My attempt to define the body starts using Dr. Robb’s necessary and sufficient conditions method and springs off from there.
The necessary conditions of the body are that it is: physical, made via human reproduction (currently), finite and decomposable, at least mostly made of inorganic material (organs and such), and protected by some sort of barrier (dermal layer). A lot of these things hinge upon current technological limits. This is also dependent, of course, on if everything we generally perceive to be true is actually true.
The only sufficient condition I’ve been able to come up with for the body is that it is currently (again) the only thing that can fully house human consciousness. In other words, if something can house human consciousness, it must be the human body.
Based upon this sufficient condition, it seems that the body can be thought of as a container of human consciousness. This conceptualization brings to mind a quote I first encountered a couple years ago from a comedy special, of all things. The comedian John Mulaney said “I don’t know what my body is for other than taking my head from room to room.” This quote reflects a lot of my own thinking about the body as a vessel.
In thinking of the body as a vessel, however, this year has taught me that there are at least two qualifications I must make:
(1) The container definition must be considered in the context of the meaning we have attributed to the human body as well as the history we have heaped upon it. John Mulaney’s white, cisgender male body affords him certain privileges, while other people’s bodies may impose disadvantages and even danger upon them. And when a person is in danger, it is the body that feels it.
That leads me to my second qualifier.
(2) I do not think about my body until there is something wrong with it– that is, until I am sick or hurt. I don’t think about how magnificent it is that I can move around until I’ve torn a muscle or how wonderful it is to breathe until my every breathe is filtered. I can comfortably refer to it as “transport” because I am able-bodied and so when I direct my body to transport me places, it is capable of doing so. But not all bodies are capable of carrying heads around.
So when I define the body as a container I do not mean to imply that these containers are simple or readily disregarded. Our containers are highly subject to the beliefs and behaviors of others.