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Somatic Apathy

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Body Disownership in the Context of Torture

image of Journal of Phenomenological Psychology

Muselmannwas a term used in German concentration camps to describe prisoners near death due to exhaustion, starvation, and helplessness. This paper suggests that the inhuman conditions in the concentration camps resulted in the development of a defensive sense of disownership toward the entire body. The body, in such cases, is reduced to a pure object. However, in the case of the Muselmannthis body-as-object is felt to belong to the captors, and as such is therefore identified as a tool to inflict suffering and pain on the Muselmannhimself. In this situation, lacking cognitive resources, the Muselmannmay have no other alternative than to treat his body as an enemy, and then to retreat or disinvest from the body. This response is a form of somatic apathy, an indifference that is tied to a loss of the self/non-self distinction. This may, in turn, lead to suicidal inclinations, even after liberation from the camp.

Affiliations: 1: The Program for the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, Israel, Neurobiology Dept., Weizmann Institute of Science Rehovot Israel ; 2: Philosophy, University of Memphis, USA, Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, University of Wollongong Australia


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