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Essay/Term paper: The question of an answer: what it is to be human

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Philosophy

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The Question of an Answer: What It Is To Be Human

The body is socially constructed; and in this paper we explore the various and
ever-changing constructions of the body, and thus of the embodied self......The
one word, body, may therefore signify very different realities and perceptions
of reality.....(Synnot 1992, 43)

It has been said that in order to understand life and society, we as
people must first understand ourselves. Who are we as a people? Who are we as
individuals? Who are we as humans? These questions all present themselves when
discussing a topic such as this. I believe that it is indeed important to ask
questions such as these, and also as important to answer them. All of this
assuming of course, that there is one specific answer. My problem begins here,
in that I do not believe that there is one defined answer to these questions.
As you will see, many "great philosophic minds" have different views and beliefs
relating to these questions, and it is my job to sort through these different
beliefs and discover...... What it is to be human
It seems that for ages the human body has been studied and inspected.
However, literal "inspection" only takes us so far. As humans, we all know that
there are parts of our "being" that are intangible. Take thoughts, dreams, and
things of the like. We know they exist, yet they are unable to be inspected
scientifically (to any valuable degree at least). The distinction between
beliefs begins here. How one views this intangible side of life with respect to
the tangible, is the factor that defines one's beliefs.
There are several ways in which one may view the body. A dualist is one
who views the body and mind, or tangible and intangible, as two separate
intities existing together to form one being. The principle of "Cogito, ergo
sum," or in english, "I think, therefore I am." The "I" meaning the mind, and
"I am" meaning the body. (Synnott 1992, 92) The tangible side of the person
being bound of course, by the laws of biomechanics and gravity, and the
intangible being bound by nothing but the laws of reasoning.
".....the body, from its nature, is always divisible and the mind is completely
indivisible." (Descartes 1995, 70)
Like anything, dualism comes with its pro's and con's. Many people
choose to believe in the idea of dualism because of its truths. Obviously, we
can all see that indeed, the body is real and tangible, and that the mind on the
other hand is the intangible, although it too is real. Likewise, as evidence of
dualism we have undoubtedly felt the physical as well as the non-physical. The
physical being, exhaustion or heat. The non-physical perhaps being the "ah-ha"
experience, learning something or even dreaming.
Dualism however, does have its share of con's. Take for example, the
actual evidence of this belief. No one has ever been able to explain totally
how the mind and the body work together. How can a tangible reality coexist
with an intangible one? This one question is the draw of most criticism of the
belief, obviously because no one has been able to answer it. Along the same
line of thinking, how does one explain the physical location of the mind,
without giving it a physical nature? If I said that undoubtedly my mind is
located in my brain, I have made it part of the brain, and thus into a physical,
tangible intity. The same goes for wherever one would like the mind, or "soul."
Dualism itself can be broken up into four types. Object dualism, value
dualism, behavior dualism, and language dualism. (Kretchmar 1994, 37) Of the
four, object and value are by far the two most prominent. Its important to
understand that any dualist is an object dualist. The basis of object dualism
is that of dualism itself, the idea that the mind and the body are separate
intities. Value dualism however, is a bit different. A value dualist agrees
that the mind and the body are separated, yet they value the mind over the body.
A value dualist puts emphasis on the fact that the mind is superior to the body,
and in effect supervises it. "The body is distanced from the thinking person
because it is less capable." (Kretchmar 1994, 42)
The attraction of value dualism is huge. The fact is that people simply
cannot trust their senses (their body) all of the time. Kretchmar provides an
excellent example of this:

For example, playing center field, we see the batter take a mighty swing, hear a
loud crack of the ball against the bat, and see the ball start on a trajectory
that would take it over our head. We begin to run back to make the catch, but
we have been deceived. The ball actually struck the end of the bat, and it
turns out to be a short blooper that falls in front of us. (Kretchmar 1994, 42)

