Thursday, January 22, 2015


Let me introduce you to a lady in my life other than my wife.  Marilynne Robinson, the other lady, is not only the author of Housingkeeping, Gilead, Home and Lila, but she has also written four nonfiction works.  Her nonfiction book Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self takes on those who would try and reserve for science alone the right to speak about the human mind.

She says, “If ‘mind’ and ‘soul’ are not entities in their own right, they are at least terms that have been found useful for describing aspects of the expression and self-experience of our own very complex nervous system.”

Notice she says “if.”  Dr. Robinson, yes I said Dr. Robinson, is a 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner for Gilead, which means she knows how to use the right word at the right place.  

This is what you will find if you go to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Website
F. Wendell Miller Professor of English and Creative Writing
Marilynne Robinson is the author of the novels Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, and Lila, and the nonfiction works When I Was a Child I Read Books, Absence of Mind, The Death of Adam and Mother Country. Her awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2005), the Orange Prize for Fiction (2009), the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (2005), The PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvoel Award for the Art of the Essay (1999), and the Louisville Gravemeyer Award in Religion (2006).

I want you to know enough about Marilynne Robinson to know that when Yale University asked her to deliver the series of lectures from which this book was born that Yale was not inviting a lightweight, but rather a heavyweight.  She takes on the reductionist thinkers like Richard Dawkins and clearly points out that they are leaving valuable information on the table.  Information that has been gained over thousands of years about the human mind.

She points out as William James did that data should be thought of as gifts and not as givens so that we might maintain the humility to know we have not seen the whole picture and there is always more to learn.  Anytime we think we have the “truth” we stop looking for it.

I recommend the book, but I also would encourage folks to stop thinking in terms of reductionist science.  You may think science has found the answers to the great questions about the brain/mind/soul, but the real ones know they have not.  They cannot tell me why I do anything.  Even when they know what part of the brain is working when I do something, they do not know the why.  Why is a mind/soul question that will never be answered by any machine or biological science.  They may answer all the how questions, but they will never answer the why questions using only biological sciences.

Why questions are the root questions.  Their answers will touch your mind and soul.  The ones you have that they cannot see with machines.

© Ed Cooper, January 22, 2015, Stoney Creek, Eastern Tennessee   
   All rights reserved

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