The Mind’s Ability Knows No Bounds

The Mind’s Ability Knows No Bounds

“I think, therefore I am.”

I have long been fascinated by that argument of philosopher Rene Descartes. Similarly, over a millennium earlier, St. Augustine wrote, “I make mistakes, therefore I am.” Both suggest that cognition — self-awareness in Descartes’ case, knowing right from wrong per St. Augustine — confirm our existence.

That’s significant for those of us struggling with ALS. As our physical function and utility erodes, we are mercifully left with our thoughts, hence our reality. ALS is capable of many devastating outcomes. Thankfully there are elements of one’s essence that escape its reach. ALS cannot vanquish the spirit. It cannot cripple love. It cannot stifle courage. It cannot arrest faith. It cannot penetrate the soul. Most importantly, ALS cannot impact eternal life.

Descartes also proposed that the mind and body were two separate and distinct entities, but even the body was not so certain a thing as the mind because, like everything else in the world, the body could only be sensed because there was a mind to sense it. I would add that the mind has the added faculty of remembrance. With that as backdrop, I will pay homage to my own body, past and present, and lavish some praise on the mind-body team in general.

My body, pre-ALS, was a carefully orchestrated collaboration of, mostly reliable, subsystems. These disparate sections, 10 in all, were led by a brilliant conductor, the central nervous system (CNS). CNS nominally commandeers 206 bones, over 630 muscles, and billions of motor neurons, among other instruments, to produce the sweet symphony that was my body.

When all went as composed, the elaborate ensemble would obediently follow the lead of my CNS. At my discretion, breathing, eating, drinking, talking, walking, running, jumping would ensue. If an unintended variable were introduced, such as bodily contact with a scalding presence, the CNS would obviate the need for my conscious involvement, and reflexively take corrective action. Either way, a wonderful performance would take place.

Then a mysterious phenomenon began to occur. ALS was employed as my CNS’ backstage assistant and the baton (the aggregate motor neurons) by which it synthesized the component parts began to shrink. Deprived of leadership, some members performed erratically. Over time, some refused to play at all. Eventually, the orchestra’s playlist truncated dramatically.

That said, the residual material is laudable both in beauty and complexity. For example, I can still interact with a keyboard. The relatively tiny baton of my CNS can still guide the semi-compliant, necessary muscles through a series of eccentric and concentric contractions, yielding a harmony of extensions and flexions and enabling one of my fingers to strike a key with force appropriate to result in a desired letter. The more my body deteriorates, the more amazed I am of the magic of what it still can do, and the absolute splendor of what it was designed to. Whether an advocate of divine creation, evolution, or an in-between hybrid explanation, most would agree that the human body, even when impaired, is a miracle.

Of course, the animal kingdom teems with stronger, faster, and quicker inhabitants. They outdo our physical achievements literally by leaps and bounds. Enter the human mind. In conjunction with our proportionately meager, absolute bodily output potential, we have devised methods to exponentially transcend the upper physical limits of any of God’s creatures. We can transport ourselves many times faster than any species. Our vehicular power is expressed in hundreds of horses. The instrument-aided vision we have attained permits viewing both elemental atomic detail and vast expanses of the universe.

Perhaps, most impressively, we also have in many instances even devised ways to heal ourselves. That fact tempts me to suggest a modification to Descartes’ premise.

Collectively we think, therefore we are … better.

Let’s pray that the nuanced alteration soon proves prophetic for ALS.

***

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16 comments

      • Dave Reckonin says:

        My suggestion is firstly you quit being the PR Company for God & Son Inc.

        They aren’t involved and they have done nothing except watch the patient’s torture. (Should they, pere et fils, exist.)

    • Dave Reckonin says:

      The thing about Rick and Dagmar is that they are clearly ‘slow progressors’ in ALS terms.
      95% of pALS can only expect longevity for a span 3-5 years, and so their perspective is wholly different to that of these two columnists.

