You are Your Body

It is an act of great imagination to conjure the presence of a real person from their glitchy image and tinny, interrupted, ersatz voice on Zoom. It’s a testament to the creative abilities of the human brain[1]. But it also speaks of the domineering nature of that powerful organ, and of our increasing alienation from our own bodies, a process that has been vastly accelerated by technology in general, and social media in particular. 

Many modern assumptions rely on the idea that we are entirely mental entities. Think about the idea that one day a person might be downloadable onto a computer, or into a cyborg or robotic body. The internet allows us to exist entirely as language, spending our time exchanging meagre written messages with other insubstantial ghosts and kidding ourselves they are our friends, that we have relationships with them, that they are our people, that we’ve found our family online.

Meanwhile, our bodies remain unsatisfactory, limiting, and disappointing: dully unresponsive to our aspirations, unpleasant to look at, even resentful of our excesses, visiting us with vindictive aches and pains in response to our exertions, refusing to supply us with enough energy or strength. Our bodies trap us, they prevent us being what we want to be.

So, our aspirant minds become like exasperated managers or farmers. Our bodies are recalcitrant workers or animals, quite separate from who we truly are. They are dislikeable, alien objects to be dominated, subjected and controlled, bullied and abused into shape. 

The best and brightest of us are just as susceptible to these misconceptions as morons like me. Jack Underwood is neglectful and dismissive of a huge part of his own existence when he says, “I forget I have a body when I am writing. I disappear from the room and travel here, into my thinking voice.” (Not Even This, 2021, p82) 

Admittedly, Mr Underwood does, briefly, consider the influence of the body on the self. He mentions the enteric nervous system and the 40,000 self-regulating neurones in the human heart, and he wonders if a head transplant would change your personality (p88-9), but these are clearly amusing footnotes and asides because the locus of perception of these experiences is in a pre-existent, singular identity. It’s clear the mind is the person, for him, so that even when he is rhapsodising over his baby daughter’s little body and bodily functions (perhaps the best passage in the whole book) he still says, “I know your body better than my own.” (p93) 

Has all this neglect of our own bodies facilitated the rise of the transgenderism? That set of beliefs seems to be founded on the idea that you are “truly” what you aspire to, imaginatively, rather than what your body has made you. Trans people seem to express a dislike and antipathy towards their own bodies, an extreme form of the distaste most of us feel for our farting, pooing, pissing, sweaty, malodorous, black-head-pitted corporeal forms. Oh to be pure spirit!

In truth, our identities, our consciousnesses, are founded on sentience: the ability to “see or feel things through the senses” (Oxford English Dictionary definition.) The self extends down the spinal column, radiates out through the body along every nerve to the tips of our fingers, the outer layers of our skin, then back again through the sensations they provide. We think through our bodies, our senses. Our nerve impulses are an integrated part of who we are. 

[1] Of course, all human relationships, all of humanity, only exists as electrical impulses in your own brain, but this alienating truth is something we should strive to overcome. It is our moral obligation to reduce the distance between each other: to reach out. 

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