I Am Not This Body

Brian J Stanley in The New York Times:

We live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom: our body.
— Marcel Proust

BodyEvery time I look at my face in a magnified mirror in a hotel bathroom, I jump back in surprise. Seen closely, my skin looks like the surface of a strange planet. Ridges and canyons pock my chin and lips. Forests of tiny hairs grow from my ear lobes. Unnoticed pimples rise from my nose like volcanoes. A sheen of oil coats the landscape. I half expect to see alien creatures living in minute settlements in my dimples or roving the great plains of my cheeks — and could I look at higher magnification, I would see exactly that. I do not identify with my body. I have a body but I am a mind. My body and I have an intimate but awkward relationship, like foreign roommates who share a bedroom but not a language. As the thinker of the pair, I contemplate my body with curiosity, as a scientist might observe a primitive species. My mind is a solitary wanderer in this universe of bodies.

Though I identify with mind, the mind itself is matter. I remember dissecting a fetal pig’s brain in high school. As I sliced layers of cerebellum and cerebrum, I imagined someone likewise cutting my own brain from my skull and examining the weird intersection of my mind and body. There I would lie in the petri dish, the whole mystery of my being made visible, the unutterable complexities of consciousness, thought and personality reduced to a three-pound mass of squiggly pink tissue. Hello, self. Where is the vaporous soul I am said to be, the exiled child of God from another world? This looks, rather, like some Martian’s bizarre pet.

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