Second Nature Home > Short Essays by Dan Bruiger >


The dualism of mind and body, stated simply, is the truism that each of us is a “self” who has a body. When we look out upon the world, however, we nowhere see selves having bodies. What we do see is bodies going about their business, whether these bodies are inanimate objects or living organisms. The fact of self-consciousness adds to this picture a sense of our own existence—of being someone as well as something. Indeed, we find ourselves inside the particular something that the body is (perhaps even inside the head). There is the impression that one’s consciousness is the true inhabitant, the body a mere dwelling or vehicle: you, not your body, are who you really are. This arrogation of identity to the “self” forever pits us against the world and especially that part of the world known intimately as one’s body.

Dualism establishes a relationship of use or manipulation in regard to the world, and to the body as part of the world. One may call this the ‘I/it’ relationship. Since the body is a part of the world, and my experience seems to be dependent on body functions, I find myself in the same adversarial relationship with my own body as with the world at large. This struggle may take obvious forms, as in the attempt to control experience through drugs or to tame the body through rigors and spiritual practices. It may take more subtle forms like biofeedback training, which reprograms physiological responses and associated conscious experience. Or it may take fanciful forms that would transcend dependence on the body altogether, such as “uploading” one’s mind to cyberspace. All these strategies in the struggle with embodiment have in common a manipulative stance of the head toward the body, experience, and the world at large. It is this stance of control that broadly underwrites technology.

RELATED TAGS: [mind-body dualism/problem, mind and body, (struggle with) embodiment, self-consciousness, location/locus/identity of self, self-identity, alienation/separation from body/(external) world, manipulative stance, I/It relationship, body as adversary/enemy, technology as control, head over/against body]

© Copyright Dan Bruiger 2008. All rights reserved.