The mind/body divide

As I read a bit further into the textual circulation of emotion, and about pedagogical theory. I read a bell hooks essay, in which there is a mention of the problem of the mind/body divide in our teaching careers.

The idea that academic life has more to do with the  mind than with the body is rather prevalent. Western culture has us believe in the supremacy of the mind over the body; Descartes was assured of his bodily existence only through the workings of his reason. I have never been convinced by the Schopenhauerian argument that to attain pure reason (and thus “real” humanity) we must castigate the body and deny carnal desires.

Paradoxically, I have been attracted more than once to Buddhism, and finding myself, in the end, unable to separate desires from the workings of my mind. I’ve always thought that paradoxes defined me, and this is yet another one. I love living in my mind, and I work better when the body is comfortable (warm, in pajamas, my reading chair). When I find my body in uncomfortable situations (tight clothing, standing up or sitting uncomfortably, cold), I am unable to focus properly. I get tired faster, I can’t concentrate. This isn’t even considering when I am sick, or otherwise indisposed.

The mind, just like ideas, or history, or narrative, doesn’t exist in a vaccum. The body is both the surface we present to the external world and an important internal source of well-being (or not). I’m sure a lot of us grow figdety or moody without certain foods, or physical activities. Think how easily we get addicted to caffeine for productivity.

I am very interested in how our bodies determine our very lives as intellectuals, how ideas have to be embodied in spoken words, on paper, through the bodily presence of a professor in the classroom or in a conference. I have never taken an online class but I wonder how it changes the relationship to learning.


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