The Body

On the first day of Humes, during Sapere Aude before we even arrived at Davidson, my fellow humsters and I were posed the question: What is a body? Defining a body seems like a straightforward task. However, the term, ‘body,’ is used in a multitude of different ways in our vernacular and takens on a plethora of meanings. A concise and functional, but by no means complete, definition I drafted for “body” is a collection of objects and/or ideas that unite to form a whole. Nonetheless, the more I researched and pondered the question of what is a body, I began to notice a difference between uses of the term. They fell into two categories: anthropogenic bodies and “natural” bodies. 

Natural bodies are much more straightforward in their definition, and many of the bodies that I classify as “natural” are found in the physical environment. A natural body may be a body of water, such as an ocean. A natural body also encompasses one of the more colloquial uses of the term: the use of “body” to refer to the center or central aspect of something. For example, someone may refer to the body of a text or the body of a truck. These “natural” bodies tend to be more stagnant than their anthropogenic counterparts. However, the key difference lies in the fact that anthropogenic bodies have a quality which I describe as a “mind.” 

Of course, this begs the question: What is a mind? Expanding upon the concept of a human brain, a mind is a mechanism that is autonomous and controls behavior in some manner. In bodies with minds, decisions are made beyond the individual part. In this sense, a mind is not necessarily tangible. In addition to the individual human mind, a mind can belong to a body of individuals (a crowd), a body of knowledge, or a governing body. I deem the second category “anthropogenic” bodies because they are formed in some capacity through human involvement or are human bodies themselves. While they are separate entities, in most cases, minds outside the human body are merely a collection of human minds working consciously and unconsciously in unison. A major consequence of having a mind is that anthropogenic bodies are constantly changing and adapting. All the previous evidence leads to the conclusion that anthropogenic bodies are a collection of objects and/or ideas that unite to form a whole and are controlled in some variety by a mind. I have organized anthropogenic bodies into four major categories: the human body, a body of knowledge, a body of people, and a governing body. 

The human body seems like it would be the most familiar of all of the bodies. While that may be true, Dr. Bory’s unit on dance certainly made me question how well I knew my physical body, and Dr. Robb’s unit made me contemplate if I really understood the control center of the body, my mind. You often hear these two words together when discussing the human form: body and mind. And the Humanities course this year has helped me better understand my own body, mind, and place in the universe.  

A body of knowledge can be a stagnant body: confined by the limits of technology, human capabilities, or even the very parchment it is recorded on. However, a body of knowledge is much greater than simply what is recorded. While it does include the written archive, a body of knowledge also encompasses all of the living organisms alive which contribute to it. In some cases, as in Native American oral history and traditions, the body of knowledge is only shared among the minds of the people. A body of knowledge is created under human manipulation, and is very often changing and adaptable. This change is not attributable to one individual or one decision. The change occurs as a result of many individual parts operating in unconscious unison. An example of a changing body of knowledge is the narratives around the fall of Tenochtitlan. Many different narratives emerged from the conquest, and the accepted narrative has changed since the event occurred. The original records have been unchanged – new ones have surfaced or been written -, and human perception and acceptance of certain narratives has driven the change of the body. 

A crowd has a mind of its own is a common phrase my dad, a sports management professor, would use when talking about event management. A body of people operates in a similar way as a human body: a collection of individual units which unite under control of the mind. However, the mind of a crowd is not tangible, rather it is composed of the combined will of the individual minds under its control. In this manner, one individual can have more sway over the mind, and thus body of a crowd, but complete control is not obtainable. Examples of this type of body are evident in Dr. Fache’s unit, “The Three Black Venuses,” and Dr. Tamura’s unit about the Rwandan genocide. During the Rwandan genocide, individuals lost their ability to empathize with thier neighbors and reflect on the atrocities they were commiting due to the collective sway of a body of people. 

The governing body is composed of both people and systems. People are responsible for implementing and upholding systems, but at the same time, systems can grow so complex and convoluted that they become separate from the people that created them. This is evident in Denham’s unit about the RAF in Germany. The capitalist forces that govern our countries and that the RAF were struggling against have become so ingrained in society that the systems begin to govern themselves. Any struggle against these large, immutable, systems can seem futile, especially since a single person to blame or specific actors are difficult to identify.