsors

  • Jaime Tanner
  • Amer Latif

Outside Evaluator

  • Holly Taylor, Tufts University


This Plan is an investigation into the connection between embodied cognition, memory, and ritual. The title, “The One Constant Thing,” is a reference to the body, because wherever we go, whatever we do, our body is there, existing as both the manifestation of the self and as the contact point between some inner self and the external world. The work is comprised of four parts: two papers, one study, and an exam. The first paper is a literature review on embodied cognition, but includes the realization that everyone else is just as confused on the subject as Chandra. “The Body of Faith,” which is the following papper, is exploration into the more theoretic side of neurology, specifically an argument for embodied cognition through religious practice. The lab took the thread of physical knowledge and tested it on moles, which rely primarily on tactile sensation and are therefore wonderful models of how physical sensation affects learning and memory. The purpose of the exam was to show the breadth of knowledge Chandra has learned related to neurobiology that is not covered in the rest of her work.


Embodied cognition helps explain the automatic and subconscious nature of physical reaction to the environment. When someone is walking over a surface that changes suddenly, say from smooth to rough as is seen from pavement to grass, or from slanted to flat, there usually is not a conscious thought pattern need to make the change in movement smooth. People do not have to think out every piece of nearly any movement, which is lucky, as otherwise it would take forever to do anything. As these movements are still done smoothly, and usually correctly on the first try, they have to be planned. If movements were all done as a form of trial and error, as is true when learning a movement, it could be assumed that preset movement plans are only enacted and then varied as need be. However, as this is not the case, some amount of deliberate (though unconscious) planning must be used.

Many religious symbols and practices use the body as a tool for greater understanding. This can be seen in a broad range of examples such as the Islamic daily prayer of Salat, the Christian taking of the sacrament and the Daoist concept of walking along The Way. All of these and more take abstract religious concepts and place them inside the physical body. Placement of concepts inside the body can be done both through symbols that rely on physical metaphors and by use of movement during religious practice thereby creating a connection between religious thoughts and physical action.


My Plan was inspired by the body, the beauty of the world, and how we come to understand this beauty through the body.

There were times during my Plan when I felt like I was chipping away at the walls inside my brain to make enough space for all the ideas I had to process at once. I remember going to sleep in utter exhaustion, simply from having to think so hard. Ultimately one of the most interesting outcomes of my Plan is the concept that nothing makes sense, and that’s what makes life beautiful.

I really got a lot out of a tutorial on neurobiology. Every week I would read a chapter of a textbook, and then find several primary sources that went along with part of the chapter that either interested me the most or I thought would be relevant for Plan.