Between emotion, imagination and cognition: Play as a hybrid neuro-evolutionary concept in bridging Saussure, Hegel and Alexander von Humboldt

  • Jui-Pi Chien Institute of Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Taiwan University, Taipei
Keywords: play, emotion, cognition, imagination, symbiosis, communication-modelling system, hermeneutics, aesthetics, neuropsychology, sign-cum-mirror system, somatosensory system


This study seeks to discover hidden links between Saussure’s Third Course of Lectures on General Linguistics, Hegel’s Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics / Philosophy of Mind and Alexander von Humboldt’s Cosmos. To begin with, the notion of play is employed to examine the interplay between our emotion, imagination and cognition, and to examine how such a composite of faculties serves to unify conceptualizations of communication-modelling systems, philosophical hermeneutics and moral psychology in our times. At discovering a certain future-oriented and symbiotic scheme of time implied in these theories, the inquiry moves on to engage with certain perspectives on the evolution of our verbal and nonverbal capacities. Further, observations concerning the actual functioning of mirror neurons in humans are introduced to revise our understanding of the enactive power of nonverbal capacities such as feeling and imagining. The hypothesis made by neuropsychologists concerning the correlation between the mirror and sign systems reveals signifi cant connections between Saussure, Hegel and Humboldt: our emotions and imagination are as schematic and extensive as our speech acts in teaming up with diverse beings and pushing for new solutions and deeper understandings. Finally, this study draws on implications of the empowered sign-cum-mirror system for revisiting certain controversial issues such as the emergence of language-ready brain and the urgency of overcoming eeriness in our linguistic and artistic world-making. It is suggested that we employ our capacities as a somatosensory system so as to on the one hand observe the changing coordination between our body and mind, and on the other, generate rewarding strategies for a greater success at dealing with intriguing patterns found in art, nature and culture.


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