This post belongs to an ongoing exploration of mindfulness biology.
On February 27, 2009 a letter appeared in Science Magazine entitled, “Neuroscience and the Soul” (and covered here). An heavy topic – even for a science journal! and much to explore down the road as the cross-informing synthesis of genetics and neuroscience continues.
As it turns out, I’m enjoying some summer reading of Jonah Lehrer‘s Proust Was A Neuroscientist and chapter 1 does not disappoint! It covers the life and poetry of Walt Whitman who was among the first modern western artists to reject dualist notions of a dichotomy between mind and body that stemmed from early Christian writings and from the philosophies of Rene Descartes (1641). Whitman, rather, embraced longstanding eastern notions of a synthesis and continuity of the mind and body. Whitman’s poem, I Sing The Body Electric captures some of his youthful ardor for the human body and the human condition. Just 2 lines from Chapter 1, line 10:
“And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul? And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?”
Ideas with such eastern influence earned him accolades as, “a remarkable mixture of the Bhagavad Ghita and the New York Herald” in his contemporary 1850’s press. Lehrer also traces the birth of modern neuroscience to early pioneers such as the psychologist William James, who, it turns out, was a great admirer of Whitman’s poetry.
So it seems that the “Neuroscience and the Soul” debate continues … from a wrong turn with Descartes in the 1600’s, steered back on track by Whitman and James in the 1850’s? Where will the genome lead us?