Intercorporeality: What is it?

Shogo Tanaka explains the concept of intercorporeality, an important idea proposed by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. This concept revolves around the relationship between one's own body and that of others.

Understanding the concept of intercorporeality

Nick: First, I think we should begin with your paper. So your paper ‘Intercorporeality and aida: Developing an interaction theory of social cognition.’ And it touches on many theories, interaction theory, theory of the mind, theory theory and simulation theory.

And I really don't know anything about those theories. Perhaps we should start with the first word in the title. What is intercorporeality?

Shogo: Yes, thank you for the question. Well, it is a very nice point to start the interview. Intercorporeality is an important concept proposed by a French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty in one of his books published in 1950s. And this concept focuses on the potential relationship in which two or more bodies are always and already embedded.

For example, consider the case of contagious yawning. When you see someone else yawn, it will make you yawn as well sometimes. So here is a potential relationship between you and another, and that manifests through yawning.

The point is, that when you perceive another’s bodily action, your body resonates with it, and sometimes repeat it through your body. And also it gives you a sense of meaning of another's action. And according to Merleau-Ponty, intercorporeality is the most fundamental dimension of our social understanding.

Understanding another’s mental state that's from sensory motor capacity to resonate with another's body and action. So there is a kind of perception action loop between one's own body and that of another. So this is the very basic idea of intercorporeality.

Nick: It already sounds quite complex, but when I saw contagious yawning, it actually reminded me of, I guess, a teenage memory: I had a friend, and I think we were hanging out together and one of my friends yawned, and I think I yawned. And he said yawning is contagious. And we just thought he was joking. He was like ‘No, it's real. There’s a theory behind it.’

So I guess this idea that yawning is contagious is a good symbolic representation of what you just mentioned, this idea of loop, perception, action, and we kind of model behaviors we understand without even thinking about it.