To be mindless can mean widely divergent things: either to be être-en-soi, being in itself, like a stone that perfectly coincides with itself and thus is devoid of subjectivity and concern; or to be a sentient creature so proficient at a certain activity as to perform it without stopping to think. Such seemingly effortless activity corresponds to the Chinese-Taoist notion of wu-wei, natural or uncontrived action; or to the related Japanese ideal of mushin, performance unfettered by analysis, especially in and around martial arts.
The apparent simplicity of the mindlessness that comes with such (non-)action should not fool us. Performative mindlessness has very little to do with mechanical reproduction of previously inculcated behavioral patterns, and requires that the body be sensitive and awake to its surroundings, and not react “automatically.” If a behaviorist can see in it but the analogue of the machine, well, this says about his inability to relate to this sort of experience beyond narrow mechanistic presuppositions that a priori reduce the live body to a machine. Performative mindlessness deserves all the ethical consideration currently given to thematized consciousness, to deliberation and reflection, in the animals that exhibit them most profusely. It stands beneath and upholds the thin layer of reflective thinking (much current cognitive science admits this, if you need the claim to be validated by this sort of apparatus).Nor does the sort of visceral intelligence exist, enmeshed in the world around it, in order to uphold consciousness. To think so would be to have it upside down.
Reflection is sign of a sort of emergency in the interface between body and world, a dialectic which, when animated through skilled practical activity, stabilizes a rhythmic fluidity. Its discursive metastatis notwithstanding, mind is strictly related to activity. Beyond it, in idleness, it constitutes our prior activities’ echoing residue.
Would you confuse a mindless surfer, who receptively gears his whole body into the wave beneath him, with the wave itself? Would you confuse the mindlessness of a leaping leopard, whom a break to deliberate would unnecessarily slow down, with the immobility of the stone from which he leaps? Thematized thought is, and ought to be seen as, the servant, not the master, of the live body. It has its place, but there is no need to cherish mind at the expense of that on which it rests.
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