I’ve been entertaining a strange notion lately. The idea that the mind and the body are really two pieces of the same thing.
In philosophical terms, I’m what you’d call a dualist. I think the mind and body are separate, distinct things. This comes from my Christian beliefs that a person is made of three pieces: a body, a soul, and a spirit. The part that makes you, you, is your spirit, because that’s the part of you that exists eternally. The body dies and needs to be resurrected. The soul, I’m not really sure.
Being the cranial type I’ve usually worked on my mental faculties at the expense of my body. I see them as different things and consider the mind – the spirit – to be the more important of the two. There might be something vaguely Gnostic about this view but I have held it for years.
An odd thought struck me recently. What if I considered the mind and body to be essentially parts of the same thing? Like the foot and the hand, they are pieces of a single whole. I usually think of my mind as being located in my brain. I’ve tried convincing myself that the mind is located throughout the body but it’s not working. When I pinch myself, I feel the pain where the pinch is. I’ve tried reasoning with myself that therefore, my mind is in that spot, but I’m too certain the sensation is just going through my nervous system, to my spinal cord, to my brain, to my mind.
So instead I asked, what if the mind were still so deeply connected to the body, even though it’s not literally everywhere in the body, that they were essentially the same unit? I’m aware that the conditions of the mind and body affect each other. Good luck doing complex thought when sick or tired. See how your body responds so much more negatively to everything when you’re depressed or anxious. Even your posture sends signals to your mind, telling you how you feel.
When I muse on the thought of mind and body being the same unit, it makes me take my physical condition more seriously. It makes me want to be proactive about keeping it in good condition, not filling it with junk food or abusing it past what it can handle. Because if the body and mind are so deeply connected that they’re essentially the same thing, then my body is my mind. It’s the physical manifestation of my mind, and my mind is the intangible manifestation of my body. So much of what I do in life revolves around my ability to think and strategize. I need my body to be in optimal condition so that my mind will work at its best, because to misuse my body is to hinder my mind.
It also makes me just plain more aware of the physical part of me. I’d describe myself as a “mind in a body” as opposed to a physical being. When I look at my arm, I recognize that it’s a part of “me” in the sense that it’s part of the body I have, but I don’t consider it really “me.” I can lose my arm and still be “me.” My identity is in that intangible spiritual piece. But if I take this more philosophically materialist view, then “me” includes – indeed, is – this body of mine.
I think this is a useful belief for me to live by. I don’t think it’s true because I’m a dualist, but I see it having far more practical benefits. It better motivates me to take care of myself if I approach life with this view. I think this would fall into the category of “useful fictions,” things that aren’t real or true but have value if you treat them as they are. I’m normally averse to this kind of thinking, but as I’ve gotten older, less perfectionistic, and more interested in pragmatic things, I’m open to the idea of trying it.