bodies R us

As noted the other day, I think Jennifer Hecht is right and Descartes was wrong: you are not in your body, you are your body. So it really matters what you put into it, how much you work it and with what frequency, and with whom you allow it to mingle… (continued)

More on JMH on bodies and happiness in a bit, but I want to begin out-of-body.

This body spent an instructive evening plopped in front of  PBS last night, with important (if somewhat elusive) implications for our discussion of what it can mean to be an embodied intelligence in the cosmos. First Brian Greene explored the mysteries of “dark energy” and space-time. We’re not in our bodies, nor are we in a void or a vacuum. There’s a there there, and 70% of the dark stuff remains uncharted. Does it harbor the secret of life, the universe, and everything? At a minimum it harbors a challenge to our smug certainties  and reminds us that whatever bodies are and whatever space is, they’re cut from the same fabric. And, for all we know, we might be holograms. Oh, Doctor.

Then, NOVA tackled the legacy of Steve Jobs. It ran an old clip of the young, bearded Jobs noting that most of what we call “life” was contrived by men and women mostly no smarter than you and me. For him that insight was an irresistible invitation to create something new under the sun, to make a contribution, to add his own intelligence and  ambition to the mix. That’s a much more profound secret than the oonception-production order of the iPad.

The documentary made clear that this remarkable man could be remarkably difficult, unreasonable, even cruel to associates. He was not a saint. But what a contribution he made, what “insanely crazy” transformative waves of happiness he created. His biggest secret: set goals every day, and work for them like there’s no tomorrow. One day you’ll be right.

The moral? An emphatic answer to Prufrock: Yes! Dare to disturb the universe. How should you presume? How can you not? Space and time can sometimes be made to bend to the will of a happy man or woman who sees things differently. They’re the ones who change the world.

Now, back to JMH. She’s another insanely crazy (in a good way) original thinker, philosopher, poet, historian, culture critic, wit… but I couldn’t disagree more with her stance on exercise. She notes but looks askance at a claim I can confirm at first hand, emphatically:

the effect of regular exercise can be as dramatic as the effect of taking antidepressant drugs.

There’s a well-kept secret for you, thanks to the culture of pharmaceuticals and its cozy relationship with medical science. It works, it’s proven, it doesn’t require an expensive gym membership.

Yes, exercise strains the body. But, “damages the heart and increases anxiety” too, for most of us? She’ll need to be more specific to persuade me. My hour a day on the hoof (and just occasionally in the gym) has only strengthened my heart muscle, and given heart in all the good figurative ways too. It’s what holds anxiety at bay, lets me eat stress for lunch, allows me to function more or less like a semi-competent human being. 100-Up

But ok, that’s me. We’re all different, we’re all individuals. Got it. I still think she’s off-base.

Exercise can make some people feel good, and it makes some people blissfully happy. Yet, on a daily basis, many of us make ourselves happy by not exercising.

We all have our days, but those who make a habit of not exercising are experiencing a fool’s happiness. IMHO. But I’ve been reading Sarah Bakewell’s Montaigne too. Que sais-je?

As for sex, The Art of Massage is not really about happiness, with all its precise and clinical manual/digital instructions. Pleasure, maybe. Sometimes. But external views of sexuality– porn, we call that– aren’t usually sexy. In matters promiscuous and casual, I for one am glad the Woodstock generation grew up. And I would say that even if AIDS and STDs were entirely eliminated. But I wouldn’t want to be “heavy-handed” or impose my own “beliefs about what we ought to be doing.”

Maybe our relatively more buttoned-down, post-Woodstock era does “allow more room” for happy sex.  But maybe, too,  you do just have to try some insanely crazy things, if you really want to make a difference.

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