This article ruminates on existentialism’s perception that human existence is meaningless and purposeless. The piece adds that the human body is nothing of significance and thus we are tempted to disregard it. It says that nothing as it may be we must take good care of our bodies and use them to navigate our existence on planet earth. It is fun understanding how the physical universe is put together. One should not pass up on the opportunity to study science and understand how our world is put together; thus, if living in body, in nothing, facilitates that interest one must take good care of one’s body and see it as a vehicle for doing what one really wants to do, understand our world: physical, social and psychological.
Taking Good Care Of The Human Body Despite Its Nothingness
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
Look at your body; it is a marvelous machine designed by nature; it performs wonderful functions; its brain is a marvel of evolution, a thing that can study and understand how the universe works. Yet this same body in time will die and as all animals do decay. The human body is composed of organic molecules and those will decay to the elements that hold them together (nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and traces of many other elements). The elements in turn would decay to their component parts of electrons, protons and neutrons. Those subatomic particles in time would decay to quarks and photons. Photons would decay to whatever they came from during the extreme heat of the big bang (to nothingness, which means everything).
Looking at the future of the human body, death and decay one is tempted to give up on the body. Yet all we do on earth is work to provide for our bodies. We literally enslave ourselves to doing meaningless work so long as we earn money for food, medications, clothes, shelters and the other things that protect the human body.
We are afraid of the death of our bodies and defend our bodies (inside our bodies’ antibodies defend against the micro-organisms trying to make meals of our bodies by killing them). We think that all we are are bodies and that if we die that we disappear from existence, go into oblivion and finitude.
Religion tells us that there is another part of us called spirit that survives our physical deaths but our rational minds cannot verify the existence of spirit hence life after death and all we can do is merely hope that there is life after death, believe it, have faith in a God that gives us life after death (though he permits us to first die). All said we do not know that there is life after death; all we know is that what we have are bodies and that bodies do die. We are afraid of the demise of our bodies.
We know that when our bodies die, like meat they rot and smell worse than feces. If you have ever been around a dead and decaying human body you probably closed your nose for you could not deal with the awful smell, or stand the sight of the body filled with maggots feeding on it.
You are tempted to dismiss your body and the human body in general as nothing and not take it seriously. You are tempted to see the human body as mere shit, packaged shit and dressed up shit. Some do and focus on what they believe is important, spiritual matters. Those who do so do not take good care of their bodies and of course diseases soon ravage their bodies and they die. Hopefully, the spirit that they hoped for is true for them or else they had wasted their time believing in it.
Those persons who want to live in bodies for however long it can last (science indicates that the human body may live for as long as 120 years) have no option but to take good care of their bodies. Body may ultimately be nothing but as long as a person lives in body he must take care of it, protect it with good food, medications, clothes, shelter. What is the alternative, neglect it and die?
The best philosophy is a realistic one. One must see the human body for what it is, a temporary organ through which we live and explore our world, and an organ that ultimately will die and disappear to nothing. One therefore should not take the human body, ones or other peoples, too seriously; one should put the body in proper perspective, respect it, take good care of it yet not idolize it and worship it as god (as some narcissistic persons do). If you take good care of your body and yet know that it is nothing you tend to be calm.
I say all these because I recognized that my body and the human body in general is nothing and ignored my body and other people’s bodies. I did not find the human body interesting for to me it was nothing. Women generally want men to admire their bodies, to tell them that they are gorgeous creatures. But when I saw a female body I had no regard for it; I had total contempt for it for to me it was packaged meat that would soon die, rot and smell worse than shit. The female sexual organ was particularly repulsive to me; it oozes awful odor and I did not care for that. Thus, that which made women feel desirable to men, their vaginas (which they think most men are dying to have access to) means nothing to me.
I just wanted to talk to women and men at the intellectual level but disregard their bodies. (I have total contempt for homosexual folk; how could these creatures find the human body attractive enough to do what they do, stick their penises into other men’s anuses! These creatures are actually emotionally retarded; they are stuck at what psychoanalysts call narcissistic level of child development where they admire their bodies and enjoy them pretty much as children do; children do eat their feces and that is what homosexuals do when they say that they derive pleasure from tearing each other’s anuses).
