Your body as an incorrigible servant

January 21, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

Mind over matter, right? When your body aches and begs to stop running, you tell it to keep moving. When your body wants to go to sleep, you exert the will to make it to stay awake, or you make its arms pour coffee into its mouth. We make our bodies drive our cars to work lest those utility bills don’t get paid and “We” will suffer the consequences.

Nietzsche began Chapter V of the Gay Science with the following quote as an illustration of his own conception of fearlessness (attributed to Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne (1611-75) a great French general):

Sometimes during a battle he could not help trembling. Then he talked to his body as one talks to a servant. He said to it: “You tremble, carcass; but if you knew where I am taking you right now, you would tremble a lot more.”

“We” are in charge, right? Except when we are not. I can think of no better example than when we are nauseated, and our body dramatically takes over, the reverse peristalsis hurling out the offending food, dominating even our minds, until it’s over. Only then can “we” take over again. Consider food traveling in the other direction, too. So many of us tell our bodies to stop eating, yet our bodies keep eating. Day after day. We remind it to look in the mirror and we tell it about our tighter-fitting clothes, yet our bodies don’t care.

It happens in less visible ways too. I’m experiencing one of those times right now, where my intellect insists that it is completely in charge, and wants to be in charge, but alas, it is only partially in charge. “I” can make my arms and legs move, but my emotions are heavy and they run deep. They are emotions I didn’t know I had. I’m in a period of physical mourning, you see, even though my intellect insists that it has things under control. So my body proceeds to mourn while my inner-stoic struggles.

Image by mrallin at dreamstime (with permission)

This experience is reminding me of the day that my baby daughter was put into my hands for the first time. A potent fatherhood switch was turned on at that moment, and I suddenly and magically felt fatherly. I didn’t even know that I had that switch. I had figured out parenthood in my thoughts, yet it was far different in reality; real father hood is far more complete than the mind can fathom—until the body teaches the mind. At the second that I held that baby girl, I became my daughter’s heroic protector and I became her long-term provider in a deeper and heavier way than my intellect could have ever fathomed.

And consider all those romance stories you read or before you went through puberty. You thought you knew what romance was, but you didn’t really, not until your body was able to generate the necessary hormones. Those intellectual images turned out to be comically wispy and ephemeral compared to that explosion you felt when you experienced real life romance. And for many of us, that first romantic kiss was a nuclear explosion. The intellect didn’t see it coming, no matter how hard it prepared.

My question to my self tonight is how could I ever have thought that the emotions, which I know to be evolutions executioners, could ever be held completely at bay, or why I would ever think that I would want this?

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Category: Biology, Evolution, Human animals, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Ben says:

    Maybe it's time to lay on the reef a bit?

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