MIND-BODY Problem or “who is this person stuck inside my sick body”?

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.

This is the scan of a normal brain. The question, to me, is where did they find one.

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.


The difficulty of thinking…the ease of not.

Bertrand Russell once said that people would do almost anything to avoid having to think. And we do. Consider how we go through most of our days.  Rise, commute, work, commute, dine, sleep. Certainly there are vacillating degrees of how purposefully we interact with our own lives, but mostly, I would say, we do things by rote.  For the most part, the majority of us do not “live our lives deliberately” as Thoreau advised us to–we would make ourselves mad if we did–but what are we sacrificing?

Samuel Beckett wrote that the routine, the habit, the treadmill of our lives is a way of deadening the pain of existence (how wonderfully Beckettian!); breaking out of the routine, the habit, the treadmill is exciting and might mask the pain, but it is temporary and not without risks.  To think deliberately is indeed difficult. But it is what makes us who we are. Our thinking is what separates us from others, what individualizes us.  There is a second kind of truth in the Cartesian “I think therefore I am.”  It is not simply a statement of existence, but one of uniqueness as well, an emphasis on the “I.”  And if we choose not to think, are we waiving our individuality to become simply a part of the herd?

In politics, for example, do we think or do we react? Do we consider the world around us or do we merely accept what we have been trained to accept? Are we so entrenched in our “camps” that we allow their ideas to immediately become ours without the trouble of thinking? Do we even have a personal philosophy?  How many of us could state what it is?  What do we believe in?  When have we last THOUGHT about what we believe?

The avoidance of thinking is hardly a 21st-century phenomenon–it just seems easier to do these days.  The opportunities for distraction, the ease in which we can fill our lives with noise, makes it all too easy to avoid stopping to think.  And like most habits, once we have learned to “not think,” it becomes a very hard habit to break.

But again, what are we sacrificing?

I’m not sure, but I’ll think about it.