Lesson 7- Intellect Wiil And Sperry
So far, I have been discussing some of the philosophical implications connected to the basic difference between humans and animals. Philosopher in the past knew intuitively what the difference was but they never knew why it was. They knew that where animals had arational, non-reflective minds; humans had rational reflective ones. They knew that animals were more impulsive and motivated by hedonism and that humans were more goal directed and motivated by purposes. In other words, animals were pushed from behind by passions, and humans were pulled from the front by goals. They knew that animals, lacking reason, were amoral and incapable of being morally responsible for their behavior, while humans, possessing reason, were morally responsible. But lacking any physical evidence, they were forced to invent terms like Intellect and Will to explain why the minds of animals and humans were capable of operating so differently.
For example, Catholic philosophers, who operated from the premise that every thing that God created was created with a purpose in mind, concluded that our minds consisted of a Will and an Intellect. The Will, they said, was made to seek the good. In fact, it couldnt desire anything unless it believed that it was good. However, it was a blind will. The Intellect, they said, was made to be its partner and it purpose was to seek the true.
According to them, if the Will went searching for the "good" without the Intellect, it ran the risk of choosing a false good. For example, drug addicts begin to take drugs because they think they are good. And, in the short term, they do provide the drug taker with a good feeling or "high." And, since they, like animals, believe in the hedonistic principle that whatever gives you pleasure is good, they erroneously conclude that drugs are good. However, because they dont reflect on the possible long-term consequences, in the end they enslaved themselves and destroyed their lives.
When making this point with my students, I approach one of the girls and pretend that I am a drug pusher. I show her my cupped hand and say, "Do you see this white powder here? It is really good. Let me tell you how good it is. It is so good that you would steal from your parents to get it; why, it is so good, you would even sell your baby. Why it is even so good, that you would stand under the El on Frankford Ave. with your dress raised above your head offering yourself to anybody who would be willing to give you money so that you could get it.
A hush comes over the class and smiling faces become somber and serious as the young people reflect on the consequences that I am describing. I am only describing the truth to them to counter act the Big Lie that the Deceiver and his followers have told them. And, of course, we know from the Bible who the Deceiver and the Father of All Lies is: the devil. And the only thing that can set us free from the traps that he sets for us is the Truth. And that is why God gave us our Intellects. If, our wills, which were made to seek the good, cooperated with our intellects, which were made to seek the true, then together they should find the truly good.
To see the religious significance of this simply remove one "o" from "good" and you have God. Thus, the Will was made to seek God, the Highest Good. St. Augustine expressed this when he said, "Our heart (or wills) were made to seek Thee, O God, and will not rest until they rest in You." In other words, all the goods that fall short of being God are incapable of satisfying us. In fact, the only reason they attract us at all is because we believe that they can fill the "God-shaped hole" in our hearts, only to discover that, like a disinterested child with his toys three weeks after Christmas, that the total happiness they promised was false and that there is still something missing. Many of us, like that child, believe that next Christmas it will be different and we start to make a new list of our hearts desire, only to discover that the emptiness remains. So life becomes an endless feeding frenzy of trinkets, gadgets, and possessions based on the belief that the next acquisition will be the one that fills the emptiness in our souls. In the Old Testament, the prophet, speaking in the name of God, asks, Why do you pay money for food that doesnt satisfy and for drink that doesnt quench your thirsts. Come to Me and, for free, I will you the food of eternal life. And in the New Testament, Jesus says, I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me shall not hunger. He who believes in Me shall not thirst... and Unless you eat My body and drink My blood, you shall not have life within you. What is this special food that totally and forever fills our hunger? Because the hunger that we feel is the hunger for God, only the Bread of Life or Wisdom, which feeds our spirit, is capable of satisfying it. That is why Jesus instituted the Eucharist because when we take Him in, under the appearance of bread and wine, it turns our attention inward and invites us to enter a private conversation with Wisdom where whatever we seek will be found and whatever door we knock upon will be opened for us. Just keep seeking and knocking.
It is our spirit that is starving, not our flesh, and Wisdom is the only food that can satisfy it. Our wills feels the constant pull towards the "good" but only our Intellects are capable of knowing the true. Therefore, when the blind Will goes seeking without the Intellect, it risks ending up with false goods or gods; while the Will led by the Intellect will discover the True Good or God. Everything that is truly good is simply a reflection of God.
The problem is that most of us, according to the philosopher Schopenhauer, are simply kidding ourselves when we claim to be rational animals who are led by our Intellects. He said that Aristotle was wrong when he defined us as the Rational Animal. Rather, he should have defined us as the Willful Animal because our Intellects, instead of leading the Will, are really the servants of the Will. The Will tells our Intellects what it wants and our Intellect, like all good servants, figures out a way to get it. In fact, Schopenhauer said that the Intellect could only know what the Will wants. In other words, if the Will is interested in a topic, the Intellect can use its full powers to understand it. However, if the Will isn't interested, the Intellect, lacking the motivating power provided by the Will, might remember isolated facts but will never fully understand it. For example, I could take a course on leukemia and be able to pass tests on it but I will never understand it in the same way as when I, or someone that I love, has it. One sure way of becoming an expert on any problem is to have it affect us personally.
