‘Doing Human’ : Our Role on this Planet

‘Doing Human’ : Our Role on this Planet

doing-human

By 1926 wolves in Yellowstone National Park had been eliminated by park employees as part of their policy to eliminate all predators. The elimination of wolves however had unforeseen consequences that altered the entire parks ecosystem.Elk, no longer pressured by predators became abundant but in doing so also began to destroy their own habitat. With no fear of predators elk began to congregate around the river banks, eating and destroying vegetation that had previously prevented soil erosion. This in turn affected and saw the decline of fish, amphibians, and reptiles in the waterways as they became broader, shallower, and warmer due to the loss of shade from stream-side vegetation. Recognising that without the wolves the ecosystem would continue to suffer, in 1995 wolves were once again reintroduced into Yellowstone and slowly the ecosystem began to repair itself.

All Has Its Place

It is clear from this and many other examples that every thing in nature has its place in an ecosystem. All actors play a role in the health of that ecosystem, no matter how large or small. This is the first Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. Take away or lose one part of the ecosystem, and the entire system suffers, even worse it may fail.

Now enter humans.

What really is our role on this planet?

If every human had to disappear tomorrow morning, the Earth wouldn’t skip a beat. In fact, the Earth would have the opportunity to heal from all the damage that has been caused to it by humans, especially over the last hundred years.

In short: unlike everything else in an ecosystem that is reliant on everything else, the earth doesn’t actually need us at all. As Sören Faurby, a senior lecturer in zoology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden’s 2015 study noted, without humans, Earth would largely resemble the modern-day Serengeti, an African ecosystem teeming with life.

The Strangest Incredible Story

In all of the above there is, at the deepest level, an incredible story underway. A story so mind-blowing that it can’t be real, but yet it is (at least to our current understanding). At the beginning of this story (as far as we know) resides the quantum vacuum. Arising form this vacuum at the next level of scale are the smallest things coming out of the quantum foam, giving rise to subatomic particles, then atoms, then cells then bodies: Here a ‘body’ implies you and me as human animals or the wolf.

At the heart of it, we are until that moment of ‘body’ exactly the same, we share the same building blocks. The wolf then becomes a wolf and does what wolves do, as the elk does what elk do. And as highlighted in the beginning of this article, wolves serve an incredibly important role in keeping the ecosystem healthy. Human’s on the other hand — what is it to ‘do human’?

'Doing Human'

Along the road we have forgotten that we are animals too, just as wolves and elk are. We have forgotten what it is too ‘do human.’ Our unique abilities of problem solving, to be creative, and adaptability puts us in a unique position to be custodians of this beautiful planet. If there was ever a reason for us to be here, to serve an important role in the planetary ecosystem surely this is it. If we can understand our place as custodians of Gaia, then it absolutely matters if we are here or not.

“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from,” – Terry Tempest, American author and environmentalist.

Taking our role as custodians of this planet seriously also changes how we view each other, and how we all live on this planet. Rather than being driven by consumerism and all out capitalistic gain in favour of the few, we would find ways to live in harmony with nature, and each other collectively. As Zeno, ancient Greek philosopher noted “The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.”

We clearly have our priorities wrong. We have forgotten our place, we have forgotten our animalism and what it is to ‘do human’. As  Henry David Thoreau reminds us “What is the good of having a nice house without a decent planet to put it on?” In the end there is no easy answer to sway 7.5 billion human animals to reimagine themselves as caretakers, custodians of the home we all share. Nothing short of a global revitalisation of a life philosophy that puts the Earth and all its inhabitants (no matter how small) first will bring about the change we desperately need. For now, each of us needs to be content with doing our part to become custodians of Gaia – no matter how small the act. I may not be able to change my neighbours view of what it means to be a human animal, but I can surely begin with myself.

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The Real Reason so Many of Us are Unhappy!

