As I mentioned in one of my earliest articles entitled “The meaning of life”, I believe it’s of the upmost importance to “first learn to know ourselves better, to see our true selves without a mask, learn to understand ourselves better as people, to understand how our bodies and brains work”. With that in mind, I am starting a series of articles today which I hope will gradually shed some light on the matter. I will share with you my thoughts and inspiring readings and findings as they occur so that we may ponder upon this together.
Setting the Context
How is it that I am the person that I am (the Who) and that this particular appearance and physical composition (the What) are unique to me; the Who being in my opinion what defines me much more as a person.
Which poses the question, why are we so different from one another despite the fact that we have so many similarities in our physical makeup? Our brains being so close in appearance, how is it that our ideas, thoughts, feelings and personalities could be so dissimilar?
One of the premises behind my thinking is as follows: The body (hence the “What”) is only the tool that the “Who” uses to express itself and to get around. It remains true that our physical state and our appearance both play a role in the perception we have of ourselves and therefore of who we are. And although our brains may be responsible more than anything else in determining Who we are, the physical aspects of our being, its condition and appearance, greatly influence our mental state. (On this topic I suggest you watch the TED presentation entitled “Your body language shapes who you are” by Amy Cuddy). Therefore, it is equally important for me to discover where the “Who” resides as it is to understand how the “What” functions.
The second premise can be summarized as follows: Whereas our physical condition has an impact on our mental state as mentioned above, could it not also be true to think the opposite? What’s more, could it be that our psyche (mental state) weighs more in the equation and that ultimately our bodies not only act as vehicles enabling our psyches to get around, but perhaps above all act as messengers enabling our psyches to express themselves? Ultimately therefore, is the psyche not more important than the physical? Since I believe it probably is the case and thinking of the famous saying “A healthy mind in a healthy body” it seems plausible to also affirm “A healthy body because of a healthy mind” or as they say, “Mind over matter”. So, it’s important for me to focus on understanding these two distinct entities (the physical and the psyche) all the while considering their relation to one another in order to get a clear and complete picture of who we are.
So, what defines the “What”?
So, in order to better understand the “What”, that our bodies are comprised of, how should we approach it? Are we entire beings? Organic, cellular, molecular or atomic (protons, electrons, neutrons) or are we all that put together? And if we push further, relying on relatively recent discoveries showing that the atom is no longer what we believed to be the smallest known particle, should we not base our questioning on the quantum physics notions (Quarks, leptons, neutrinos, light photons, Higgs’ boson) as well? In the end, considering that the atomic and subatomic world refers more to the field of energy than that of physical matter, are we then matter or energy?
Be it as it may, considering that we are probably all of those components put together and that various scientific fields study them respectively, allow me to consider the human body in all its forms and not to close the door on any plausible theories.
And what defines the “Who”?
Finally, when it comes to the “Who” we are at the psychic level, are we then this conscious being, one able to describe itself, yet only according to one’s own limited perception or are we rather this unconscious being that seems to reside within and that many refer to as “the subconscious”, entity that expresses our instincts, our genetic code? Furthermore, do we have a soul, a spirit, and if so, what role does it play in relation to our subconscious? Consequently, is there a difference between a soul and a spirit and if so, may we be inhabited by both?
I hope that this reflection exercise will lead us towards a better understanding of who we truly are so that the answers, which will initially remain my own opinions.1 may bring us serenity and well-being. It will be entirely up to you to adopt them if you share my views.
Am I certain that the answers I find will be incontestable truths? Since the field surrounding the psyche uses scientific concepts that are relatively new and often brought into question, even by expert scientists, it is likely that they won’t. But that’s of lesser importance. Since what’s important for each being is finding the answers to all its questions, which explains the significance ancient civilizations placed on gods, goddesses, religions and others in their quest for answers, I aspire to accomplish the same.
In addition, do I believe that I will find all of the answers in my lifetime? Not at all, but as JFK already mentioned, citing Marechal Lyautey2, even if the task may take more than a hundred years, isn’t that more reason to start today?
Ultimately, learning how human beings function will allow us to better care for our physical and mental health and thus to be happier and live better. So, let’s rejoice and take advantage of the ability we were given, as contrary to all other species (at least that I know of) only Humans have the cognitive ability to reflect on their own functioning, their own composition, and their own reality.
Next article: The conscious and the subconscious, a first look.
- In the same way that the so-called experts in their respective fields may not all be in agreement, especially when discussing subjects as abstract and therefore more subjective in nature such as the ones mentioned above (philosophers advocating “dualism” versus those advocating “physicalism” for example), it is likely that my conclusions may not be shared by all. But that’s alright, because the purpose of the exercise being only to feed reflection, it will be much more important to question ourselves collectively and to nourish the discussion rather than to agree on the result. Only exchange and even confrontation of ideas can allow us all to grow. If even the experts can be wrong from time to time, allow us to take the risk of error,
- “The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose plant it this afternoon’ http://www.quotes.net/quote/20625