As a high school teacher, I have experienced what Schopenhauer means. There are some students that no matter how hard you try, they just don't seem to get what you are trying to teach them. Even if they remember it long enough to take a test, it is gone as soon as the test is over. The teacher's first impulse is that the kid is stupid because he can't seem to read, understand, or remember anything that he is taught. Then one day, you see him intently reading a motorcycle manual full of technical terms which are totally meaningless to you. Yet to him, they are full of meaning and he has no trouble learning, understanding or retaining what he reads. There are other students who can't remember how many branches of government there are and yet can repeat "word for word" an incomprehensible rap song that goes on for three minutes.
Shopenhauer would say, "See, I told you. The Intellect can not understand or remember anything, unless the Will desires it."
Therefore, says Schopenhauer, religion is correct when it places the Will before the Intellect because, whatever the Will desires, the Intellect, as its servant, will strive to find clever ways to attain it. If the Will is selfish and self-centered, the Intellect will be employed is the satisfaction of its masters selfish ends. On the other hand, if the Will is loving and other centered, the Intellect will work towards those ends. Therefore, says Schopenhauer, religion honors a good Will over a good Intellect. It doesn't ask you to change your mind but, rather, your heart.
To illustrate the relationship between the Will and the Intellect, Schopenhauer described the Will as a blind giant who was very powerful but couldnt see, and the Intellect as a crippled man who, although he could see, couldnt move. One of my students, inspired by his description, drew a picture of a powerful, muscular hooded creature, which seemed part animal and part human. The creature was crouched in a football stance suggesting it was about to spring. On its shoulder, stood a little man, like a jockey upon a horse, straining to control the beast beneath him with a chain that he had wrapped around its neck. It's a losing battle, says Shopenhauer, because the Intellect will never be able to control the Will because it has knowledge without power while the Will has power without knowledge. It almost sounds like St. Paul description of himself when he writes in Romans 7:14-25...
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want to do. But I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
What Paul is describing is the conflict between his Intellect and Will. His Intellect knows the truth of the Gospel and want to follow it but doesn't have the power while the Will of his flesh exercises its power to draw him into sin. He says, "For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members." His problem is that he has an animal heart or Will and a rational mind, which because of their conflicting motives, makes him a house divided against himself and, as Jesus said, "A man can not serve two masters for he will hate one and love the other. You can not serve mammon or the world and God..." and "a house divided against itself can not stand." Obviously, there is a conflict between the mind and the heart.... the Intellect and the Will... and the only way that it can be resolved is to be "born again" from our animal nature into a "rational nature" where the Intellect and the Will are in agreement and together they pursue the "truly good." Otherwise, instead of being rational animals, we become rationalizing animals who are always inventing rational motives for our impulsive willful behavior.
For example, when my son was about nine, he was sitting on the floor near the archway that separated the dining room from the living room. As his older sister passed, he stuck out his foot and tripped her. When I yelled at him and asked why he deliberately tripped his sister, he replied, I didnt trip her, Dad! I said, Dont tell me that! I saw you stick out your foot. No I didnt, he said, I was only stretching! Get the point that Shopenhauer is making? Had my son answered truthfully he would have said, Because I felt like it! but that would have gotten him into more trouble. So he invented a rational reason for his impulsive act. Basically, what his mind said to itself was "What would have been a good reason for sticking out my foot? And his rational mind replied, "Well, if you were stretching that might explain why you did it" Yes! replied his impulsive mind. "That would be a good reason, so that's the one I'll use to explain my behavior." He rationalized it by giving it a rationally acceptable explanation. However, first came the thoughtless impulsive act and then came the reason. If we were truly rational being, it would have been the other way around. We would think first and then act.
This, unfortunately, is the fate of all of us, because rationalization is more prevalent among us than rationality. It is not limited to children like my son. We adults have become masters at it. To illustrate, let me tell you of an incident involving me.
All my adult life, I have had a fascination with boats because I love traveling on the water. Perhaps, that's why I joined the Navy. When I bought a piece of property down the shore to prevent anyone from building on the back of my mother's property, I was surprised and delighted to discover that a lagoon front dock was part of the deal. That was the beginning of my involvement with boats which cost me more in money and time than I care to admit. I bought an old 27-foot wooden cabin cruiser for $2200 and I learned first hand the meaning of the definition of a boat as being "a hole in the water surrounded by wood into which you throw money." Finally, tired, frustrated, and broke, I donated it to a church and swore I would never get involved in one again. That is, the rational part of me did because it reflected upon the consequences coming from my experience.