As I see it, it were better we lived as disembodied persons. Life in body stinks. Okay, now that one has said that our bodies are nothing of significance, the next question is: what are you going to do about it? Are you going to cry about it, cry over spilled milk? Be a pessimist? If life is nothing why depress one ’s self by being a pessimist?
Alternatively, one could see life as a great comedy and while at it have fun with it (be an optimist); one could develop Pollyanna mentality and see everything in life as great.
Certainly it is better to be Pollyannaish than to have a kill joy mentality, be misery that loves company?
Stoicism reached similar views of life as nothing hence Horace would say: carpe dien, seize the day and live fully today for tomorrow you will die.
EXISTENTIAL DEPRESSION AND REALISM
Some people would say that my attitude towards the human body shows signs of underlying depression. In clinical depression the individual loses interests in the activities of daily living: he has no interest in schooling, work, play, socializing, personal grooming and keeps to his self and has no energy to go out to do anything; he feels that life is not worth living and entertains thoughts of suicide. Some persons with major depression do actually try to kill themselves. These days they are given the serotonin reuptake blockers (such as Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac) and those appear to help accumulate serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in their brains and cheer them up (and as with all psychotropic medications eventually damage many parts of their bodies and kill them…we are finding out the damage these medications do on unborn children who are now born with genetic deformities).
I am not depressed except in so far that we are talking about existential depression. Existentially, I see no meaning and purpose to our human lives. I see living on earth as pointless exercises that end in death. An Igbo adage says: no matter how much soap you employ in washing the human anus it would still smell of feces. That is to say that the human body is like feces and there is nothing that you can do to change that reality; you cannot prevent it from dying and rotting. This is a statement of despair, depression, melancholia but one reached from rational observation of the nature of the human animal condition.
You take your pick whether my position is depressed or merely realistic; what do I care about your view! However, I must say that for a long time the philosophy of seeing life in body as pointless led me to avoid doing what it required to adapt to the exigencies of this world; I literally checked out of this world and lived the life of a monk. I did not make serious efforts to earn a reasonable living and was satisfied with mere survival. The interesting part of it all is that while evincing lack of interest in life as it is, pointless, I also feared dying. I had fear of death and actually it was that fear that led me to explore metaphysics.
It is now time to deal with fear of death and other fears once and for all times. Fear holds one down and prevents one from living fully so it is now time to jettison it so as to live fully, doing whatever one wants to do, doing whatever one considers interesting activity in life.
However, to overcome fear one must deal with its root. Fear is a means of keeping one alive in body, fear of death and harm to one’s body is the greatest fear people have.
A secondary source of fear is the human ego. All human beings have self-concepts but in certain situations that self-concept is that one is more than an animal, is a big self. Those with big selves employ the various ego defense mechanisms in defending them; they are afraid of being exposed as not big selves. Those with big selves live in tremendous fear (and tension and stress).
To reduce ones fear to the ordinary fear of harm and death found in normal persons one has to redo one’s self concept and self-image and make it humble, small. If one no longer desires a big-self ones level of fear is reduced.
Unfortunately, the big self was posited in childhood as a false god (an idol) to enable one seem powerful so as to do what protects one, prevents one from hurt and death. People born with precarious bodies and feel at the door of death are those who generally posit big self-concepts, neurotic self-concepts and defend them with the various ego defense mechanisms and as a result live rigid and inflexible, unhappy lives.
We can understand the origin of the invention of the false big self and understand that the challenged child felt a need for it, just as normal folks feel a need for their imaginary mother-father god to protect them, yet the big self like normal folks god is a fiction.
The human being is not a big, powerful self. His body is food for worms so he is not invulnerable and powerful even if he pretends to be. Adolf Hitler pretended to be powerful then killed himself and his body was cremated and turned into ashes which were dumped as manure for plants near his bunker.
