12/05/2006 09:45 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

An In-Body Experience

Yesterday my older son complained about his anthropology professor's Power Point lectures and the awfulness of being hammered by bullet-points at 10 in the morning. He quoted a vengeful line he put in his most recent paper: "Scientists and apes make perfect companions because of their similar linguistic and artistic abilities." I thought it was funny in an untrue way but not a smart line to put in a paper. I let it go though. I'm pretty sure he didn't really include the line, and I admired his hubris in mocking science. He is young enough where he doesn't have to worry about it biting him in the ass.

I believe in scientific explanations, but day to day I'm fine with the illusion of intelligent design and the sense that some eternal spirit lives in me. I even have shadow conversations with God. It's an indulgence, but a harmless one. I'd bet on Richard Dawkins, but I keep hoping Deepak Chopra will find the clinching argument.

Meanwhile, I try to keep up. I like reading books by scientists, particularly neurologists, partly because they appeal to my sense of the perverse with their phantom limbs and men who mistake their wives for hats. Science is so fantastically counter-intuitive. Recently I enjoyed an article in the New York Times about researchers in Zurich who induced out-of-body experiences in epileptic patients by zapping multi-sensory processing regions of the brain, such as the angular gyrus. The researchers theorized that out-of-body experiences were the mind's way to account for a conflict between the body's actual position in space and it's felt position, in this case distorted by electrodes.

Recently, I think I've suffered from an opposite problem: an in-body experience. It happened at a visit to a cardiologist after a bad blood-pressure reading.

In the echocardiogram room, I got to watch what I'd always thought of as a metaphor convulse and beat on a video monitor. A few minutes later, my cardiologist returned and explained that my heart walls were
thicker than they were supposed to be. A garden-variety problem, manageable with blood-pressure medicine, but I'm getting some of that good old-fashion true materialism.

As we get older, we come to rely on science, even if we only paid lip-service to it most of our lives, much as an earlier generation felt it had to face God. Hopefully I won't get to the point where I'll make a good companion to an ape.