The Mind of God

John Williams in The New York Times:

GodIn the ever-raging battle between faith and science, the neurologist Jay Lombard is one of those rare emissaries who communicate in the language of both camps. In his new book, “The Mind of God,” he uses his experience studying the brain to ask some of the largest philosophical questions: Does God exist? Does life have meaning? Are we free? Lombard writes that he is interested in a “large faith,” rather than a specific religion — “a faith invigorated and enlightened by science rather than being at odds with it.” Below he discusses the debates over brain and mind, his editor’s unpromising reaction to an early manuscript, his appreciation for Jerry Garcia and more.

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

When I was in full-time clinical practice, and some of the most unusual cases seemed to find me, these bizarre cases that made Oliver Sacks’s look mundane. The first part of the process as a neurologist is to figure out the anatomy, and structurally where the origins of behaviors come from. That’s the first dive. But from there you ask more fundamental questions about the brain and mind, and where they interface. Trying to find the biological origins of psychiatric disease is much more difficult than for a stroke, hypertension or A.L.S. But it’s there. And you see that no matter how reduced you get, you’re left with sand going through your hands. That took me to a completely opposite place, which was to ask questions about purpose and meaning; about suffering, and about how patients themselves make sense of their suffering; and about how I make sense of it as a clinician. I wrote a screenplay about it, a tragicomedy I still have in my drawer somewhere. It was my first attempt to make sense of it.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

How much we are dependent on our own brains for whatever form of faith we experience in our lives. How reliant we are on the physical aspects of our spiritual being.

Persuade someone to read “The Mind of God” in less than 50 words.

I believe we are living in a time of huge existential crisis in our society. I want people to ask themselves, first and foremost, if they have a sense of purpose. If they say yes, but they don’t know what it is, they should read the book.

More here.