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Top 40 Philosophy: Dev, “In the Dark”

Posted in Top 40 Philosophy

Dev is famous primarily for being the one who “sings” the chorus of Far East Movement’s “Like a G6.” The chorus, however, is actually from one of Dev’s own songs. “In the Dark,” then, was effectively Dev’s second single after “Like a G6,” and made it to #11 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It was also the first of the saxophone revival songs whose saxophone part I actually liked.

The following video is visually interesting, but mildly NSFW (one sees much worse in contemporary music videos).

Ah, songs about nothing. Well, I mean, it’s about something. But she isn’t saying anything of value. It’s like the difference between “Wut” and “Thrift Shop” (both of which we just discussed). “Thrift Shop” is actually saying something.

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The most philosophically interesting part of this vapid (though catchy!) song is the couplet:

Tell me baby if it’s wrong

To let my hands do what they want

Those familiar with St. Paul will be reminded of Romans 7:15-25, where Paul complains that his body seems to have a mind of its own. This is a very odd idea to anyone who’s hung around philosophers or cognitive scientists very long, since philosophers and cognitive scientists tend to think the brain is the only part of the human body that has a mind. Hands don’t have desires, on this view. Only brains do.

There is a strong counter current in philosophy called “enactivism” — which is related to another idea called “the extended mind” —  however, which holds (roughly) that we think with our bodies as a whole, as we interact with our environments. I like this approach a whole lot and would suggest you look into Alva Noë‘s work if you are interested.

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I recently finished the excellent YA novel Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, which involves the idea that there are emotions you cannot have without having a particular kind of body. This relates to the important James-Lange theory of emotion, which we have discussed briefly before. It’s also similar the Harry Potter theory of emotion. (People in Harry Potter experience all emotions with their stomachs.) The feel of an emotion is, in large part, how it feels for various parts of your body to react and behave in various ways (e.g., when your heart races in fear or excitement). So, if you don’t have the necessary parts, or those parts are misbehaving, you might not be able to fully experience an emotion.

Anyway, the same may be true of thinking. Your perspective on the world changes as you grow up. Have you ever gone back to a place you remember from when you were a kid, and been surprised by how small it seems now? It’s the same size, of course, but now you’re seeing it from a several feet higher than when you were a child.

More subtly, wouldn’t you imagine that dogs think about the world completely differently from us in part because they experience it through their noses so much more than we do? And don’t we “see” things as “pick-up-able” without even realizing it, primarily because we have hands? (Imagine if humans had no hands. How would we see a stack of papers, or a bunch of toys scattered across the living room floor?)

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This all makes me suspect that there really might be something to all the body positioning and posturing that happens in “traditional” religious services. You might have to adopt a particular physical attitude in order to adopt a particular mental attitude. You might have to do something with your body in order to do something with your mind.

(I hear Alva Noë has even started doing philosophy about dance.)

This is all kind of unsettling for such a reserved and sedentary person as myself. But it reminds me of when I used to give myself mini-concussions headbanging around the stage with my guitar. (I haven’t always been such a stick in the mud.) So, in addition to being unsettled, I’m also deeply fascinated.

4 Comments

  1. “This all makes me suspect that there really might be something to all the body positioning and posturing that happens in “traditional” religious services. You might have to adopt a particular physical attitude in order to adopt a particular mental attitude. You might have to do something with your body in order to do something with your mind.”

    Well, of course. None of those traditional gestures and modes arose arbitrarily; they mean things (even if sometimes the things they meant are forgotten… they still mean them).

    My favourite example is of the traditional postures assumed at the Eucharist (aka Lord’s Supper aka Communion aka Lord’s Table aka Breaking of Bread etc.). I wrote a longer piece on it once — which I can probably dig up if needed — but the main points are thus:

    1. We come to the Eucharist kneeling; this reminds us that we come to God in submission to Him.

    2. We receive the bread from the priest’s hands, we do not take it; this reminds us that God’s grace — that his body, broken for us — is not something that we grasp for ourselves but something that is freely given to us.

    3. Someone holds the cup of wine to our lips and we drink; it is a humbling thing to be fed by another; in most of our lives that only happens in three instances: when we are infants, when we are ill, and when we are with a beloved (think of couples feeding each other wedding cake, for example). This reminds us that we come to the table to meet our Father, our Healer, and the Lover of our Souls.

    I could go on a while because I love the Eucharist but that is probably most of what I would say. For more in this line see: C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, ch. IV; Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Sacrament of Matter”, in The Christ of the Creeds.

    July 20, 2015
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  2. Ezra
    Ezra

    If you have to have a body to feel certain emotions, do God, Satan, angels or demons have emotions? I think Augustine wrote somewhere that they don’t have emotions because they don’t have bodies, but I think we all know how little I care for many of Augustine’s views. I think spirits would be pretty boring without emotions, so hopefully you don’t have to have a body in order to have emotions. (BTW, you’re dog perceptions vs. human perceptions reminds me of A Voyage to Arcturus, how each time the characters would get different organs they would view they world completely differently.) Though the whole idea that our beliefs and perceptions and all that are so directed by our bodies is a bit unsettling because maybe if we had different organs then we’d see the world differently, so in the end, it’s still like a Voyage to Arcturus, how can we ever know what is true when our senses shape our worldview and all that?

    July 21, 2015
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  3. Ezra: I think you pretty much nailed all the important questions there! They are worrying. (But they’re worrying in the way that a roller coaster is worrying, which means they can be fun-scary.)

    Fortunately, we have the Incarnation in Christianity plus the fact that God is beyond time (so maybe God “could have always felt” human emotions through Jesus’s body even “before” the Incarnation). Alternatively, maybe having bodies is the only way *our* kinds of beings can experience something like an “image” of the Real Emotions that God has (just like humans are just images of the Real Person who God is).

    Ugh! I wish I had remembered to include Voyage to Arcturus here. It’s a perfect example! The difference is that I would put it like this: If you have a radio, you can pick up the radio signals coming from radio stations (if you have it tuned to the right frequencies). If you have a TV, you can pick up the TV signals coming from TV stations (if you have it tuned to the right frequencies). But if you don’t have either, you can be there in person, listening to the concert or watching the actors — or you can be way far away and just not hear or see anything.

    That is, I think that so long as your body is in good working order and is in the right place, it “picks up” the things that are really there. But if you had a different body, you might pick up different things, or pick up some things more clearly, that are really there too (like how a dog can hear higher pitches that are really there, and smell odors that are really there).

    July 21, 2015
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