The subject of the mind-body connection is experiencing something of a revival in our culture. Yet should it be a discussion at all? It would seem to the 'logical' thinker that considering we have a body, it must in some way be linked with the mind?
It is not uncommon to see people rushing from the office at 5pm to make it to an early evening class at the local yoga studio. Having spent their entire day working tirelessly hunched over a desk, it almost seems like an act of damage limitation. It is a contradiction that can be found in almost every sector of society - spend the entire day in a static position and then use exercise as a tool for damage limitation. The NHS recommends that we do 30 minutes of exercise per day, and given that most of us work on average 8 hours a day, the lopsided ratio of activity between mind & body becomes immediately apparent.
Before we get into the conversation of how the body and brain evolved together throughout the millennia, it would be wise to first touch light on how we have reached this stage of a sedentary lifestyle. The most likely reason is that our belief system surrounding the mind, the brain and behavior has been sculptured by a powerful philosophical idea that we inherited many centuries ago - one of a clear divide between the body and mind.
This belief system began with the philosopher Pythagoras, who at the time needed the idea of an immortal soul for his doctrine of reincarnation. This line of thought reached the masses via Plato, who put forward the idea that within our decaying flesh lays a spark of divinity, an eternal and rational soul. The turning point came when this claim was taken up by St Paul and established as Christian dogma. Through the centuries philosophers wrestled with the problem of how this disembodied mind could interact with the anatomy of the physical body.
In our pursuit of scientific discovery, technological advancement and exponential growth, we have forsaken the very vehicle that enables us to navigate this world. Yes it is true that our evolution and subsequent domination of the planet can be directly attributed to the rapid growth of our neocortex - the rational, conscious, problem-solving and newest layer of the brain. However the existence of such a story, one that has trickled down throughout our society, is yet another testament to the staying power of the out-dated notion of a mind-body split. This idea promotes the notion that our bodies play second fiddle and has a largely mischievous role in our lives, tempting us from the path of reason. The most extreme example of this can be found in science fiction, where future humans are portrayed as all head, a bulging cranium atop an atrophied body.
It is one of the great mysterious that we have made it this far by downplaying the significance of the influential role the body has on our emotions and decision making. Today Platonic Dualism, as it is termed, is mostly ignored amongst intellectuals, particularly those working in the field of neuroscience and anatomy. In the next article we will discuss how advances in science have shown us the true nature of the mind-body connection, and how both evolved together to form the extremely complex modern-day human.