A column in the Guardian late last week put words to something I’ve been considering for some time: if we are integrated creatures, can we go on thinking of our bodies as something separate from ourselves?
Oliver Burkeman succinctly unpacks the problem of how modern humans tend to regard their own senses of self: many if not most of us are dualists. We tend to think of our bodies (see even the title Our Bodies, Ourselves) as separate from us, as cases in which we carry around some more abstract notion of self. “Even the phrase “your body” is sneakily dualist,” Burkeman notes: “Who’s the ‘you’ to which the body belongs?”
The striking thing is that it is scientists, and not philosophers, who are currently at the fore in defining humans as more holistic, integrated beings. Physicalism, which might be called the opposite of dualism, suggests that everything that makes up the “self” – our thoughts, emotions, opinions, consciousness – comes from our physical selves, mainly, the brain. “Talk of the ‘mind-body connection’ is often dismissed as new-age quackery,” says this rather mainstream columnist, “but if physicalism’s right, mind and body are more than just connected: they’re essentially the same thing.”
A study performed at the University of Cologne shows that how one thinks on this subject makes a difference: subjects primed to think in a dualistic way tended to make decisions that were less friendly to their bodies afterward, whereas people primed to think like physicalists were more likely to make healthy choices. Fascinatingly, “it worked in reverse, too: making people think about health foods made them less dualist.”
This strikes me as an important development for bodymind research: if just thinking about what’s good for your body makes you view your body as more integrated with your total self, imagine what more could be achieved with something like Rubenfeld Synergy, where a person is asked to consider their own body deeply.