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What role do bodies play in experiencing the world Essay


Due to revolutionary discoveries that took place during the course of 20th century in the fields of physics, biology and psychology, the conceptual fallaciousness of metaphysical conventions, which presuppose the separate existence of soul and body, is now becoming increasingly clear to more and more intellectually honest social scientists.1

In its turn, this implies that the emanations of one’s existential psyche should not be discussed outside of what happened to be the specifics of individual’s biological makeup – apparently, it is namely one’s body which predetermines the workings of his or her consciousness and not vice versa.2

In this paper, I will aim to substantiate the validity of an earlier articulated thesis in regards to how the particulars of person’s bodily constitution, reflected by the qualitative essence of his or her cognitive capabilities, affect the manner in which such a person perceives surrounding realities.

In his book, one of 20th century’s most famous anthropologists Levy Bruhl was able to expose the innermost preconditions for the fact that; whereas, Westerners proved themselves capable of driving forward cultural, social and scientific progress, many representatives of so-called ‘indigenous cultures’ failed even at advancing beyond the Stone Age.

According to the author, this can be explained by clearly ‘pre-logical’ essence of how these people indulge in cognitive reasoning. Bruhl explains this by the fact that, unlike what it is being the case with intellectually advanced Westerners, ‘pre-logical’ savages actively strive to ‘blend’ with the nature:

“Identity appears in (native) collective representations… as a moving assemblage or totality of mystic actions and reactions, within which individual does not subjectualize but objectualize itself”.3

In its turn, this explains why despite the fact that many highly ritualistic activities, practiced by ‘pre-logical’ tribesmen, do not make any sense, whatsoever (and are often utterly repulsive, as shown by Metcalf)4, these rituals nevertheless continue to define the essence of primitive people’s mode of existence.

For example, according to Herdt, in traditional societies men’s willingness to follow the ritual is often considered the foremost indication of their masculine adequacy: “Ritual makes use of physical, instru­mental routines in restricting, cleansing, and ingesting things; and the ritual behaviors funnel subjective attachments to conventions, persons, and natural species”.5

Following the ritual, however, is being often concerned with the process of people intentionally suppressing their individuality and adopting clearly communal stance towards addressing life’s challenges. This explains the methodology of teaching Asian martial arts, for example.6

Nevertheless, it was on the account of our early ancestors beginning to oppose/subjectualize themselves against the environment that they were able to attain a complete dominance over the representatives of competing species. This allowed them to establish objective prerequisites for the consequential emergence of human civilization, as we know it.7 As Taylor noted: “Perception is basic to us as subjects.

To be a subject is to be aware of, to have a world. I can be aware of the world in many ways”.8 And, be able to gain awareness of the world, one must be able to asses reality’s emanations’ three-dimensionality – that is, he or she would need to be capable of expanding its mind: “We certainly need to perceive the world to know which end is up; and we can be fooled if our perception is restricted in some way”.9

This points out to the full academic legitimacy of an idea that the particulars of people’s physical appearance are indeed being illustrative of their varying ability to properly address life’s challenges, as there is a well-defined correlation between the particulars of people’s physical appearance and the manner in which they indulge in cognition.

Therefore, it is fully appropriate to discuss the specifics of how people experience world within the context of what happened to be the qualitative characteristics of their bodies, because it is namely the essentials of individual’s physiological constitution, which more than anything else define his or her socio-cultural attitudes: “In all these ways, our perception is essentially that of an embodied agent.

Its structures only make sense in relation to this agent’s activities, and it requires at its margin the agent’s sense of his own stance”. 10 In its turn, this partially explains the phenomenon of ethnic immigrants sticking close to the ideals of ‘traditional living’; well after they relocate to Western countries11 – apparently, they never cease acting as the ‘embodied agents’ of a ritual.

After all, as it was proven by the founder of Positive Criminology Cesare Lombroso, person’s endowment with ritualistic-mindedness often extrapolates itself in such person exhibiting the marks of anthropological atavism (the measure of evolutionary underdevelopment)12, which in turn presupposes atavistic individual’s tendency to indulge in anti-social behavior.

