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Volume 1, Issue 1
Spring 2005:

The Spectrum of Cell to Soul

Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Spring; 1(1):a6

A recent New York Times article (God (or Not), Physics and, of Course, Love: Scientists Take a Leap 04 JAN 2005) posted excerpts of responses from scientists, futurists, and other creative thinkers to the question "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist from Stanford University, posited an unjustifiable belief that "there is no god(s) or such thing as a soul", no matter how appealing those words might be to some folks.

"[In] my world of biologists, the god concept gets mighty infuriating when you spend your time thinking about, say, untreatably aggressive childhood leukemia."

Sapolsky sums it up with his personal credo: "Mine is to not believe without requiring proof." (italics mine)

Dr. Sapolsky's comments set me to thinking about the concept of epistemology, the study of how we know what we know.

Current medical diagnoses and treatments are based on empirical science. Medical investigators apply rational analysis to raw data gathered from double-blind clinical trials in efforts to improve illness outcomes by identifying more effective treatments. Indeed, it has been largely through such efforts that medical science has succeeded in pushing the five-year survival rate of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia to over 93 percent from less than 50 percent thirty years ago.

Those of us who have undergone medical training know that in the laboratory we started with the cell, the basic unit of human biology, as the basis for our understanding of pathophysiologic processes.

In neuroanatomy, we learned about the synapse, that gap between neurons that, when bridged momentarily by neurotransmitters, conducts an electrical impulse from one cell to another. Millions of individual neurons separated by millions of synapses lie dormant, yet when stimulated along appropriate pathways, they produce human action and human thought.

But we can emphasize cellular science to such an extent that we overlook two other basic methods in our epistemological toolbox: those of authority and intuition.

We record medical histories because such was the authoritative method proposed by Hippocrates, the father of medicine. And many times we arrive at diagnoses intuitively, sometimes inexplicably so, after our logic has failed us. There is a creative power at work in our minds which all of us have experienced; yet it seems to defy explanation.

Which brings us to the soul, the other end of the spectrum, that concept which we know intuitively but cannot elucidate in the laboratory.

Here I am reminded of Michelangelo's rendition of the creation of human kind, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. An anthropomorphic Creator stretches forth a hand toward the arm of a man. The index fingers of the two beings do not quite touch. Between them lies a small gap--a synapse, as it were--across which consciousness waits to be transmitted, the consciousness of the soul.

Those of us on the editorial board of Cell 2 Soul come from diverse racial, ethnic, and credo backgrounds. Some of us are medical practitioners, some are caretakers, some are care-recipients. Yet all of us have struggled to find our way in the continuum of cell to soul.

At one time or another we have all rejoiced, and we have all grieved. We have learned that such times and events are better when shared. We all have our stories to tell. And we want to listen to yours.

Somewhere in the words recorded on these electronic journal pages, we hope that you will be touched in those deeper places where the soul resides.

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