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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