      • Michael Thomson says:

        Exactly, slow progressing folks. I’m going down, hard and fast and people writing about how they are “living well with ALS” and their inner strength canceling their pity party is, well, good for them, whooptie-freakin do. I prefer ALS “news” on this site.

  1. Dave Reckonin says:

    “Whether an advocate of divine creation, evolution, or an in-between hybrid explanation, most would agree that the human body, even when impaired, is a miracle.”

    Most would assuredly not agree it is a miracle.
    Simply the latest stage of a much longer history of evolution as blue-printed by Darwin, and the next stage is AI and so on.
    Just how much of a ‘divine creation ‘is this frail human body ?
    We can’t even cure the common cold so what do we do with ALS?
    This brings to mind the ‘Intelligent Design ‘ claim for the universe and all creatures in it.It’s BS. The Universe is full of things which will kill us.
    “God made man in his own image’ says teh Big Dusty Book. Well, it’s good to know that God burps farts and has a bit of prostate trouble every know and again. But he’s not sharing the secret of a cure for ALS. Why ?

    There you are, Rick – your ‘wide variety of topics’ suggestions.

  2. Diana Belland says:

    Dear Rick,
    As a “newcomer” to the world of ALS (diagnosis, March 4, 2019), I am struggling to accept my condition, the loss of the life I thought I would have and the impact upon my family. I look to your column and to Dagmar Munn’s for hope that I can face my future with dignity and manage to maintain my interests for as long as I can.

    You write so beautifully. I particularly liked this passage: “Thankfully there are elements of one’s essence that escape its reach. ALS cannot vanquish the spirit. It cannot cripple love. It cannot stifle courage. It cannot arrest faith. It cannot penetrate the soul. Most importantly, ALS cannot impact eternal life.”

    Thank you for pointing out the things that we can still appreciate. Thank you for your courage and for being an inspiration. Please keep writing.

    • Rick Jobus says:

      Diana, I am so very sorry to learn of your diagnosis.If you ever want to commiserate, compare notes, or just chat, feel free to reach out,

  3. Dave Reckonin says:

    ” Most importantly, ALS cannot impact eternal life.”

    Most pALS would suggest to you that the probability of eternal life, however large or small or non-existent, can look after itself for the time being, but today the loss of functionality, dignity and the prospect a loving family life over a reasonable average time span is more immediate, lacrimose and soul-destroying.

  4. Gary Gehiere says:

    You have succinctly expressed the ‘long view’ based on proven science, shared life experience and profound Christian truths. Whether experiencing disability of ALS or any one of the 10,000 diseases said to affect the human race, life as we know it will end for each of us. What happens next is worthy of serious study and sober reflection.
    I was diagnosed in April, 2018 with bulbar onset ALS. My philosophy and life and eternal life has only been positively reinforced. It’s not too late for anyone living to reopen the discussion and reconsider the big question – what happens next.

      • Dave Reckonin says:

        In these prayers of yours ,Rick, what exactly are you asking for ?

        Rick, think of all the millions of prayers that have been offered up for pALS over the last 140 years.
        What have they achieved? Nothing.
        They have not been answered. They are met by silence from the (assumed to exist) God and Son Inc. team.

        However, his carefully crafted note shows that he feels accepts that there is evidence of life after death. Given that any God who exists is evidently far far away doing something important to him but not helpful to pALS, we can all postulate the not-unreasonable suggestion that death is trans-dimensional.

        Those who constantly bother God are simply unable to contemplate that life after death might have nothing to do with ‘the God.’

        And by the way Rick…who is is charge?

        God or Nature ?

  5. merra says:

    Thank you very much Rick
    You are inspiring many us here, you are right ALS can not impart eternal life at all
    We do not choose to be sick like this if we can please let us be a positive encouragement for each other
    As Gary mentioned … it is never too late
    In times like this, I know whom to trust and run towards …it is my GOD and my creator…

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