The Real Reason so Many of Us are Unhappy!

wy-we are unhappy

Do you feel like you constantly treading water but not getting anywhere? Everyday feels exactly the same? Weeks blur into each other and the years seem to be speeding up. Each time you look again you are back to where you started. Yet you are trying your best to get ahead, to make it to shore, but it all seems hopeless. You are left with one conclusion: you are the problem. Many of us can see ourselves living out this story — and too many of us believe we are the problem — that we are the reason we are not seeing success. It’s our fault that we feel anxious all the time, frazzled, depressed, angry, and unmotivated.

Success for Most is Doomed to Fail

As hard as this may be for many people to accept, everything we are trying to do to be successful is largely doomed to fail. This can’t be true right? Looking around you see people succeeding, or at least it looks that way. However, when you look closer, the only people that are getting anywhere are the ones that have learned to manipulate the current system to their benefit. Their success, if one can even call it that lies within a narrow band of the modern human experience: capitalism. Albeit truthfully narrow, capitalism has become the predominant life way of the modern man and woman. So when we say we see other people succeeding, what we are really saying is that they are succeeding in material wealth.

There is no denying that in our modern consumer driven society for those of us that are simply trying to survive, material wealth will make our lives easier. But just because life becomes easier, doesn’t mean that in of itself it will lead to personal fulfilment. One only has to look around to see extraordinary successful material wealthy people committing suicide, losing themselves in drugs, and self sabotaging their success. As cliche as it may be: “money doesn’t buy you happiness”.

The Lie of Success

The notion of survival of the fittest, to hoard as much things as you can, to be prepared to do what ever it takes to climb over the person in front of you, and personal gain at all costs — was never our nature as a continuation from hunter gathers, to farming, to cities, to the modern world we now find ourselves in. This narrative of modernity that we now find ourselves embedded into, the consumeristic culture, was untrue for most of our time as human animals on this planet.

For most of our time on this planet we were hunter gatherers. In those societies it was frowned upon to hoard, or to have more than the next person in the tribe. The tribe was largely egalitarian, whilst leadership was temporary, with anyone vying for permanence in that role, made fun of, or simply ostracised. If you led, you did so by example, not simply by title. There was no competition or trying to outdo the next person, but rather reciprocity and personal freedom in general were the norm. Problems were mostly solved within the tribe without the need for courts or prisons. While our hunter gatherer ancestors didn’t have much in the way of technology as we recognise today, with stone, wood, fibres and bone they comfortably met all their material needs. For the most part it was living a life of few needs that were simply met. All of this was done without having to destroy their environment either. I could go on an on, but I am sure you get the point.

Clearly, up until around 12000 years ago this is how virtually everyone lived. But things have changed and not for the better it seems, at least for the vast majority of us. While the reasons for how we now find ourselves in despair may be complex, one thing is certain it is not how we lived for the vast span of time on this planet. It seems to me, that we have allowed those with deep greed to take control of everyone’s life trajectory. I am certain greed has always been with us, but from the research done on hunter-gatherer societies it was never allowed. Hoarding, or even having a greater share than others, was seen as socially unacceptable. For example as James Woodburn a prominent social anthropologist points out, among the !Kung and the Hadza, hoarding food when another person is hungry would be unthinkable.

The Modern World is Spiritually Bankrupt

The bottom line the way the current economic system is set up allows for a few to control the many. It allows greed to go unabated, built of a lie of scarcity and that consumption is the only path to happiness. Most of us have been flung into this consumeristic culture without much to say about it. To make matters worse, those that lead the charge on how wonderful life is now compared to the supposed brutish short lived lives of our ancestors (which is a lie as seen earlier), design systems to ensure we continue to believe that we can all win if we just hustle a lit bit harder.

The truth is, you can only win in the current system if you are willing to become the very thing that is keeping everyone else in a perpetual state of economic slavery. What you need to become in the end isn’t going to be liberated, but rather a cog in the wheel of consumeristic psychosis, believing all along that this is what being human is all about. You will like many who have reached the capitalistic top, feel terribly empty, while attempting to fill that emptiness with more of what the system says you should to feel better.

