Spilling over into the bodily experience of others

The boundaries which seem to separate us from our worlds open us up to those worlds and reveal to us our inseparability from them. Those boundaries which can appear, at first, rigid and fixed are often malleable and semi-permeable. We need think only of the skin with its surfaces within surfaces (Hoffmeyer 2008, pp.17 – 38), the biological membranes of stratum corneum, epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue, and our sense receptors and nerves; then there are the hairs that respond to temperature, which can stand erect if we are suddenly fearful, and which can be brushed by a sleeve or touched gently by a breeze; and then there are the non-biological membranes of clothes with their textures and degrees of translucency, and our personal and social boundaries which vary in relation to our moods and emotions, our confidence, our company, our feeling of well-being and health, and so on. Our natural assumption is to see the boundary of the body as the limit of our experiential world, but it is precisely its semi-permeable nature its breach which provides us with the possibility of experience in the first place. The skin, overrun with an abundance of receptors – sixty kilometers  of nerve fibres, fifteen kilometres of veins, with millions of sense receptors for pain, temperature, pressure and touch (Hoffmeyer 2008, p.18) – opens us up to the world and discloses it through our inescapable engagement with it, and then, of course, the skin is supplemented by the plenisentience of visual, proprioceptive, kinaesthetic, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory senses which open us up in their own way, are affected by change or motion within our world and which, with internal feedback, can bring about affective change within themselves. [p.306]

Agential bodies are co-affective sensory-kinaesthetic systems which spill out into the world and the lives of others. Embodiment may be a nomological condition for agency [Dobbyn & Stuart 2003] but it is ‘embodiment’ broadly [and radically] conceived, for it is the agent’s capacity to transgress its boundaries, to spill over into the bodily experience of others, which establishes the community and reciprocity of felt co-engagement, and it is this felt co-engagement which is fleshed out in the expressive, meaningful and cognitive bodily dynamics which are, in themselves, the necessary precursor to effective affective social, cultural and linguistic communication in the human agent. [pp. 306-7]

Published in “Enkinaesthesia, biosemiotics, and the ethiosphere”, in Signifying Bodies: Biosemiosis, Interaction and Health, (2010) The Faculty of Philosophy of Braga, Braga, ISBN 978-972-697-191-7, pp.305-30


Dobbyn, C. H. & Stuart, S. A. J. (2003) “The Self as an Embedded Agent”, Minds and Machines, 2003, 13 (2) pp. 187 – 201

Hoffmeyer, J. (2008). Biosemiotics: An examinations into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs. Trans. J. Hoffmeyer & D. Favareau, University of Scranton Press, Scranton and London.

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