At least ever since a philosopher named Descartes wrote “Cogito Ergo Sum,” there has been a dualistic view of life that says our body and our minds are distinct from one another. Without getting snarled in the ensuing Cartesian dust-up, it’s fair to say this has led to some sloppy thinking. As if when we think, we should be doing it with our heads, our brains, our cognitive faculties.
So far so good. But….!
But why leave our heart, our emotions, our intuitions, our affective faculties behind? The answer we hear is that these will only mess with our heads. That our heads have to be totally clear of them in order to reach the right answers. Something like the mathematician or physicist who leaves his emotions at the door of his lab, or the neurosurgeon who does the same when he enters the OR.
I can’t speak for mathematicians and physicists, but I sure as hell can for the surgeons. The only ones I’ve wanted are those who were willing to know me before cutting me. To recognize I am more than this 5-square-inches of cranium. That I and all their other patients come to him or her as a complex human being, not simply an antiseptic slab of meat.
These days medical schools teach the same thing. The healer should have some sense of the humanity of the patient they are trying to heal. It’s more than simply “a nice bedside manner.” It has a great deal to do with the curative capacities of the doctor with his or her patient.
And while this makes sense to most of us, there are still times when scientists other than medical ones may continue to marginalize the heart in their work. I’m thinking especially of our bold new neurobiologists who today have brilliantly identified so many genes and lobes, chemicals and circuits, that they [and we] are tempted to assume that these-are-us. That you and I are the total of our physiological parts.
Most philosophers, theologians and artists beg to differ. They insist humans are more than the sum of their parts, rather we are that unique whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-our parts. Exactly what is this “whole?” Aha, there’s one of the greatest questions we should be asking ourselves.
A hint. It’s not something you can find under a microscope or in a petrie dish….
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