 

Showing Up Via an Ancient Story

Or….You can begin to search for an alternative way to show up in your life. First you have to acknowledge that our collective mental trauma is caused by attempting to integrate into this modern system of consumption. That the consumeristic nature of our modern economy is in fact a sickness twisted and manipulated by those who are most unwell among us. Philosopher, Krishnamurti reminds us, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” 


As Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh notes, “We have constructed a system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims. We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth. In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed.

It’s time for all of us to realise that in fact our default mode of being is one of deep connection and caring towards our fellow man. That we are not meant to be competing with each other, but rather cooperating so that each of us can live our best lives. That having just enough to live a fulfilled life is what happiness truly means. To not take more than we need to survive comfortably and to give to those who are struggling.

I know we have heard this all before. It does sound utopian. And yes, it often doesn’t work. The reason this approach to life fails for most isn’t because people are the problem, but rather the system in which we live is the problem. As political activist, Emma Goldman “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?” This modern system we now find ourselves in is designed to pit each one of us against the other. It’s designed to have ‘haves-and-have nots.’ There’s no other way, because without them above, and most of us below, the system would fracture and fail. The system teaches us from an early age to look down on anyone who doesn’t seem to be winning as either lazy, stupid and or no good.

In the end, there is no easy answer to any of the above, but from my end, one way is to build a community of support and connection — encouraged by the lessons of our ancestors so that we can embody their wisdom to show up in our lives truly fulfilled. Consider joining the TELEGRAM TRIBE HERE>>

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Bees, Slime & The Present Human Dilemma

Bees, Slime & The Present Human Dilemma

Bees-slime-and-the-human-Dilemma
Imagine for a moment that I asked you to take part in two experiments. In the first experiment you are confronted by a Y-maze giving you the option to go down two opposite corridors. Before you enter the maze you see a blue sign at the entrance. Previously you were told that the color blue signified a reward. Once you entered the Y-maze at the end of each corridor you find two doors, one blue and the other yellow. Knowing that blue signifies a reward you decide to enter that door first. Congratulations you have successfully matched the color at the entrance, with the same color on the door. Now for the second experiment. Imagine that you have been placed in a standard maze, the kind with dead ends and only one possible exit. At the exit you are told a fantastic dinner awaits you as a reward if you work out the maze. Naturally you do what ever it takes to find that exit. Again congratulations and enjoy the feast!

We are Not the Only Intelligence

We can agree that both of these experiments wouldn’t be hard for a human being to figure out. Humans after all are imbued with intelligence.

However, what if I told you that both of the above ‘experiments’ were solved by non-human species. That’s right the first was solved by bees showing they can think and handle abstract concepts. The second experiment was solved by a charismatic slime mold called Physarum or popularly known as “the blob”—which can learn, make decisions, and go through mazes without a brain. Clearly both show intelligence, or at least how we think of intelligence in every day experience.

However, they are not the only non-humans to show signs of intelligence. For example prairie dogs who have brains the size of grapes, use a sophisticated form of verbal communication involving high pitched chirps to describe the world around them. They can describe intruders according to species size, shape, speed, etc.

I highlight the above as a taster of the growing recognition that intelligence can no longer simply be ascribed to human beings. This is important because for far to long we have been told that we are the only true intelligent inhabitants on this planet. Everything else is either primal or primitive. It’s this state of hubris—the anthropocentric view that we are the most important life form in existence on Earth—that has created the global environmental destruction we now all face.

Modern Civilized People Are Increasingly Unhappy

For all that we have gained in the West, and for all that civilization has promised, most people are far from happy. For instance a recent (August 2019) nationwide survey in the UK found that 89% of 16-29 year olds claim that their lives are ‘meaningless’ (that’s the word they actually used). The average overall was 80% for all age groups. Over 60s do the best with only 55% reporting that their lives are meaningless.

