Having an insight on our personal perception of the body and mind, relationship is often revealing. Since I was a child, I strongly felt ‘something' in my body. While practicing dance, I had the feeling that 'I' controlled my body, that 'I' decided the movements 'I' wanted to do. I used to say 'my arms', 'my legs' and 'my head' as if they were separated from me. Referring to my body parts is reifying them, assuming that they are objects 'I' own.
Obviously, I could not define this 'I', but it had definitely nothing to do with my body. As Bordo (1993) argued ''[my] body was experienced as an alien''. The body and mind issue is crucial in our society for several reasons. Firstly, it questions our very essence as human beings, and secondly, this division has built our modern society, since the 17th century. Questioning the relationship between body and mind is questioning the shift between nature and culture, the difference between humans and animals, but also the idea of life after 'material death', for example. However, is this Western view of the body and mind issue shared across cultures? To gain a better understanding of this problem, it seems crucial to define more precisely the philosophical roots of Western dualism that led to the necessity to look at other conceptions.
[...] To conclude, there are various conceptions of the relationship between mind and body across cultures. The concept of dualism, often blamed to be a mere Western peculiarity has been observed in other tribes, even though it did not cover exactly the same notions. There is actually more a broad spectrum of conception, a continuum between strict monism, like in Dinka culture, and pluralism, as noticed in the Kibushy tribe. However, this assumption (of a variety in conceptions for such a relationship) is often exclusively based on the study of cultural practices. [...]
[...] Today, the body and mind problem has been examined under the scope of neurosciences, cognitive psychology and other ''scientific” approaches. Thus, as Bruno Latour does in his book Science in Action, it would be relevant to consider scientists not as people who tell the absolute truth, but rather as a sort of tribe that has its own rituals, beliefs and practices. Consequently, it is possible to look at what scientists think about the mind and body issue as concepts in a specific culture and therefore not assuming that they are solving the issue. [...]
[...] Moreover, inferences made from dualism, like the hierarchy between nature and culture and impure body versus pure mind were deeply challenged. Eventually, it was said to be a perfectly ethnocentric point of view. As Csordas claimed (1994, cited in Asusti, 2001), ''social science theorizing has a widespread tendency to vilify Cartesian dualism as a kind of moral abjection.'' Anthropologists since then examine other cultures, in order to help us to solve our ''mind- body'' problem. Some practices in Eastern countries revealed an apparent monism, with interrelated body and mind, supporting the idea that dualism is a Western peculiarity. [...]
[...] Another extreme case, this time illustrating complete dissociation between body and mind, can be found among Kibushy people who live in the North of Mayotte, a French-controlled island close to Madagascar. Lambek studied spirit possession in such communities. He claimed that the spirit possession in Malagasy culture is seen as a coup d'état, and that possessed people strongly differentiate themselves from the spirit possessing them. Indeed, it is crucial to note that a same host can be possessed by more than one spirit. [...]
[...] Mind is intangible, immortal, and immaterial. It is, according to Descartes, situated in the pineal gland in the brain, and that is how it does interact with the body. Indeed, for him, the mind controls the body. This dissociation was the pillar of our modern societies' way of development. It philosophically asserted the distinction between human beings and animals; it drew particular oppositions that are the fundations of our Western societies: animal/human, emotions/reason, nature/culture, with a higher moral value given to the mind's activities. [...]
APA Style referenceFor your bibliography
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee