Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I Am This Body

You must have heard and read many spiritualists and spiritual teachers assert "You are not your body".  Holy scriptures from India claim similarly.  In Bhagwad Gita, Krishna even advises Arjun to not feel bad about murdering someone because he is "only" killing the body, while the soul is eternal.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a spiritualist in which he claimed that he felt a sense of oneness while doing his spiritual practices.  When I asked him what that meant, he kindly elaborated that while in the normal state of affairs, we think of ourselves as having a boundary (usually at the limit of our skin), in his state he did not experience this boundary.  That while in our conversation (for example), I felt that "I" was speaking to "him", such distinctions disappeared in his felt state.  It was illuminating to listen to him.

Then I asked him: But there is a clear way in which we can ascertain this boundary.  You may feel a oneness, but the fact remains that you have the power, and you can will, to move your hand, but not mine.  He said in that state, such analytical considerations did not enter the picture.  Or rather, that he was too blissed out in that state to be asking any questions about it.

Well, that is just too bad.  That confirms my oft-repeated statement that spiritual bliss is a regression to an infantile state.  In that state, the analytical/thinking parts of the brain are undeveloped or in abeyance, and feeling states reign supreme.  The infant develops a sense of "me" and "not me" only at a certain stage of brain development.  And that seems important for survival.  If a predator comes lurching at "you", it would be quite a mistake to not run away to save your "self".

The question "Who am I", despite being a favorite of many spiritualists, is a loaded question.  A more neutral question is "What am I".  An even more neutral question is: "What is this feeling of I-ness" or "What is this sense of being me".

The statement "You are not your body" is equally loaded and misleading.  It assumes a "your body" phrasing which assumes a separate entity.  And spiritualists are very fond of pointing at this loaded-ness of commonly-used phrases "my body", "my mind" as proof (sic) that you are different from them.  A much more neutral, but therefore more easily seen to be flawed, statement is: "You are not the body."

The linguistic argument is very flawed, as I have pointed out elsewhere.  In simpler terms, saying "my arm is in pain" or "my mind is whirling" is a linguistic tool to avoid confusion when speaking to someone, lest they be confused which arm or mind is being spoken of.  Saying on the phone, or to someone in another room, "This mind is whirling", or "An arm is in pain" might elicit further queries.  "Whose mind?", "Whose arm?"  Answer: MINE.  "And who are YOU", he may ask?  [The right answer to him is: "your dad".  :-)]

Another favorite spiritualist statement is: "You are identified with your body." This commits the error of being a loaded statement not once but thrice.  The question is then, naturally, "who is identified" and then donations to the guru are not too far into the future.  But better questions to ask when hearing such assertions are:

"What do you mean by identification?"
"Are you assuming that there is a 'me' apart from the body?"
"What is the basis for your assertion?"

In the old days, an investigation into the psyche and feelings of selfhood was undertaken without the benefit of understanding evolution, the social aspects of mammalian behavior, and developmental psychology.  Many of the fields related to studying brain and its emergent phenomena are still in their infancy, but some clear statements can be made.

- There is a continuity to this body.  It is born, it grows up, and gets older, and dies.  There is no confusion about the body being, so to speak, continuing as a cohesive unit through time.  The old parable/paradox of the "Ship of Theseus" was an instructive one at the time, but with our understanding of DNA and cellular science, there are many ways to resolve it now.

- The brain has direct connections to the parts of the body, as compared to, with an outside object.  The brain can will the arm to move in a way that is quite different from a human being able to drive a car.  In the former, the connectivity is, so to speak, organic.  The body forms a cohesive whole with the brain as one of the organs.  There is two-way connectivity between the brain and the limbs.  It is interesting to consider various mechanical prosthetic limbs, or a future implant in a brain being able to control a car just by thinking of it.

- The sense of "I" has many components: memory, patterns of thought and behavior, "linkages" (relations to other entities and objects) and "imprints" (others remember me as "me"), social and legal abstractions (citizenship, credit history, etc.), etc.  It is natural to consider it therefore a mostly brain-related phenomenon.  The sense of "I" probably does not suffer as much at the cutting of a limb as at a severe trauma to the brain leading to loss of memory.

The sense of oneness experienced by my friend is a feeling.  You may feel like you are one with the tree, but, that's just a feeling.  It is likely a temporary shutdown of certain brain functions which are responsible for a sense of "I"ness, and that may be quite pleasurable for various reasons.  Suddenly the whole burden of taking care of "me", my worries and desires and fears and concerns and social perceptions, might disappear.  Leading to an intense feeling of freedom, bliss and euphoria.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is something that is unchanging in me, this is the core of me while changing things such as mind are not core to me.
It is not a theory it can be your 24/7 experience if you examine your own daily life experience(s) with enough sincerity.