It is facts like this that attract people toward the idea of a separate mind
that is superior to a separate body. It seems that logic is indeed a better
choice. Would logic have allowed our body to make the mistake?
The truths in dualism have allowed it to make its way into much of our
culture. In society today, it is very hard to escape dualistic thinking. Take
the Christian view of death and afterlife for example. "Does not death mean
that the body comes to exist by itself, separated from the soul, and that the
soul exists by herself, separated from the body? What is death but that?"
(Plato 1995, 68) Of all the type of dualism, value dualism is the most evident
form found all around us. For example, here at The University of the Pacific,
the course of study now known as "Sports Sciences," was formerly known as
"Physical Education." Although the same course material is covered, the name
was "upgraded" due to the fact that society seems to place much more importance
on the academic side of the human than it does the physical.
What would it be like if the physical were valued as much as the mental?
Well thankfully there is a system of viewing the body that allows this mutual,
equal importance to occur. Holism is a school of thought that views the mental
and the physical on the same level. Holism actually incorporates four basic
ideas, two stemming from the body, two stemming from the mind, all linking
together. (Sverduk lecture 1996) The idea of holism is a defeat to the idea
of mechanistic thinking which evolved between 500BC and 1300AD. (Sverduk
lecture 1996)
The idea of mechanistic thinking is that everything on earth can be
explained by breaking it down and examining its parts. It is evident how often
the body itself is taken in a mechanistic view, and indeed many are treated as
if their body is a machine, doing anything to make it better, bigger, faster,
and more efficient. With the mechanistic view of the body comes many methods of
which to enhance it. "This obsession with body image has led to exponential
increases in cosmetic surgery, weight-loss fads, muscle building, and even
disturbing uses of new genetic engineering techniques." (Kimbrell 1992, 52)
This view of the body even brings on several dualistic notions. The idea that
we are "ghosts caught in machines." (Kimbrell 1992, 59) Obviously this notion
is a harmful one, "Much of the stress and illness caused by the modern
workplace is due to the fact that man is not machine." (Kimbrell 1992, 59)
Holism, as I mentioned earlier, is a defeat to this mechanistic line of
thinking. The basic idea is that the body is made from a little bit of a wide
variety of things. Feelings, emotions, biomechanics, kinesiology, phyco-social
aspects of activity, etc.. These factors can be set up into a quadrant system,
allowing us to view them all separately. Being viewed separately, these things
become "holons," each existing alone, while simultaneously existing as part of
another. (Sverduke lecture 1996) All of these, along with many more things,
make up the human.
Take for example the action of weightlifting. On one hand, the lifter
feels the hate, disgust, or confidence brought about by his action. This aspect
falling into the upper-left quadrant. The athlete also feels the laws of
biomechanics. Things like gravity and the laws of motion. All of these falling
into the upper-right quadrant. Phyco-social aspects also enter into the lower-
left hand quadrant. These are things like values and questions as to why the
lifter is lifting (i.e.: to impress others, or for his own health). The last
quadrant is reserved for the actual kinesiology of the lifter. He can feel his
heart rate increase, his breathing increase, etc. A holistic view incorporates
all four quadrants into the "complete" person. It is all of these "truths" that
draw people to the idea of holism.
For a holist, physical education is just as important as mental
education. It is just as important to move intelligently as it is to think
intelligently. Holism is a bit like a piece of paper. You cannot have a piece
of paper with only one side. Each side is separate, yet each are essential to
forming one total piece of paper. (Beal lecture 1996)
Taking into consideration all of this information, I am now able to
create my own personal philosophy as to what it is to be human. It is a very
difficult task indeed, to sit and think solely about what comprises my human
presence. To do so, one must consider values, ethics, and their beliefs. To be
human, in my mind, is much more than merely the mind and the body. It seems
strange to me that such a complex being could be explained by a school of
thought such as dualism. Dualism seems a bit too vague.
I believe that I would take a more holist approach to this question.
Perhaps this is due to the fact that I can relate to all the sub-groups in a
holistic approach. I have felt all of these areas, and therefore seem to
believe a bit more in this idea. To me, the human is a being comprised of a
mind that takes into consideration time and space, as well as emotions and
feelings, and a body that exists kinetically and spiritually. The physical
aspect of life is just as important as the mental one. A human is a being that
experiences life with respect to all these areas, and works throughout there
lives to create the best life they can. The human searches for, and completely
defines his beliefs. I believe in the existential idea of existence proceeding
essence. "....first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and,
only afterwards defines himself." (Vanderzwagg 1969, 48) I do not believe that
the human is born "into" a life, but works to create one.
Whatever the human may be comprised of, it is no doubt that it is a
difficult question to answer. Different people believe different things. I am
in no way to make the decision that tells specifically what the human is, but
perhaps neither is anyone else. Maybe the important thing is that we answer the
question individually, each coming to our own beliefs and understandings.


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