Nietzschean Diary 3. Optimization of Body
In my last post, on New Year’s Eve, I outlined a redrawn raft of Nietzschean self-help ambitions for myself in 2019. I didn’t give any real detail but promised to flesh out these goals in subsequent posts. Here, on day 14, we will deal with the first of them: 1. Optimization of Body
We know that Nietzsche gives absolute primacy to the body - nay, more than this - body is all there is to you. You are not a mind piloting the world in a body; that’s the old religious conception of the self with its fiction of ’the soul’. No, you are just this body alone, but with a mind evolved as a function of the body to enable it to operate in the world - the mind is the body’s operating system, as it were.
The world of computing can, in fact, provide a tempting metaphor: if the body is considered hardware - the machine - then the mind is its pre-loaded software. This software's features include monitoring data from the sensory organs, registering impressions, navigation, finding means of survival, gathering information, learning useful skills, evaluating risks, making decisions, defending itself (the body), securing opportunities for bodily procreation and, ultimately, expressing the Will to Power.
But this metaphor breaks down quickly, because though we can envisage the hardware without the software (a corpse, for example) there can be no software without the hardware - there’s no CD ROM and there’s no Cloud to download it from. Such ideas are at the core of the old soul fiction: one, that the software is a thing in itself, persisting in the absence of a body - like the CD ROM in the absence of a computer; and two, that it is bestowed from, or originates in, some unseen metaphysical realm - like the Cloud.
For Nietzsche, the mind is not a thing, as such. It has no independent existence. It is instead merely the sum of the activity of mental processes taking place in a body. ‘Mind' - this is not a noun in an existential sense, as ‘Body’ is. It is a verb - purely a doing. Your mind is only what it does.
The same can be said of consciousness. Consciousness, in its most rarified sense, is more than awareness of one’s environment. It can be defined as the acute self-awareness that comes with complex mental processing in organic life forms – it is a sense of an ‘I’. The more complex the organism’s mind, the more developed the consciousness. An amoeba has very little consciousness. You, a human being, perhaps have too much.
Consciousness at its most acute, as we find it in human beings, tends to feel itself to be other than material reality. This is because it is clear to itself that it exists. 'I exist’ it says. 'Even if all else is illusion, my thinking self exists' - this is Descartes’ Cogito Ergo Sum (I think therefore I am). But it is also clear to consciousness that it is not made of physical substance in the way that the world is and this leads to erroneous metaphysical assumptions - the idea that the non-material, non-visible is somehow more real than matter.
Thus, it is explicable that the soul fiction could emerge so universally in human beings - because the nature of the mind is to sense itself as something independent of, and more real than, the sensible world. ‘Might there be other worlds then?’ it thinks, and do we not, for example, seem to inhabit other such worlds in dreams?
The advent of language only exacerbated this sense of alienation from our own bodies. To say ‘my body’ is to postulate two things: me and my body, when in fact there is only one thing - body. Language compounds the idea that there is separation.
You may be asking yourself how this preamble relates to the Nietzschean Self-Help ambition I stated my intention to discuss at the start of this post. Well, the point I am seeking to establish is that the body is a thing of the utmost importance in your self-development journey. A body that is a strong, healthy and as beautiful as possible provides the basis for improved mental and ‘spiritual' health and fitness.
It is true that there are those who focus only on the body and its appearance as an end in itself, and such people strike us as shallow, imbalanced and desperate for validation from others. This is not what is commended here. What is commended is that you see to it that your physical body is optimized and that the absolutely crucial relationship between your physical body and every other aspect of your life is recognized. Your intellect, your capacity for creativity, your self image, your sense of pride, resilience, confidence; the ways others see you and treat you - good physical health, physical fitness and bodily self-care positively support them all.
It is high time we came out from the shadow of millennia of religious delusions. We were told that the body does not matter - is evil, even - and that all that counts is another realm of existence beyond this life. Even science praises reason - the mind - above all else. This warped denigration of the body still holds sway, albeit more subtly than in the past. Do not believe those who glibly say ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’. It is hardly likely that even they believe this.
So yes, I continue to run, to climb, to work a punchbag, to do tedious rounds of sit-ups and press-ups. I exercise every day and recommend you do the same. I try to eat a healthy diet, sleep well and I have quit alcohol completely for January. One must alter one’s lifestyle to create a basis for a profound transformation.
Perhaps you remember way back in December 2017 that I set some targets for myself. The latest data is in the table below.
Can it really have been more than a year since I began? I have exceeded my targets for weight (by 1.9Kg) and body fat reduction (by a very slight 0.2%) and an increase in muscle mass (by 0.9%), but I still need to take on more water and lose 0.9 of a BMI point to get me to my BMI 21 target.
I will continue my pursuit of these targets in 2019 but it isn’t all about fat and muscle. True health manifests itself in how you feel, in how you perform, and so these are the indicators I will be scrutinizing this year: a better climber, a more lucid thinker, a calmer, bolder, more productive individual in every sphere of life. These are the ultimate fruits of excellent physical health and fitness - it’s not really about the six-pack.
Get in touch with your body. Remember, though it appears that your body serves your mind, the opposite is true. Your mind serves your body.
Put your body first.
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