Monday, May 12, 2008

The importance of the body

While my philosophical views attach a great deal of importance to the body, my feeelings often do not go along with that. I used to be a Cartesian, and I still have a hard time thinking of myself as this enmattered six-foot-tall entity.

That was why I was particularly struck by Episode 3.24 of Star Trek, now legally available online (at least in the US), along with the rest of the original three series. There, Dr. Janice Lester switches bodies with Captain Kirk, for revenge and in order to achieve her ambitions. What I found striking was how hard it was for me to feel that the person inhabiting Lester's body was Kirk and the person inhabiting Kirk's body was Lester. The best I could really do was to feel that the person inhabiting Lester's body was someone other than Lester (but not necessarily Kirk), and the person inhabiting Kirk's body was someone other than Kirk, in light of the severe personality changes. (A complicating factor is that Lester pretends to actually be Kirk. But that only mixes up one of the two.)

The body does matter. Wittgenstein is right: "The human body is the best picture of the human soul."


Anonymous said...

God created us, in his image, but as people. He didn't create us as angels or spirts. He created the material world and He charged us to to a live in that world and to glorify His creation.

Pretending otherwise, in a way, denies ourselves and therefore denies His creation.

Douglas said...

I too have a difficulty seeing myself as this 6'5" monster which is my body. I think this is just because something like Cartesian dualism is right, or at least I am not identical with my body.

I'm interested, Alex, in what your position on the so-called mind-body problem is and why you are no longer a Cartesian.

Pgr said...

"The human body is the best picture of the human soul."

Who am I to correct Wittgenstein? and yet I would have to say "the human body is the ONLY picture of the human soul."

All our knowledge of other people's souls comes in through our senses - from their bodies. the body, and it alone, expresses the person.

Only regarding our own soul can we say we have some perception of it that exceeds that of the senses.

Beancan Tatterpants said...

The body is an unfortunate nuisance.

The mind/body problem only arises because we can't see our bodies or our minds as the whole picture. I tend to think of "me" as a set of properties both time-indexed and space-indexed, such that in the future when my brain (the collection of my sense data) is loaded into a sweet, new robo-chasis, I'll still be "me".

At some point, the entire body will be disposable. In fact, a lot of it already is. It will take some getting used to, but the question of identity will have to be addressed in a very real way.

Imagine if Descartes was looking at an actual brain in a vat. Sense experience comes (unfortunately) only from our bodies. I imagine the world will be much brighter when I can take in and store a million times the sense information and experience the entire spectrum of reality through upgraded sensory receivers. Besides, my nose gets stuffy sometimes - a malfunction I'm not willing to live with if there's an alternative.

The future was three years ago.

Alexander R Pruss said...

One of the reasons it's important to see the body as at least a part of the person is that only seeing it in that way lets you make sense of the notion of "crimes against the person." Taking your wallet is not such, but taking your kidney is. This is true even if your wallet is more important to you than your kidney. (E.g., you just got paid $100,000 for your kidney, and you have it in your wallet. You are now on your way to the hospital to have the kidney removed for the donation. Then your wallet is more important to you than your kidney.) Moreover, it is true even if you are not conscious of the removal of your kidney, e.g., if I beam it out in such a way that your life is entirely unaffected and I bribe your doctors not to tell you.

Likewise, the horrendousness of rape presupposes the idea that the body is at least a part of us. (Yes, typical cases of rape have psychological consequences as well. But those are not essential to the crime--the rape of someone in a coma is still the same crime.)

Beancan Tatterpants said...

I see a need to clarify my use of terms.

The "body" could easily be metal or a vat or human (including the meat of the brain itself). I should have said that the "human body" is an unfortunate nuisance.

@ Alex

I would say it's important to see the body (the physical presence)as at least part of the person, because I see it as the only part. The "mind" - this ethereal entity that we're not sure exists or where it would connect to the brain tissue - seems (pardon the pun) immaterial.

I think I implied that I have little concern for the body since my brain-state, synapses, source data, etc. can be transferred to a stronger, faster housing unit, but I have utmost concern for it in as far as there must be a physical presence (as you mention). My new robo-chasis, after all, would also be a "body".

As would the vat the brain is in.

Enigman said...

Is it not as plausible that the human body, and especially the human face, is (a) how we represent people, and (b) a reasonable source of data on the human mind? If so, then such intuitions (as yours and Wittgenstein's) have little to say about the human soul.

Anyway, there is better evidence the other way, from our intuitions. If someone's body is mutilated, or if she was born with a horrendous one, we would not intuit that she was spiritually warped in any related way whatsoever (and indeed, not even mentally affected, not necessarily, although possibly also, especially if there was a common cause, or the brain was affected, or via social reactions, and so forth).

And why is the human brain not the best picture of the human soul? Because the body is superficial, the brain is not! That is why such things clearly have nothing to say about metaphysics. Also, the theft of X's engagement ring from her bedroom seems, intuitively, to be a more personal attack upon X than the removal of a bit of blood from X's nose against her will, by thumping her in the face (I would guess).

