Scientists say… oh gods, I hate that introduction to a news story! However, here I go:
Scientists have been telling each other, at a conference in Vancouver, about ways brain function in the elderly correlates with other activities and behavioural functionality.
Apparently, to simplify slightly, people who exercise tend to have better memory and cognitive functions. Certain areas of their brains are physically bigger after as little as a year of altered behaviour (eg, doing exercise classes);
and, sleeping the right amount also makes your brain’s cognitive functions work better;
The causal link remains unclear, however as organisms in a physical world, we should not be surprised that our brains require use of our bodies (whether active or quiescent) to prompt them to work properly. The western world view for some centuries has been of a soul/intellect trapped in the confines of a lowly mechanical vessel which carries it around but is somehow not intrinsically a part of the individual. All those people yearning for freedom from the aches & pains of a body, looking forward to life as a brain inna jar or as a cybernetic consciousness, have imho kind of missed the point of existence.
Engineers trying to make artificial intelligences have found that programing the AIs to react to a physical environment works more effectively than other starting condition; by facing tasks such as how to traverse a surface, an intelligence learns many types of patterns, and problem solving algorithms grow themselves. It is these underlying spatial choices that give rise to our internal mindscapes, and in turn the higher level representation system we call language. Without a body, we cannot interact with anything, even more we fail to have any reason to think if no interactions with a necessary ‘other’ occur.
A science fiction series, The Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker, explores what might happen if a person’s awareness were to manifest in different shaped bodies, with differing biochemistry, different drives; a consciousness in the form of a particular animal tends to take on the personality of that animal. Terry Pratchett used the same idea in his description of how the phenomenon of ‘borrowing’ affects his witches in the Discworld books, who have to fight back the urge to fly down stairs after inhabiting the bodymind of a bird.
We know that by wearing a different costume our characters alter, and some interesting work in virtual reality has experimented with how our perceived body image changes our self-perception; give a person an avatar with a different weight, or level of culturally valued appearance, and subsequently they have altered self-confidence even after having ‘finished’ the experiment.
Sitting down for extended periods does evil to yourself, and the chair can indeed be regarded as the work of the devil; several sources report on how a lack of movement, coupled with the unnatural posture a chair provokes, causes havoc with biochemistry, musculature, mood and concentration. Hundreds of websites can tell you more, two randomly selected ones are;
Why do we have chairs? Historically, the ground, a cushion, stools, and benches were the sitting options of choice, chairs only appearing fairly recently; first as thrones, to denote the occupant as a special figure. As this idea of status derived from a seat with a back filtered down through the classes, each household wanted one for the head of the table, then richer homes wanted chairs for all the guests, and the trickle-down effect now means even the lowliest of rooms has these bizarre torture devices in. After a lifetime of sitting without always using the abdominal muscles to support the upper body, we find slouching the customary fallback position. Status memes, what a way to decide on the habits of a society!
So what can we do, armed with these snippets of knowledge? If we have decided to determine our own states of consciousness, they provide another way we can influence these. Do you wish to be healthier, more alert, happier? Do you want your mind to function faster and more creatively? Then get up and walk around, or at least sit in a way that allows your back and abdominal muscles to do what they are supposed to (i.e. without leaning back against a surface).
A lot of trance induction works this way. By adopting certain postures we actually feel more confident, by shifting our attention to the wider visual field we automatically move into a very light state of near hypnotic awareness, perfect for acts of self-suggestion.
The mind body divide we use linguistically seems to derive (like so many other dichotomies) from mistaken views of how the world manifests. As creatures of bilateral symmetry, we like to divide anything into two, or if getting elaborate, four or eight directions. Conceptualising something as a continuum proves difficult for an animal whose survival for several billion years depended upon understanding little more than I vs Not I. To reconcile the distinct oneness of the universe around us, the way in which matter pervades all space, with the objects we see as people in fact representing what could more accurately be described as standing waves in the pool of cosmic substance, takes a significant rewiring of one’s brain. Language and positional conceptualisation has its place, however we must not mistake utility for ultimate truth. Words provide handles to manipulate our understandings, yet any thing or act can be grasped from more than one direction.
Start with easy, simple steps. Practice assertive body language, and bear in mind that not only do postural changes affect the image you communicate, they alter your own mindset, via the ways your internal body systems are changed. NLP, CBT and other more ‘fringe’ psychological therapies make use of these kind of techniques, but approaching them from a Chaos Magick perspective allows one to extract the effective practices from the various metaphors that accompany them, whether biological, chemical, behavioural, psychological, theatrical, or viewed as an invoking process. Choose the glamour that works for you at this time! And then, invest some real belief in that glamour. Pretending to be assertive (or whatever the mood is) takes far more effort than changing yourself into an assertive person.
One could of course decide to adopt any other postures, e.g. empathy, or use observational practices to see which postures we tend to fall into from habits, and which specific previous occurrences or environments result in certain postures. Altering the external environment allows changes to our options of internal process.
Learning about this basic sorcery level manipulation of personal reality can give insights into other ways of affecting our worlds.
To paraphrase: Get up, make up your mind, and walk.
Awesome post. I made a few notes to follow through. I liked your observations of AI and body image.
Thanks Alex! I have to admit there’s nothing terribly original here, just a bit of fusion thinking 😉