Thursday, February 15, 2018

What makes you you?

I wandered the aisle of the bookstore and saw books on the brain, the unconscious mind, etc; and I realized it was time to read some more non-fiction. I got the story of the Gene for Christmas. I acquired Science Held Hostage from a church book sale. And I bought Dan Eagleman's The Brain from that very aisle... which raises the question; why did I choose those books, and why did I choose to read them now?

Eagleman devotes a whole chapter in the Brain to how we make choices; how the emotions have to feed into them, helping us imagine a future after each option; helping us weigh those imagined futures with feeling so we can decide. I enjoy a close relationship with someone very indecisive, so that chapter deeply intrigued me. I also have autistic relatives, so the question of why we need other people intrigued me too. And the thought that, just for a while, John Robinson knew the pains of empathy. Plus, I know I remember things differently from other members of my family - not just disagreeing over orders or facts of events, but answering questions with a different approach to retrieving those events. I'm intrigued, and Eagleman feeds me with much to ponder on. So drink some richly elegant, complex four-star coffee and wonder what makes you you.

While Eagleman describes the importance of our subconscious selves and of community in defining our consciousness, I remain convinced that there's a selfhood beyond that which physical sciences can explain. I see my autistic relative and I'm sure there's a "him" behind his disability--a self he would have been, disguised by the self he is, and more than the sum of his selves. Robinson gained empathy and feared he'd lose his uniqueness; instead it seems he lost other things in the morass of relationship's pains, which makes me more than eager to read his books (but I haven't got them yet).

Still, I was already reading Science Held Hostage by Van Till, Young and Menninga, which delves into that line between faith and science, the boundary of the physical and the faith that there's something more. It's an older book that still seems to have great relevance. The authors invite their readers to see the distinction between origin and formation--where science describes the formation of say, stars, plants, animals (even brains and consciousness) but cannot discover why they work the way they do. Scientific laws describe how things work, but don't dictate their behavior. And rigorous science is precisely that--rigorous--while folk science picks and chooses unverifiable facts and decides to call them true--folk science on both sides of faith, since some scientists will cherry-pick their facts too, to prove their that there is no God. The science may well be out of date in this book, but the scientific method and room for debate is clearly the same today, and I really enjoyed the read. Find some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee and give it a go.

I recently read The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee too, and was lost to the world as I devoured long pages. The history aspect is fascinating, recording stories of famous people involved in genetic discovery. The science is cool and absorbing, including information about epigenetics that informs the reader delightfully, arming me well against those who say "Genes aren't the answer anymore and science got it wrong." Science progresses beautifully forward, and this book is a wonderful read. Enjoy with more richly elegant four-star coffee.

So what makes me me, and what makes you you--genes, consciousness, physical reality... or more. I just want to learn more!

1 comment:

Jean Harkin said...

Much to think about. It boggles the mind that each individual person on the planet now or who ever lived in the past is completely unique. Lots to ponder and wonder about. Thanks Sheila!