Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
René Descartes was a brilliant man, but he left us a broken heritage: the mind-body dualism, a paradigm in which we're still very much rooted 400 years later. In our pursuit of knowledge and truth we seem to have climbed up in our headquarters, in the realm of ideas, and forgotten to integrate them back into an embodied experience. When talking about developing new ideas or understanding current ones, we put a significant emphasis on the brain, to the exclusion of other forms of knowing and discovering the world.

It's important to note that the division of mind and body is a symptom of our over-intellectualization of life. In Ancient China, Zhuangzi recognized the limits of conscious thought and advocated instead the unique powers of an embodied cognition. But it seems we've lost this wisdom along the way. Now, we elevated our brains to the rank of "the most sophisticated structure in the universe," failing to address its limitations.

I've always been interested in how we can enhance our cognitive skills and also how we can use our bodies more intelligently (to live a better life). It turns out, these two aspects of our being are not separated, but deeply interconnected and reinforcing each other. Unfortunately, most of our education turns us into brainbound (a term coined by philosopher Andy Clark) individuals, whose thinking is only happening inside their skull.

But if you think about it, there are plenty of instances in which you employed external mechanisms to help you think better. For example, it's been shown that gesturing while explaining a phenomenon or relating a story is a great help is getting your point across. The relationship between walking and thinking, about which I've written before, is also a testament to the benefit of opening a line of dialogue between mind and body. Other ways in which we extend our mind beyond our brain include writing down our ideas, creating a physical object or having a stimulating conversation.

In her book The Extended Mind, a great read which I highly recommend, science writer Annie Murphy Paul attempts to bring back the body into the thinking process, by extending our cognition beyond the brain.

We need to realize the body is not simply a useless appendage we can do without. The only time we can refer to us as brains in a vat is when doing a philosophical experiment.

So how can you escape the grip of a brain-limited cognition and free your thinking to include all aspects of your experience, from your body, to the environment you find yourself in and the other minds you encounter?

Here are a few ideas:
  • Externalize your thoughts: write them down to be able to use them better
  • Run your ideas by other people: access to other's brains is one of the greatest tools we have for boosting our cognitive capacities
  • Use the power of nature and green spaces: time spent in nature will restore your mental equilibrium and recharge your energy, sharpening your cognition
  • Enact a metaphor: our language is overflowing with metaphors grounded in our physical experience; acting out a metaphor with our bodies can help open a door in our mind that was previously inaccessible
  • Engage in debates with others: this will help you produce deeper insights into the topic of discussion
  • Think with gestures: abstract ideas can be grasped more easily by associating them with bodily representations
  • Employ the magic of imitation: contrary to popular belief, imitating well requires creativity and precise attention to details
  • Own your workspace: a sense of ownership and control over your space will make you more capable and self-assured of your abilities

Timeless Content

Are We Still Thinking?
Simon Sarris | 7 minute read
We do not converse with knowledge sources, we consume them.

This article explores the transition from in-person dialogue, to books, to eventually modern forms of media (TV, radio, podcasts) and maps out the link to the politicization of our lives, where ideology reigns supreme and people are less likely to entertain thoughts that contradict their strong-held beliefs.

It is a captivating read that will for sure make you stop and think of your own tendencies of media-consumption and belief-formation.

Tool for Thought

Qigong class
Qigong Meditation | 12 minute practice
To experience the deep relationship between mind and body, why not try a short Qigong class? Qigong is a practice with roots in Martial Arts and Chinese Philosophy, done to cultivate qi (translated as "life energy").

A Qigong practice is also referred to as moving meditation, because it emphasizes the mind-body connection by using mindful breathing and slow, deliberate movements. It will also teach you to enter in a state of flow by coordinating the movements of your body to those of your mind.

Picture of the Week

Source: @realfunwow on Instagram

Quote I'm Reflecting On

Movement therapist Todd Hargrove on why you should move:

Moving better is not just about moving better. The parts of your brain that control movement are linked to the parts that control thoughts, emotions and sensory perceptions. If you want to change your emotional or mental state, and indeed your self-image, changing the way you perceive and move your body is one way to go about it. Movement is a concrete handle that can be used to grasp more abstract and intangible qualities of the brain.

Source: A Guide To Better Movement

Question For You To Ponder

Think of an activity you're already doing regularly. How can you bring your body into the equation to enhance the experience?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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