Traditionally speaking, from ancient Greeks and yogis to religions and philosophy, happiness was thought of as a result of self knowledge or knowing oneself. The idea behind it is that happiness doesn’t resonate with ignorance.
As much as this concept of happiness still on today, as much as it is not complete. For the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, “Ignorance is a blessing”. So, knowledge doesn’t bring happiness; in fact it can bring sadness and despair.
Imagine one would find out about a deep forgotten childhood trauma? Imagine knowing a dark family secret? Imagine knowing the eventual death date? Imagine a clear self knowledge without any good luck in actions?
Happiness is not about self knowledge but about an attitude or a will to be happy; that’s fifty percent of the deal. The other fifty percent are left to luck.
Are you attracted to philosophy? If so, you might like these books: DK – The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained The School of Life, Anna Doherty & Alain de Botton – Big Ideas for Curious Minds: An Introduction to Philosophy John Gray – Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life
For me the role of philosophy in Christian faith has always been something like Anselm’s famous motto: “faith seeking understanding.” When applied to the faith, Philosophy is just faith seeking understanding, useful for synthesizing with reason those things initially accepted by faith. Philosophy offers the chance to know those things which the faith preaches. Didn’t […]
Everyone agrees that philosophy, at root, is “the love of wisdom”. Yet, since the beginning of the 20th century, I feel, this meaning has been lost. Philosophy has become merely an extended argument about definition; the purported wisdom of the ‘love of wisdom’ is understood in a context where the effort to find this lost […]
This phrase is so common in the world of fitness and sports, when one is asked to establish the mind body connection to activate muscles or to fire the brain into activating some muscles in a specific exercise. Anyone who works out is familiar to this idea. However, the mind body connection or relationship is not new in philosophy; it is actually a very old dilemma that is found also in religions. Therefore what is the mind and what is the body? Is the mind inside the body or vice-versa? Are we made of both or are these two the same dimension? In this dialectic dissertation, two potential answers are found: dualism and monism. For the depth and complexity of this subject, the study will be developed through multiple posts.
Definitions and etymologies:
Before digging into dualism and monism, the everlasting starting point of any analysis must take into consideration etymologies and definitions of the two main concepts, the mind and the body, as in the spirit and the matter, to give a frame to our study. Here are the conceptual ramifications of each one:
Spirit → mind →consciousness
Matter → body → brain
At a first glance, these concepts appear to belong to different categories which will be shown later on in the common definitions. But, scientifically speaking and in certain philosophical schools, they are not as different as they may sound. We will start with matter then with spirit.
Matter is a physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit; (in physics) that which occupies space and possesses rest mass, especially as distinct from energy. Albert Einstein proposed a definition of the matter that was, and maybe still, confusing to the non-specialists: matter is energy, better known in his formula E=mc2 where E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light. This new definition of the matter transformed the latter into a non-perceptible phenomenon. Put is simply, matter is for the common people what is tangible or perceptible with a form, dimensions and content. For physics since the 20th century, it is energy for Einstein and a complete uncertainty of movements in quantum physics. In both definitions, there is no mention of the spirit.
To make things more complicated, some ancient and current tribes believe that matter is animated by a spirit; a belief better known as animism.
So, as one can see, the problematic concept is spirit.
The body is made of matter, of physical interacting substances that can form an organism or a structure of organs. In a living body, organs are made of tissues and cells where each cell is subdivided and has a certain function. That’s why the body functions as a whole.
The spirit has many definitions but to this study, the main one will be retained. The spirit is the non-physical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character, known as the soul.
Spirit comes also from the Latin word anima, which is the principle of animation. As aforementioned, some people believe that nature is animated, that means has a spirit as spiritus, breath (the word animal comes from anima). Aristotle believed that animals had a spirit. Of course, later on spirit as a concept will have a different meaning.
The mind is the invisible and non-perceptible element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought. The correlation between mind and thought can be seen in the origin of the word:
Old English gemynd ‘memory, thought’, of Germanic origin, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘revolve in the mind, think’, shared by Sanskrit manas and Latin mens ‘mind’.
Therefore the concepts of mind and consciousness are synonyms.
After a long platonic influence and a long religious tradition, precisely monotheistic religions, only humans have a spirit and a mind; the rest of creatures are only determined by their instincts. The questions remain the same: what is the mind and what is the body? Is the mind inside the body or vice-versa? Are we made of both or are these two the same dimension? In this short dialectic dissertation, two potential answers are found: dualism and monism on more upcoming posts.
I was born in Lebanon during the civil war (1975-1990) and I grew up to the sounds of bombs, which back then seemed very normal to me. Even today, I ask myself how I was not scared, how was I able as a child to find bombs and hiding underground a sort of an amusement. In 1990, Syria occupied Lebanon until 2005. It was a dictatorial occupation, an iron stranglehold which gave a lot of security to the country and some economic growth. Since 2005, we have known peace and turmoils, and now an economic and financial crisis like never known before; some says it is a reminder of the eve of WWI.
