“Biomechanics” is the proper term for that approach to the body that treats of the body as a machine. Having just spent another week in surgery and post-surgical recovery at the hospital, I’ve had plenty of time to muse on this (I was only supposed to be in for day surgery, but there were complications). Biomechanics is a useful approach. I have no major objection to it. But it does tend to become myopic — a problem of tunnel vision.
As noted earlier, the body IS a machine — a special kind of machine. And I would say that all our objective technologies mimic some aspect of the body’s functioning. (Marshall McLuhan referred to all such media as “extensions” of the body in his famous book Media: The Extensions of Man). One of the symptoms of severe narcissism is the sense of being a machine, which I believe is really the consequence of over-identifying oneself with the body machine.
Now, as noted before, when I state that the body is a special kind of machine, I mean that it is very responsive, flexible, fluid, and mutable. It is far less “solid” than it appears. It changes as consciousness changes, which has become a hot topic in some recent books such as The Spiritual Brain, or “How the Brain Rewires Itself” (Time Magazine) and so on. The separation of “spirit and matter,” or mind and body, which we call “dualism” has been highly exaggerated and distorted. Although the body is a kind of automaton, it also has an innate intelligence of its own. Every cell is sentient to its own degree of sentience, and the functioning of the cells and organs is marvelously coordinated and synchronised in the process called “homeostasis”. This organising principle was one of the interesting findings of Harold Saxton Burr’s sadly forgotten book called The Fields of Life.
For my hospital stay, I took one book with me. It was called The Evolution of Consciousness by Robert Ornstein. It has been very disappointing, so far. It follows the biomechanical model, where the emphasis is on “adaptation” and the purely “accidental” and “chance” adaptations that have made us what we are today. So far, not much space has been given to learning, creativity, desire, or empathy as inner, conscious factors in evolution. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the serious flaws of the biomechanical model. Consciousness generates form. This is the principle of intentionality. That’s a key principle of the Holistic Philosophy which is almost completely ignored by the Mechanical Philosophy. The evidence for that, as already noted, is the well-known placebo and nocebo effects, which belong to the “magical” structure or aspects of consciousness. We all know this from our own experience. You see a picture or imagine a scene. Your heart rate increases or decreases. Your blood pressure may go up or down. Adrenalin may flow, and so on. The body is very responsive to your imagination and mood, and to those things to which you give your attention (and even to things which you don’t notice). The body changes with every change in mood.
We understand the difference between “hearing” and “listening”, just as we should understand the difference between sightedness and insight. This difference exists because there are different senses involved — the outer, ‘material’ senses and the inner ‘spiritual’ or psychic senses. If the term “adaptation” includes the function of such “spiritual” senses, I’ve no objection to the term. But that’s not typically how it’s used. “Adaptation” is a cybernetic process. We adapt to physical reality and are adapted by it. If “adaptation” includes things like learning, creativity, imagination, desire, empathy and so on, I’ve no objection to it.
But, in fact, I would go so far as to say that the human of the modern type has exclusively followed the path of the outer senses (and technology) to the detriment of the inner senses. It could have gone the other way. Many of our technologies function as surrogates and proxies for the inner senses. Television for clairvoyance. Telephony for telepathy, and so on — going right back to the invention of the alphabet. I suspect, also, that’s one reason why the great spiritual teachers never wrote anything themselves, including Socrates. This seems to be the import of that dialogue from Phaedrus where Socrates dismisses the invention of letters
I heard, then, that at Naucratis, in Egypt, was one of the ancient gods of that country, the one whose sacred bird is called the ibis, and the name of the god himself was Theuth. He it was who [274d] invented numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters. Now the king of all Egypt at that time was the god Thamus, who lived in the great city of the upper region, which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth to show his inventions, saying that they ought to be imparted to the other Egyptians. But Thamus asked what use there was in each, and as Theuth enumerated their uses, expressed praise or blame, according as he approved [274e] or disapproved. The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; [275a] and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem [275b] to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.
The development of external media, in other words, leads to the atrophy of the inner senses. There was a surprising confirmation of this Socratic skepticism a few years back. In Romania, there was a group that for generations had memorised the stories of Homer. They didn’t read or write. Some ethnologists, anxious that the oral tradition might die out, tape recorded them reciting by heart the Iliad and the Odyssey, and within a generation the oral tradition, which had survived for millennia, died out. It was, perhaps, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The tape-recorder became the memory storage device, and people thereafter felt no need to train their memories to preserve and remember Homer’s works.