I have been sick for the past five days. Sick enough that I have come home from work every night and gone straight to bed. Sick enough that I am existing on juice, tea, aspirin and kleenex. Sick enough.
This morning I said to someone “I don’t even want to be inside this body anymore.” Not really sure what that meant, but it got me thinking. Who was talking there? Who is this “I” that feels itself a guest inside this “body”? Of course, I couldn’t let it go from there.
I had to look for answers.
The questions are hardly new: ancient Greeks and the early Hindu yogis each grappled with the Mind-Body Problem. In the modern world, it was Descartes on one side and Spinoza on the other side of what became contrasting points of view. Descartes and the Dualists believed, in essence, that the mind and the body were separate entities. This seems to jibe with the Yeatsian view in yesterday’s post that something existed apart and before the body was made. Of course, as philosophers are wont to do, the Dualists have splintered into various groups as well.
Spinoza and the Monoists believe that the mind and the body are one. Our feeling that these two entities are distinct is simply the properties and emanations of the brain. With recent advances in neuroscience, brain-mapping, psychology, etc., it appears that the mononist position has been gaining strength. Yet it too has broken into several splinterings. The most basic is that between reductive and non-reductive. The reductive believe that ultimately all mentality, all mindfulness, will be able to be explained through a scientific understanding of our physicality. The non-reductive agree that all there is to the mind is the brain and its functions, but believe that its functions cannot be “reduced” to the parameters and terms of physical science.
So all of this is scary stuff. What does it mean if our “self” is really just a creation of the physical firings and synapses of our brain in conjunction with the countless other functions going off –or awry–in our body each moment. If our “self” is truly just a construct of our brain, then that construct can be manipulated. Don’t think so? Advertisers, politicians, behaviorists do! It is, after all, their job to make you do, buy, think, act in a way that you did not necessarily consider before. Their livelihoods are predicated on your “self” being manipulated.
I know that at the moment my own body is misfiring–sinuses are clogged, limbs are achy, head is pounding, throat is soar, lungs are tender. Yet who is “the self” that is getting fed-up at that body, fed-up at the slow pace of recovery. It would seem that I am dealing with dualism here. And yet, intellectually I side with the monoists.
I guess, my little old brain has simply been formed in a way that tends to have these thoughts while my body hits these speed-bumps. It’s all part of the package.