Mind Is an Embodied Phenomenon: Neurodiversity Is About Bodyminds, Not Just Brains

Neurodiversity, simply put, is the diversity among human minds. For 15 years or so after the term was coined, it was common for people to speak of neurodiversity as ‘‘diversity among brains.’’ There still are plenty of people who talk about it that way. I think this is a mistake; it’’s an overly reductionist and essentialist definition that’s decades behind present-day understandings of how human bodyminds work.

Mind is an embodied phenomenon. The mind is encoded in the brain as ever-changing webs of neural connectivity. The brain is part of the body, interconnected with the rest of the body by a vast network of nerves. The activity of the mind and body creates changes in the brain; changes in the brain affect both mind and embodiment. Mind, brain, and embodiment are intricately entwined in a single complex system. We’re not minds riding around in bodies, we’re bodyminds.

A lot of people hear neuro and they think, brain. But the prefix neuro doesn’t mean brain, it means nerve. The neuro in neurodiversity is most usefully understood as a convenient shorthand for the functionality of the whole bodymind and the way the nervous system weaves together cognition and embodiment. So neurodiversity refers to the diversity among minds, or among bodyminds.

In terms of scholarship, discourse, and praxis, there are two basic ways to approach the biopsychosocial phenomenon of neurodiversity. Sometime around 2010, I started referring to these two approaches as the pathology paradigm and the neurodiversity paradigm.

Toward a Neuroqueer Future: An Interview with Nick Walker | Autism in Adulthood

So much of my perception of my autistic self is embodied. I feel sensory overwhelm in the nerve sense of neuro. It’s a brain and body thing.

As indicated by the title, the first essential term for this book is bodymind. Bodymind is a materialist feminist disability studies concept from Margaret Price that refers to the enmeshment of the mind and body, which are typically understood as interacting and connected, yet distinct entities due to the Cartesian dualism of Western philosophy (“The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain” 270). The term bodymind insists on the inextricability of mind and body and highlights how processes within our being impact one another in such a way that the notion of a physical versus mental process is difficult, if not impossible to clearly discern in most cases (269). Price argues that bodymind cannot be simply a rhetorical stand-in for the phrase “mind and body”; rather, it must do theoretical work as a disability studies term. Bodymind is an essential concept in chapter 3 in my discussion of hyperempathy, a nonrealist disability that is both mental and physical in origin and manifestation. Bodymind generally, however, is an important and theoretically useful term to use in analyzing speculative fiction as the nonrealist possibilities of human and nonhuman subjects, such as the werewolves discussed in chapter 4, often highlight the imbrication of mind and body, sometimes in extreme or explicitly apparent ways that do not exist in our reality.

In addition to the utility of the term bodymind in discussions of speculative fiction, I also use this term because of its theoretical utility in discussions of race and (dis)ability. For example, bodymind is particularly useful in discussing the toll racism takes on people of color. As more research reveals the ways experiences and histories of oppression impact us mentally, physically, and even on a cellular level, the term bodymind can help highlight the relationship of nonphysical experiences of oppression—psychic stress—and overall well-being. While this research is emergent, people of color and women have long challenged their association with pure embodiment and the degradation of the body as unable to produce knowledge through a rejection of the mind/body divide. Bodymind provides, therefore, a politically and theoretically useful term in discussing (dis)ability in black women’s speculative fiction and more.

Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction – Dr. Sami Schalk

Further reading,





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