The Tangible Self

For our second class of the semester we assigned chapter one of the Synaptic Self in which the scientist LeDoux tells us that synapses=self. In that second class Professor Glenn presented us with a question for discussion that I found provocative: Should scientists be trying to understand this (this being “the biological mechanisms by which the brain makes the self”)?

Well whether or not they ‘should’ be looking for the answer to the question I don’t really know. What I do know is that people will go on seeking out an answer for this mind-boggling question until they get an answer that satisfies them. I think most of us would agree that humans are innately egocentric. Therefore it makes sense to me that I would love to know exactly where my social compass is located, or where my staunch beliefs are stored, or if I can pinpoint exactly what makes me…me. It would be awesome but would it cure any diseases or increase happiness? Probably not. And so again I think about the question proposed to us in class.

Chapter two of the book had me think more about the history behind this inquiry and my mind went to Dr. MacDougall’s infamous experiment that sought to measure the weight of our souls. In his experiment he weighed bodies right before death and then again right afterwards. Each body he weighed, supposedly, got lighter right after death. The amount of mass lost varied by the person but averaged out at 21 grams. Dr. MacDougall’s creative mind put two and two together and went on to conclude that this must be the soul leaving the body and that the average soul weighed 21 grams. The same drop in weight did not occur with dogs and mice therefore, only humans had souls. This was (pseudo)scientific proof that the soul existed. How exciting!

The theory has long since been disproven but it reminds me that humans will incessantly search for scientific explanations behind just about everything. Apparently it is no longer enough to have faith. Oh no, we must back up each and every one of our beliefs with science. Please don’t get me wrong…science is awesome and obviously essential but I can’t help but to wonder about the answer to Professor Glenn’s question. Must we look to science to know what amasses to the self or can we carry on just being and speculating?

Again, I don’t know. Instead, in the meantime,I will go on reading for two reasons. A) the book is required reading but also because, much more importantly, B) what can I say? I’m curious!

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