If you grew up an unattractive nerd like I did, it is easy to dismiss your physical presence. You learn quickly that you are more the books you read than the food you eat. You take refuge in your thinking, and you come to view your body as cumbersome – a thing that is weighing you down and keeping you from your better, real self. You start to resent it.
As a society, we are both obsessed with and afraid of the body. We glorify the supermodel and worship the athlete. The bodies we admire are the impossible ones – the ones that seem to have, at least for the moment, defied mortality.
This admiration of the inaccessible is rooted in fear, but we are not just afraid of the body for its impermanence. We are afraid of it for its animal existence and the way it ties us to our food, water and procreation. The body, we think, is brute. It is base. We shame it, and in doing so, we make it powerful. There are entire religions based on transcendence; our yearnings to live beyond our flesh.
It is no wonder so many of us have problems with self-esteem.
If you grew up an unattractive nerd like I did, it is easy to make the same mistake as the rest of society – to think that you can put mind over matter and dismiss your body as irrelevant.
This is not the case because all of this is dependent on a mind-brain dichotomy that does not functionally exist.
It would not be fair of me to say materialism – the idea that all that exists is matter or energy – has been scientifically proven because science operates from this assumption of materialism. It is hard, after all, to draw a conclusion from an experiment if you believe that there are immaterial variables present that may be confounding your results.
However, unless you are prepared to dismiss almost all neuroscientific and biological findings, I think it is safe to say that almost all evidence we have gathered from the past three centuries have pointed to a mind that is brain. More than that, it has increasingly pointed to a brain that is body.
Consider, for example, the failure of so-called "brain training" programs focused on increasing cognitive function through mental exercises. Of all the classical music playlists, crossword puzzles and Luminosity games, we have only found one way to improve brain functioning – physical, bodily exercise.
Consider, too, the failure of artificial intelligence to produce anything remotely close to a thinking being. Despite our many technological advances, we have still been unable to create robots capable of achieving human-level competence on even simple tasks when armed with only abstract reasoning. Now consider the much more successful approach many computer scientists are taking to solve this problem – creating an embodied cognition and off-loading their cognitive work into the automaticity of robot limbs and sense organs. That is, letting the bodies do some of the thinking – just as humans seem to do.
It is a mistake to think that mind has any superiority to matter, because it is a mistake to think that mind is any different from matter.
This is not just an argument for loving your body. That, I think, misses the point. But when we dismiss our bodies, when we shame our skin, we are not making ourselves any less animal. We are simply making ourselves less.
Melissa Lee is a senior in College Scholars. She can be reached at email@example.com.