Long before Dick Swaab, both Plato and Descartes had already contended that we are our brains. They premised that thought is conducted within the head, and—since the head sits atop the body—stands in direct communication with the divine. Dangling from the head there is the body; passionate, surly, mechanical, and in need of domestication. Every single thought or action is ushered through the head, our hands and feet willingly bending to that which is imposed from above. This conception is reflected in theories that celebrate the brain as the apex of humankind; the command centre that governs all. The physical body, in this respect, is viewed as merely instrumental, if not utterly subordinate.

The philosopher Merleau-Ponty, in contrast, insists on the subjectivity of the body. The body is our window to the world; without it, perception, and thus knowledge, remain inaccessible. Contemporary philosopher Michel Serres emphasizes the intelligence and creative ability of the body.

Scientific research has shown that much of the activity in the nervous system originates not from the brain, but from elsewhere within the body. Practices such as tai-chi and yoga are based on the principle that the body controls the mind, contrary to the conceited presupposition that the cognition our heads which controls the body. This coincides with the way that art and music, taste, touch, sight and smell influences our behaviour. It is also how we function when we play sports; during physical activity, many processes occur subconsciously.

So, there is something funny going on here. Whereas on the one hand, the physical body has become the centre of attention, with a focus on sports, exercise, fitness, yoga and healthy eating habits. Correspondingly, science has shown an increased interest in the significance of the human body within psychiatry, cognitive science and education. On the other hand, the body remains nothing but an instrument, even in light of the most innovative of projects. The human being is made equivalent to whatever is housed within their brains; the body, paling in comparison, vanishes.

We find ourselves in a conflicted situation; a dualistic relationship to the body. For why would we work out and exercise if the body will be of no significance in the future? Why break a sweat if anything we think or do is already pre-programmed in an algorithm, in the brain, or in a genetic code? Is it fair to accept the brain as the lord and master of the body? How can we abandon such (Cartesian) dualistic thinking?

During the meetup:

Is there such a thing as the thinking body? Is the body a subject? How does our body relate to that of the other?

During the meetup we will collectively explore the dimensions and complexities of the human body. The meetup will last for two hours, and is dedicated in particular to the philosophy of the body. Philosopher Aldo Houterman shall lead with an introduction, which will form the base for a group discussion. Artist Cindy Moorman will introduce her work methods, in which physical presence and the relation to the other are of vital importance to her research, which centres around social structures and the position of the body within its environment.


Aldo Houterman studied Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. Aldo is a teacher and researcher on the subject of Philosophy of the Body and Brain. He has researched bodily experience within psychiatry and physiotherapy. He is currently writing a book on the philosophy of sports and exercise, and is a doctoral candidate at the Erasmus University. He also teaches Ethics and Philosophy at the department of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, as well as in the Physiotherapy department at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht.

Cindy Moorman is a visual artist. She obtained a Bachelor in Fine Arts at the University of the Arts in Arnhem (1999-2003) and a Master in Fine Arts at the AKV Sint Joost in Breda. She has exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, and the Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem. Cindy Moorman makes structures visible – ranging from sculptural forms to social rituals. With drawings, performances, paintings, photography and interventions, her oeuvre can be considered as much formalistic as socially rooted. Meaning and form are abstracted by Moorman; she makes existing social rituals her own, with a major focus on its physicality.

Photo cover:
Cindy Moorman
De Constructies, 2013
performance Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam