Monday, January 26, 2009

Superstitions in the mail

This email was written in response to a very generous friend who has just given me a copy of "Descartes' Error" by Antonio Damasio.  Since I sometimes develop my thinking in emails I thought I would start recording some of them here!

Thanks for your message, I appreciate it!

"Descartes Error" is particularly timely for me because I recently read "Descartes' Bones" by Russell Shorto and am now reading "The Courtier and the Heretic" by Matthew Stewart which is about Spinoza and Liebniz. I have always been very perplexed by the premise that the mind and body are separate; in fact the main intellectual preoccupation for me over the past few years has been trying to understand why ideas and institutions which seem to rest on such positive ground as the well being of the mind should be the source of so much destruction and hurt to the physical person and world. This rather jaded and  even dubious motivation is what has been impelling my interest in churches, and finding one that was aware of that connection and trying to address it was an unexpected surprise. There is a lot to say about that but it isn't the point of this message.

I came across this passage about Descartes in the Stewart book:

"By isolating the mind from the physical world the philosopher insured that many of the doctrines of orthodoxy- immortality of the soul, freedom of the will, the "special" status of humankind- were rendered immune to any possible contravention by scientific investigation"

It is so easy to look at that situation and think what an irrational intellectual environment it was at that time, and yet it isn't much different now. We chuckle at the Church's attitude toward Galileo, but refuse to see that the whole "Creationism" argument is exactly the same. Our discussions of drug policy, death and suicide, and mental illness are every bit as hysterical as those of the seventeenth century establishment. The ultimate irony of all the conservative positions is that they do nothing to increase the honor of the "creator"  as they describe it, but only trivialize the whole of creation, including it's spiritual aspects. It is very perplexing. One does well to remember Abelard's statement "logic made me hated among men."

Sorry if I sound jaded. I brought my camera to church yesterday to take some photos of inscriptions for the archivist and stupidly left my bag unattended with the coats and someone rifled through it and stole my camera. Isn't it strange that that would happen the day after I suggested you shouldn't leave your Fur on a similar coat rack! Talk about perplexing- was that Fate telling me to mind my own advice, or reeking retribution on me for interfering. Even after descrying such explanations of the cosmos I too resort to the supernatural to understand my own stupidity.  I think I'll start reading the Greek drama!

Best Wishes

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