The dam and the body

We often believe we are one and the same as our body or, if we give more consideration to the question, to be inside our body. Yet, if we think more, such ideas make little or no sense. If we split open a body, we are not going to find anything like our mind. Inside our body, nothing is like our thoughts, sensations, perceptions, emotions.

Inside a body there are only cells, blood, bones, flesh, guts, which are all very useful items, but nothing like ourselves. So what? So, it should be clear, the body is not a container inside which the famous ghost in the shell is living. It does not matter if common sense and many neuroscientists believe so.

In contrast, the role of the body is akin to that of a dam.

A dam does not contain the water of the lake (it is not a bathtub). A dam does not create water. In the desert, a mile high dam would not create any lake. Yet, a dam, in the proper circumstances (mountains, rain, rivers, etc.) would be one of the conditions sufficient to bring a lake into existence.

Likewise, our body is one of the conditions that, in the right conditions, allows a world of objects, situations, and events to come into existence. Such objects are what we found inside our experience or, to avoid any misunderstandings, such objects are one and the same with our conscious experience.

Inside our experience, there are no ideas or impressions or memories or perceptions of an apple. Inside our experience, we find real apples! Even in our dreams, we do not stumble onto images of apple, we find apples!

Our body is the dam that holds together that lake that is, at the same time, our world and our conscious experience of the world, the two being the same. The dam is the condition that makes the existence of the lake possible. However, the dam does not create the lake.

Of course, if we modify the dam, the lake will change accordingly. If we lower or destroy part of the dam, the level of the water will change and the shape of the lake will change too. Likewise, leaving everything else unchanged, if we modify or damage a living brain (either because of conditions, trauma, electromagnetic stimulation or with a scalpel), the set of objects that exist because of the brain will be modified accordingly. This does not mean that our experience is inside the brain.

So, my dear neuroscientists, please relax! Don’t start muttering indignantly that “all empirical evidence shows that acting on the brain affects one’s conscious experience”. I know it. However it does not mean that our experience is inside our brains, it means only that brains have a conditional role in the physical processes that bring our experience into existence!

The metaphor of the dam and the lake illustrates very clearly how the relation between brain/body and world/conscious experience works. The brain is one of the conditions (neither necessary nor sufficient) that, in the proper circumstances, bring a set of relative objects into existence. It is just one among many conditions though. It is neither the basis of consciousness nor its container. It is akin to a switch that does not create the electric current that switches on the lightbulb.

It is a historical fact that neurosciences have made a confusion between the conditional role of the brain and the notion that the brain contains (or is the basis) of consciousness. It is a remarkable mistake due both to the narcissism of neuroscientists who like to think they are the scholars of the mind and to our intellectual inertia (common sense has traditionally confused between bodies and persons). So much the worse for both.

Are we bodies? No. Are we inside our bodies? Neither! We are in the world, better: we are worlds. Our bodies are just dams.

3 thoughts on “The dam and the body”

  1. Bad metaphor. What happens when the dam disappears suddenly? What happens when the body dies? What happens with this world we are?

    1. If the dam disappears, the water flows down and that aggregate of water that we refer to as a lake stops existing.
      So, if the body dies (that is, it stops working and having a causal role), the world that is one with our mind, disappears too because it flows into undifferentiated collections of physical events with no longer any causal unity.
      What happens to a lake when the dam crumbles down? It disappears. The water will disperse, and the lake will cease to exist.

      Keep in mind my notion of relative existence, where all physical entities have a relative existence, just like relative velocity. Consider this example: What happens to the velocity of my car relative to a truck, if the truck were eliminated? The relative velocity of my own car too will cease to exist.

  2. Dear Riccardo,

    Thanks for the nice metaphore of the dam and the lake.

    If I understand it well, you say that a person is one and the same as his/her conscious experience of the world (= the world).

    I have following questions:

    1. Where is one’s conscious experience of the world made of? (the lake is i.e. made of water….)

    2. If one’s conscious experience of the world is ALL what one is, then one’s ideas should also be part of one’s conscious experience. Is this true?

    3. If yes, then what’s the nature of one’s ideas?

    Kind regards,

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