What if Our Entire Body Is a Brain?

How interoception can guide us

Antonia Malchik


Three-dimensional representation of a human brain on a lavender colored background
Photo: Milad Fakurian / Unsplash

The powers of our digital age seem intent on divorcing human experiences of the world from our bodies, or at best hacking into the body to redirect those experiences. But we know so little about embodiment and the mind-body connection. When we ignore our existence as physical animals, do we really know what we might be losing?

We could be sacrificing something crucial to the experience of being human, before we even understand it. The digital age’s erosion of attention isn’t just about our minds; those same minds are attached to our bodies, and when we talk about being unable to focus and how much more distracted we are, the symptoms take place in the body just as much as the brain.

The reverse is true, too. “What if it’s physical just as much as mental?” is a question that often comes to mind when I’m thinking about attention — could our eyes’ inability to focus on one thing at a time, for example, affect our brain’s inability to do the same? They might in fact be even more interlinked than we’re aware of.

Recent research has found that interoception, the ability of our brain to read internal information about our bodies’ states, might have strong links to depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other mental health issues. It could be part of an intensely interconnect feedback loop that determines an immense amount not just about how we experience the world, but about how we interpret those experiences.

Annie Murphy Paul, in her book The Extended Mind, wrote that

“Research finds that people who are more interoceptively attuned feel their emotions more intensely, while also managing their emotions more adeptly. This is so because interoceptive sensations form the building blocks of even our most subtle and nuanced emotions: affection, admiration, gratitude; sorrow, longing, regret; irritation, envy, resentment.”

While we generally assume that the brain dictates our emotions,

“The causal arrow points in the opposite direction. The body produces sensations, the body initiates actions — and only then does the mind assemble these pieces of evidence into the entity we call an emotion. The pioneering American psychologist William James . .



Antonia Malchik

Antonia Malchik is the author of A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time; walking, tech, community, and embodiment.