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”

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Neighbors and Family

In these blogs about Searching for GSOT the family stories have received far more interest than the philosophical wanderings.[1]  I think that’s how it should be. Family should rank high in our understanding of GSOT.

It’s not just my birth family or yours. The idea of family extends to many other people with whom we have shared education, sports, church and Sunday School, military or public service, and work. Some of happiest times of my life have come at reunions – Murrah High School Class of ’65, Harvard Med Class of ’73. My experience with these events is that rivalries fade and everyone treats others as part of an inclusive family. Continue reading “Neighbors and Family”

Whirly-Go, Soldering, and Forgiveness

Struck by polio, Arthur Guyton could not pursue his chosen career of cardiovascular surgery and turned instead to basic medical science in physiology. In the fall of 1947 he joined the faculty of the 2-year University of Mississippi Medical School in his hometown of Oxford. The following year, despite some concern from the dean that he might not be able to withstand the rigors of leadership and research due to his disability, he became chairman of the Department of Physiology. Continue reading “Whirly-Go, Soldering, and Forgiveness”

Owning in Common

Can will be plural? Does it make any sense to speak of our will?

When ornate letters on aged yellow paper state “We the people…do ordain and establish this constitution,” shall the heirs of that document consider it to be (1) an expression of common will or (2) an astute contract among individuals? And is there any difference between the two? Continue reading “Owning in Common”

Treasure of the Heart

What do you own? And what sort of stuff do you possess?

Ordinarily we think that people own material things like land, houses, automobiles, and jewelry. People also own pledges or contracts – in the form of money, bank accounts, stock funds, insurance etc. – that support basic needs and interests beyond basic needs.

However, a few voices at either end of a spectrum, the most radical on one side and the most religious on the other, have asserted that we do not own those things and those pledges. Continue reading “Treasure of the Heart”

Sonya Tolstoy’s Contribution

Feminism sprang up as a social movement a few decades after Leo Tolstoy published his two great novels. Predating feminism, both War and Peace and Anna Karenina feature female characters whose lifelike portrayal equals and often exceeds that of the male protagonists.

In War and Peace, Natasha Rostov provides the developing character around whom the male figures come and go. In addition we meet Anna Pavlovna Scherer, who commands the true center of Petersburg society, orphan Sonya, the Rostovs’ niece, whose fate past childhood hangs in the balance, and Maria Bolkonsky, whose moral elevation redeems those around her. Anna Karenina has 4 major characters paired as Anna and Vronsky, Kitty and Levin, as well as a touching portrait of Varenka, a common girl raised and educated by an heiress.

Tolstoy leads his female and male readers alike not only to appreciate the women in his novels, but to identify with them, to feel their pain and their victories. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and one wonders how these fictional women became so true to life. Continue reading “Sonya Tolstoy’s Contribution”

Clara and Luther

Get to know your grandparents, and your life will be enlarged. Your life will extend back in time by half a century or so. You’ll gain an expanded perspective, because ideas, even worldviews, change over such a span. If you get a chance to see the world through the eyes of your grandparents and hear about it from their lips, by all means take advantage of the opportunity! Continue reading “Clara and Luther”