Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"Hey, it's all in your body."

Comes a story, now, about how the earliest and most telling signs of incipient Alzheimer's may be physical rather than mental (which is to say, there may be visible physical markers to what's going on in the brain). I don't know why it seems to surprise people each time we uncover new evidence that suggests a stronger link than previously known between cognition and other biophysical processes...which in turn suggests that the body is, indeed, a physical entity. Period. I won't live long enough to see it--and as always, I admit the possibility that I may be wrong (though in this case I doubt it)--but at some point in the foreseeable future, I expect science to demonstrate to our (dis)satisfaction that everything that happens within the body is purely electrochemical--a flesh-and-blood analogue to computers and their programming. This would mean that "deciding" on a breakfast cereal is really just another part of the same continuum in which that cereal is assimilated into the body and, later, eliminated from the body; that falling in love is simply (or not so simply) a function of the programming of the two people involved, and the way in which their respective programming interacts; and, bottom line, that "thought" is no more mystical or spiritual than the autonomous process that governs the beating of a heart. We think what we must think, what we're wired to think, based on the incessant, soft "clicking" of synapses as they filter information and other stimuli through the brain's genetic predispositions. This would mean, in essence, that human beings are no different from anything else--from trees or birds or slugs. We germinate, we become alive, we function for a while (following our biological script the whole way), and then we die--a minutely structured physical timeline that's wholly independent from the "conscious control" we think we exercise over it.

When this is proved, of course, we'll hear an impassioned outcry from religious types (who insist that thought and especially "free will" are gifts with which we were uniquely endowed by our Creator) and from judicial types (who recoil from the notion that everything that happens had to happen, which pretty much negates issues of right and wrong, at least in the abstract sense) and even from secular humanist types (who insist on the primacy of homo sapiens among all other species).

I say again: Wanting something to be true does not make it true. We want to exalt ourselves, to regard ourselves as special, quasi-magical. We're not. At least not in my view. We're organisms who function by the same set of rules that govern everything else (known) in the universe, albeit at a somewhat more (or at least, seemingly more) advanced level. And yes, we are conscious of our own actions and behaviors; that does not mean we have any control over them. No more than the spawning salmon controls its hard-wired, relentless determination to swim upstream. And be eaten by bears...


Mark Nakata said...


Have you seen the movie (or DVD) WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW? The movie makes a case for the biological basis of human behavior, but takes a step beyond deterministic scientific models by discussing quantum physics. The irony of discussing this newer scientific paradigm is that the movie's proponents wind up advocating the same mysticism of the new agers and self-helpers.

P.S. As of the end of June 2006, I still have not attended any self-help events since reading your book.

Steve Salerno said...

Mark, good to hear from you again. No, I haven't seen the movie--and it seems like a major omission in my resume, if you will. I'll have to make it a point to check it out!

So...could we say that you're successfully "in recovery" from self-help? ;)

Cosmic Connie said...

The new-agers co-opted quantum physics many years ago, apparently to shore up the "you create your own reality" school of thought.

Mark is right about "What The Bleep." It seemed to me that the makers of that film did in fact have a new age/new thought/mystical agenda. But I actually bought the movie because I thought it might have some new ideas (even in my advanced state of cynicism, I am always hopeful). My partner and I tried to watch it but couldn't get more than halfway through it due to the bad script and ridiculous animation. I had hoped the film might possibly reawaken a sense of wonder, but all it did was reawaken my awareness of how gullible I still can be to hype.

Anyway...I do not pretend to understand quantum physics, but I have always had a gut feeling that the new-age take on it was pretty much b.s.