Enigman said...

...oops, I should have thumped her on the arm, and got her blood that way, it would have made a better point. Why is face blood worse than arm blood? But what if it was someone who was going to go into hospital the next day anyway, to have a nose job? Seriously though, why not dualism? Dualism is cute (and Descartes was a genius scientist).

to whic hI gave thi said...

Another reason why the human body is not the best picture of the human soul is that the naked human body is usually a pitiful thing. Had you seen Kirk naked, would you have recognised the captain of the Enterprise? And a bit of eyeliner, and Kirk became the evil Kirk! We go on make up, hair cut, clothes, how we carry ourselves, and how others carry us. A tattily dressed man might be well thought of, if we knew he was an eccentric millionaire, who did not need to wear a suit and tie. And even a cartoon rabbit, animated well, might make a better picture of the human soul than the elephant man, naked.

Anonymous said...

'The body is superficial but the brain is not.' So a) the brain is not part of your body; and b) the preconditions of your coming to think in the first place and doing anything at all are 'superficial'?

As for the value of eccentric intuitions pumped out of weird science-fiction thought experiments: if 'the collection of your sense-data' can be transferred into a 'new body' by moving your brain there, why not imagine that it can be transferred there without moving your brain there, but simply that we can scan your brain, duplicate the 'collection of sense-data' that supposedly constitutes you, and upload it to some new hardware? In that case, there'd be a cool robo-chasis that bore psychological continuity with that 'collection of sense-data', and yet your 'superficial' human body would also still bear the same psychological continuity. Would the robo-chasis still get to be 'you,' or would you still get to be you?

Psychological continuity, even of this science-fiction variety, is insufficient for personal identity.

OF course, transferring your brain would give you physical continuity, since your brain is a part of your body. But that doesn't show that your brain is what you are.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Nice point about deformity.

Note, though, that a picture can be torn, etc. Suppose someone damages the Mona Lisa. Then the damage is not, strictly speaking, a part of the picture. It is not representational in the relevant sense. (If the vandal adds a mustache, then that may be representational in the vandal's intentions, but not in the artist's intentions.) It is still correct that the picture is an image of whatever it was an image of before it was damaged.

Rarely, too, is someone's body marred to the point of its being unrecognizable that she is human--so there is at least that kind of imaging.

I wonder if in charity to Wittgenstein we should take "the body" to mean the active body. The active body clothes itself. And if it doesn't, that tends to express something, too.

While I definitely see the attraction of such an upload, it does not seem that it would work. At most it would create a copy of yourself. Just think of the standard thought experiments here. Suppose that as the data is transmitted to the new robobody, it is pirated enroute and a copy is put in another robobody. Are you then in two places at once? (Not that there is anything absurd per se with multilocation.)

Pgr said...

to whic hI gave thi said...

"Another reason why the human body is not the best picture of the human soul is that the naked human body is usually a pitiful thing."

Thank you for making me go out and look for a quote from C.S.Lewis, which I was happy to find, on "The Four Loves":

"it is a simple fact--anyone can observe it at a men's bathing place-that nudity emphasises common humanity and soft-pedals what is individual. In that way we are "more ourselves" when clothed. By nudity the lovers cease to be solely John and Mary; the universal He and She are emphasised. You could almost say they put on nakedness as a ceremonial robe--or as the costume for a charade."

I think this is a brilliant account of how nakedness can (sometimes) hide one's soul instead of revealing it...

Beancan Tatterpants said...

Regarding the copy issue, I offer another thought experiment:

Imagine that your physical brain was removed along with its necessary components (those that are required for life) and placed into a shiny new robotic body. Through the miracle of local anesthetics, your brain remain conscious during the entire procedure so that your brain's experience is one of being in your brain's Body A, watching and feeling as your brain is removed, and finally placed into your brain's Body B.

(I say "your brain" instead of "you" because that seems an unfair distinction.)

This isn't a new thought experiment, but I would contend that one would be more likely to look at Body A and think, "That used to be my body." In a time-indexed way, that body will always be a part of the set of functions that defines "you".

Thus, it is not a copy, but your original brain now housed in a new shell. Plus, even though I think it unfair to discount shutting down the system before transfer, your brain is conscious and sensing the entire process. It would be like wearing a blue track suit, taking it off, and putting on a tuxedo. Not exactly the same, but, you know, comparable in a way.

Plus, I don't see much problem with "you" existing in two housing units having multiple, concomitant, time-indexed experiences. That's another issue altogether, I'm sure.

Thanks for the response.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I do think that when a brain transfer happens, you go along with the brain. That's because the brain is in an important sense the central material part of the organism.

Transfer of memories and mental structures is more problematic. If you go along with transfer of memories and mental structures, then someone could scan your brain as you walk by, and then at his leisure torture you. But surely the right analysis of that would be that that wouldn't be you who is tortured, but a copy.