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The ‘Happy’ and the ‘Hopeless’

By the use of the anthropic principle—either in the strong or weak form—one might try to show that consciousness was inevitable by virtue of the fact that sentient beings, that is “we,” have to be around in order to observe the world, so one need not assume, as I have done, that sentience has any selective advantage! In my opinion, this argument is technically correct, and the weak anthropic argument (at least) could provide a reason that consciousness is here without it having to be favoured by natural selection. On the other hand, I cannot believe that the anthropic argument is the real reason (or the only reason) for the evolution of consciousness. There is enough evidence from other directions to convince me that consciousness is of powerful selective advantage, and I do not think that the anthropic argument is needed.3

In his opening pages, Solomon invokes quantum physics, whose domain is uncertainty and probability, but he concludes with inevitability. What are the consequences of believing our children are those we had to have? In the chapter “Crime,” Solomon interviews the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine killers. He poignantly writes that they “are victims of the terrifying, profound unknowability of even the most intimate human relationship.” In the absence of knowledge, should we conclude Dylan Klebold was an inevitable offspring? And do parents of criminal or severely autistic or neurologically disabled children—indeed any child—love them because they are their destiny? Solomon’s reductionist conclusion is deeply disappointing. Cosmic determinism is hardly the reason we cherish our children.

That human beings are resilient in the face of extreme circumstances, have a remarkable capacity to adapt, and summon the power of love to surmount daunting conditions are eternal truths made vivid in Solomon’s compendium of stories. Far from the Tree brings to mind the creed of the ancient Terence, “Nothing human is foreign to me.” Our shared identity always transcends illness.

Letters

What It Means to Be Deaf April 4, 2013

  1. 3

    Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 434. 

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