Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: The Music of Life

[Pic Link]

This was a nice, short book with some real things to say, yet it still felt a little inflated. The central metaphor is wonderful, and the basic thesis is that life and even consciousness emerges from the physical interactions of smaller parts, that it is more than the sum of its parts and cannot be identified with any single one or type of part. The author is a Nobel laureate for figuring out how the heart beats, that there is no central oscillator but it's a cooperation of small, relatively simple pumps that creates the sophisticated sequence of the heart beat. There's some fascinating truths here, and the author starts out by taking Richard Dawkins to task for his metaphors that genes control everything. They don't. (Although a little later he goes out of his way to praise Dawkins to compensate.)
A section late in the book about consciousness points out how a "brain transplant" would NOT be a "self transplant," that the body is an integral part of the self. The author goes on to suggest that this means there IS no self when you get down to it ( ... but isn't that just returning to the original idea that there must be a small region of self and if you can't pinpoint it to a small part, then it doesn't exist? What about if the self includes the body??). I think the body-mind integration is important and is reflected in the way the Bible insists on physical resurrection, not a "transmigration of souls" or whatever. I think it confirms the self as a physical thing with spiritual dimension, not that it destroys the self. That's because I'm a Christian and the author is drawing parallels to Buddhism. But the bottom line is that this is a place where further conversation can start, and it's a lot more interesting to talk about what this says about the self and consciousness than to follow after Francis Crick or Richard Dawkins attacking straw men all day. Here's to more books like this ... hopefully with a little less padding in the stories and more meat in the conclusions.

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