Freedom

Around Y2K, the not-so-cataclysmic millennial turn, both of my parents moved past their 80th birthdays. In January 2003 Susan and I visited them at the big concrete house in Jackson, Mississippi. Shortly afterward I wrote a letter to her parents in Texas describing that visit: Continue reading “Freedom”

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Becoming Ringbearers

As the center spotlight dims and speech becomes measured and slow, the main characters in a production may pause on the side before leaving the scene entirely. The audience strains to attend to those last motions and words, because they can illumine in the fading light all that has happened.

That’s how I think of our parents’ final years. As strength and health declined, persistence and courage gained greater focus. Continue reading “Becoming Ringbearers”

Ringbearers

Sacrifice. The idea evokes images of parents working long hours, taking extra jobs, living in a small cheap apartment to provide better opportunity for children. Or perhaps a soldier taking the point on patrol – walking out ahead of the others. If he takes a hit, the others have a better chance to find cover. Sacrifices like these we readily recognize as willful. We appreciate and honor them.

Is there such a thing as unchosen sacrifice? Could loss of health, possessions, sanity, or future dreams be called sacrifice, regardless of the intentions of the person affected? What about tragedy that visits people randomly, the effect of chaos in this world? Continue reading “Ringbearers”

I Am Not My Brain

When I speak or write, my brain generates neural signals that activate my lungs, vocal cords, mouth, or alternatively my fingers on a keyboard to form words and sentences. This sort of activity applies to anything “I” do. It seems natural then to propose “I am my brain.”

Citing difficulty with the notion of “I”, some neuropsychologists would prefer to say, “The mind is the brain.” The naturalist philosopher Daniel Dennett, who agrees with this position, took it further and once predicted that personal pronouns such as “I” and “you” would likely disappear from human speech in the not-too-distant future.[1] In that happy time neuropsychologists and psychiatrists may understand much better than today how to treat brains and their disorders. Or maybe not.

We don’t have to wait a hundred years to find a group of people whose concept of “I” or self has been shattered. They already exist. They are people with severe mental illness, especially schizophrenia. Continue reading “I Am Not My Brain”

The Middle Domes

The middle domes of life absorb most of our daily attention. By the middle domes I mean those that lie between the smallest – my individual skull – and largest – a horizon of universal reality approachable by faith or by science, depending on one’s disposition.

The middle domes therefore comprise groups as small as a pair of individuals or as large as a culture, but less than all, that form the subject in we-sentences. Examples include friendships, marriages, families, churches, schools, bowling and other sports leagues, clubs, local and state politics, nations, business groups, hobby groups, news and entertainment media, professional societies, military and public safety forces, and charitable organizations.[1]

About 150 years ago an ill-named tide of modernity began to overrun the place of the middle domes. Modernity began to insist that truth governs every event in life, and modernity recognized only universal truth. Continue reading “The Middle Domes”

Should We Make Every Choice Scientifically?

Psychology, the science of mental events, has grappled from the start with a critical question of moral neutrality. The science of psychology with its ideal of the impassive observer began as a branch of philosophy in the latter decades of the 19th century. In the United States William James, philosopher and close friend of Charles Peirce, was recognized as an originator of psychology. But philosophy including that of James and Peirce raises questions of value-choices.

Are human thought and behavior best defined from a position of scientific neutrality? It should come as no surprise that psychology took just such a value-neutral turn in 20th century modernity. Continue reading “Should We Make Every Choice Scientifically?”

Gilbert Ryle, Reconnecting Mind and Body

Just after World War II and near the halfway mark of the 20th century, philosopher Gilbert Ryle published The Concept of Mind, a book widely credited with ending the philosophical division between physical and mental realms of reality. Continue reading “Gilbert Ryle, Reconnecting Mind and Body”