Longer observation (11): The Body & the Earth: In early thinking the human body is sometimes compared to the earth.

In this note I will continue with this analogy. I think it can be useful in illustrating some psychological phenomena that are difficult to describe and to understand. (I will use the current scientific idea of the earth as a round globe — as everyone knows, the ancients and native peoples didn't necessarily think of it in this way.)

Using this analogy, I will say that each of us is confronted by two separate (though related) objects, one: the earth and two: our bodies. When we are born we know little about either. Over our lifetimes we learn more and more about each. We have built in mechanisms or systems for learning about each. These include those that allow sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. We can use each of these to learn about the earth. We can see things in or on it, hear things in or on it, taste and touch and smell parts of it. Similarly, we can use each of these to learn about our own bodies. We can see parts of it, hear things in or on it, taste and touch and smell parts of it. We do have more mechanisms for sensing our bodies than we have for sensing the earth. Certain events going on inside the body (say the blockage of a kidney tubule by a kidney stone) are experienced as painful. Events in the world are not experienced by us as painful in this way, except through empathy which is different from the direct experience of pain as with a kidney stone. We can see the blockage of a river with an ice-dam, and we can hear it, but we can't feel pain from it as we feel from our own kidney stones if we should have them.

Applying this analogy a little further, our senses inform us about the state of the earth and also about the state of our bodies. What I mean is that both the earth and our bodies have a more or less normal state, and they each have abnormal states. For example, at a particular point on the earth there may usually be clear skies and warm temperatures and calm breezes, but, every once in a while, the skies cloud up, the temperature becomes cooler, and strong and turbulent winds churn through the area. It is the same with our bodies. A particular body has a more or less normal state, but, occasionally, it can become hotter and its winds (breaths and so on) can become turbulent. — We humans can be aware of the normal states of both the earth and of our bodies, and we can also be attuned to changes in both. Further, it matters to us, it is important to us, whether things are normal or not and, if there are changes, what they are and how long they will last. And, when the changes are not to our liking, we make efforts to counteract and correct the changes.

Another parallel between the earth and our bodies is that they are both made of the same things, at least roughly. Both the earth and our bodies have or contain fluids. Both have air. Both have warmth (what the ancient Greeks thought of as the element of Fire). From a contemporary angle, we can say that many of the elements found in the Periodic Table of the chemist can be found in the human body. Further, the chemicals mix with each other, the fluids and gases move and interact, and so on. Some of these interactions we sense, or can sense; many we don't or can't.

The earth and its parts are subject to the so-called "Laws of Nature." If an asteroid hits the earth the results are predictable. Similarly, if our bodies are hit by hard object like a bullet, the results are equally predictable. We are objects among objects subject to the laws of gravity, and the like. Like the earth and its parts, the energy of our bodies runs down over time, and our bodies eventually decay. — And we can witness all this and study it and think about it for both the earth and for our bodies.

The earth has a core that is warmer than it's surface. The same can be said about the human body. The skin of the body can be compared to the earth's crust. A volcano, where the inside of the earth comes out, can be compared with an open wound where the blood pours out.

The earth is not the only object around, and this is true of our individual bodies as well.

I can go on, but this is enough to show that we have to deal with two things (I say two, even though they are inter-related), and both can cause us trouble, and we can be more or less aware of each.

It is not surprising that people have thought of the earth as our mother. Our bodies seem to be made of earth and, as is said, return to the earth. But it has also been said that, since the earth and our bodies are made of the same materials, they have the same mother and so are brothers (or sisters). When you make this analogy, it is a natural step to see the earth as having some sort of consciousness, just as our bodies have.

I leave it to the theologians and philosophers and meta-physicians to decide if this is true. But, as a psychologist, it is interesting that these parallels — and the inevitability of the analogies that follow — may help explain why people do believe in such things as the "World Soul" or feel empathy when they see a bull-dozer dig a giant hole for a future building, cover the earth with concrete and asphalt, blow up mountains to mine for gold, and so on.