Wednesday, August 17, 2016

More than Soul, More than Body

Here's a fascinating article, which may give some people the willies. It's the story of scientists who believe they're close to the world first head transplant.

Discussing it on Facebook, I said more than once that the fallacy here, as I understood it, was the assumption that all our identity is in our brain, even that all our memories are in our head. I've long said that we hold memories throughout our bodies. The assumption that all this tissue and bone are just parts that are interchangeable, given some matches (blood type and such), is . . . it's just a fallacy. I think.

Mind you, organ transplants are an amazing gift. There are endless stories of lives saved via these miracles of modern medicine. I'm not speaking against them.

I've also heard anecdotes of people who received a new organ and then having new food cravings, only to learn the donor favored such foods.  (Is there research on this? Probably. Someone point me to it.)

To transplant a head is to do more than just replace an organ, it's to replace whole systems. With a single organ, it makes sense that one person would remain dominant. With a complete transplant of the nervous system, gastro-intestinal system, skin---well, I'm left speechless.

The article does speculate that, if successful, what may emerge is a new person, neither of the previous people---the head or the body---fully surviving. That makes complete sense to me.

Another article, posted last night to Facebook by a friend, is speaking to the idea that we store memories, particularly of pain, at the cellular level. Chronic pain might be sites in our bodies remembering trauma.

This also makes sense to me. What are my aching feet but memories of years working in retail, on my feet all day, on concrete floors?

There is so much that remains mysterious about who we are, how our identity emerges, develops. I can't help but think about this in spiritual terms. The Christian teaching that our identities are in our bodies, that our bodies are not inconsequential, but that we await a resurrection (one full of scars!) and, yes, transformation, but still fully who we are.

What this means to someone with a disabled body, I can only guess, and not mine to speculate on. I have sympathy for the man in the first article, the one with a withering and dying body, who is willing to grab at this chance for life in a healthy body. 

We have, to some extent, interchangeable parts and yet we are not simply cogs that have to match Ford to Ford, Honda to Honda. Perhaps one day science will unlock the secrets of the brain and how the systems throughout our unique bodies creates individual personalities, but I suspect that we will always find something inexplicable. Perhaps if these scientists succeed in their attempt with a head transplant, we'll learn a lot more.

In the meantime, all I have to say is: be gentle with your body and the bodies around you.

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