Just walk into any brick and mortar bookshop (or now online) and you will find row upon row of self-help books promising happiness, managing stress (an epidemic in its own right), a search for meaning and personal mastery. Most who are prolific readers of this self-help genre if honest, will tell you that after all that reading they still aren’t any happier. I believe both the self help books and subsequent courses, often fall short in helping us discover true ‘happiness.’

Why?

Because they ascribe to a way of telling us how to become happy, but situated within the very problem that’s causing the unhappiness in the first place. In other words modern society, the so called civilized world itself.

 

As spiritual teacher Krishnamurti reminds us: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

 

 

Without exception all the books and courses currently available on becoming more happy, managing stress, self-discovery and personal mastery center on being achieved (i.e., training us to be well-adjusted to) within the capitalistic, materialistic society we now find ourselves in. In my opinion this is exactly why reading these books, taking those courses or listening to motivational experts so often fail. Taking a page from Krishnamurti, each of these programs are attempting to make us healthy and well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. As such all these programs offer a band aid and not a lasting solution. All are therefore destined to fail!

We all need to start waking up to the fact that while many good things have come about because of progress, science et al. It will never be able to replace what we all need—a deep connection to spirit, that cannot be quantified, measured or reverse engineered.

Is There a Solution?

Through my own personal practice and research I have discovered that the answer to lasting fulfillment lies in reintegrating ourselves back into the natural wisdom and rhythm of the world. In order to achieve this we need to purposively make an internal shift and embody a largely forgotten way—at least for modern humans—of being in the world. This starts by acknowledging as many ancient wisdom traditions have always known, that we are not separate to the Earth, to Gaia. Yes, we are intelligent, but so are the bees, the slim mold, the trees, rivers and all that inhabits our beautiful planet. We are not separate but one and all is intelligence if you willing to change your perspective.

As Chief Seattle reminds us:

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Or less poetic, and more pragmatic by Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”

Beyond Connection

Beyond acknowledging that we are part of and not separate to all that exists on this planet, we need to return and honor ancestral wisdom. This requires going back to a sensibility where our ancestors lived in harmony with nature.

I get it that it’s not possible for most of us to return to a lifeway of a hunter-gatherer, but that doesn’t mean that what first people have to teach us is any less important. In fact as I have discovered, by integrating their lifeway principles into my own life, I have been able to heal not only from my childhood trauma, but equally be more successful at dealing with a world that seems to care little that I exist. The reality is that the modern world sees all of us as commodities to be strip minded for its own ends, which is to perpetuate consumption at any cost (and mostly this is done at a cost to our health).

It’s these ancestral lessons that I teach in my Awakening the Human Animal Retreat. It is these lessons that will allow you to Unlock your Instinct {Code}. Some of the lessons include how First People view mental wellness. For example for First People wellness was and is holistic, encompassing a state of balance with family, community and the larger environment (i.e., the connection to the natural world). As a side note here: it’s my belief that the reason so many First People now suffer with mental illness is precisely because they are being forced into a lifeway of modernity, which itself is the catalyst for mental illness that we see so much of today. Historically, and before the interference from colonialism, First People suffered far less with mental illness as they do today in the modern world. The reason for this was that First People have a holistic traditional psychological system and healing practices, often based in spirituality, ceremony and ritual.

The truth is, we now live in a time where information is ubiquitous, but wisdom is in short supply. Ideologies consume the modern landscape but meaning is scarce. People are burnt out. We clearly need a new way to show up both in the world and our lives.

But maybe, just maybe the story we need to tell isn’t a new one, but rather an ancient story that is now desperately needed to be experienced. I believe if we can bring this ancient story to light, learn to integrate it back into our modern experience we can find the rhythm of living an exceptional life most of us seem to be missing. In turn, it will equip us with the wisdom to change the destructive path we are on, and so that we can take our rightful place as care-keepers of the natural world — our Mother, teacher and spiritual muse.

