What is really important?

What is really important? What do we use as the basis to measure each other’s worth and how do we know we have accurate tools with which to size things up?

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, wrote a book called “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales”. The title is about a man with a visual agnosia caused by damage to his brain. He was unable to recognize his wife and in fact thought she was his hat at one point. Despite his inability to see the world with all of his faculties, he was an excellent musician and made sense of his life by singing his way through. He had a song for putting on his clothes, a song for going to work, coming home and so on. In fact if something was not in motion he had great difficulty making it out. He certainly could not recognize faces in any way we would consider “normal”. There are many other examples in the book of how physiological damage causes altered perceptions and their corresponding beliefs. One of the take away points of his work is that our brains and our thinking are not all that ordered and rational even if we are completely sincere.

It is certainly not news that we have fought many personal and national wars over differences in ideology. Many of these differences can no doubt be traced to differences in our capacity to see. We tend to assume that everyone has the basic capacity to see the way we do. We make allowances for dramatic and superficial physical deficits such as blindness and deafness, but we tend to behave as if the basic workings of our brains are the same. This is simply not true. Environment has a lot to do with what we develop as a world view, but it is by no means the only thing. There are many cases in point of viruses, bacteria and other creatures that can actually rewire our physiology to see things differently. We are as yet largely ignorant of the how these many hidden factors affect us individually and culturally.

It takes culture a while to catch up to science, but one of the things we really need to emphasize in our personal lives and as a global community is the futility of passionate divides over the differences in the way we think. We cannot as yet fathom the many contributors to our ideological stances such as emotion, physical damage and such things as infection. As we consider the important things in life we might want to put much less emphasis on what we believe and far more emphasis on how we treat each other.

Have a great day!


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