Philosophy and Psychology18 Nov 2007 12:15 pm

There is a tendency in humans to see things as a series of opposing forces. We see things as good or bad, happy or sad, healthy or sickly, intelligent or stupid, or a person as an enemy or a friend. Though convenient and often instructive, this style of thought is more often than not lazy and misleading. We can label this style as binary or dialectical thought.

This binary style of thought has led us to define being human into a life world composed of body and mind. Though not necessarily opposites, they still function as separate and often competing forces in our life. Those who become aware of the numerous gaps created by this binary view of human existence create a third realm with concepts such as the soul or spirit. These terms attempt to provide human existence with some depth, literally giving life a third dimension, rather than the flat two dimensional world of mind/body.

Yet, if we take a few minutes to reflect on how we actually experience life we find a very lush and diverse world that fills out the flat concepts of body and mind. Our bodies and our minds are richer and fuller than their common definitions.

When people talk of the body they generally are referring to the collection of organs, tissues, bones and muscles which makes up the corporeal world of any organism. When they speak of the mind they are generally referring to the ego or conscious part of life.

When pressed further most people will add that the body has senses which allow us to see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around us. They will say that the mind includes not only thoughts, ideas and theories, but emotions and fantasies. The longer they talk the more the edges between mind and body become blurred, and they begin to encroach upon the turf usually reserved for the soul/spirit.

So lets take a minute to look at the roles of the mind and the body.

When I reflect on my experience the first thing I’m struck by is how complex and amazing the body really is. The body is in the world even when my conscious mind is busy or preoccupied.

Way before infants have conscious thoughts they are highly immersed and interactive with the world. Like older humans, infants begin breathing, blinking and digesting without any need for conscious assistance or intervention. Quickly they begin to make reflexive and creative adjustments to objects that could hurt or obstruct their movement. While some of these skills are instinctual the vast majority are learned from interacting with the environment. A good portion of these learned skills are not done through conscious thought, but rather trial and error by a body which is just responding and adapting to a world.

An infant does not make a conscious decision to learn how to talk, walk or think. On one level they are innate abilities hardwired into human beings yet they are also skills which our bodies develop and refine without the need for conscious intervention (mind/ego).

No matter how conscious of our world we become as we age, the vast majority of our actions take place in the preconscious world of our body. When I speak to a person, words just spontaneously flow out in a comprehensible manner (usually). In most situation my ego is not actively involved and is not forming and choosing all the words flowing out of my mouth or emerging through my finger tips as I type.

It is my body which acts and adapts to the outside world. Often when I drive a car, work on a project or walk down the street my conscious mind is busy thinking about other things. Yet, during this time my body is making thousands of important decisions and modifications allowing me to function.

My body is much more than a collection of organs and bones, it is that which takes up and lives in a world. Without my (ego’s) being in charge my body perceives and makes “sense” of the world around me. Out of all the millions of sensations invading me each moment it selects and chooses what to focus on which creates my experience.

It is the body which selects all the light images in my field of vision and creates recognizable objects. Likewise it selects from all the sounds and smells available in my environment certain ones allowing me to have the experience of hearing and smelling. My body organizes sensations into experience.

In some ways one could say that my body is experience, while my ego is the experiencer. My ego is that which takes credit for or is embarrassed by what I spontaneously do, say or think. It is my conscious awareness (ego) which takes ownership, guides and learns.

While my body lives in and adapts to the world, my ego is capable of altering the world. My ego is that which goal sets, chooses situations to enter into or avoid, guides and makes changes the rituals the body has developed. While the body and ego both learn the body learns through responding and adapting (trial and error) while the ego can plan, create and proactively choose its experiences.

While the body creates and is the instrument (vehicle) of experience, the ego is the experiencer. The ego is that which savors, understands, plans and takes ownership. It is that which has a history and finds meaning in life and experience.

Being the experiencer, the mind feeds and plays off of what the body presents as our experience. While the body sees, the conscious mind can visualize. While the body touches the mind has emotions and feels.

While the body is pretty anchored in the here and now, the mind is free to anticipate as well as ruminate in the past. While the body mainly deals with what is, the ego can deal with what could be or what will be.

Yet, the body and the mind are interdependent. We do not “have” an experience without an experiencer (conscious mind/ego). Likewise there is nothing (no-thing) to experience without a perceptual/sensorial body creating and responding to a world.

Before ending I’d like to point out one last thing which amazes me about our body and it’s ability to create experience for the conscious mind to use and appreciate. Though our bodies create experience through a selection process it is incredible how much material it does select and store (document) for our conscious retrieval.

Let’s say I’m relating to a friend a discussion I was having with a few people a few days ago. In the midst of my story the friend asks me where we were and who else was there. Even though I was absorbed in the conversation and hung on every word, I shock myself by the amount of stuff I can recall when pressed. Suddenly I remember the music in the background, the sound of crickets in the night, maybe even a whiff of cinnamon from a candle in an adjoining room. All of this was perceived, recorded and documented for my retrieval though I can recall no conscious thought of these details while I was engrossed in the conversation.

It is also fascinating to recognize how varied this documentation may be in a given situation. Sometimes I can only remember the fact that music was in the background, at other times I can add the music make me feel sad, or that a female was singing. In other similar situations I’ll be able to recall the actual song, or what part of the conversation matched up with a specific song.

In previous posts I talked of how we sometimes have a tendency to deny or undervalue our lives and human experience in general. In fact in situations such as human sexuality we have a tendency to view our inherent drives as evil or as an evil to be overcome. In my next post I will try to articulate in what ways we have denied and demonized human experience in general and tried to replace real experience with an ideal experience. And once again pose the possibility that any denial of our basic humanity causes pain, suffering, and perversion.

Jim Guido

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