“I think with my feet.”
In Boston, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lacan met Roman Jakobson again and spoke before an audience of mathematicians, linguists, and philosophers, among them Willard Quine and Noam Chomsky… Lacan scandalized everyone with his answer to a question by Chomsky on thought. “We think we think with our brains; personally, I think with my feet. That’s the only way I really come into contact with anything solid. I do occasionally think with my forehead, when I bang into something. But I’ve seen enough electroencephalograms to know there’s not the slightest trace of a thought in the brain.” When he heard this, Chomsky thought the lecturer must be a madman.
~Elizabeth Roudinesco – Jacques Lacan
I’ve puzzled a fair bit over Lacan’s enigmatic response, and spent just as much time searching for a decent interpretation. The best I have found so far is the following (from here):
“In 1975, before a group of MIT philosophers, linguists and mathematicians gathered to hear him speak, Lacan responded to a question from Noam Chomsky on the subject of thought. He said simply: I think with my feet. With that single utterance a scandal erupted. Everyone assumed Lacan wanted to convert Americans to another “obscurantist plague.” For this group of intellectuals ― trained on logical positivism ― it was just unthinkable that he was speaking metaphorically. And yet, Lacan was right. We do think with our feet. In phenomenological terms, our ability to distinguish figure from ground is the primordial condition through which we find ourselves in thought. Such is the spatial scheme behind Lacan’s famous Mirror Stage, that moment when a fledgling infant manages to pull its body upright, gaze into a mirror and instantaneously grasp the fact of his or her discrete physical presence among objects in the world. From there begins the subject’s initiation into language and the stage is set for cognitive thought. Should the subject subsequently lose his or her sense of figure in relation to ground, the result would be the disorienting feeling of falling outside of language. Hence the operation of thinking with one’s feet.”