Hence, the phenomenon of so-called ‘natural born criminals’: “Many of the characteristics of primitive man are also commonly found in the born criminal, including low, sloping foreheads, overdeveloped sinuses, overdevelopment of jaws and cheekbones, prognathism, oblique and large eye sockets”.13

Nowadays, the fact that people’s individuality is indeed being reflective of their bodily characteristics is considered unmentionable – the provisions of political correctness deny even the slightest possibility for individual’s physical appearance to play an important role in determining the qualitative subtleties of his or her existential self-identity.14

This, however, does not undermine the validity of a great number of anthropological studies, the authors of which have succeeded in exposing biologically predetermined correlation between the specifics of people’s racial affiliation and the essence of their perceptional uniqueness, which in turn defines their chances to attain social prominence through education.15

For example, the fact while IQ-tested, the majority of African-Americans score rather poorly, as compared to what it is being the case with Chinese-Americans and Caucasians16, is now being commonly addressed as the consequence of these people being continuously exposed to ‘poverty’, ‘undernourishment’ and ‘institutionalized racism’.17

There is, however, a better explanation to this phenomenon, related to purely physiological aspects of maturing process, on the part of African-Americans. After all, for duration of at least a century, physicians and anthropologists never ceased being aware of the fact that sutures on most Black people’s skulls close by the time they reach the age of 20-25 years old.

The sutures on skulls of majority of Whites, on the other hand, fully close by the time they reach the age of 40-50 years old.18 Yet, it is specifically the fact that not fully closed sutures permit brain’s expansion in size, which establishes objective preconditions for individuals with this particular cranial characteristic to be continuously advancing, in intellectual sense of this word.19

As it was pointed out by Morriss‐Kay and Wilkie: “The evolution of human intelligence was made possible by the ability of the brain to expand within its protective casing; similarly, the development of full mental capacities in the growing individual depends on long-term expansion of the skull to allow free growth of the brain”.20

The earlier articulated suggestion, however, should not be thought of as being intentionally malicious, due to what may be perceived as its ‘racist’ undertones that supposedly imply Black people’s inferiority, because the academic legitimacy of scientific data does not depend on the extent of its discursive appropriateness/inappropriateness, but solely on the extent of its objectiveness.21

After all, the same methodological approach can be well utilized within the context of exposing what predetermines Black athletes’ overwhelming dominance (superiority) in short-distance running, basketball and football, for example.22

As it was shown by Vogler and Schwartz, the reason why African-American athletes dominate earlier mentioned sports is that their bodies’ cell-breathing is much more intensive, as compared to what it is being the case with the bodies of non-Black athletes, which in turn results in supplying more energy to Black athletes’ muscles.23

Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that there are strongly defined sporting overtones to African-American culture, in general24 – people’s cultural/cognitive leanings always reflect the genetically predetermined mechanics of their bodies. This is exactly the reason why socio-cultural attitudes, on the part of African-Americans, appear being heavily affected by these people’s mental sport-orientedness.25

The soundness of paper’s initial thesis can be further substantiated in relation to what constitutes an apparent difference between Western and Oriental modes of perceiving the world.26 According to Bower: “In a variety of reasoning tasks, East Asians take a ‘holistic’ approach.

They make little use of categories and formal logic and instead focus on relations among objects and the context in which they interact… (Westerners) on the other hand, adopt an ‘analytic’ perspective. They look for the traits of objects while largely ignoring their context”.27 Such Bower’s observation explains the particulars of how most Asians tend to reflect upon the environment.

Unlike what it is being the case with Westerners, they appear ‘context-conscious’ – that is, Asians do not assess the emanations of surrounding reality as ‘things in themselves’ but rather as ‘things in entourage’.28

Such Asians’ tendency reveals itself in the design of Oriental advertisement posters, for example, most of which feature advertised products placed towards the corners; whereas, most Western advertisement posters feature advertised products at the very centre29:

This indirectly exposes the essence of East Asians’ (particularly Chinese) talent in replicating Western technological innovations on industrial scale30 and explains why Oriental existential mode has never been strongly affiliated with the process of people taking the full advantage of their endowment with creative genius.31

As it was implied in the Introduction, even though it still remains a widespread practice among many social scientists to discuss the specifics of how people shape their worldviews outside of what happened to be the qualitative characteristics of these people’s bodies, such practice can hardly be referred to as being full appropriate, in academic sense of this word.

The reason for this is simple – just as it was shown earlier, individuals’ physiological (bodily) makeup does predetermine the operative subtleties of their world-perception and consequently – their varying ability to act as the agents of progress. In its turn, this points out at the conceptual erroneousness of socio-political philosophies, based upon the irrational assumption of people’s absolute equality.

