May 7, 2012
The nature of the relationship between the mind and the body remains in question. While they exist as two distinct entities, the mind and body are not entirely separate entities. Sensation unites them because sensations of the body are perceived by the mind, which provokes thought. From this distinction within a union, mental perceptions of bodily sensations generate- and regenerate- one’s sense of self. This sense of self, or body image, becomes the point of reference for one’s ability to maintain that self in health through the capacities of judgment, homeostasis, survival, and reproduction. These processes are most efficient and successful when the relationship between the mind and the body is best manifested- when it is most present. Presence is thus a fully occupied body and fully embodied mind. Because sensations of the body lead to perceptions and thoughts of the mind- thoughts on which the body can then act to generate new sensations- presence is mentally sought sensation. While the understanding of the mind/body relationship is constantly evolving, presence remains both the means and the end of this relationship as the very condition necessary to produce and maintain it.
Presence initially arises from sensations of the body. Sensations allow the body to function as a whole in spite of the fact that it is made up of various parts. Descartes emphasizes that the whole of the body is able to transmit sensations because of its fundamental composition: “the body is a unity which is in a sense indivisible because of the arrangement of its organs” (Passion 339). The senses communicate sensations effectively because of the relationship between the parts of the body within the structure of its entirety. As Descartes describes, one’s understanding of perceptions results directly from the senses that enable it: “whatever I have up til now accepted as most true I have acquired from the senses or through the senses” (Meditations 17). The body thus leads to knowledge of existence because it is the tool through which truth is gained. Descartes further suggests that “I am not my body; I have a body” (Meditations 17) which supports the notion that the individual body parts make up a whole that is used as an existential tool. Because we have bodies- bodies as possessions of some sort- we can use them to not only gain truth and knowledge of ourselves, but also gain the presence that allows us to engage with the body as a tool in the first place.
Bodies can be used as instruments of presence because of the very nature of the whole that its parts generate. The body functions as a series of parts that are divisible from one another, as well as an indivisible whole. Not only are body parts in relationship with eachother, but they are also in relationship with the whole that they make up. As Kant explains of the body, “its parts reciprocally produce each other…and thus produce a whole out of their own causality” (Kant 245). Presence contributes to this relationship between parts and whole as the cause of its production. Presence is also a product of this relationship between parts of the body- as well as between the parts of the body to the whole- for the organism exists as more than just a combination of its individual elements. The body is thus “a ‘complicated’ instrument… [whose] various parts are all interwoven with one another in such a way as to produce a unified performance as a whole” (Heidegger 213). An aspect of this unified performance that results from the connection between body parts is the capacity for presence. Presence is fundamental to the body because it both causes the body to function as a whole with a relationship to its parts that also relate to one another, and is a product of these very relationships. The body is generated by and regenerates presence.
In addition to being composed of body parts that relate to one another and to the whole they generate, the present organism relates to, influences, and is influenced by its environment. The body is a whole that is also a complete part relating to other parts that make up a larger whole. Presence is the condition that allows for this relationship between body and environment to exist. To Heidegger, the organism is organized in regards to its milieu because the milieu generates the capacities that manifest the organism itself. Because of its presence, an organism and its environment are continuous: “this possibility already and originally belongs to man’s own essence” (Heidegger 205). Similarly, Goldstein conceives of the organism as a holistic totality that remains itself and maintains itself through interactions with its environment. Presence of the body, and as a body among an environment that influences it, allows the organism to adapt to an environment in a healthy way: “the structure of any organism is such that it makes possible performances that are the fulfillments of the requirements of its environment” (Goldstein 99). Because it is composed as a whole made up of parts that relates to a larger environmental whole, the body is capable of the presence required to adapt to and be changed by this very environment.
Presence allows for a continuous relationship between organism and environment, but the tension between organism and environment characterized by their incongruence creates presence as well. While the organism exists within and is influenced by its given environment, its environment also provokes the changes that distinguish an organism from its milieu. Freud emphasizes the surface of the body as this site of sensation and provocation of perception- as well as the point of differentiation between a body and its environment from which these sensations and provocations arise. The surface of the body serves the very purpose of differentiating it from its environment, which suggests that this discontinuity between organism and milieu is necessary for their functional relationship. This tension must exist in order to generate the presence necessary to then mediate it.
An organism is both influenced by and further influences its environment. In addition to being influenced by its milieu through provocation of adaptation, an organism uses its capacity of presence to mediate phenomenological experiences and put meaning into the world. As Merleau-Ponty expresses, the body is the very potential for existence in every possible milieu. Presence charges the body with this potential by providing it with the medium through which it experiences its environment. The Hegelian conception of an organism suggests it is constantly coming into being- it is constantly becoming. The presence necessary for this condition of life allows an organism to assimilate its outer world, despite and through its outer world, as it acts as a mediator between its internal and external forces. This sense of becoming extends beyond an organism’s subjective conditions of space in terms of its environment to include its subjective existence in time. An organism’s becoming not only punctuates its existence within the present moment, but also emphasizes its presence in the present- presence that is purposeful, productive, and reproductive.
