Looking through my old journal entries from 1997 I found this entry from May 30 of that year:
In Wilder Penfield”s The Mystery of the Mind, there are these words of Bertrand Russell:
“That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origins, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion. . . all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction… all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” (From Russell’s A Free Man’s Worship of 1923)
Russell’s words that at the time I found most terrible were, “all the noonday brightness of human genius is destined to extinction.”
I asked myself then, was there any way that this might not be true? Was there any way that there might be some permanence to that noonday brightness? If it all truly ends, is there any reason to try constantly to protect and preserve anything at all, if such protection and preservation is only momentary?
Why save the child? Why save the thing of beauty? In any case there will always be more of both, no matter what we do, and those we try, and often in vain to save, are destined to perish sooner or later anyway.
Now I would say that the words of Russell I find even more terrible are these, “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”
“Firm foundation of unyielding despair,” that’s any kind of foundation on which to build, despair? Well yes, I guess it is.
But Russell’s words express just one way of seeing the world. There are other, and if not better certainly more hopeful ways, such as in these words of the the physicist, Eugene Wigner:
“There are two kinds of reality or existence: the existence of my consciousness and the reality or existence of everything else…. It is profoundly baffling that the existence of the first kind of reality could ever be forgotten.” Is he saying that which we all wish for, that consciousness will never end?
And then from Augros and Stanciu’s New Story of Science (1984), I read “the world of sensation depends on the world of physics and chemistry but is not reducible to it. . . [in fact] the two irreducible elements in man are body and mind.”
And finally Wilder Penfield in The Mystery of the Mind concludes that, “although the content of consciousness depends in large measure on neuronal activity, awareness itself does not.” Or, in other words, the human intellect and the human have their seats in no bodily organs.
At the time I wondered what happened during senile dementia, or Alzheimer’s, to the will and the intellect? if they do not depend on bodily organs where were they during these periods of dementia?
Penfield also says, that “the mind and the will are not subject in death to the disintegration that affects… both the body and the brain.”
But again I asked, what happens to them during the disintegration of Alzheimer’s?