Praxis and beyond

So I am thinking about lateralization in order to understand better how the left hemisphere is better at operating with displaced information and the right better with the immediate moment. I have periodically written about that here and so here we go again but I will end up somewhere beyond.

My idea is that while the hippocampus constructs relevant situations from old and new perceptual elements, cortical processes construct situations from variant and invariant subjectively produced (Langer’s autogenic) information, and that this is more fully realized in the left hemisphere, though long cortical fasciculi on both sides function to organize invariant forms, such as our favorite one, the arcuate fascicles. One early function to emerge here is handedness wherein certain actions become invariant through practice and inculcation as a skill, e.g., writing, playing the piano but also speaking, etc.

I first learned about the neurology of this as a speech-language pathologist under the rubric ‘praxis’. Adult stroke patients sometimes show apraxia or dyspraxia. Ask them to show you how to brush their teeth or pour a cup of coffee and their movements are disorganized. This results primarily from insults in the left temporal-parietal junction. Some of the children with articulation disorders with whom I worked had difficulty of a mild sort uttering sounds clearly whose distinctive features were consistent with the invariant forms of a word’s phonological form, and some had a more challenging difficulty with the rapid, highly organized movements for speech. Adult stroke patients also show dyspraxia of speech usually from more anterior lesions. So praxis involves movement organized for skillful repetition; the motor engrams, as the movement memory is sometimes termed, represent invariant forms that can be recalled and enacted with some variation as needed, e.g., a different keyboard or hammering a nail in an awkward space.

To aid my thinking I looked up ‘praxis’ on the internet and don’t I love Wikipedia (be sure to give a donation sometime to help them along). There I read some of what I already knew when I saw a reference to Hannah Arendt, whom I had just read about in The Existentialist Café, a group biography of the early existentialist philosophers, especially Sartre, de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and others. Hannah Arendt was a younger member of that group who studied with Martin Heidegger. She was born in Germany to a Jewish family and emigrated to the US in part to escape the ravages of WWII and the holocaust.

The others may be more famous but Ms. Arendt is top-notch. On the praxis page she is noted to have criticized philosophy as focusing too exclusively on the ‘contemplative life’ and not enough on the ‘active life.” I would imagine this idea was part of her existentialist stance. So praxis, the doing of life, for her was critical to the human mind, not praxis as I have been discussing it but a more generalized way of looking at our actions.

She evidently thought of herself as more a social/political thinker than as a philosopher. Sartre and de Beauvoir both emphasized social engagement in their philosophy. Arendt, given her time in history and the freedom in the US to pursue her ideas intellectually and also to cover certain moments like the Eichmann trial as a journalist, has much to offer us today on totalitarianism. She coined the phrase, ‘the banality of evil’ to capture how we can grow numb to or normalize evil developments. And then I found these two pictures with quotations on line which, I thought, had special relevance to this week.  I will let you make of them what you will.


or at least, their labor is not their own




Travel on.

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