Mind, Brain, Body
No, I know, nowadays it makes you think of something involving yoga and antioxidants and pastel-colored walls and gourmet bottled water. But you know you are safe here.
Gerald Edelman has a new book out. Years ago I beat my head against his book Neural Darwinism, trying to get hold of his theory, on the basis of a review of it in NYRB. It was very slow going, but I wanted to earn my way to the good bits. (That's one of my weird little habits and is the reason why I can't bear to read the abridged version of anything.) I never quite made it beyond the first few chapters. Probably something else caught my attention.
Edelman's vision of the process of brain cells separating themselves out and evolving their functional specializations really felt like poetry the first time I heard it described. I mean, basically, ever since then, I have pretty much felt bored to death by every time people compare the human brain or mind to a computer. You lose me right there.
Anyway the reason why I try to read books like that is because even if I don't make it all the way through I do learn enough to know that most of what I think I know about this or almost anything is just made up, just cobbled together out of chewing gum and hairpins, out of things misheard, half-attended to, assumed on the basis of stale metaphors, and just not thought about at all. So what I get from efforts to read stuff like this is 1) I see one thing in a completely new way, and that's the exact same reason I read poetry. 2) I recognize yet again that what Hume said is true: a lot of what we think we know is just custom -- it's just what we are accustomed to carrying around in our heads. But it doesn't have to be like that all the time.