Thursday, February 11, 2010

Body and Mind

I was particularly interested by the ideas brought up in Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl. He calls into question to what extent we can consider ourselves a uniform consciousness and therefore a uniform life form. Ever since I took Biology in high school I have wondered at the complexity of each individual organ inside the body. How did these things evolve to perform such a specific task so efficiently? Breaking the body down further into even smaller constituents one arrives at cells. The infinite complexity of every cell within the body is astounding. Trillions of tasks are carried out by these cells and organs all without requiring a second’s conscious thought to do so. Shelley Jackson marvels at the phenomenon of life in the human body

It's run by committee, a loose aggregate of entities we can't really call human, but which have what look like lives of a sort; though they lack the brains to nominate themselves part of the animal kingdom, yet they are certainly not what we think of as objects, nor are they simple appendages, directly responsible to the conscious brain. Watch white blood cells surround an invader, watch a cell divide. What we see is not thinking exactly, but it is "intelligent," or at least ordered, responsive, purposeful. We can feel a sort of camaraderie with those rudimentary machinic minds, but not identity.

Even activities that we do using our conscious mind are limited in how much of them we actually control. One of the best examples I think is playing a sport or simply going for a run. When you tell your mind to take you to a new position in space all you do is give the order, and then your brain does everything else for you. It contracts your muscles the appropriate amount to exert the necessary force to move at the desired speed, it quickens your breath to provide the necessary increase in oxygen required by your muscles, it even makes you sweat to cool you off, and it increases your heart rate the get more blood to the places it is needed. It is almost as if we are guests in our own body, granted the ability to experience what the body experiences but never really in control. To take it to an extreme, our consciousness is almost equivalent to the simstim concept from Neuromancer. Our consciousness as it were is merely along for the body’s ride. The counter point to this would be when Morpheus says in the Matrix when asked whether if you die in the Matrix you die in the real world and he replies, "The body cannot live without the mind." So while the body performs so much without the help of the conscious mind, it still depends on the mind. As studied in high school biology, the relationship seems to be similar to the symbiotic relationship between two organisms in nature.

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