As a dance major, you delve into more obscure and philosophical topics of conversation than an outsider might expect. You find yourself discussing the validity of various metaphors used to describe anatomical structure and physiology. You question what distinguishes art from the “ordinary,” whether art can truly be qualitatively critiqued, and who art is made for. You contemplate different modes of movement, the cultural baggage every movement carries, the fact that there can be no such thing as a “neutral body.” Living as a dual major in dance and neuroscience, I have one foot in this nebulous, theoretical, philosophical space and another in a more concrete, applied sphere. I come at the issues that plague dance majors from an alternate perspective, which I feel allows me a clarity and understanding that extends beyond both my majors and into my overall understanding of the world.
A specific topic that overlaps both my fields of study is the concept of a “bodymind.” The “mind” is defined as the element of a person that enables their cognition – the “part” of them that enables thought, memory, consciousness, perception, et cetera. The idea of a “bodymind,” consequently, integrates the mind and the physical body as one entity. This view, alternately known as monism, directly addresses the body-mind problem in psychology, wherein attempts are made to explain the connections between the non-physical mind and physical body. Dualism is an alternate explanation to monism, which distinguishes mind and matter as distinctly separate.
As dualism and monism exist in psychology, they also exist in dance. Instructors in particular tend to prescribe to one stance or the other. In other words, some instructors tend to focus on training the body as if it were a thing or tool, rather than a thinking, perceiving entity. Alternatively, other instructors make a concerted effort to raise the status of the body to that of a bodymind, going so far as to never mention the body without also referencing the mind. This semester, I have a professor in the latter category that insists on amending any statement of the word “body” to “bodymind.” (As you might expect, this can become a little tiresome.)
The prevalence of this issue in my studies has led me to consider my own stance to the body-mind problem. In doing so, I have found that my views don’t align with either monism or dualism. My views, in fact, are totally incompatible with both explanations. This is due to the fact that, in order to decide whether the mind and body are separate, one must first prescribe to the existence of a “mind.” As a student of neuroscience, I understand cognition as sequences of physiological processes, and on a smaller scale, as chemical interactions. Perception, emotion, memory, decision making, and even consciousness itself, ultimately derive from these researchable, testable processes. While this view may degrade the mystery and allure of the “miracle” of cognition, I find it far more intriguing than the alternative.
In tossing the concept of a “mind” altogether, one comes to acknowledge our physical, bodily experience and “non-physical,” mental experience to be one and the same. This may sound synonymous with acceding to bodymind theory, but it is in fact quite different. Because our experience is holistically created via bodily processes, it is redundant to name ourselves “bodyminds.” Rather, we are simply bodies. Cognition (the “mind”) is implied in this statement, and needn’t be obscured by a dramatic label.
Heavy questions arise from this acknowledgement: If the “mind” is simply a result of bodily processes, do we really have any control over our mental experience? If consciousness derives from chemical processes, which in turn are governed by fairly static laws, is our experience of it largely predetermined? In short, do we truly have free will? Or is it simply an illusion – wool pulled over our eyes by the laws of nature?
Personally, I find myself tending more and more towards the opinion that “free will” does not exist. Like the “mind,” it is not an actual entity of its own, but rather a secondary result of naturally occurring processes. While my perceptual experience conflicts with this view and I feel as though I have free will, I recognize that it may all just be smoke and mirrors.
Of course, there is one question that arises from this discussion that trumps all the rest: Does any of this really matter? The answer: of course not. Musings such as these should be regarded as nothing more than the ramblings of a college undergraduate far too entrenched in her studies. But I digress.