Thursday, December 18, 2008

Body Swap Illusion - (BBCCinSL Part 2)

Moggs Oceanlane's comment on Wednesday's post reminded me of a news story about researchers giving subjects the experience of swapping bodies through the use of virtual reality goggles.
"We were interested in a classical question that philosophers and psychologists have discussed for centuries: why we feel that the self is in our bodies," project leader Henrik Ehrsson said. "To study this scientifically we've used tricks, perceptual illusions."

Our perception of self is a fabrication of the mind. Washu Zebrastripe suggested in her comment that an artist's work is part of the artist. In the spirit of Thich Nhat Hanh, I offer the idea that artist, art and audience are interdependent aspects of a much greater whole.

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we ha vea new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.

Thich Nhat Hanh from "The Heart of Understanding"


Moggs Oceanlane said...

I love that piece of writing, thanks for sharing.

I see the body as being a mere part of who people are and think there is so much of people that cannot be summed up by anatomy alone.

I also believe that the 'self' we see isn't also the same 'self' others see and that neither our views or the views of others are shaped or stand alone - they are generally within a context/setting and part of a much larger whole. I think the Johari Window probably articulates this concept quite nicely.

Even in real life, I don't think of my friends in terms of their appearance. I tend to think of them as who they are. I really suck at physically describing people (except one very flambouyant friend who I can describe as 'short, flamboyant and italian' and most people, if they see her will know who I mean. AND I have another friend that I sum up as 'the guy with the face' if people ask what he looks like and people seeing him also generally recognise him when he appears from my description. But mostly, I'll describe someone in terms of who they are - their persona.

eg. 'You'd really love X my rocker chick friend', (by rocker chick I mean she is in a band, not a groupie of a band), 'she's so energetic, always has the best stories and you can't help but smiling being around her which is quite possibly why she has the most complex and complicated love life out of anyone else I know... except maybe Y'. Blah blah. If I thought very hard and was pushed I would say, 'she's slim, is brunette and has a piercing in her lip that you can help but watch as she talks' - but still ... her physical experience wouldn't be the first thing that came to mind when I described her.

I'm much more likely to be found telling someone I adore them - than commenting on their appearance. If they are particularly dressed, I might say 'wow you look beautiful/hot/handsome' - but I'm definitely more about the persona - what and how they think, their habits, their conversation, ideas, their idiosyncracies... than the body in which it's supposedly contained.

melponeme_k said...

We are our bodies because there is nothing for us beyond our bodies.

Most mistakenly believe that all we are is our brains. But the brain is only a part of a whole system.

We learned to use tools extensively. And we adapted to think of them as extensions of ourselves. And this feeling is extended to our cars, our garden tools, our weapons, and now our avatars.

Our early ancestors would hardly have succeeded if they did not perceptually think of their spears as part of themselves.