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Schmeltz's picture

Emily Dickinson and the Brain

Well, I've been trying to deduce whether I think all behavior is a result of the brain, but instead I seem to be more concerned with whether or not Emily Dickinson actually subscribed to that belief. Yes, the poem seems to suggest that all behavior is a result of the brain - the physical entity that has a capacity larger than the sky and the ability to construct both you and I and all else; however, I feel this is too reductionist.  I feel like the poem may be interpreted that way by individuals who already subscribe to that particular mode of thinking to enhance their belief. I've been reading some of Dickinson's poetry, and she repeatedly refers to the "mind" and thoughts of the mind, and sometimes it seems as if, to her, "brain" and "mind" are synonymous.  For example "I felt a Cleaving in my Mind - As if my Brain had split -- I tried to match it -- Seam by Seam -- But could not make it fit."  How are brain and mind different here? I wonder if she had truly differentiated between brain and mind.  Maybe she had - maybe she thought the mind was a construction of the brain.  More interestingly to me, though, is her reference to a soul.  Is a "soul" also a construction of the brain to her?  "A Thought Went up my Mind To-day" is a fun poem, where she writes about a particular thought, not knowing where or why it came, but that somewhere in her "soul" she had "met the thing before".  Clearly, she believed in a soul, whether or not her idea of "soul" is a construction of the brain or mind or just a spiritual, inexplicable thing, separate from the brain or mind, I do not know.  I think I would like to believe that there is something beyond the brain, the nervous system, and the chemical reactions, that is responsible for our personal behavior.  I think I would like to believe that there is a spiritual, inexplicable component to life, but maybe that could be because it is intrinsic in human beings to "crave the sense of a mysterious world stretching infinitely beyond" (E.O. Wilson, Biophilia). Maybe, I first and foremost consider Emily Dickinson to be a poet and an artist and this is why I do not want to believe that she thinks like a scientist.  Although, as I am reading Biophilia, I am becoming convinced that the two are very much linked and both disciplines possess similar motives, but that is an entirely different topic.  Bottom line, most logically, I would agree that yes, the brain is responsible for all behavior, but there is a part of me that would like to believe in something deeper and non-material.  Attributing everything to a material object seems to simplify things and make them more comprehensible.  I am not by any means saying the brain is simple - in fact there potentially exists a limitless amount of research left to be done on it.  It is just easier to say that it is the brain, because the brain, being a physical entity, can be studied. A "soul", if one does exist for everyone, and if it is in fact separate from the brain, cannot really be studied or tested so it complicates things for us.  We want to prove, we want to theorize, and we want to stumble upon truths.  That's all great, but when we die, when our brains seize to function, do all the thoughts and garbage that we stored up there go too?  Does everything, all our constructions, all of our ideas, our sense of identity go?  I guess I'm struggling because I consider the "it's all brain" argument to also mean there is no spirituality, but perhaps spirituality is merely a construction.  Now, I feel like I'm going in circles...        


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