I’ve spent most of my life in my head, thinking of myself as a mind that has to drag a body around with it. This annoying body wants to eat, but I’m not supposed to overfeed it; it wants to lay around and I have to make it move; it falls asleep when I don’t want it to; it gets headaches and pains in the neck and irritable bowel. It’s just in general an inconvenience to have this sleek, shiny mind (and this would be the mind speaking here) trapped in such an antiquated vehicle, yes?
I invite you to try a mind-bender (stick with me, minds).
What if, instead of being a mind trapped in a body, you are actually a body with a mind? Suppose the actual “you” is a physical being that is the blunt end of a long line of evolution — that included the development of a complicated brain producing advanced cognition in the form of a “mind”. This mind is an evolutionarily sculpted survival mechanism to keep your body alive as long as possible so that you can propagate the human species into another generation.
At this time, the science is not yet advanced enough to conclusively explain consciousness, but the neuroscience is progressing with fascinating results. Suppose, as is most likely, a physical mechanism is found to explain our sense of having a mind that feels separate from our body? What would it imply if our “Self” is entirely physical?
The implications are vast and revolutionary if you take some time to follow where this thinking leads…
For one, this view elevates the importance of your body. The purpose of your mind, via the process of evolution, is to keep your body alive. In other words, make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating right, getting the exercise you need, drinking enough water, breathing correctly, stretching and staying limber, updating your knowledge on the best means to accomplish all these things, and regularly checking in with your body to get input on how well you’re doing. Except that this is no longer just a platitude… this is, like, your main reason for existing.
Keeping your body viable then puts you in a good place to direct the remaining energies of your brain generated mind to tackle its second imperative: maneuvering for the safe and sensible propagation of the species into further generations. Reproduction used to be the only way to keep the species alive, but the cleverness of rational thought processes now available via the conscious operations of the mind allow us a magnitude of new options for keeping the species alive. We’re talking everything from deflecting meteorites hurtling towards the planet, to developing new life-saving medical technologies, to figuring out how to maintain our limited resources, to educating ourselves in ways to evolve our own consciousness.
From this perspective, we might wish to direct a good portion of our brain power to tweaking our current priorities, given how long evolution took to give us this option of a body with a mind!