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.