Friday, May 06, 2005

More on spirits and bodies

The relationship of spirit and body is a complex one, and I can say that my own understanding just seems to get more complicated as I go along! There are many, as we mentioned above, who in principle simply do not have a place for spirit in their model of the person. The person, for such folks, is basically a fancy machine, the main computer of which is the brain, which through various chemical processes, genetic protein signatures and electromagnetic considerations generates a personality. This personality can itself in turn be modified, enhanced, controlled or subdued, by the introduction of various substances and influences much the same as car performance can be enhanced or diminished with fuel, additives, etc.

The reduction of the person to the sum of the machine parts is found wanting on numerous counts, some of which I have already mentioned in earlier posts. The problem is, this machine seems to have a mind of its own! Furthermore, there are some fine examples in the medical literature which certainly put the brain in its place, as it were. My favorite is an article called, “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?” (World Medicine, May 3, 1980, p.2 and 22-24, No. 15, Vol. 13--or 15--...can’t tell for sure from the handwriting). I thank Tom Myer’s for turning me on to that one. In it, some British researchers exploring issues of hydrocephalus and adults with larger-than-average heads find to their utter surprise and shock, through brain imaging technology, that a number of people, fully functional folks, who participated in their study, didn’t have brains inside their heads, to put it bluntly. One fellow, a master’s degree holder from down the hall, in fact had a mere milimeter or two of cortex lining his braincase, with a whole lot of fluid sloshing around inside his head instead, and didn’t seem the worse for wear. While some may say that the exception proves the point, in an instance such as this, the exception busts the model, in my opinion. Not to say that if you had a brain and took it away, you wouldn’t miss it, but if you didn’t start out with one, well, what you ain’t got, you don’t miss. Perhaps the brain is really just a crutch. It may be the water that makes us tick at a physical level, and the meaty stuff is all just artifact of the flow.

I also look to the dead to bolster my case for the existence and primacy of spirit, in contrast to those who hold that the person is basically comprised of meat-as-machine. Having spent ten years or so popping in and out of cadaver laboratories teaching workshops and exploring the wonders of human form with my fellow somanauts, it’s safe to say that the dead have taught me a few things, in addition to the living. When you spend a bit of time engaged in the study of human form in the model of the cadaver, or even if you have simply gone to a family wake and viewed the “remains” of the deceased friend or relative, you are invariably impressed by how lifeless the dead are. Something big is missing there, as compared with the living. What is missing? What is life? What is spirit? Who am I? What is my body? What is the relationship between my body and my consciousness when you are alive, and what change takes place when your body is dead?

I may not attempt to answer all of these questions in the following post --they are the stuff of lifetimes of consideration. Let’s just say that if the body is merely a machine, and my personality and consciousness even are merely functions of the machine, well, there shouldn’t be much difference between the living and the dead. But there is a difference. A big difference! You are, I am, we are, brilliantly, shiningly, thrillingly alive! Life is the deus ex machina of the mechanists model of the body/person: without it, they’ve got nothing but a rotting corpse. Yet the model has virtually nothing to say about the nature of life itself. On and on it will go about mechanisms, processes, and “active ingredients,” but as for life itself, that gooey stuff is left to the philosophy and religion departments to quibble about. You’ll notice, however, that the grant money isn’t flowing to those corners of the campus! The mechanists desparately need life, but they’ve pulled the wool over there own eyes and refused to open them to the truth of life in their midst. Life is that spiritual dimension that makes meat come alive. When the spirit blows out of the form, the physical materials resolve to different levels of order and existence, to be taken up at the whim and will of spirit once again.

When I see the human form in the cadaver, I see a mirror in which I am reflected, and I also see the stunning and stark contrast of the living and the dead. I feel my vitality within myself and notice the lack of it there on the table. I compare myself favorably on that count! Life in a body is a rich and potent gift, however fleeting. What is missing from the cadaver is the particular spirit of the soul which animated that form and contributed to its shape and qualities through their intent and their experiences. It’s not that the body is broken so there is no more personality being generated there. Cadavers have personalities of their own, to be sure. Rather, Elvis has left the building! The animating element has blown elsewhere, and left the shell behind, like a runner who has kicked off hi/r shoes, or a hermit crab moved on to larger quarters. I’m going to go spend some time with Karen, and will come back to this in the next post! Nighty night!


Anonymous vicki said...

Hey Gil,

I am fascinated by the statements about "brainless" people living and creating, working, being academic. This makes no sense to me. Sounds like the complete antithises of what we have been taught - the bigger the brain, the smarter the person.

very strange,

11:18 PM  

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