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Reawakening The Human Animal

Reawakening The Human Animal

reawakening-the-human-animal

We have been indoctrinated into an ideology of modernity, and civility that claims that we are far better off than our brutish primitive ancestors. In order to be victors of these claims we are sold a narrative to hustle, to compete, to win at all costs, to conquer and take ownership of everything on this planet—because we have been told we are the superior intelligence. Everything, and everywhere we look, from what we are told to buy to make us happy, to the most popular sports we play and watch, is designed to bolster the above claims. 

As such, most people I encounter find it really hard to believe, even less accept, that much of their internal strife and suffering is largely due to their modern lifestyle. I once counted myself as one of these people. I bought into the search for happiness, and to advertise my success through material gain and wealth. But, as often is the case as I ticked off one more success box, the house in the right neighborhood, the BMW, and so forth, the surge of happiness was short lived. To be honest, I never enjoyed most of that so called success anyway, I simply went along with it because that’s what you were expected to do (and especially if you wanted to fit in).

The truth is, the constant pursuit of material wealth, outdoing each other at any cost, competing for anything and everything, along with a loss of true connection to each other as technology pulls us further apart—is literally making us ill. Many mental health issues such as depression, suicide and anxiety so common today in the ‘civilized’ world were largely absent in our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

All is Not Lost

However, all is not lost. Of course not everything is bad about modernity, but I believe to truly flourish we need to once again find balance and flow in our lives. Many people may not want to accept this, but in my view and experience it requires us to go back, to reconnect with and honor our ancestral lifeways.

We can accomplish this by coming home to ancestral ways of reconnecting to nature, by advocating cooperation not competition, by leading only when we have something to offer and stepping aside when we don’t, by simplifying the way we live, by decluttering our minds, by being more fully present, honoring intuition, and living a life that doesn’t harm others (both human and non-human). Finally it can be accomplished by abiding in Anima Mundi, in the spirit of all things.

The problem of course is that humans fear letting go of the known for the perceived unknown. The truth is we have become way to comfortable, domesticated human animals, who have lost both the knowledge and physical conditioning and skills to live under the night sky.

Have We Truly Lost Our Human Animal, or Simply Let It Lie Dormant?

What I have just suggested above we have always intuitively known—although it has been stifled by modernities relentless focus on rationality. We have been told that it is indeed irrational to let go of what is referred to as our ‘civilized ways’ in favor for what is said to be the uncivilized, the primitive. The capitalistic economic machine doesn’t want us to reawaken to our human animal because it would mean living out our birthright, as one with all that is.

However if we are brave enough to allow a small opening for the call of our ancestors to once again reawaken within our hearts we can find a way of embodying our natural life flourishing intelligence.

Contrary to what we have been indoctrinated to believe it is not natural for us to fight each other. We are not meant to compete against each other. We are not meant to have power over each other. The reality is we have never been the most intelligent species on this planet, as such we never had the right to conquer, consume or believe to own nature as we have.

We are as Albert Einstein (I bet most never thought he would be the one saying this) notes:

The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert talk about two “hungers”. There is the Great Hunger and there is the Little Hunger. The Little Hunger wants food for the stomach; but the Great Hunger, which is said to be the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning. I believe there is an inner revolution underway. More and more individuals are waking up to the lie of modernity that promised success and happiness. People have begun to realize that the answer to their fulfillment lie elsewhere and not in the modern world we know today or what it will become tomorrow. There’s a deep desire to return to a time where we needed little, and knew how to live a life of fulfillment—a time of minimalism, kinship, and connection to the land. More and more people are finding the courage to reject conformity and live a life on their own terms.

Diogenes, an ancient Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy taught that genuine freedom comes from within. Genuine freedom emerges from self-sufficiency rather than from wealth, power, or reputation. Genuine freedom does not arise from having as much as possible, but rather from needing as little as possible. The time has come to ‘unschool’ ourselves from the falsehood of happiness promised in modernity and in turn relearn and reawaken once again how to reconnect with the uncluttered, minimalist experience of being fully alive with ourselves. In short we need to ‘RiˈWīld’ ourselves!

