Monday, March 03, 2008


Despite what one might conclude from listening to talk radio or from reading our local paper’s editorial cartoons, it turns out that the brain is pretty complicated. Of course scientists have known this for decades. Example: A man endures a horrific industrial accident that lodges an iron spike into his frontal lobe, and from that point on he believes that all cats are really shopping carts. Okay, I made that up. Or he might start to believe that crocs are ridiculous footwear. Okay, that’s true whether or not one has a spike lodged in one’s brain. Let’s not lose focus of the main point, which is that tweaking (or inserting a spike into) the brain reveals how the “self” is knitted together--if it is not altogether illusory—by the interaction of a host of separate parts of the brain.

Here’s an interesting example taken from a book I read recently. A guy suffers a terrible accident (or surgery) that severs his corpus callosum, the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres. The two spheres each have different functions, and the corpus callosum is the text messaging mechanism between the two halves. Scientists thought it would be revealing to see what life is like for a guy whose two perfectly functioning hemispheres do not communicate with one another. So the scientists decided to have some fun with him. Or should I say with “them.” Because it turns out there were at least two dudes in this guy’s brain.

They covered one of the guy’s eyes and asked him to read a note that told him to “leave the room.” The other side of the brain, the side that deals with purpose and meaning, was left in the dark because its corresponding eye was covered. The man obeyed the note as instructed, but as he was walking out the door the scientists asked the man why he was leaving. And without missing a bloody beat the guy said, “to get a coke.” And the guy believed what he was saying. In other words, the part of the brain that came up with reasons for action acted independently of what actually prompted him to act. The justification came after the action, and yet the self felt like the decision came ahead of time. The scientists concluded that the brain is a remarkably good b.s. artist, and the chief person being b.s’d is ourselves.

Which pretty much rings true for me.

trapped shadows

Sometimes a shadow is just a shadow.

a first look

another look

So which is the better photo?

angels wings

It required no stretch of the imagination for me to come up with the title for this photo. The photo shows angel outfits I found in a local theater company's dressing room. Now whether the costumes themselves are a stretch of the imagination as a representation of real angels is itself a different question. It certainly prompts a series of challenging questions.

I start with this question: do angels need wings for Heaven or for earth? Or both? Isaiah (I believe) indicates that angels have a bunch of wings. Six, I seem to recall. Which suggests that flight is especially difficult in Heaven--or perhaps that six wings is way cooler than two. (Which is obvious.) But why do angels need them at all? Again, presumably for flying, but why do they need to fly? Where in the world are they going? (Picking up soy milk at the store?) Speaking only for meownself, I can’t help but thinking it would definitely be riveting to watch six-winged angels flying around doing angelic things.

I doubt angels need wings on earth because most stories depict them as popping in and out of our world. They zip in and zip out and don’t do a lot of traveling. Plus, if I were an angel and needed to get from one point to another, say, from a car accident to a Christian music recording studio, I wouldn't fly. I'd pop back into heaven and then pop back down to earth. Sort of like a heavenly Star Trek Teletransporter

But if angels have wings in Heaven, will we? And if we won’t, will we secretly be jealous of the angels? (Answer: yes.) Or worse, will we be like penguins—with wings but still incapable of flight? And if we don’t have wings, will we still have dreams about wanting to fly? Will we sleep at all in heaven? But what if we want to take a nap? Surely naps are part of the R in R.I.P.

See, not all the theological questions have been answered.


For my fellow Romans.