In one of those reflecting moods at the moment, thinking about what I’ve been learning in my philosophy class, “Philosophy of Mind.” The western philosophers propose that we have a problem, the problem of “other minds.” A great rift seems to occur between thinking we are all mind, or all body. There are varying degrees in between, too, but the problem itself, between the mental and the physical, seems to be a choice, rather than a real problem. My question is: mind vs body, physical vs mental– is this duality built on an assumption? Well, yes, that the mind is somehow separated from the body, and we as thinkers must somehow close the gap one way or another.
But what if there is no gap in the first place? What if the answer is “both/and,” not ‘either or’? This necessitates that we take a step beyond traditional logic, where two statements: “A is True, B is False,” and “B is true, A is false” are actually a very limited way to see our situation.
If any of these philosophers, who have developed these mind/body theories had taken a look at their own mind/body experience, they would notice that there is truly nothing separating the two. Somehow, the mind moves to the body, the body to the mind. What hurts mentally brims over to the physical, and vice versa. The act of meditation itself reveals this nature clearly, and better yet directly for the practitioner to discover. If you meditate, for even an hour or two, you’ll begin to notice things about yourself. Both thoughts and feelings, physical and mental, appear intertwined– and better yet, inseperable. If half of the philosophers of the west had merely sat for a while, and listened to the closest experience they had, their very minds and bodies, silently, what differences in their philosophies we could see now!
Still, it is not as important as noticing these features in the present. I encourage any serious philosophers to begin with the very experience of consciousness they have now. What differences could it bring to our assumptions about the world, or to be clear: our conclusions? Because logic itself is a very structured way of viewing the world. It has set rules, and methods to help us understand. Philosophers aren’t just guessing, or throwing out guess work about the nature of the mind. They’re thinking very hard– and perhaps that’s part of the problem.
The problem could truly be this: our method of thinking is inherently limited, like a mechanism with built in frames and scopes that can only see a certain way. Imagine a telescope of limited technology that can only peer into the stars so far, and thus reveal a limited picture of our universe. This could be true of the analytical mind. What I think the problem is, at least it seems to be: our approach is top-down. We attempt to A) detach ourselves as objective observers, and then B) Peer from afar, as if we were looking down into the complex problem of mind, or anything else for that matter. We can make some insights, for sure, but it’s a very dualistic, fragmented approach, ultimately leaving seemingly contradictory truths in unending battle. This approach is considered to be the best possible way we know of, and practically all of western science and philosophy are built upon it.
But, what if we are reaching the limits of this approach? What if this problem of “mind/body” is revealing the walls of this analytical instrument all too clearly, sending us bouncing back and forth without greater revelation? It could be argued that scientists aren’t quite doing this, but even in physics we often have conflicting truths (Well, they only appear conflicting… And it doesn’t work for one truth to collapse into the other. Often enough, there is a synthesis, or an integration, and I believe that is what is going to happen with this mind/body problem eventually).
What if we began at the very essence of experience, the most direct approach? What if we removed that telescope viewing far into the stars and began here, right in front of us? We would observe things that the “top-down” approach missed. In essence we would be embracing a bottom-up way. Exploring the nature of our relationship, about how we are connected, or interconnected with so many things.
Take, for instance, the Buddhist approach to the nature of the mind vs. the world. They are inseperable, and not without good reason. Meditators have observed the mind and the world for centuries, carefully writing their observations and repeating their experiments in their own right. Despite the superstition and metaphysics surrounding meditation, there have been profound insights into the nature of mind and body. For instance, to a Buddhist, there is no “thing” in itself– everything that exists has a counter part. Moon, sun, night, day, life, death– and we do not wish to collapse all of one thing into another. Death is life, and night and day co-exist like yin-yang. There is a certain harmony to eastern cosmology, and it occurs before all of the books, the writers and philosophies of both east and west. To the eastern mind, so to speak, how could anything exist without relation to another? Or, put simply, to be is to be in relation with. There is no stand-alone object. Without subject, there is no object. Without observer there is no observed, and vice versa. So, beginning to see the world from this point of view– how could there be a mind/body problem? It becomes less “mind or body” and more “mind and body.” Or, mind-body. The only thing remaining to be answered is the nature of this relationship.
It could be argued that the philosophers of the west are doing just that– understanding the nature of the relationship. But they are inherently seeing this as a problem, from the top-down, wondering how this mechanism works. And many of them traditionally attempt to see this as an “either or” according to a logical analysis. This way is bound to dance back and forth, forever unanswered (It’s been a few hundred years already, and if anything, this should be a tell-tale sign that something in the approach is off).
So, what if we see the nature of mind and body as one movement? What if mind-body understanding must begin with clearing our heads (no pun intended), and listening? Dare we say that there could be transformative insight from stepping off our analytical podiums and growing into the understanding. Let’s try the bottom-up approach, and in now way is this proposing an “opposite,” but merely an alternative. By starting with our bare attention, we are trying to observe the very essence of relationship. There is a certain flow to things, and logical analysis is missing this water-like ebb and flow of the universe. Analytical thinking should not and could not be abandoned, but is it possible we have forgotten a vital tool to our understanding?