References

Alter, JS, ‘The once and future ‘apeman chimeras, human evolution, and disciplinary coherence’, Current Anthropology, vol. 48, no. 5, 2007, pp. 637- 652.

Ambler, T & Witzel, M, Doing business in China, Routledge, Florence, KY., 2000.

Bower, B, ‘Cultures of reason,’ Science News, vol. 157, no. 4, 2000, pp. 56-58.

Brad, GS, ’No room for God? History, science, methaphysics, and the study of religion’, History & Theory, vol. 47, no. 4, 2008, pp. 495-519.

Bruhl, L, The soul of the primitive (translated by Lilian A. Clare), George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1928.

Carruthers, A, ‘Kung Fu fighting: The cultural pedagogy of the body in the Vovinam Overseas’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 9, no. 1, 1998, pp. 45-57.

Coomaraswamy, AK, ‘Eastern wisdom and Western knowledge’, Isis, vol. 34, no. 4,1943, pp. 359-363.

Denno, DW, ‘Human biology and criminal responsibility: Free will or free ride?’, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, vol. 137, no. 2, 1988, pp. 615-671.

Duncan GJ & Katherine AM, ‘Can family socioeconomic resources account for racial and ethnic test score gaps?’, The Future of Children, vol. 15, no. 1, 2005, pp. 35-54.

Gauthier, JG, ‘Introduction: Political correctness in academia: Many faces, meanings and consequences’, Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, vol. 38, no. 4, 1997, pp. 199-201.

Gnida, JJ, ‘Teaching ‘nature versus nurture’: The case of African-American athletic success’, Teaching Sociology, vol. 23, no. 4,1995, pp. 389-395.

Gobineau, A, The inequality of human races. (translated by A. Collins), G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1853 (1915).

Greenwood, S, Anthropology of magic, Berg Publishers, Oxford, 2009. Hofstadter, R, Social Darwinism in American thought, Beacon Press, Boston, 1992.

Herdt, GH, Guardians of the flutes: idioms of masculinity, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1981.

Hughes-Freeland, F, Embodied communities: Dance traditions and change in Java, Berghahn Books, New York, 2008.

Kaiping, P, & Knowles, E, ‘Culture, education, and the attribution of physical’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 29, no.10, 2003, pp. 1272- 1284.

Lewontin, RC, ‘Facts and the factitious in natural sciences’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 18, no. 1,1991, pp. 140-153.

Lombroso, C, Criminal man, Duke University Press, Durham, 1911 (2006).

Mahiri, J, ‘African American males and learning: What discourse in sports offers schooling’, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 3, 1994, pp. 364- 375.

Martinez-Abadias, N et al., ‘Heritability of human cranial dimensions: Comparing the evolvability of different cranial regions’, Journal of Anatomy, vol. 214, no. 1, 2009, pp. 19-35.

Mohan, AP &Kania, C, Organic evolution, Global Media, Mumbai, IND., 2009.

Morriss‐Kay, GM & Wilkie, AO, ‘Growth of the normal skull vault and its alteration in craniosynostosis: Insights from human genetics and experimental studies’, Journal of Anatomy, vol. 207, no. 5, 2005, pp. 637-653.

Metcalf PA, ‘Death be not strange’, Natural History, vol. 87, no. 6, 1978, pp. 6- 12.

Pittman, BD, ‘The Afrocentric paradigm in health-related physical activity’, Journal of Black Studies, vol. 33, no. 5, 2003, pp. 623-636.

Price, BJ, ‘Cultural materialism: A theoretical review’, American Antiquity, vol. 47, no. 4, 1982, pp. 709-741.

Regal, P, Anatomy of judgment, University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, MN., 1990.

Rice, MD & Zaiming, L, ‘A content analysis of Chinese magazine advertisements’, Journal of Advertising, vol. 17, no. 4, 1988, pp. 43-48.

Sesardic, N, ‘Philosophy of science that ignores science: Race, IQ and heritability’, Philosophy of Science, vol. 67, no. 4, 2000, pp. 580-602.

Shute DK, ‘Racial anatomical peculiarities’, American Anthropologist, vol. 9, no. 4,1896, pp. 123-132.

Sing Hui, L, Anna NN, Grace, YC, Creativity: When East meets West, World Scientific Publishing Co., River Edge, NJ., 2004.

Taylor, C, ‘Embodied agency’ in H Pietersma (ed.), Merleau-Ponty: Critical Essays, Uni­versity Press of America, Inc., Washington, 1989, pp. 1 – 13.

