Many intellectuals turned their physical backs on Descartes during the 20th century — no, wait, they actually turned their mental backs on Descartes in the 20th century, but since they were all materialists, it amounted to the same thing ;-)
Philisophical arguments are a pleasure; they are the Cirque Du Soleil of the intellect. Then afterwards you go home and lie in bed, waiting for sleep, listening to the ticking of time, and the formerly convincing seems less so.
For instance, while I cannot prove to the satisfaction of any diehard materialist that my mind exists independently of my body, I can assert the following: I do not identify my self as my body.
I’m willing to bet this is fairly universal; it is so obviously the source of near-universal discomfort and angst: we view ourselves as subject to our physical bodies. They foist pain and illness upon us, their misshapenness (because who among us can claim to have a “perfect” physical body?) (and even if a miniscule minority can claim it, for how long? Five years? Ten, before age begins to degrade it?) causes frustration or despair. We may ignore it part of the time, but in our most private moments, our physical bodies again lay their claim on us, their enslavement of us; we are forced to serve them, to feed, to rest, to dress, to bathe them, to nurse their aches and pains.
Our bodies enable us to experience physical life, too, with its varied pleasures, but the arrangement is an uneasy one; whatever role a Lord may take in our minds (heh heh), it is our physical bodies that do the real taketh away-ing. It is the death of our physical bodies that shunts us aside, renders us only a memory in the minds of people who will themselves one day be dead, and on until every trace of us is extinguished, a callous regression we can do nothing to stop.
Yet we also cannot stop bargaining. And that, to my mind, is the knot that ties us to dualism even if dualism makes no sense — a knot tighter even than faith. We can chuckle at the scientologist’s theology, Xenu-damned thetans trapped in the descendents of cavemen indeed, yet even our diehard materialist is so trapped; his firmest argument must always be an argument against. A bargain. “This is how it is, so I must try not to care.” And with that thought, he drags his physical body out of bed to begin another of his numbered days.
I am trying, as an experiment, to love my body unconditionally. Even this is an act of dualism, of course: I/my body; my mind directing conversation at my body, only now I’m saying “let’s be friends” instead of “honestly, must you sprout cellulite there?”
Yet it is, at least, something of a reconciliation — no, more than that. I hold out a slim hope that it may be a step toward something even richer. For suppose the division between the mind and body is predicated on mistrust?
Here’s what I mean — you have to bear with me in a slight dualism for a moment (call it self-consciousness as a byproduct of the brain’s evolution, if you wish): our physical bodies are conceived and nine months later dropped from our mothers’ wombs; we then commence the excruciatingly slow process of learning to manipulate them. And with every every tumble, every skinned knee, every bout of stomach upset (what an astonishing thing it is, to be so sick one must vomit, to be possessed by the act of vomiting!) we learn that our bodies betray us.
Is this not the formative experience that shapes the way we regard our bodies?
So suppose we could unlearn it? Suppose as we hit our stride, in middle age, perhaps, we strike a new deal, and pledge trust instead? For no logical reason, of course, but simply because we can?
Is it possible that a new bond might form, and as it strengthens, is it possible that the self and the body might fuse, somehow? Perhaps even in terms of perception, but in any case in terms of self-identification?
And if so, what would that be like?
[tags] dualism, metaphysics, time, death [/tags]