Random reflections from the hospital

When my wife spent some time in the hospital I had a lot of time to think about a lot of stuff. I have previously blogged about a number of issues of relatively significant importance (here, here, here and here for starters) but I also had a few thoughts that were related to various minor aspects of Apologetic issues. I’ll summarize them here in a single article.

But, I could have sworn…

We have had several opportunities to chat with the firemen who responded to my wife’s Cardiac Arrest (CA) call. The fellow in charge that day comes with 27 years of experience. As we talked with each other it became apparent that there was some inconsistency between how everybody recalled the events of the day. I clearly recalled that the staff at my wife’s school had called 9-1-1 and began CPR before the paramedics and firemen arrived. The experience of doing CPR had been seared into their memory.

But the fireman in charge (the 27 year veteran) was certain that his crew had lowered my wife from the desk that she was slumped over down to the ground. As far as he remembered she was still positioned at her desk when they arrived.

That, of course, would be impossible if her colleagues had been doing CPR on her. How could one possibly do CPR on a person slumped over a computer keyboard? Some people claim that my wife was on the ground when the firemen arrived and somebody else claims she was still at her desk when the firemen arrived.

But, wait! Conflicting testimonies! If my experience with Gospel-critics has taught me anything, when one comes across conflicting testimonies then one is compelled to draw sweeping and far-reaching conclusions. First of all, none of the testimonies is to be trusted with respect to any of the information they provide about this event. Now that we have eliminated all testimony related to my wife’s CA we can safely draw the conclusion that she never actually had a CA; after all, there is no reliable testimony to support that story. The more ambitious Gospel-critics would feel perfectly justified in concluding that my wife does not exist! That’s right; it’s all a conspiracy and the stories of a grand recovery from the grip of death have all been made up! We know this because the alleged testimonies of the alleged event conflict with each other!! If this is the line of reasoning some people take with respect to the person of Jesus then it seems reasonable to use the same line of reasoning with respect to my wife.

Or, should I say, my alleged wife. If I even have a wife. If I even exist. Wait a minute, do you exist?

Alternatively, one could skip over these wild conclusions and recognize that the conflicting testimony simply means that one or more people remember some details wrong, but the event still happened, the general details are still correct and, yes, in fact, my wife does actually exist. Following a similar line of reasoning, minor discrepancies in Gospel accounts do not detract from the general reliability of the Gospels with respect to the story of Jesus’ life, teaching, death and resurrection. Even with minor “glitches” here or there (assuming they are legitimate errors instead of literary devices) they are still trustworthy and they still introduce us to the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth.

For the record, the other firemen also remember my wife being on the ground when they arrived; only the man in charge had a different memory. Why? Who knows, but his inconsistent testimony doesn’t bother me too much. I’m pretty sure my wife is not a figment of my imagination…

Swoon theory revisited

Speaking of the Gospels, and particularly of Jesus’ resurrection, my wife’s recovery from her CA gave me a new appreciation for just how outlandish the “swoon theory” of Jesus’ resurrection really is. Here’s the basic idea; Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, he just “swooned.” He fell unconscious. He fainted. It looked like he was dead so they buried him. Oops. In the cool of the tomb he was refreshed, came to, got up and left the tomb. I have previously blogged about the concept that Jesus didn’t really die, if that is of interest to you. My conclusion; the historical evidence strongly suggests he did.

But let’s imagine he did just “swoon” from his wounds. How likely is it that he is going to get up and walk out of the tomb two days later? Based on what I saw of my wife’s recovery, virtually nill. My wife didn’t lose any blood, Jesus lost plenty. The basic structure of my wife’s body wasn’t even touched, Jesus was beaten, flogged, etc (imagine the damage to skin, muscles and maybe some bones). My wife suffered minor neurological damage from a few minutes without a pulse prior to CPR, Jesus would have had a very long time without a pulse (hours / days) so he would have been virtually brain-dead if he survived at all. My wife received the best medical attention that is available in the 21st century, Jesus received no medical attention at all, not even from the first century equivalent of Dr. Nick.

Given all that she went through, my wife was hardly able to walk even 5 days later and the neurological damage was obvious for weeks (though she recovered very well). Jesus was supposed to have walked out of the tomb under his own power hours later and convincingly present himself as having suffered no neurological damage from oxygen deprivation? I’m skeptical!! My wife’s medical experience was a minor hand slap compared to the Hell that Jesus went through yet I’m supposed to believe he just got up and walked out when my wife was bedridden for weeks? Good luck!

Mind / Brain dualism

Speaking of neurological damage, my wife went through some rehabilitation to correct the effects she experienced. During that time we worked with various therapists. One Occupational Therapist in particular did a magnificent job of explaining what had happened, why she was experiencing the challenges she was experiencing, and how we were going to correct these issues.

The interesting thing I noticed through our conversations with him was the implicit assumption of mind / brain dualism inherent to his frame of reference. He said over and over that the problems were with my wife’s brain, not with her! Her IQ had not been changed by this (he made of point of emphasizing this several times) but her brain was just getting in the way. It needed to be rewired in order to allow her mind to interact with her body the way it is supposed to.

If we are to believe the mind reductionists out there then my wife’s mind is just a function of her brain, then if her brain was rewired due to lack of oxygen then, gee, that sucks. Tough luck. After all, the brain just is what it is and the mind is whatever the brain happens to spit out. Throughout the entire process of rehabilitation, though, it was the utilization of my wife’s mind that forced the brain to rewire itself in order to accommodate her mind even better. But think about that for a minute. If the mind is a product of the brain then how can the mind turn around and rewire the very thing that makes its existence possible? That would be like a car, wishing to avoid having a collision at the hands of an inebriated driver, somehow causing its own driver to experience rapid sobriety. If the mind is purely the effect of the brain it should have no ability at all to rewire the brain.

But the mind does this. I’ve seen it happen in my wife.

Despite the popularity of “neurobabble” (not my term, see here for one example of its use (and enjoy the John Cleese link!)) claiming the human mind can be reduced to activities of the brain, this practical example suggests that such assumptions don’t hold water on a rubber-hits-the-road level. It’s a nice theory, but it doesn’t work in practice. There is something about our mind that is distinct from our brain even though the two are obviously interdependent.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

Just prior to this entire episode I had been working my way through Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham. I’ve been blogging my way through it too, kind of like a book review (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here … one more to go, by the way). In the book, Bauckham describes how memories are typically formed and recollected many years later with surprising accuracy many times. I have been pondering how well I shall recall these events down the road. Some of the ingredients found in memories that stick with us include (drawing from pages 330 to 335):

  • Unique or unusual events (um, yeah, definitely)
  • An event in which a person is emotionally involved (again, I don’t think this needs explanation)
  • Vivid imagery (and not all pretty, I must say)
  • Frequent rehearsal (I cannot recall how often I have recounted the details to friends / family)

Our experience included all of these, and a few others he describes, and it is precisely these factors that make it clear that the memories will remain with us for years to come. In similar fashion, the events described in the Gospels – in particular the death and resurrection of Jesus – are precisely the kind of memories that were likely to remain vivid many years into the future for those who experienced them. Having lived through a very traumatic event like this it gave me greater awareness of just how reliable the disciples’ memories would have been to recount those stories decades after the fact. Bauckham’s thesis, and the science behind it, seem all the more reasonable now that I have first-hand experience of what he describes.

Conclusions

If you keep an eye on your life circumstances all kinds of seemingly minor experiences can shed insights on the bigger questions of life and faith. These are just a few of the observations I had during my time in the hospital, at my wife’s side.

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About Paul Buller

Just some guy with a variety of eccentric interests.
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