Goodbye to a Man I Admired

Oliver Sacks

photo links to NYT obituary

Dear Russell & Friends,

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist whose work inspired Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, died today from metastatic ocular melanoma at the age of 82.  I read one of his first books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat last year.  Soon after I completed the book, which still has me thinking, I saw Dr. Sacks’ New York Times op-ed piece about his pending death published 6 months ago.

I admired Dr. Sacks for many reasons.  The two foremost were his ability to communicate and his desire to empathize with his patients.  He was one of the first to write in the popular media about neurobiology.  In a way he was a forerunner of Dr. David Eagleman, but a clinician responsible for meeting and comforting broken people.

The link below is Dr. Sack’s TED talk from 2009 – – an excellent primer and a fond memory.  I say goodbye to a man I never met, but who touched me nonetheless.


Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit – –

Spirit ≠ Soul



Greetings Russell, Friends & Readers – –

I hope that you are well on the way to returning your trees to the earth for mulch or to the closet for storage. Russell will be back to writing soon.  He is blessed to enjoy a traveling vacation with his beautiful family.  I look forward to his return.  Until then I wanted to expand on a topic that I touched on in the last post and one that Howie extended in the comments to Dredbeauty.  Both new readers are very welcome here.  Dredbeauty and I likely align a bit in our thinking as do Howie and Russell.  That is a tentative conclusion based on a few comments.  I hope that they both stay so that the conclusion can be challenged and tested.  Here’s the topic:  do we have spiritis?

First a quote offered from Howie’s link in the comment from Sean Carroll.  He is Russell’s favorite physicist.  I know – – I have a friend with a favorite physicist.  My favorite physicist was Isaac Newton.  He was ignorant enough to be a Christian.  He constructed God of the Gaps apologetics that were later deconstructed by Laplace and many others.  But he was a pretty sharp guy who was humble enough to say that he stood on the shoulders of giants.  I am willing to make Sean Carroll my current favorite living physicist.  Newton maintains my favorite smart dead guy post.  I think Carroll might pick Boltzmann.

Here’s the quote:

I have an enormous respect for Adam; he’s a smart guy and a careful thinker. When we disagree it’s with the kind of respectful dialogue that should be a model for disagreeing with non-crazy people. – – Sean Carroll – – Physics and the Immortality of the Soul

Howie and probably Russell know the context of the quote.  I would invite others to read the brief, instructive post.  Carroll is referring to his friend and colleague Adam Frank who believes that we should remain agnostic (not knowing) about the topic of an immortal soul.  Carroll believes it is an appropriate scientific question, asked and answered in the negative.  If I misrepresent his view please correct me.

Where do I stand?  I suppose that I stand for precise language.  Carroll is a professional physicist and a master communicator.  I will devour everything he has on this year and help send his kids to college.  He is, by his own description, not a theologian.  He describes his upbringing in a white bread suburban mainstream church.  The teaching captured neither his nor his parents’ imagination.  On arrival to a Catholic university, he was an atheist.  Fair enough.

So should I argue the premise that we have no existence beyond the natural?  What of neuroscience, the functional MRI pictured above, neuroanatomy, neurotransmitters, and the very true arguments that Howie makes in his comments to Dredbeauty?  What of this articulate, intelligent blogger with a compelling story that led her away from faith in a veil of tears?  Will neuroscience solve the issue of soul?

It could.  To honor precise language and the thinking of generations of metaphysicists – – the soul is comprised of the mind, will, and emotions.  Can my mind be mapped now, manipulated later by MRI and ferrous nanoparticles?  Probably.  Can my will be broken by suggestion, sleep deprivation, even torture?  Demonstrably so.  Can my emotions ride the wave of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, THC, or alcohol?  Yes.  Then what is supernatural at all?

In the Christian worldview, spirit ≠ soul.  The spirit of man lives forever.  And what of the connection and relation between spirit and soul.  I don’t know.  In middle age, I just don’t know.  If I live to be older I hope to understand more.  How do I hope to know?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4: 12 (ESV)

My worldview requires these cornerstones, the final being chief:

Supernatural, Scripture, Saints, Savior

If soul is conflated with spirit, it will be hard for Dr. Carroll and I to begin.  I believe that his logic can be, perhaps should be, applied to soul – – not to spirit.