Life as an Extreme Sport

pushpins

There are moments in memory where, when looking back, you see these little pushpins of moments that changed life. Sometimes they’re good moments, and sometimes they’re bad. One of the first of these pushpins in my academic life was a class I took my first quarter at the University of Washington, called Buffy as Archtype: Rethinking Human Nature in the Buffyverse. I hadn’t wanted to take the class, truth be told. Buffy? Oh, please. (Yes, hold your laughter.) I had no interest in Buffy. Friends who were huge fans had tried to make me watch the show for years at that point, and I humoured them, and would be shown this or that favourite episode, and I would roll my eyes and continue to pass on the whole thing. Because of course, the problem with showing someone your favourite episode is their utter lack of context for why it’s your

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returning to beginning

Today started out with a lot of dread. I went to campus to talk to people in my department, both professors and colleagues, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been a lot more withdrawn these last six weeks than normal for me, avoiding being online, and people in general. It was going to be trial by fire, throwing myself from limited contact – my family, Michael, Laurie, Daniel – to anyone who wanted to walk up and say hello. And then I forgot to bring sedatives. You laugh, but they were my just in case. Get overwhelmed, excuse self to get a coffee and have 15 minutes of quiet while a sedative kicked in and I had that slight anesthetic effect to let me regain control and composure. Woops, and oh well. Thankfully, they weren’t needed. For whatever reason, the graduate office was relatively deserted today, and I

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Academic Homesickness

I’ve set aside the papers I was grading, and am watching the coffee shop again. Watching people read their papers, seeing their screens flash by various news sites. I can’t help but think of another of Latour’s comments about modern man. He says that if reading the daily paper is modern man’s form of prayer, then it is a very strange prayer indeed, with culture and news and nature being churned and tossed up over again on a daily basis. It’s an amusing analogy, but perhaps more apt than he even realized; prayer, ultimately, is a gesture of hope, of faith in something greater than yourself. What better thing to pray in and to, than that which you directly influence? And in the field of interdisciplinary studies, what you directly influence is up to you, limited only by your own ideas. – me, CHID 390 final paper, written much later

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the gifts of teaching

I am asked one of two questions quite frequently. Those who come over ask about the art on my walls. Those who create the art, ask if I really hang it up. So, here are some examples of the art in my house – these are all student projects, bits and pieces that I fell in love with, and my students were kind enough to give to me at the end of our classes together. So, the short answers are: the art in my house primarily consists of things my students have done as part of their academic work, and yes, I do actually display the art, with significant pride. This door and wall show art from several different students and classes. The pieces on the left are from a class called Eye and Mind, centering on Merleau-Ponty, and bringing freshmen humanities students into a lab to see that science

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God in the Gene (or, The God Problem)

Originally written in Spring of 2005 for a class on biotechnological communication.
GodPersinger, Michael. 1987. “It may be called Allah, God, Cosmic Consciousness, or even some idiosyncratic label. Slightly deviant forms include references to intellectual abstracts such as ‘mathematical balance,’ ‘consciousness of time,’ or ‘extraterrestrial intrusions.’” In Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs (New York: Praeger), pp. 1-2 has a problem. Specifically, s/heFor the purpose of this essay, the spiritual Being referred to by Persinger, Hamer, etc will be referred to as God, for simplicity, and s/he to respect as many beliefs as possible. has suffered a reductionist downsizing of massive proportions, going from an omniscient, everywhere being to a genetic predisposition, a singular regulatory gene. In the reductionist, geneticized view of God commonly referred to as “the God Gene”, after a book of the same name, God occurs in a particular gene, VMAT2, and is an expression of monoamines designed to make us feel better about life, stress, and death. The singular gene theory is also a fallacy that not even the author of the problematic title, Dean Hamer, subscribes to. And if it is such a fallacy that not even the author believes it, then why was it published? What point is it trying to prove, or serve?

In The God Gene, Hamer builds on the work of several scientists who have been studying spirituality, religion and the brain, including (and leaning heavily on) Michael Persinger, who studies the construction of the temporal lobe and how its construction affects one’s God experience. Hamer takes the idea of God in the brain a step further, looking for and finding a single gene he believes controls how spiritual we are. This, the aforementioned VMAT2 gene, and is involved in how the brain uses monoamines, a class of neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. In simple terms, VMAT2 makes a protein that packages all of the different monoamines into secretory vehicles – the biological packages that the brain uses to store its signal molecules.Hamer, Dean. 2004. Hamer spends several chapters describing the role of VMAT2 on serotonin, dopamine, and how that combination would create perceptions of Persinger’s universal God-feeling. In The God Gene (New York: Doubleday), pp 56-69. Hamer and his team focused on finding a gene that would control both dopamine and serotonin functionality in the brain. Dopamine has been associated with a sense of self-transcendence and good will, while serotonin is well known to affect emotions, particularly negative ones such as depression an anxiety. He found this combination in VMAT2.

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