Years passed and I kept to my oath. Then one day my stepfather called me from his house at the shore and asked me if I wanted to go halves with him on a boat. It was a great boat, he said, that once belonged to a neighbor. It needed a little work but he was only asking $300. I could feel my mouth beginning to drool as he described the length of the boat, the power of the engine, the enclosed cabin and before I knew it boat fever was on me again. If I had that boat, I would never want anything else so long as I lived.
Six months later, after months of painting, scraping, and repairing and $1000 poorer, I was called to come down the shore to bail out the boat that had sunk at the dock. The engine was ruined and the boat was useless.
Now you would think that a truly rational being would have said, Thats it! No more boats! However, the next summer, with one disable boat sitting in my mothers yard, I was driving down to Forked River, N.J. to look at a 28-foot wooden cabin cruiser with a flying bridge that had me drooling again. I didnt tell my wife because I knew that she, being the rational check on my impulsive actions, would remind me of my past experience with boats and I didnt want to hear it. One look at the boat and my heart was caught. I had to have it but two things stood in my way. First, there was a rational voice in my own head, which I was fighting to silence, that was reminding me of my past experiences with boats and was challenging the wisdom of buying another one. Second, there was the problem of taking the $1100 to pay for it out of our savings account without my wife finding out. To the voice in my head which was demanding a rational explanation for my decision, I was explaining that I could take poor kids from Philadelphia out for rides on weekends or maybe even help to rescue Vietnamese boat people who were trying to escape from the Communist. It was a masterstroke of rationalization, if I must say so myself. The truth, of course, was that my Will wanted that boat and I was searching for any reason that might help me to get it. Once my intellect was silenced, it began working overtime trying to figure out how to get the money without my wife finding out. Then I hit upon it! My son, Joe, had enough money in his savings and I could pay him back in small installments and I knew that I could capture his Will once I described the boat to him.
A month later, my wife, still unaware that I had purchased another boat, took me aside and said, I think we have a problem. I was cleaning Joeys room and I saw his bankbook on the bureau. When I looked in it, I discovered that he has withdrawn $1100. I think hes into drugs. I dont know what it is, but mothers have an uncanny way of discovering things when it comes to their kids. I said, Well, did you ask him about it? Yes! She said. He said to ask you. Do I need to tell you the rest of the story?
Now before you lose total confidence in me, I want to say that I havent bought any boats since that experience which happened twenty years ago. Well, that not totally true. I have bought boats but they are the inflatable ones that are a lot less expensive, dont require any painting or scraping, and can easily be thrown away when they have outlived their service.
Underneath the veneer of this highly educated person who spends his life teaching other people about logic and psychology, there lies an impulsive Will that, when it becomes fixated on a desired object, uses his Intellect to trick, deceive and manipulate others. Like St. Paul, I know what is right. I just have trouble doing what I know. So are we rational beings, as Aristotle claims, or are we willful beings, as Schopenhauer claims? Were a little bit of both because there are times when I listen to that voice within my head which is constantly calling upon me to evaluate the consequences of my decision in the light of past experiences and present needs. Often, I have placed back on the shelf an item that I was ready to purchase when, after reflection, I concluded that I really didnt need it.
What is this voice? Where does it come from? Some people call it our conscience; others call it our Intellect, and now, based on recent discoveries in brain research, it might turn out to be the left hemisphere of most of our brains. Let me tell you what they have found and its implication on every aspect of our lives, including religion.
Back around 1966, I read an article in the New York Times Magazine which, although I found it interesting, made no great impact on my life. It was about Dr. Roger Sperry, who had just recently performed an operation on a living human being which split his brain in half. Now to understand what he did, we need a working model for our brains. If you will put your two fists together, side-by-side, and then cross your thumbs, you have a pretty good model for what our brain looks like. Your left fist is the left lobe or hemisphere of your brain, and the right fist is the right lobe or hemisphere. Your crossed thumbs represent a large bundle of nerves known as the corpus collosum.
Brain researchers are always experimenting on animals trying to map out the functioning areas of the mammalian brain. To do this, they remove parts of the brains of cats and other animals to see how it affects their behavior. If they lose their sight, or hearing, or some other functioning part of their body, the researchers conclude that the area of the brain removed controls the function that was lost.
Therefore, they were intrigued with the corpus collosum, this large bundle of nerves, which connects at the top the two lobes in the brain of all mammalian animals, including us. They reasoned that, because it was such a large structure, it ought to control an important function. However, to their surprise, when they cut the corpus collosum in cats, there was no significant difference in their behavior. The only noticeable difference was that each eye of the cat could be trained to respond to a different stimulus without any of the information being transferred to the other eye. For example, if they covered the cats left eye and then taught the right eye to step on a pedal to get food every time it saw a square, and then covered the right eye and taught the left eye to do the same thing every time it saw a circle, neither eye would respond to what the other eye had been taught. It was a difference but it wasnt the major difference that they were expecting and so they still wondered what the purpose was of this large bundle of nerves known as the corpus collosum.