Vogler, CE & Schwartz, SC, The sociology of sport: An introduction, Prentice- Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.,1993.

Footnotes

1 GS Brad, ’No room for God? History, science, metaphysics, and the study of religion’, History & Theory, vol. 47, no. 4, 2008, p. 496.

2 BJ Price, ‘Cultural materialism: A theoretical review’, American Antiquity, vol. 47, no. 4, 1982, p. 709.

3 L Bruhl, The soul of the primitive (translated by Lilian A. Clare), George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1928, p. 120.

4 PA Metcalf , ‘Death be not strange’, Natural History, vol. 87, no. 6, 1978, p. 8.

5 GH Herdt, Guardians of the flutes: idioms of masculinity, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1981, p. 221.

6 A Carruthers, ‘Kung Fu fighting: The cultural pedagogy of the body in the Vovinam Overseas’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 9, no. 1, 1998, p. 52.

7 JS Alter, ‘The once and future ‘apeman chimeras, human evolution, and disciplinary coherence’, Current Anthropology, vol. 48, no. 5, 2007, p. 640.

8 C Taylor, ‘Embodied agency’ in H Pietersma (ed.), Merleau-Ponty: Critical Essays, University Press of America, Inc., Washington, 1989, p. 3.

9 Ibid, p. 4.

10 Ibid, p. 6.

11 Hughes-Freeland, F, Embodied communities: Dance traditions and change in Java, Berghahn Books, New York, 2008, p. 10.

12 AP Mohan & C Kania, Organic evolution, Global Media, Mumbai, IND., 2009, p. 84.

13 C Lombroso, Criminal man, Duke University Press, Durham, 1911 (2006), p. 222.

14 JG Gauthier, ‘Introduction: Political correctness in academia: Many faces, meanings and consequences’, Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, vol. 38, no. 4, 1997, pp. 199.

15 R Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American thought, Beacon Press, Boston, 1992, p. 3.

16 N Sesardic, ‘Philosophy of science that ignores science: Race, IQ and heritability’, Philosophy of Science, vol. 67, no. 4, 2000, p. 582.

17 GJ Duncan & AM Katherine, ‘Can family socioeconomic resources account for racial and ethnic test score gaps?’, The Future of Children, vol. 15, no. 1, 2005, pp. 35-54.

18 DK Shute, ‘Racial anatomical peculiarities’, American Anthropologist, vol. 9, no. 4,1896, p. 124.

19 N Martinez-Abadias et al., ‘Heritability of human cranial dimensions: Comparing the evolvability of different cranial regions’, Journal of Anatomy, vol. 214, no. 1, 2009, p.21.

20 GM Morriss‐Kay & AO Wilkie, ‘Growth of the normal skull vault and its alteration in craniosynostosis: Insights from human genetics and experimental studies’, Journal of Anatomy, vol. 207, no. 5, 2005, pp. 637-653

21 P Regal, Anatomy of judgment, University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, MN., 1990, p. 205.

22 JJ Gnida, ‘Teaching ‘nature versus nurture’: The case of African-American athletic success’, Teaching Sociology, vol. 23, no. 4,1995, p. 389.

23 Vogler, CE & Schwartz, SC, The sociology of sport: An introduction, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.,1993, p. 82.

24 J Mahiri, ‘African American males and learning: What discourse in sports offers schooling’, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 3, 1994, p. 368.

25 BD Pittman, ‘The Afrocentric paradigm in health-related physical activity’, Journal of Black Studies, vol. 33, no. 5, 2003, p. 625.

26 Coomaraswamy, AK, ‘Eastern wisdom and Western knowledge’, Isis, vol. 34, no. 4,1943, p. 361.

27 B Bower, ‘Cultures of reason,’ Science News, vol. 157, no. 4, 2000, p. 57.

28 P Kaiping & E Knowles, ‘Culture, education, and the attribution of physical’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 29, no.10, 2003, p. 1282.

29 MD Rice & L Zaiming, ‘A content analysis of Chinese magazine advertisements’, Journal of Advertising, vol. 17, no. 4, 1988, p. 44.

30 T Ambler & M Witzel, Doing business in China, Routledge, Florence, KY., 2000, p. 198.

31 L Sing Hui, NN Anna, YC Grace, Creativity: When East meets West, World Scientific Publishing Co., River Edge, NJ., 2004, p. 5.

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