It is one of the great things about us that we have such a rich life of the mind.
Sure, we may be misled by it, ending up fighting over ideologies when we’d really much rather get along, falling victim to stories we tell ourselves of how life is, other people were, and we ourselves are… “You’re Not So Smart” (both book and podcast) is an excellent resource on that.
But, we can also learn. Beyond the abilities of all other animals, we can imagine, anticipate, ponder, and study things.
In thinking about ourselves and our minds, however, we keep talking of “our bodies” as something separate from the brain, and completely different from the mind.
We keep thinking of ourselves – or our selves – as this mental thing that seems to be doing the thinking somewhere behind our eyes, if not at times floating away from its bodily vessel.
It is here that the dreams of uploading “ourselves” into hardware, becoming freed from “our meatsuits” comes in. Here comes the notion that maybe a nutrient drink like Soylent could free “us” from the needs of our bodies. – But the very ideas are, for all that we know about us, utterly ridiculous.
No matter what Platonic, Christian, or other philosophy may argue, we are not minds or souls inhabiting bodily vehicles.
This is not a road trip of the soul, driving around a vessel like the various demons and angels of Supernatural (or The Exorcist, if you’re more ‘classically’ inclined).
Rather, our minds only arise from our bodies, and they are connected so intimately that a separation into a supposedly “pure” sphere of the mental alone is impossible.
The very biology of it doesn’t make it possible to think of body and brain (and in extension of the brain, the mind) as separate units:
“The brain is a term that is usually used to refer to a part of the body that rests in the skull and contains billions of cells clustered in various groupings. The skull-based cluster of cells, the top of the central nervous system we commonly call the brain, is inextricably interconnected with the whole of the body through the peripheral nervous system and all the signals from the body’s physiological processes. Input from the extended nervous system directly impacts how the skull-based cells, or ‘head brain,’ functions. Hormonal input from the bloodstream shapes brain processes, as does the influence of the immune system. To consider that ‘the brain’ is independent of this extensive input from throughout the body makes little sense.”
Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology, Daniel J. Siegel
There can be – and perhaps have to be – tensions between what our biological-physical urges drive us towards and what we decide, biologically-mentally/consciously, to want. That is true.
But, even (or especially) if we want to live as better human beings, we need to understand those relationships rather than ignore and deny them.
It’s easy to see the connection, too – and you don’t need a brain injury to notice: Just try and focus on some task that requires concentration when you are hungry or very full.
Remember, though, that it works the other way round, too: mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body – has been the ideal since ancient times for a reason.
Only this “in” shouldn’t be there; (leaving aside issues of handicaps) an “is” would be more appropriate. And it works both ways, and as usual, with connections that are inseparable, but sometimes weaker and other times stronger.