By giving an organism the capacity to respond to its environment, the condition of presence as sought sensation also charges an environment with the power to directly shape the individuals within it through the sensations this environment provokes. Foucault argues that a milieu influences a body by making it a privileged site of the deployment of power, which invests the body with new meaning. Environments and the relationships that make them up can thus be changed through practices of disciplinary power and biopower to further change the organisms that enact these relationships. In the Canonian sense, bodies become modeled after the political or economic state in which they exist, as political organization deconstitutes bodies and bodily selves- especially those of colonial subjects. The politics of a society not only influence the way the bodies within that society are treated by other bodies, but also how each individual subject treats oneself. Not only does an organism relate to its milieu; through manipulation for the purpose of exercising power, a milieu can also relate to and change the organisms existing within it.
The relationship between the mind and the body generates the bodily sensation and mental perception process that characterizes presence. Although they are in relationship, the mind and body exist as two distinct entities, which allows them to interact sequentially. According to Descartes, “senses [come] first, while the use of my reason [comes] only later” (Meditations 113). He emphasizes the sequence of bodily sensation generating mental perception, but presence extends this process by continuing and reversing it: once effects on the body provoke the mind, the mind can move the body to act in a way that further seeks the sensations that produce these effects. Presence is the taking advantage of the mind/body relationship, as it is comprised of two distinct and thus potentially sequential entities. Because of this manipulated relationship, presence is also not only the perception of self in hindsight of sensation, but the generation of self to further be perceived.
While they exist as separate entities, the mind and the body function as a union to produce, react to, and reproduce a state of presence. Presence is the very union that binds the two, allowing them to continue to relate to eachother in a fully mentally embodied or physically perceived way: the “body causes the soul to have feelings and passions, and the soul causes the body to move, through an inexplicable ‘union’ between the soul and the body” (Passions 325). This relationship and its ability to complete the roles of the mind and body as distinct elements of an organism allow them to function as a union that generates presence. Because presence is sensation sought because of the relationship between mind and body, the “nature of man [as] a combination of mind and body” (Meditations 121) causes the conditions necessary to produce and reproduce presence. Without this vital union, presence as the ability to seek sensation would not further exist as a means that carries on the very union that produces it.
Consciousness is an equivalent to presence also generated by mental perceptions of bodily sensations. Presence is consciousness- but more specifically it is mental consciousness of the physical self. As Merleau-Ponty explains, the “human subject [is] an irresolvable consciousness which is wholly present in every one of its manifestations” (Merleau-Ponty 120). Because consciousness is what we are instead of what we have, it is also the ability to act and the act of acting. This further drives presence as the seeking of sensation to perpetuate the presence cycle; it is not just a process but rather a condition or a state. This condition is characterized by the very contradictory relationship that generates it, although it is also this contradiction that keeps presence both relevant and necessary. Lacan’s sense of the contradiction between one’s feelings and mental perceptions in terms of the body image these feelings produce emphasizes a vital tension behind presence. This tension allows for presence by keeping us engaged and able to enact the drama between our anticipated ideals and insufficient lacks caused by our mind/body relationship. The contradiction between bodily sensations and mental perceptions creates the tension that maintains presence and keeps it both relevant and necessary in navigating the condition of the contradiction in the first place.
Presence allows us to act and react according to the relationship between mind and body. The variability of life charges any life form with the capacity to erupt into new possibilities- possibilities which further allow us to live in a constant state of normalizing the self. This normalization necessary for survival is not be possible without the initial external provocation which stimulates the mind/body relationship: “a reaction is always a function of the opening of a sense to stimulations, and of its orientation with regard to them” (Canguilhem 113). Hobbes also emphasizes life’s characteristic of motion by claiming that to move is to live and that motion- as action or reaction- is the basic operation of all matter. Because motion is provoked externally and then internally influences an organism through the mind/body relationship, presence is the condition that enables one’s ability to receive and produce mental and physical motions. Presence allows us to act and react as the state enabling free will. Presence gives us the capacity to not only judge but also judge when and what to judge, for as Descartes explains: it “enable[s] me to perceive the ideas which are subjects for possible judgments” (Meditations 101). Will further enables presence because in order to be perpetuated, seeking sensation must be judged as good or desired in some capacity. “Will or freedom of choice… is not restricted in any way” (Meditations 101), so it is a product of presence that can also be a means of presence as its continued driving force. Will gives us the capacity to judge seeking sensation as desirable and thus act on it to further generate presence.
Presence is constantly generating and regenerated by the various relationships and processes intrinsic to our existence as human beings. The relationship between the mind and the body transmits bodily sensations into mental perceptions that are characteristic of and necessary for presence. Presence further engages with the mind/body relationship by taking advantage of it to then seek sensations and drive physicality with mentality. This sought sensation is only executed because of the functional composition of the body as a whole made up of bodily parts. Parts compose the whole of the body, but the body can also change and be changed by the parts making it up because of presence. This whole of a body made up of parts relates to other whole bodies made up of parts in the context of a given milieu. By contributing to the make-up of a milieu, an organism can influence its environment through the condition of presence. The potential for continuity between organism and environment also gives a milieu the capacity to be changed by, and further change, the organisms existing within it. These various relationships between mind and body, parts and wholes, and organisms and milieus are functional and effective because of the presence generating them. Presence is also an effect of these relationships that enables one’s body image and sense of self as constant yet capable of changing in space and over time. Presence, as sought sensation or the seeking of sensation, is the condition of the various relationships necessary for further enacting the mental, judging and acting on the physical, and making into reality that which could exist both mentally and physically. This charges it with immense potential and also with great responsibility.
Put simply: presence is.
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Cannon, Walter. “The Body Physiologic and the Body Politic,” The Scientific Monthly 79, no. 1 (1954): 20-26.
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