They were working with a human subject who suffered from severe epileptic fits which were life-threatening since the occurred multiple times each day. Nothing that they tried seemed to be able to help him and, in desperation, they decided to split the corpus collosum, hoping that the electrical storm created by the epilepsy would be prevented from spreading throughout the brain if the two hemispheres were separated. The patient was prepared and the operation was performed.
Following the operation, they were delighted to discover that his epilepsy had stopped and he seemed to be fully normal in all his functions. However, about a month after the operation, they noticed something strange. His hands were getting into arguments with each other. One hand would button his shirt and the other would unbutton it. One hand was trying to pull his pants down while the other fought to hold them up. He and his wife were having a discussion which became an argument. His left hand tried to hit her, while his right held it back. Where before the operation he was one person, now he seemed to be two different persons who were in conflict with each other.
Further testing showed that there were other changes which, at first, were not obvious. They discovered that his left eye couldnt read and his left hand couldnt write. Now, in order to understand the significance of this we have to know that each lobe or hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body. For example, if you close your right eye and cover your right ear, everything that you see and hear is being transmitted from your left eye and ear to the right hemisphere of your brain. Thus, if their patients left eye couldnt read and his left hand couldnt write, then the obvious logical conclusion is that the right hemisphere, which controls the left side of the body, is illiterate. Since his right eye and hand could read and write, then the left lobe of his brain was literate.
Next they asked him to put a puzzle together and they gave the job to the smart, right hand, which was able to write. It was having a difficult time and seemed unable to put the different pieces together. Then, to their amazement, the illiterate left hand began to fight to get to the table to work on the puzzle. It was like a student who knew the answer and couldnt get the teacher to call upon him. They held it down but it broke free and, pushing the right hand aside, it began to put the puzzle together. The right hand fought back, pushed the left hand out of the way, and scattered the puzzled. It was obvious that the hand that couldnt write was better at puzzle than the one that could write. Later, they discovered that it was also better at art.
Then they tried an experiment in which the patient was blindfolded. An object, such as a ballpoint pen, was placed in his right hand. Now remember, anything placed in his right hand would be known only by his left lobe or hemisphere. He was asked what was in his hand and, after manipulating it, he said that it was a ballpoint pen. When it was placed on the table with a lot of other things and he was asked to point to it, he couldnt. In other words, he could tell you what it was but he couldnt show you.
He was blindfolded again and this time, the object was placed in his left hand, which was controlled by the right lobe or hemisphere of his brain. When he was asked what was in his hand, he said that he didnt know. However, when the object was placed on the table with other objects and his blindfold was removed, he pointed to it. In this instance, he could show you but he couldnt tell you.
In a final test, an experiment was devised where the left eye was shown a picture of a gorilla while the right eye was shown a picture of a famous politician. He was asked if he would vote for this person. He began to explain why he would when suddenly a big grin appeared on his face. When asked why he was grinning, he said that he didnt know but there was something funny about the picture.
Since this experiment, other split-brain people have been tested in a similar way. One womans left eye was shown a picture of a naked man while the right eye was shown a countryside scene. When she was asked to describe what she saw, she began to describe the trees, flowers, and farms when, suddenly, she began to blush.
What did Dr. Sperry discover for which he won a Noble Prize? He discovered that one side of the human brain is an animal that cannot read, write, or talk. In most people it is the right lobe or hemisphere and it controls the left side of the body. Its partner, the left lobe which controls the right side of the body, is able to do all three. In other words, there are two different brains, with two different points of view, and two different personalities and our sense of being one person is an illusion. In reality, we are at least two people occupying one body and the mental conflicts that we experience can be traced back to this. In fact, it is also the basis for what we call our rational, reflective mind. The power of reflection seems to be the ability of these two brains to interact.
The reason he was able to tell you what was in his right hand while blindfolded was because his left lobe is able to speak and that is how it communicates. However, its silent partner in the right lobe cant speak, it has to point. Since it didnt know what was in the right hand, it couldnt point. When the pen was switched to the left hand, now the non-verbal right lobe knew what was in the hand but the verbal left lobe didnt. Therefore, he was able to show the experimenters what it was but he couldnt tell them. Obviously, the corpus collosum is the communication link between the two brains and when it is cut, they are unable to communicate.
At this point, your head might be swirling trying to keep track of the left and the rights and which brain does what. Dont get frustrated because I will summarize as we go along and in no time at all, you will be speaking of the left and right lobe in yourself and in others.
In future programs, I will talk on the many implications this has for our behavior and our understanding of ourselves, others, and, yes, even God. Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom.