Archive for the ‘Debate’ Category

Author Of “Brain And Personality” Replies To Edison

From October 9, 1910

AUTHOR OF BRAIN AND PERSONALITY REPLIES TO EDISON

AUTHOR OF “BRAIN AND PERSONALITY” REPLIES TO EDISON: Dr W. H. Thompson, Whose Book the Inventor Quoted, Says That Any One Denying the Immortality of the Soul Is Either Abnormal or Pathological. (PDF)

100 years ago last week, the Times Magazine ran a front page article in which Thomas Edison states his belief that there is no soul, and no life after death. This week, the Magazine printed several articles in response.

In the original article, Edison said that our brains are nothing more than bundles of cells. In reply, Dr W. H. Thompson, author of a book called “Brain and Personality” (Google Books), says that Edison doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He correctly points out that “the fact that he is prominent in one branch of science does not entitle him to pass on other branches of science.” Often a person who is an expert in one area oversteps their bounds by speaking authoritatively in another area. So it’s good of Thompson to call out Edison on that point. But with no concrete evidence of immortality, does Thompson, an expert on the brain, commit the same infraction when he states, “People who do not believe in immortality are abnormal, if not pathological”? Where did he get his expertise on immortality?

He goes on to say interesting things about the brain and how it relates to personality, as was understood in 1910. I’d like to see a recent look at the subject for comparison. How much more do we know about the brain and personality now than we knew a hundred years ago?

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 10:15 am

Is There A World Of Spirit Behind Matter?

From October 9, 1910

IS THERE A WORLD OF SPIRIT BEHIND MATTER?

IS THERE A WORLD OF SPIRIT BEHIND MATTER? (PDF)

100 years ago last week, the Times Magazine ran a front page article in which Thomas Edison states his belief that there is no soul, and no life after death. This week, the Magazine printed several articles in response.

In this one, Dr. Isaac Heysinger recounts the evidence for life after death as he published in his book “Spirit and Matter Before the Bar of Modern Science” (Google Books). If what he says in the article is any indication, it seems to be just a lot of anecdotal evidence.

He starts by listing a full page of scientists who believe in the spirit world. He goes on to say:

“The basis of all religions,” he declares, “of whatever race, country, or age, is the same, and this basis is precisely identical with the claims and practices of modern Spritualism” — meaning by that term the Spiritualistic conception of the universe. “This universal belief,” he goes on, “in all times and ages, and among all people, is valid evidence of its truth.”

In other words, if enough people believe in something it must be true!

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Debate,Religion,Science

“No Immortality Of The Soul” Says Thomas A. Edison

From October 2, 1910

NO IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL SAYS THOMAS A. EDISON

“NO IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL” SAYS THOMAS A. EDISON: In Fact, He Doesn’t Believe There Is a Soul — Human Beings Only an Aggregate of Cells and the Brain Only a Wonderful Machine, Says Wizard of Electricity. (PDF)

On the occasion of a Harvard Professor’s death, Edward Marshall asked Thomas Edison about his views on life after death.

Searching the inner structure of all things for the fundamental, Edison told me he had come to the conclusion that there is no “supernatural,” or “supernormal,” as the psychic researchers put it — that all there is, that all there has been, all there ever will be, can or will, soon or late, be explained along material lines…

“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul,” he said to me.. “Heaven? Shall I, if I am good and earn reward, go to heaven when I die? No — no. I am not I — I am not an individual — I am an aggregate of cells, as for instance, New York City is an aggregate of individuals. Will New York City go to heaven?

“No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life — our desire to go on living — our dread of coming to an end as individuals. I do not dread it, though. Personally I cannot see any use of a future life.”

“But the soul!” I protested. “The soul–”

“Soul? Soul? What do you mean by soul? The brain?”

“Well, for the sake of argument, call it the brain, or what is in the brain. Is there not something immortal of or in the human brain — the human mind?”

“Absolutely no,” he said with emphasis. “There is no more reason to believe that any human brain will be immortal than there is to think that one of my phonographic cylinders will be immortal. My photographic cylinders are mere records of sounds which have been impressed upon them…

“Yet no one thinks of claiming immortality for the cylinders or the phonograph. Then why claim it for the brain mechanism or the power that drives it? Because we don’t know what this power is, shall we call it immortal?”

If you’re guessing that this article, which appeared on the front page of the Times Magazine, caused some controversy among the Times readers, you’re guessing correctly. In this weekend’s entries, I’ll publish letters from Times readers in response to this article.

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Written by David

October 6th, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Debate,Religion,Science

When Future Historian Comes To 1910

From August 7, 1910

WHEN FUTURE HISTORIAN COMES TO 1910

WHEN FUTURE HISTORIAN COMES TO 1910: Will He Look Us Up with Interest, or Pass Us by with a Grunt (PDF)

Back in 1910 the New York Times Sunday Magazine had a regular weekly column in which two characters known as the Office Radical and the Office Philosopher debate two sides of an issue. I’ve read a few of their debates while doing research for this blog, but I haven’t published any of their columns here so far. But this one was too good to pass up.

In this week’s column, they debate whether or not anything interesting has happened in 1910 that would be worth future historians looking at, especially as compared to all the interesting stuff their own historians have to look back on.

The Office Radical is sure that “some future historian will be ransacking the newspaper files and official records of 1910 the same way our present-day historians are ransacking those of, say, 1859 or 1770.”

The Office Philosopher says, “I’ll bet you 10 to 6 he doesn’t look at them for anything but Peary and the airships.”

I read this as I sat in the microforms room of the New York Public Library, doing research for this blog. I’d been researching the other 1910 articles I’ve posted over the last couple months, on topics that do indeed include Robert Peary and airships. And when I saw this discussion my eyes got wide and I thought, “They’re talking about me!”

I felt like Bastian in The NeverEnding Story when he realizes that the book he’s reading is talking specifically about him. Maybe this means I should write a post in which I wonder if future historians will ever look back at blogs of today with the same fascination I have in looking at newspapers of 1910.

So, obviously, I side with the Radical on this one.

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Written by David

August 6th, 2010 at 9:45 am