Since the primary topic of Lyotard’s essay concerns the idea of thought going on without a body, I decided to work more directly with that in my chosen passage. It speaks thusly…
“Thought borrows a horizon and orientation, the limitless limit and the end without end it assumes, from the corporeal, sensory, emotional, and cognitive experience of a quite sophisticated but definitely earthly existence – to which it’s indebted as well.”
On the surface, this may seem to be a straightforward phrase, if a bit wordy, but it is often times in any philosophy that the simplest line may account for so much more. You can’t just say, for instance, that it is an analogy for the state of the human mind versus the world it interacts with, even if that is an acceptable statement. You’re just scratching the surface, though. Take thought itself, for example. Just on its own, what is thought? “Well, it’s the act of thinking, isn’t it?” Yes and no, actually. Thought implies thinking only because it is what precipitates from thought. Thinking is the act of reasoning and the solving of problems in a manner which can either be labeled as a form of adaptation or sign of higher evolution, depending upon who you listen to. Thought is about as different from thinking as the mind is from the brain or physical body. In this case, Lyotard would extend it as a something that exists outside of the corporeal realm, dipping its astral fingers into the world through the body to take from it what it will. We’re talking about an entity here, which in terms of Descartes would be coined as a ‘thinking thing’ that exists because it has the power to reason that its thoughts are not mere illusion.
As you can probably guess, I’ve had some philosophy background. More to the point, I’m currently taking Metaphysics, which is good because Lyotard certainly uses that way of looking into things. But returning to the point, he states that thought borrows from its corporeal surroundings – that it seems to have no real limitation in of itself – but then makes the claim that because it is connected to a body, it may perish once the body is finished. One cannot deny that thought gains from viewing the world as it is to shape itself into the thinking thing that it is. The question is whether or not it is completely subservient to that body, that load of organic mishmash which is entirely limited. We – as humans – take the world for granted, and how we perceive it. That which we see, touch, taste, hear, smell, and sense (through more subtle and instinctual ways) are interpreted by a fundamental bias. It is not enough to look at the chair you’re sitting in and say, “That’s a chair.”, because that’s not the whole truth of it, but merely the view of the facts as plain as the nose on your face. Sorry… “Nose”? “Face”? What are these things but labels made for the convenience of everyday life? This is the logic of only the corporeal world, not the extended mind. The chair you’re sitting in (if you are sitting) is a material object that we have decided to call 'chair'. Everything we perceive is defined because we humans invented words to speak those definitions, but the mind – pure contemplative thoughts – rejects this status quo because they are limited phrases, unenduring as the planet explodes and we all die.
Because thoughts – your mind – may exist beyond merely the act of labeling things according to what is perceived (having a ‘life’ of its own, you could say), it occurs to me that thought may go on without the body because the body is merely an avenue by which it travels along. It’s not to say there aren’t detours and alternate routes it can have. It’s just that the path of least resistance is always the first one taken, despite the fact that traffic and road construction may hang up the pursuit of knowledge for a while. Now, in accordance with Lyotard, I have to agree that there is a certain debt to the corporeal that the mind may owe a sum, so to speak, but it’s only to the fact that true thought and cogitation towards brilliance may be inspired by even the plainest of things. And if the concept of thought is an abstract, limitless thing, then the amount it owes to this plot of organic meat is negligible. The body and the world it interacts with is a benchmark for reasoning. It forms an opinion, gives a subject of contemplation, and it utterly capable of being balked at, should there be a failing in the logic somewhere. But the reason I believe that this is merely a convenience as opposed to a necessary thing is because thought will exist no matter how gouged or ruined the senses are. Find me a blind man who is also deaf and dumb, and he is still capable of thought. Descartes’ own contemplations on the sum of his existence are irrefutable at least in some aspects. You think, therefore you are. I am thought, therefore I have an existence which goes far beyond the limits of body. It will continue to BE thought regardless of what happens to the corporeal ‘me’. You simply won’t know because you may not be able to use those senses of yours to find my thought.