Thursday, January 1, 2009

There really is no spoon - Part II

The starting point is of course our minds.
The mind is our way of interacting with the outside world - and also with our bodies. Being the artist that I am I postulate that there really is no difference between the two: our bodies (yes - even the one you feel you inhabit) - are the same as the outside world.

For me - in terms of the "Theory of Everything" - our bodies and the outside world are one and the same thing. Why? Because our bodies don't have fixed boundaries. Our body schema is flexible - enabling us to incorporate tools, peripersonal space and other things.
And once something is incorporated into our body schema we show the same stress response as if our real body were in danger.

And yes - you even can swap bodies or faces in a few minutes if you want to.

I don't think this happened "on purpose" - but is simply a happy/serendipitous effect of us being able to use tools. It's just one of the mechanisms we can exploit if we want to.

However - I also wonder about the effects it has on us - even if we are not consciously attending to them. As we have shown the brain is remarkably plastic - it changes all the time. And since the mind is a product of the brain it also changes with it.

So if our body schema is changed by tool use - what happens to our minds? For those who want to rant about the Internet - remember that language is an invention and a tool also - albeit without an external power source.

The Alphabet is a tool any of us uses on a daily basis - and yet we don't think about it that way. But it has to have an effect on us - as we can see when scientists compare peoples way of thinking that are from different cultural backgrounds.


"You" are changed by where you were born and where you live and what language you use. Twins raised apart show strikingly similar behavioral patterns - I wonder what would happen if you compared twins that were raised apart - one in the US and the other one in China for example. My guess is that only then could you clearly show how much genetics (really) influences a persons behavior.

Our brains use a lot of tricks, shortcuts and even lies to present a coherent world to our minds - and we can exploit those weaknesses almost at will. That's very useful in treating chronic pain syndromes as shown by mirror therapy.

But what about all the drawbacks this haphazard way of creating the world has?
What effect on the mind has sitting in a chair all day long? I'm not talking about back trouble here - but by not moving we are changing our cortical maps. And the mind is based on those maps. So what happens to the mind - your way of thinking - when you sit for long periods of time?

I know from my own experience that I can't do any serious work when sitting in my otherwise excellent Stokke Gravity. It is the best piece of furniture I have seen in my entire life - comfortable, well made, sturdy, gorgeous to look at - but I can't think when in the sitting position.

For me pacing around is the best way to come up with new ideas.

This folks is the riddle of the embodied mind. Our minds are based on our brains and bodies - and what you do with one of them has an effect on the other. Which one has which - well - that's for you to find out.

The only thing that seems pretty clear to me so far is this: as you exercise your body - you also have to exercise your mind.

And I'm not talking Sudoku here - but "deeper stuff" like focusing attention, meditation and the like. As one improves - so will the other. Attention in itself seems to be the most important part - but that requires a whole series of postings on itself.

1 comment:

jeisea said...

Hi Matthias

I'm following this with great interest. In the time since our last contact I too have been on a voyage of discovery.