Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Empathy, Existentialism, and Penises

            There were a number of quite interesting ideas brought up in our readings for Dance and The Brain this week, “Man Has Always Danced” and “Existential Fit and Evolutionary Communities.” The basic idea behind both readings was that dance has been a special part of human existence for as long as we’ve been human, and it’s rather strange that various disciplines (namely philosophy) haven’t studied it closer. “Man Has Always Danced” specifically talked about how members of both genders from many species will move their bodies to attract mates. One specific example talked about was the ‘swagger’ male chimpanzees display by standing upright, swaying back and forth, and displaying their erect penis for every chimp to see.
            “Existential Fit and Evolutionary Communities” focused around the ways humans are unique (or at least different from other animals), and that’s where I want to start my discussion. From reading this piece and living twenty years of life, I’ve come to the conclusion that the thing that separates us from every other animal is our mental complexity. It’s not our opposable thumbs or our upright posture (why some scientists think it might be is beyond me; frankly, I think the notion that our up-rightness makes us human is absurd). This desire for complexity manifests itself in a number of ways in our society. For instance, if any human male decided to copy a chimp’s courtship ritual, he would be shunned by the world’s female population. They would find it disgusting and brutish. Not at all something a human would do.
            “Existential Fit and Evolutionary Communities” spent the last half of itself discussing a much more creative (and empathetic, but I’ll get to that later) approach to thinking dancing by comparing it to love-making. The basic idea was that in both activities, the participants are completely focused on their bodies and how they connect with one another. Obviously, there were some key differences between the two, but the similarities brought up were quite interesting. Here are some brief excerpts, “Lovemaking is a certain way of being a body in the world,” and “The experience of radical pleasure of the flesh can be understood only in the light of a body made for touching and being touched.” Both of these ideas seem almost anti-philosophy in some sense (if one takes philosophy to be pure thinking), which creates a cool contrast between the first half of the piece and the second. So, to make this response more interesting, I’m going to copy that idea.

            What is empathy?; empathy is feeling your body; it’s taking a deep breath and holding it for five heartbeats; it’s letting your mind wander to all the things it likes wandering to; your friends, family, lover, food, an interesting idea you came across in the Scientific American blog yesterday, a beautiful painting you saw last week while you went shopping with your husband; it’s letting that breath out; feeling your chest sink in; then feeling your ribcage expand; it’s taking a second to look around yourself; what color are the walls?; are there any walls?; is there a chair near-by?; are you sitting in it?; empathy is taking a couple minutes to think about what you truly want; if you could have anything in the world right now, what would it be?; something practical?; something physical?; something emotional?; is there someone you really enjoy spending time with?; your lover?; have you taken the time to appreciate your lover recently?; but maybe, like me, you don’t have one; maybe you feel an emptiness inside of you that you can’t explain; maybe you feel hollow; or maybe you feel whole; you have important people in your life; they love you; care for you; have you told them you appreciate them?; have you taken the time to dance with them?; tell them you love them?; but they’re just your friends; you can’t love your friends, right?; why not?; you care about them; they care about you; no one has ever said love is exclusively for lovers; no one has ever said you can’t feel their body against yours when you give them a hug; human contact is a wonderful thing; human relationships are wonderful things; empathy is knowing that; it’s also feeling free to disagree; sometimes (maybe always) you don’t like to hug people; maybe some of your friends are strange, but maybe some strangers might also be your friends one day; empathy is seeing the humans all around you; it’s trying on their shoes occasionally; just to see how they fit; are they too loose?; too tight?; the wrong color?; maybe these people think differently than you; can you accept that?; respectfully disagree?; but maybe some people are wrong; maybe some are evil; should that stop you from stepping into their shoes?; what is evil, anyway?; who decides is?; empathy is not knowing; it’s never knowing; never being sure; it’s having doubts, fears, insecurities; empathy is recognizing these things; it’s knowing everyone else goes through these things too; it’s part of life; part of being human. 


  1. empathy.. missing empathy. doesn't let go. festers, a wound. keeps relentless.

    If philosophy is the study of knowledge, then stark physicality is one of the truest ways of knowing.

    1. Maybe bodily Philosophy; maybe that should be a thing.