Mind Space

I have written a lot about body, and not much about mind. So here it is, why the body and mind can't be connected or bridged. The unity philosophy of Spinoza 300 years ago had already presented body and mind as one. The contemporary neuroscience of Antonio Damasio also supports unity philosophy. The following is an excerpt from my recent work in process, Somatics as Philosophy: from Spinoza to Damasio.


Philosophies of mind fill library shelves, but they seldom say much about experiential dimensions of mind or the embodied mind. As a field, movement somatics develops the embodied mind. Mind is a somatic issue, just as consciousness is also.


Mind takes flight from consciousness; at the same time, it lingers on and grows. Mind is mental, of course, just as it is physical and psychical (capable of feeling and change). In fact mind couldn’t exist without feelings. I feel good, or joyful, or sad, or gloomy, or grouchy, because I can interpret my feelings and say what possible meanings they hold for me. I can do this through the integrative faculty of wakeful embodied consciousness and the boundless realizations and interpretations of mind. To my mind, the mind is big, bigger than the head, even as it changes shapes and felt qualities along with the ever-malleable conscious body.


Mind is powered by psychophysical states, but it is still larger. I build a generous picture of mind from studying philosophy and phenomenology, and in appreciation of Spinoza and Damasio, not to mention Edmund Husserl ([1925] 2005), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962, 1968), and Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (1981). Minds don’t just think; they feel while they think and what they think. And there is still something else; they carry on past the moment of thought—both in general and specifically. The human mind connects historically to the past and projects the present into the future. Minds have memories quelled or fueled through bodily states. Minds also carry intuitive faculties; they can see past what is in front of them, partly through wide experiential associations and informed guesses. Hopefully they motivate their owners to care for others. Feeling minds can do this. Through feelings, minds are imbued with conscience. When hurt, guilt, and anxiety cross our minds, would we spare others the same? Because minds can hurt, they know that minds of others can also hurt. In many ways, minds match each other, somatically through feelings, both empathetic and aesthetic.


What is the relationship between mind and consciousness then? We said through Damasio that consciousness is global (existing throughout the body and connecting us to the world writ large), organismic (embodied) and integrative (associating and assimilating). Consciousness is a faculty we all possess, a global capacity for awareness and integration in reciprocity with mind. What, then, is being integrated in consciousness? For Damasio, conscious content is narrated in images, the things we perceive and learn to recognize: to know, explain, and express (More about this soon). Consciousness arises through content, as phenomenology teaches foundationally through Edmund Husserl. Consciousness and its contents influence minds, while minds can roam and ruminate like horses grazing in meadows. Minds flow through dreams, defining their owners to themselves over time, and perhaps influencing others. Embodied minds outlive their skins, but as embodied, they carry visible fleshiness and the weight of bone with them. Minds are embodied, and as such they have hands and feet to carry them onto the stage, and fingers to touch virtual powers of computer interfaces. Minds listen to a plethora of images constituted through sense perception and sentient powers of embodiment. Thus, minds receive, and they are also capable of extending outward through use of imagination and smart technologies, primal and electronic. People are sometimes characterized through mind, as dull or sharp, laid back, fun or practical; angry, calm, and much more.


That said, what is a body? Well for one thing, a body is a visible entity, and bodies can also see outside themselves because they have eyes and senses. Minds are not visible, but they do have eyes and are capable of intuition through the “mind’s eye” and visions. Minds also have presence—expressed in tenor and tone of body. Minds are in the likeness of bodies, even as beautiful minds don’t require beautiful bodies, whatever standard that might imply. Somewhere there is a beautiful likeness that mends them as one. Bodies and minds need each other; one cannot exist without the other. The body is not a mere visible container. It feels and moves, giving form to its feelings of mind.


Body and mind are co-present, thinking and feeling together in movement and affect. As witness to this, we might notice that movement in dance expresses the affective intelligence of the body. Or more to the point, movement becomes intelligent when we shine it with attention in everyday activities or aesthetic events. I like to watch people walk, for instance, not to judge, but to appreciate the many ways of walking. There is mind in walking, beauty and pathos.


Body and mind are two different words in our language, and so we ought to be able to differentiate. I would say they are mutually interactive and that they create each other. There are qualities that we attribute to them separately, however, and I cite these knowing that they are mere words. Minds, we say, can think, they have cognitive abilities, and they accrue knowledge. But they can’t do any of this without embodied nervous systems, brains, and consciousness. The body has a brain and head. I hear often in my teaching that the body is physical and the mind is metaphysical. This summarizes typical views. Bodies are objects and minds are subjects, I hear, or bodies are physical, and minds in their thoughts go beyond the physical. Minds are in space and bodies exist in physically present objective shapes. I hear that we have bodies, and we have minds. and they need to be bridged, connected or integrated. But do thoughts and thinking not have a bodily-lived physical basis?


How do thoughts get beyond the body? Well, perhaps in being expressed thoughts move out toward others and the outside world. My thoughts or yours might linger on in the lives of others, in written work, in learning together, or in music, etc. This is the expressed extension of mind. It doesn’t imply that minds exist in space and need to be connected to bodies, but that the creative, communicative capacities of mind represent its effulgent powers. Mind does not inhabit space, and body is more than mute physical substance. This is my thesis in constant update through Spinoza, Damasio, and phenomenology.


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