So I’ve been listening to this podcast for a few years called The Fundamentalists. It's an amusing combination of philosophy and meandering comedy: One of the hosts is a philosopher and the other is a comedian studying Jungian analysis. One was Christian for much of his life and the other philosophizes about Christianity, while often quoting Hegel, Lacan, and Freud. Their most recent episode investigates “fantasy”, by which they specifically mean the fantasy in one's mind before and during solo sexual acts like masturbation. If you thought this was going to be a fun blog post for the whole family to read, you're right – the whole family should read it!
About 15 minutes into this episode, they talk about how VR and AI may lead to the "purifying" of sexuality by making it entirely an experience of the mind. While none of us really know if such experiences will bypass our bodily urges (until we have opportunities to try them), it's amusingly paralleled with much of the Christian doctrine I was taught in my youth. Mainly purity culture, which could be expanded to dissociation from the body due to its evils – its impurities. We get glimpses of this with the Internet and information technology already: If you spend too much time on your phone, watching TV, reading your friends' texts instead of spending time with them, and so on, you may discover that you feel a bit numb. I've felt this many times, and it's gotten much worse since 2020.
There are many unfortunate side effects of feeling less embodied. A big one is missing out on the depth of life experienced through senses, from smells to colors to the touch of a lover. Which isn't always to worry about – often times, we quickly find our way back to these things once we encounter them. But sometimes we get stuck. I've wondered if that stuckness is a sort of depression, one where an element of our lives (the physical element) is not in harmony with the other elements (mostly mental, but also spiritual and emotional). So the complex ecosystem of the body gets confused or goes to war with itself.
Sometimes it's different. Sometimes we don't just get stuck. We do for a brief time, then eventually start moving again again. Except it's been a while and our muscles have atrophied. So we stumble, we get frustrated, we wonder if we're misremembering how it used to be. Did it used to be at all? This state is definitely a sort of depression, of melancholia. Or it could be a related pathology like PTSD.
I'm not talking about our physical muscles here, of course – I'm talking about our mental, habitual ones. We lose momentum and find it hard to get it back. And when we do decide to "get back out there", we see symptoms of conditions like social anxiety and conclude that the issue is we are socially anxious. Often we don't ask whether we were always socially anxious until later, at which point we discover that there was a time when things were different. Whether they can once again be different is a question we can spend years seeking to answer.
Another big side effect of less embodiment is our connection to the Earth. As we spend more time in our minds and the collective mind of the Internet, we neglect what made all this possible. I'm as tired of new age preaching as much as anyone online, but there is a profound disconnection between us and the planet we live on. In our rejection of religions, we seem to also be rejecting many of their helpful teachings – throughout the Bible, God asks humanity to take care of creation. Yet all modern Christians seem to remember is the parts about humanity having dominion over Earth. That seems incompatible with the selflessness that they preach.
Out of the shadow
Where will this disembodiment lead us? Are we allowing our newfound worship of technology – the current deity of choice in the West and much of the world – to bring back these old myths? Will it be a liberating experience where we transcend our bodies as some Buddhists and devout mystics hope to do, or will it deepen our tracks in samsara? And what does it mean for the species?
Perhaps following the sexual revolution of the 60s, there simply must be a swing back into the shame that came before, which is something else they touched on in the episode: The concept of enantiodromia, a Greek word meaning, according to Jung, "The emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time." This concept ties in well with works like Thich Nhat Hanh's Please Call Me by My True Names, which ponders the many faces of consciousness. To quote a few stanzas:
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
We really might be stuck repeating these cycles, swinging the pendulum. That is, until we manage to wake up from the dream.