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Phenomenology of Embodiment

Phenomenology of Embodiment

PHENOMONOLOGY-OF-EMBODIMENT

Welcome to my Musings section of my blog. What I write in this section of the blog are thought experiments, while attempting to  make sense of some very difficult ideas. It is not meant to be a definitive answer to the subjects covered in each piece, nor am I saying I am even right. At times, I come back and retract some of what I wrote, or rewrite sections as the ideas make more sense to me. Some of the writing is academic in nature, others not, while at other times a mix of both. Take the pieces as such and in the spirit they have been written.

Phenomenology o Embodiment

The academic neglect of the body as both instrument in lived experience, as a valid source of knowledge and as an active agent in the world goes as far back as Plato’s Phaedo (Gallop, 1975). Plato saw the body as negatively interfering with the search for true knowledge. The body he claimed interrupted our attention, with all kinds of passions and fancies. In other words it distorts reality through its flawed perception (Bostock, 1986). The body then was seen as merely a tool in the service of our intellect. This way of thinking of the body held powerful sway for centuries in Christian philosophy and more later in modern philosophy such as idealism (Shusterman, 2008).

Inspired by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), phenomenology was one of several prominent philosophical approaches during the 20th century. Husserl saw phenomenology as a way to come into contact with concrete lived experience, a way of doing philosophy that was as he viewed it — a radical shift from the metaphysical speculative pseudo-problems of western philosophy since the ancient Greeks (Moran, 2000; Lewis & Staehler, 2010). The tradition of western philosophy, as Johnson and Rohrer note, “mistakenly asks how the inside (i.e., thoughts, ideas, concepts) can represent the outside (i.e., the world)” ( 2007, p.17) thereby further separating mind from body.

Phenomenology can be understood as three distinct, yet interrelated conceptions, as methodology, as research process and as a philosophy (Van Manen, 1997). At its heart Van Manen (2014) has argued that phenomenology is essentially a philosophy. Distinguishing itself, phenomenology as defined by Husserl (1901) advocated describing experiences, as well as the things themselves “apart from their relation to our intuition” (Kant 1999 p.35), without resorting to metaphysical and theoretical speculations. In other words, experience should be examined in the way it occurs, and on its own terms as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness (Smith et al. 2009).

Husserl sought to develop a science of phenomena, with the intention of understanding how objects present themselves in consciousness through corporeal existence (i.e.of or relating to a person’s body). Husserl suggested that objects present themselves in a persons consciousness by intentionally translating stimuli from the body into meaning in the mind. Although initially concerned with finding the essence of reason — not dissimilar to Plato — Husserl instead concluded that the “body is…the medium of all perception” (cited in Rojcewicz & Schwer 1989, p 61). From this perspective, the body in phenomenology is seen to directly contribute to the content of what is perceived, and its role in the external material world is one that is relational (Welton 1999).

 

Essence of Practice

Here the essence of practice (Wilde,1999) or the ‘how’ takes a central role. Phenomenology brings forth a focus on the “originally [of] personal experience. The experience of the way we live situationally, the way we are personal beings in space” (Patočka, 1998, p. 97). Figal (2010) has suggested that any philosophical discussion that is not ‘originary’ in nature, whilst it may make a contribution to philosophical understanding, is not a philosophy in of itself. This premise sits at the heart of phenomenology, that the phenomena of appearance, or more succinctly how it appears in the lived experience of a person, their consciousness — is knowledge that both counts and is necessary (Lewis & Staehler, 2010). Reaching similar conclusions, William James, American philosopher and psychologist noted, “The world experienced…comes at all times with our body as its centre, centre of vision, centre of action, centre of interest” (James 1976, p86).

Nietzsche (who predates Husserl), whilst not considered a phenomenologist but rather an existentialist — viewed the philosophy of thinking, acting, feeling, and living, as beginning with the human subject (Macquarrie, 1972). Just like Husserl, Nietzsche rebounded against the metaphysical position which focused on the ‘about’ of things as they appear, rather than the appearance itself as the subjective person living in the world (Rehberg, 2011). Where phenomenology is the study of things in the way in which they appear to us, metaphysics on the other hand focuses on what is not subject to the senses, suggesting rather that there can be no scientific knowledge of appearance, only opinion (Lewis & Staehler, 2010). For Nietzsche if there was a ‘thing in itself’ not only was appearance part of it, but these appearances were the “direct presentation of what really existed” (Lewis & Staehler, 2010 p.2-3).