One is not big self and ought to let the imaginary big-self go. The big self is a psychological obstacle to living fully; the big self holds one down.
Children with grandiose self-concepts generally are poor learners; they do not learn well at school (and later in adult life); they are too busy protecting their imaginary, what Alfred Adler called their fictional, compensatory selves, to pay total attention to learning. They are afraid of making mistakes and failing for to make mistakes or fail is to be seen as not the imaginary big selves they want to be seen as. Some such children literally drop out of school to avoid making mistakes. Outside school competitive environments they manage to retain the illusion that they have big selves. Thus, you find these creatures in the “hood”, folks with vocabularies of a few hundred words masquerading around as Mr. Big Shots.
Those with humble self-concepts and self-images are generally not afraid of making mistakes and, as such, tend to be good students, good learners.
One must accept ones realistic self, a small self; one must accept all people as small selves; one must accept one’s body as an animal thing that lives and dies; one must accept people as animals that live and die and have no illusions about the human reality. One should not expect one’s self or other people to be gods for they are not; we are always imperfect for as long as we live in bodies. Body makes the spirit in people to manifest imperfectly in it.
If spirit exists it operates through the human body and is limited by body. Until one no longer lives in body one cannot be perfect.
I accept Robert Monroe’s vision of spirit. In his books on his journeys out of body he said that he learned that upon death we live in other forms (or come back to earth) and ultimately proceed to existence as formless intelligence (that ultimately we return to our home, what folks call heaven, and live as formless light). He did not present heaven and god in Christian categories. His heaven is not a place where one man, aka god lords it over others; to him heaven is a place of pure light where we are all units of that light that begins and ends nowhere. In that light we are all the same and equal and are eternal.
Monroe said that upon visiting that place of pure light he learned why he and all of us separated from it: boredom. He says that heaven is the same (joy, peace); that we get to desire to feel different. Apparently, we wanted to feel some excitement and felt that a place that is the opposite of heaven would give it to us. Heaven is eternal and we seek mortality; heaven is love and we seek lack of love; heaven is sameness and we seek differences. We thus separated from heaven to go live in a place that offered us the opportunity to live the opposite of heaven including dying (seeming to die since no one dies) and being different from each other (hence we invented bodies, made some good looking and some ugly; made some people smart and some dumb etc.).
He insinuates that there are infinite universes where we experiment with every possible life style (astronomy’s concept of multiverse is similar). We will do whatever excites us and gives us a sense of differences.
The Christian idea of God and his heaven and hell is at best a childish view of a father figure protecting us and punishing us when we are bad.
To Robert Monroe the real self is disembodied pure intelligence that entertains itself in the various activities we do in forms (bodies) and other life styles in infinite universes.
In our universe pure intelligence, that is, our real selves currently identified with our bodies and do what we do in bodies. Ultimately, the real self is not body.
In the meantime we have to take care of our bodies and love each other where we are at, in our bodies. I agree with Robert Monroe’s construction of reality for it is like the construction of reality I already reached before reading his books.
As I see it, the human body is nothing of significance (if you cremated it, it has no monetary value) but since we must live in bodies as a precondition to doing what really interests me, understand how our universe is put together through science, I am all for living in body. If we must live in bodies we might as well take good care of them and while at it use those bodies to love other apparent spirits living in bodies.
Robert A Monroe. Ultimate Journey. New York: Broadway books, 1994.
Robert A Monroe. Journeys Out of the Body. New York: Broadway Books.
Robert A. Monroe. Far Journeys. New York: Broadway Books.
Schucman, Helen. A course in miracles. Tiburon, California: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1976.
Appignanesi, Richard; and Oscar Zarate (2001). Introducing Existentialism. Cambridge, UK: Icon.
Appignanesi, Richard (2006). Introducing Existentialism (3rd ed.). Thriplow, Cambridge: Icon Books (UK), Totem Books (USA). .
Cooper, David E. (1999). Existentialism: A Reconstruction (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Deurzen, Emmy van (2010). Everyday Mysteries: a Handbook of Existential Psychotherapy (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.