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Biological Evidence for the Human Spirit
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Edmund W. Sinnot
The Biology of the Spirit (NY:  Viking Press, 1955.  180p.)

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The subtitle of this book gives us an initial explanation of the goal and content of this book:  An eminent modern scientist examines the biological evidence for the existence of the human spirit.  Sinnot was head of the Biology Department of Yale University and author of many standard books on Biology.

My notes in the inside cover indicate I had bought this book in the 1960s or 70s, but it appeared I had never read this book.  I bought this somewhere in a used book store.  It was one of those many I bought when I happened upon it, because of my interest in a certain topic.  I have collected and read books on science, as well as books on mystical and religious topics, ever since I was in grade school.  But it is much easier to buy up books than it is to get them read!

Mind and Body
In this book Sinnot probes the relationship of "Mind" to the body and its physiological processes.  He investigates possibilities of accounting for our experience of Mind [self-consciousness and self-awareness] by only empirical means from a biological perspective.

Tendency Toward Goal
He analyzes general processes of life in plants and animals, finding a common tenacious tendency to progress toward a goal, in fetal development, in general growth, in healing and regeneration of damaged parts.  In humans he applies his analysis to our experience of desire, planning and intense drives to perform, produce and succeed in what we attempt.

Mind and Spirit
One topic I have been interested in for decades is Epistemology -- how we learn, how we know and how we process information.  I grew up in the radio business, and have been involved in communication disciplines of business and academics all my life.  Sinnot looks at the philosophical concepts of spirit in regard to Mind and Consciousness, topics discussed in Epistemology, as well as Theology and Psychology.

Sinnot discusses the possible meaning of "Spirit" in regard to "Mind," self-consciousness and our experience of will and decision.  He follows a view of Monism - the concept of the Unity in some way of all that exists.  This is the framework for discussing the human concept of Universal Spirit, or God, or other aspects of the interconnectedness with the world and life around us.  He attempts to account for these aspects of "spiritual" life as the basis of life's creative goal orientation, which seems to be a common human experience.

Rise of Self-Consciousness
This characteristic of goal-setting and achievement seems also to be a generally-observable characteristic of all life.  Sinnot develops a well-considered scenario to account for the rise of self-consciousness, and thus personality, and sentience as we know it in humans, from protoplasm.  He extends this idea of spirit, in relation to the self-awareness of humans, to the One Spirit unity of the Universe, called by some God.

Loose Ends
It is a valiant effort, but there seem to be some loose ends.  This author's an intriguing argument, and tightly and clearly argued.  Sinnot is closer to achieving a believable explanation of how self-consciousness could arise from solely natural causes than a similar attempt I read last year by a Hindu author, who primarily provides some science and biology, then leaps off into his metaphysics without any clear link!  [See my review of Sinsawasdi, Narong, Souls and the Universe:  A Scientific Enquiry.]

But rather than clarifying the link between the insights of natural science and spiritual concepts, this work will leave questions for both materialists, whether atheist or agnostic, and theists.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Souls from Science

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First reading notes written 15 July 2006
Expanded 24 September 2007
Finalized and Posted on Thoughts and Resources 16 October 2007

Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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