The New Mindscape
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The New Mindscape

Your body’s purpose: to prop up your brain?

Or is there something else?

The New Mindscape #6–2

In Western culture and the currently dominant Operating System around the world, we have completely disembodied experiences or understanding of our minds. We tend to think about thinking as something completely abstract that is completely separate from the material world. Our thoughts may be reflections of the material world; and they may, through the action of our body, impact on the material world; but thinking and material processes occur in completely different spheres of reality.

In school, you take courses, you have to sit down and learn through your books. Your body is not involved, except that you use your eyes and ears to send information to your mind, and you use your brain to process the information. The rest of your body is only used to prop up your brain.

Art by Marc Quinn

Meanwhile, you also have your physical education classes, which are separate. So in our education system, at a given moment, you are exercising either your body or your mind. It is usually considered that the two are independent or even mutually contradictory to each other. For instance, if you are good at sports, people might consider that you aren’t academically inclined. On the other hand, if one is really intelligent and good at academic study, people might expect you to be weak at sports.

This is how the modern Operating System separates mind and body. Also, this is how modern society, most of the time, understands spirituality and religion, which are considered to have little to do with the body. Most people consider that religion is something in peoples’ minds, and that it involves beliefs in abstract ideas.

In a sense, our culture’s dominant operating system has done with our bodies what Jean-Paul Sartre did to the tree, making our bodies meaningless. In this case, the body is just meat that is alive, or the flesh that digests the food we eat — that’s all our bodies are for.

The most important thing is within the head, whilst the body is something that transports the head around. We want to keep our bodies healthy so that they can hold up our heads. Apart from that, there is no other significance or meaning associated with the body.

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This essay and the New Mindscape Medium series are brought to you by the University of Hong Kong’s Common Core Curriculum Course CCHU9014 Spirituality, Religion and Social Change, with the support of the Asian Religious Connections research cluster of the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

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David A. Palmer

David A. Palmer

I’m an anthropologist who’s passionate about exploring different realities. I write about spirituality, religion, and worldmaking.