Deric Bownds posted on his blog the abstract of an interesting paper, which discusses the effects of mind/body dualism – the idea that the body is separate from the mind – on one’s health. According to the abstract, the authors found that people who hold a dualistic mindset are more likely to make poor health decisions than those who don’t.
Having been exploring this dualism for years, even before I knew it had a name, I can certainly attest to having experienced this effect. I originally planned to post this on Deric’s blog as a comment, but it’s grown long enough to merit a post of its own.
Some time ago, I had settled on the realization that the mind is not separate from the body (of course I ‘knew’ this already, but realization and knowledge are different things), and the thought of being ‘nothing more than a set of complex chemical reactions’ overwhelmed me.
Ironically, I clung to duality as, despite knowing better, I could not shake the experience of separateness. I felt like I was being torn apart – my knowledge of what I am conflicted with my experience of what I am – and this conflict took its toll – I lost a bunch of weight, stopped going out almost entirely, let my hygiene lax, etc. My mental health suffered as well.
I don’t exactly know why this happened – why I encountered so much internal resistance. I do remember spending a great deal of time trying to contemplate the meaning of ‘not existing’ – as if I could somehow experience the ‘nothing’ that I felt, at the time, awaited me after my death. Beyond that, though, I guess I was obsessed. I couldn’t not think about it, and for a long time. To this day I still do, occasionally, though not with the same desperate intensity.
Since then I’ve had further realizations that have helped me to overcome the conflict. I realized that everyday personal experience is not a reliable way to understanding the nature of reality. I learned as much as I could about how the brain generates the mind – especially the simulation of separateness that it pulls off. I studied much of the recent philosophy on the subject. I also experienced moments where the illusion of separation briefly vanished.
These endeavors ultimately led me to my most important realization: that I am the universe that I feel I am so separate from – and so is everyone and everything else. All these existential dualities are man-made – mind/body, life/not-life, conscious/not-conscious – and therefore are not representative of the reality in which we live, despite how real they seem. They are an artifact of language, and of the human need to categorize everything we come into contact with.