a new age of reason(s)

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i love watching science sort through our endless supply of earthly “mysteries.”  i love watching the ethereal become concrete, the mystical explained. for me it deepens the mystery of the mystical and raises the bar on what we consider ethereal or abstract. the functional MRI scans of late show so many mechanisms in our brains for feelings, thoughts and behaviors that we’ve always attributed to this separate “mind” thingy, always in line with our incredible sense of self-importance and purpose (also housed in the brain…specifically in a locale with very uptight HOA rules). even our spirituality lives cleary and obviously in the brain. in tandem, psychological studies are revealing why economic and natural selection theories about the inherent self-serving nature of humans don’t hold up under scientific observation…that we are emotionally and socially smarter than the mathematical models. (http://www.brainmysteries.com/ 8/5/11, article UCSB study)

i love this stuff because much of what we are learning affirms common sense (a term i loathe to define…a sense of things perhaps only “common” to me), and explains why it feels so good to “get along” well with others. turns out we are largely virtuous by nature…if your virtues include kindness, generosity and a sense of social and spiritual oneness. we can even see how different types of music affect the way neurons communicate in the brain, help us understand spatial awareness, give us goosebumps or move us in ways we have no words to describe. the kind where we just sigh, or smile or move in some state of mild to wild ecstasy. yes, there is a science to that, a well-studied one.

i look at all these developments and know that we are engaged in an age of reason (i’m ducking the coffee you just spit laughing at the idea that “reason” is the climate of today). what i mean though, is that we are in an era of discovery related to understanding human thinking, reasoning and resulting behaviors, living in both our brains and our dna. once upon an doctor’s appointment, they poked at the outside and guessed. the results – leeches, exorcisms, “balms” and “snake oils” enough to fund the lifestyles of whole gypsy communites (source, Little House on the Prairie episodes i watched as a kid). a few generations later, they started to see inside of living people with rudimentary x-ray technology, and on to the era of blood medicine and microbiology, then genetics. we’ve been working on body science for a long time (long enough to fund whole gypsy corporations of balm and snake oil makers).

until very recently, the “brain” and disorders of the mind, including behavioral disorders were (are) still relegated to a category cured by exorcisms or value judgments. just like we used to try to pray the spirits out of fevered folks, many think we can pray or wish away disorders of the mind. we still act like people can get up one day and “choose” not to be mentally ill or to think differently, choose to “be like the rest of us,” choose “common sense and decency.” we don’t want there to be an “excuse” or a reason for whatever we’ve defined as aberrant behavior. we want to judge them.

like so much research, the answers we find raise even harder questions and difficult wrestling matches with morality and what we can actually define as normal…just how wide that range goes and what to do it about all that it includes or excludes.  just like in days long past, the shake up and re-direction of medical and psychological knowledge is disturbing, uncomfortable and messy. we aren’t just finding out things we didn’t know, we are finding out where we’ve been wrong. and wrong is hard for some people to take…the scientifically and spiritually certain become flustered and huffy, dismissive and angry. i wonder what that looks like on an MRI.

they imprisoned galileo for telling us what he saw through a telescope. it didn’t fit with our spiritual and religious understanding of the world. things like that are HARD to swallow. people predicate their whole lives and after-lives on learned beliefs, and they want to be right. i can’t find the direct quote, but i remember hearing astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson say (paraphrased) that the cool thing about science is that you don’t have to believe in it for it to be true. for some reason it is so easy for me to live with a feeling of not knowing. it’s exciting and not very scary at all, and while that might put me outside the “norm,” i have to say that the HOA rules are really lax out here.

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