 

The Body as Lived Experience

Husserl defines two ways in which we experience the world from a first person perspective. On the one hand is what he terms the ‘natural attitude’ of everyday life. Here, we see the objects of our experience such as other people, physical objects, and even ideas, as simply real and straightforward in existence. In other words they ‘just are’ or are our ‘ordinary’ way of being in the world. The phenomenological perspective emerges when we step back from this ‘natural attitude,’ not denying its existence, but rather to investigate these experiences as they arise (Husserl, 1982). Phenomenological enquiry then arises from the embodied person as a “prediscursive phenomenon that plays a central role in perception, cognition, action, and nature to a way of living or inhabiting the world” (Weiss, & Haber, 1999 p. xiii). Central to phenomenological enquiry is ‘bracketing out,’ to put aside one’s own belief or knowledge of the subject under investigation (Carpenter, 2007), so that the ‘thing itself’ emerges — this is crucial for it to be genuinely considered a philosophy as Figal (2010) argued earlier, and further a science.
 

Noting the above points, its is clear that in phenomenology as a philosophy, the body plays a central role in lived experience (Merleau-Ponty, 2002). Yet does the body stay the same over time, or is it rather a product of social and historical constitution? In other words is the body itself natural, primordial (Merleau-Ponty, 2002), or is it rather ‘deformed’ or ‘formed’ by cultural and social forces (i.e., socially constructed)? (Foucault, 1984; Hoy, 1999.) Historically in philosophy, with the exception of Nietzsche the body had been seen as unchanging (Csordas, 1994). It is only with 20th Century thinkers like Foucault and Bourdieu that the later had been seriously argued (Hoy, 1999). For Foucault the body is malleable, transient and discontinuous over its history, whilst Bourdieu is more focused on the body as persistent and continuous (Hoy, 1999) — yet both viewed the body as being formed by cultural and social forces.

While Foucault doesn’t deny what he terms “structures” of experience (i.e., a primordial state), he argues that they are not independent of concrete determinations of social existence, and cannot in themselves give rise to or interpret experiences. Rather, these experiences arise through thought, which itself has a historicity “proper” to it (Hoy, 1999). Thought then, having this historicity is not “deprived of all universal form, but instead that the putting into play of these universal forms is itself historical” (Foucault 1984, p.335). The main argument as presented by Foucault (and Bourdieu) that there is nothing natural in the body, but instead it is socially and culturally constructed — so how can it then be deformed? To be deformed requires that it changes from an original, ‘before’ state, something that could be considered primary before these changes took hold (Hoy, 1999).

In contrast, Merleau-Ponty (2002, p.168) believed that the body had an “original and (perhaps) primary” nature, a practical knowledge (praktognosia), which could not be analytically deconstructed into concepts such as ‘body’ and ‘mind’. In his view, the body’s practical knowledge allows for a “way [for us to] access…the world and the object” (p.168) — for example our perception of spatial relationships between us and an external object. We experience these relationships not as objective (out there), but rather always from the perspective of our own action oriented bodily organisation (e.g., down, up, near, far, on, under). These form dimensions of our lived ‘phenomenal’ spatiality, arising out of the ‘praktognosia’ that we sense from our embodied intentionality.

Hoy (1999) has argued that one can simultaneously acknowledge the body’s “primary” nature, yet at the same time take into account how the body is influenced socially, by its historicity and culture — The body then can be seen as more or becoming more than what it was previously. This acknowledgement of becoming, sits at the heart of phenomenological enquiry. There is no gap between mind, body and a person’s experience of reality (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). A person’s experience of things, arises out of that person’s embodiment in the world.

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