I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Body and Soul

So tonight I read that the Terri Shiavo autopsy showed severe brain damage. It made me realize something that I've always known, but didn't really get, if you know what I'm saying: I have a very different idea of "soul" than most people.

I think that, to the vast majority of the world, the notion that people are purely physical creatures is a deeply non-intuitive notion. People are committed to the idea of soul--something that exists beyond the body and the brain, and animating force that can survive independently, and that can carry on after death. I've met many, many people who didn't identify themselves as Christian or as a member of any other religion, but were still, on a gut level, convinced there was something spiritual within them.

I've never seen the slightest shred of evidence that this is so. The fact is, if you change people's brains, you change people. Case after case shows that people with brain tumors or brain trauma can undergo tremendous personality changes. People even self-inflict short term personality changes through the use of drugs and alcohol. The pharmacopia available to alter human behavior is staggering. If we were something more than physical, how could these chemical changes to the brain have any effect?

Not to flog a dead horse on the Shiavo case, but I was listening to callers tonight on the radio and it was clear to me they embraced one central myth--Terry Schiavo was more than the shell that lingered on in that hospital bed. The fact that she was brain damaged means nothing to them--her soul hadn't been damaged, had it? It was still intact inside her, as healthy and whole as it had ever been. After all, what physical trauma could harm a soul?

I think that there is something inherently harmful in this attitude. Not that I'm a poster child for health and moderation, but the notion that people have that their bodies and thier brains aren't really them leads to a loss of respect for one's own self. Who cares if you get fat, get stoned, etc? It's just your body that you're messing with, not the real you.

Listen up, people: The body you're in? It's the only one you get. The brain you have? You won't be issued another one. Take care of them.

1 comment:

Whetam Knauckweirst said...

James, solid advice that we should take care of our body and brains. As Woody Allen says in Sleeper, "My brain? That's my second favorite organ."

Some pretty profound questions at work in this posting. I'm completely irreligious, non-religious -- in fact, I've devoted a sickening amount of time to securing (and so far, failing) a document from the Catholic Church proclaiming me to be "excommunicated" -- and yet I believe in the existence of the soul.

But you're right -- change the brain, change the person. That's a fact. Trephination is also a means to altering the personality.

For all of the people who felt is cruel and crazy to discontinue feeding Terry Schaivo, I raise the issue that I was equally, if not more horrified by the way her parents treated her like a pet. That's no way for a human being to live.