On parallel, Lebanon has always been the party place of the world. We party all day. We party for any reason. We party for no reason. I guess we love wars and partying. Some might say it is resilience or probably denial. There is a fine line between resilience and denial. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. It is being mentally flexible to adapt to difficult situations in order to survive. On the other hand, denial is trying to self-protection by refusing to accept the truth about something that’s happening in life. Maybe, we are both and any Lebanese somehow is both wherever they live.
Turmoil and party may seem contradictory but it is not. On this, I like to refer to Nietzsche in The Birth of tragedy where he explains the relationship between tragedy and music.
Life to Nietzsche is essentially tragic and tragedy can happen to anyone. The ultimate tragedy is death; the latter gives meaning to life. Knowing and accepting tragedy can only result in a celebration of life. Therefore music and partying are a celebration of life; a life lived on the edge of tragedy. When the day is gone with its worries and tasks, here comes the night in its gravity and depth, the drunkenness of love and beauty. In other words, only a joyful night can make an enjoyable day. Because, whatever we do, tragedy is around the corner.
Is this attitude resilient or a denial? I guess it is neither nor. It is the attitude of anyone who lives on the edge where every action can be like stepping on a landmine.
A therapeutical approach through philosophy is not a new subject. Long forgotten, philosophy has developped into an increasing fragmentation of the subject, based on rationality and somehow quasi-scientific. Although philosophy is to be addressed to the masses, unfortunately only academics and amateurs can read it and understand it. However, that was not the case in ancient Greece.
Greek philosophers believed that philosophy (the love of wisdom) could help for a better living both on the individual and the collective levels. it was eudemonisitc (eudemonia in greek means happiness); happiness achieved through virtue and higher thinking. To say it differently, it was a rational approach to life. It taught control over passions, and ethics.
Roman philosophers were on this path too. The brilliant Seneca offered, and still do, a life coaching through his writings and advices. Letters to Lucilius is the book to read if one wants some counceling (trust me on this!).
Fast forward many centuries later, a philosophical councelling or consultancy emerged in some countries such as in Germany with Gerd Achenbach, in France with Oscar Brenifier and in USA with Lou Marinoff who defines this branch of philosophy as:
” a therapy for the sane”
Each counceling has a different method: it goes from formal logic to Socratic maieutic to Wittgenstein’s philosophical reflection and so on, always based on philosophical theories.
The benefits of the philosophical therapy are many. Most importantly, it teaches people to think logically and find their own answers. Sounds easy right? Not really. Besides, it is a shorter therapy then other forms of psychotherapy.
Or what exactly I have learned about the body in general reading Spinoza.
It is not very common to link philosophy to fitness, philosophy being a discipline of the mind and rational thinking. However it is such a vast world that the reader can find any topic analyzed by philosophers. Philosophy is maybe the only real lesson of life.
Baruch Spinoza was a leading philosophical figure of the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. Hegel said about him: “The fact is that Spinoza is made a testing-point in modern philosophy, so that it may really be said: You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all.” His philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted Gilles Deleuze to name him “the ‘prince’ of philosophers”.
Being a big critic of dualism, Spinoza’s philosophy focused on monism starting with the body and he wrote the following:
“We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy that body or to be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body”.
In other words, humans aren’t free unless they know the causes of their actions. The cause is in the body. To understand this idea, Spinoza describes life as a series of occursus or encounters. Therefore, we encounter everything: people, events, phenomenons, viruses etc. Each and every encounter affects us differently, depending on each one’s body characteristics and forces.
I learned this lesson seriously and I started to observe my body’s reactions to almost any encounter, including food, fitness exercises, some tasks at work and so on. Progressively, I began to add some little adjustments to my daily life based on my observations. Would you believe me if I say that Spinoza was a life changer?
I recommend reading Spinoza, specially his masterpiece Ethics. You can never go wrong.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote: “Become who you are”. Defining the “who you are” implies the following concepts: conscious animal, thinking animal, rational animal, speaking animal, political animal (Aristotle) and the list goes on. Then how to become an animal?
The link between humans and animals has always been solid but gladiatorial. History of mankind would have been totally different had horses been extinct alongside dinosaurs. So, naturally and culturally, animals have always been present in humans lives.
Mythology tells us stories of deities, humans and animals. Most of the time, deities had human and animal traits. Only evolution of societies draws a separation line between what is considered as culture, (therefore human) and nature (the animal world). The more this line of segregation was thick, the more collateral damages were made on beings from both sides.
The animal in me brought animal rights back to life. Sympathy with animals and nature motivates all sorts of new ethical actions such as veganism, nature protection, and ethical treatment to animals and so on.
The animal in me also brought to life a new (or old new) workout: the animal flow. It consists of moving like some animals, mostly reptiles, to increase mobility, strength and flexibility. Now this makes me think differently: an ethical treatment to animals is one thing and becoming an animal for few times a week is something else.