Being in the World vs. Being in the Mind

At the end of his little book On the Internet, one of the leading contemporary philosophers, Hubert Dreyfus, laments

In sum, as long as we continue to affirm our bodies, the Net can be useful to us in spite of its tendency to offer the worst of a series of asymmetric trade-offs: economy over efficiency in education, the virtual over the real in our relation to things and people, and anonymity over commitment in our lives. But, in using it, we have to remember that our culture has already fallen twice for the Platonic/Christian temptation to try to get rid of our vulnerable bodies, and has ended in nihilism. This time around, we must resist this temptation and affirm our bodies, not in spite of their finitude and vulnerability, but because, without our bodies, as Nietzsche saw, we would be literally nothing. As Nietzsche has Zarathustra say: 'I want to speak to the despisers of the body. I would not have them learn and teach differently, but merely say farewell to their own bodies—and thus become silent.'

Simpler (possibly indirect) indications of these claims are scattered everywhere for us to see. For example, consider this little note on the importance of physical being and exercise to the health of one's memory, the quintessential aspect of mind, or read the report in today's Wall Street Journal on "Exploring the Bicycle-Brain Connection: How Exercise Boosts Cognitive Function." (The Journal requires a paid subscription for access to its online edition.)

Of course, examples such as these are simply reminders of something more significant. What Dreyfus says in his various writings, including those on Heidegger and on artificial intelligence, is actually much deeper. The claim is that the understanding of (and coming to terms with) our status in the world is impossible without our physical interaction and being in it. In fact, there is a tight connection between the two. For example, we learn quite differently (in quality and experience) as we shake a hand in a meeting room, leaf through a book on a coach or write in a note book under a tree using the pen held by our fingers than when we do something similar to all these things through the use of different physical environment such as the screen of a VDT, a mouse and a keyboard. The state of physical being and the form of interaction is actually not immaterial despite what some might like to think.

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