Brain Pickings

Between Sinew and Spirit: Are You a Body with a Mind or a Mind with a Body?

An animated journey to the center of the self.

Between Sinew and Spirit: Are You a Body with a Mind or a Mind with a Body?

“The body provides something for the spirit to look after and use,” computing pioneer Alan Turing wrote as he anguished at the intersection of love and loss. And yet we are creatures of atoms, with spirit and sinew inextricably entwined. A century before neuroscientists came to explore the central mystery of consciousness, Rilke knew how beholden the mind is to the body when he wrote: “I am not one of those who neglect the body in order to make of it a sacrificial offering for the soul, since my soul would thoroughly dislike being served in such a fashion.”

So what is the direction of servitude between the body and the mind, and where does the constellation of certitudes we experience as a self reside in all of it?

In this lovely animated inquiry from TED-Ed, inspired by Isaac Asimov’s I Robot (public library), Maryam Alimardani traces the mind-body problem from Descartes’s foundational ideas to the disorienting findings of neuroscience to explore the ever-elusive locus of self.

Complement with Walt Whitman on the paradox of the self, pioneering immunologist Esther Sternberg on how our minds affect our bodies, and PTSD researcher Bessel van der Kolk on how body and mind converge in the healing of trauma, then revisit other illuminating TED-Ed animations exploring why we fall in love, what makes you you, how melancholy enhances creativity, why some people are left-handed, what depression actually feels like, and why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity.

Published November 13, 2017




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