As a philosopher ahead of his time, Friedrich Nietzsche focused on the strong relationship between the body and the mind. For him, this correlation is the basis to understand the nature of human beings; the cause of their actions, how they respond to stimuli, and their overall patters of behavior (both character and personality). However, Nietzsche’s principal motivation to analyze this relationship was to discover the characteristics that promote the maximum strength in man. Nietzsche concluded that the strongest men are those that respond truly to their bodily instincts, and thus have control over their mental capacity. On the other hand, the weakest men are those that react to conventions created by society, and not to instincts governed by the laws of nature.
For Nietzsche, nature keeps everything secret from a human being, "even about his own body" (On Truth and Lying, 247). To solve the enigma of how the human body works, Nietzsche simplified this system into instincts. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an instinct is a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason. More specifically, for Nietzsche, an instinct is a strong human drive that cannot be ignored because the "laws of nature are infallible" (On Truth and Lying, 253). Among these instincts are self-preservation, and the instinct to partake in a group. As a "disciple of the philosopher Dionysus" (Ecce Homo, 673), Nietzsche believes that there is an instinct to keep doing what gives pleasure, even though this might bring about pain as well. Instincts definitely affect the way a human being responds to a particular stimulus.
But how does the physical body affect the way a person responds everyday? According to Nietzsche, there is an intricate relation among body health and the personality of the individual: if one is healthy physically, one is healthy both emotionally and mentally. Thus, what people eat, when they eat, and where they eat (Ecce Homo, 693), affects this relationship. He goes further by saying that a specific area of the body that is not cared for causes a specific problem in the individual. For instance, "the slightest sluggishness of the intestines is entirely sufficient […] to turn a genius into something mediocre" (Ecce Homo, 696). In addition, he argues that "all prejudices come from the intestines" (Ecce Homo, 696). Nietzsche even somehow exaggerates when he says that as a result of bad blood, the character is dirty (Ecce Homo, 689).
The key to understanding this relationship is that it works both ways; any imbalance in the mind will manifest itself physically. For example, "swallowing things leads of necessity to a bad character – it even upsets the stomach. All who remain silent are dyspeptic" (Ecce Homo, 685). Nietzsche also believes that the environment plays a strong influence on the body, and thus on the way the individual responds. For instance, he believed that metabolism is influenced by the climate. All of Nietzsche’s arguments indirectly show the reader that knowing about their bodies is extremely important. This involves small details such as knowing "the size of one’s stomach" (Ecce Homo, 695). The individual should have as a goal to trust their body and their instincts. This will naturally lead to knowing about the body, and understanding the influence in the mind, and thus in the behavior.
Nevertheless, the behavior of an individual, the way she responds to stimulus, is not totally dependent on the body. According to Nietzsche, truly strong individuals are those that are aware of their bodily instincts, yet they are independent as possible from the surroundings. They "react slowly to all kinds of stimuli" (Ecce Homo, 681), and thus avoid reacting prematurely. Moreover, the strongest only react when it is completely necessary (Ecce Homo, 709), and should even be able to stop reacting completely (Ecce Homo, 686). To achieve this, it is not only essential to separate from the environment to view it objectively, but also to respond truly to instincts. Finally, Nietzsche considers vital that the strongest man should not be passive and only respond to stimuli, but should be active and create in others stimuli. The strongest man are those that are active, and don’t wait for stimuli.
Nietzsche is very concerned with how society has created "metaphorical intuitions" (On Truth and Lying, 256). In other words, humanity has overridden those instincts that are based on nature, and created an artificial set of intuitions, which Nietzsche refers to as morality. Nietzsche proceeds to analyze morality by contrasting it with bodily instincts, or the real instincts. Moreover, this set of artificial instincts affect the perception of society of what is right and wrong. This set of morals has been passed throughout generations, which has made it acceptable as Truth. Consequently, humans forget which are their real instincts, and live according to the artificial instincts: the morality assigned to them by society.
For Nietzsche, a human being has an "unconquerable tendency to let himself be deceived" (On Truth and Lying, 255). Thus, there is a great chance that any individual will accept the deception of society by consenting to this morality. There is an unwillingness to accept the truth, and thus follow instincts. This results in a straight clash between the bodily instincts (which can’t be ignored) and the metaphorical instincts. For Nietzsche, the weak man is the one that is deceived; he is nowhere near the true, does not follow his real instincts and is simply satisfied with receiving (and reacting to) stimuli (On Truth and Lying, 247).
When the bodily instincts are replaced by artificial intuitions, the mind is significantly affected. Hence, control over the bodily functions gives immediate control of the mind. For Nietzsche, this is vital in controlling individuals, and is the pillar of religion and other structures created in society; the control of the population is achieved by establishing a morality that is not consequent with the true bodily instincts. These structures sometimes even exceed in the amount of control the exercise.
For Friedrich Nietzsche, the purpose of life is to achieve power. In The Will to Power, he argues that an individual has an instinct to become "master over all space" and expand his scope of influence, while being careless about resistance, or consequences (636). He calls this specific overwhelming force the will to power, and he adds that it is the central to understanding life (Beyond Good and Evil, 211). Some years later, Freud referred to this concept as the desire to be great. So how does the will to power relate to the strongest individuals?
The strongest human beings have freedom. They can reject the conventions established by society. They have "freedom of the will" (Beyond Good and Evil, 215): autonomy over their desires. But most importantly, they believe with "a fair amount of certainty that will and action are somehow one" (Beyond Good and Evil, 216). Therefore, for the mentally strong humans, the will to power, or the desire to be great, becomes real power, and greatness. Nietzsche asserts that history is based on the will to power of the strong, which affect the outcome of history by what they desire, which later becomes reality. All of this freedom is connected with the equilibrium between the minds and body.
Nietzsche inquired about the powerful connection between the body and the mind to differentiate the weak from the strongest man. The strongest human being in Nietzsche’s philosophy controls his own mind. He "knows how to forget" (Ecce Homo, 681), and therefore he experiences everything optimistically because all situations "must turn out for his best" (Ecce Homo, 681). He resists and manipulates his stimuli as necessary. The strongest human beings choose, admit, and trust. But most importantly, they think for themselves, and they are free. A human "no longer lets himself be carried away by sudden impressions, by intuitions" (On Truth and Lying, 250). Nietzsche is certain that he is this type of man, but he also invites the reader to follow his example.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. "Beyond Good and Evil." Kaufmann: 199-237.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. "Ecce Homo." Kaufmann: 673-725.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. "On Truth and Lying in an Extra-moral sense." Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language. Sando Gilman, Sander et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. 246-257.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1968. 636.
Kaufmann, Walter. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. New York: The Modern Library 1992.