More Than a Hand in a Glove: Spirit and Body (And Memory)

We wander forward moment to moment in an act of construction. All the conscious feel of experience, all that bubbles up into the world is massaged and bent. Mixed with memories. Fashioned anew out of the old. Brought forth as an act of creation. We do not see ‘as is,’ nor an ‘out there’ in the world except that it is fashioned from who and what we are—from whatever self we have constructed since birth.

We take a modicum of signal from raw, fleeting, nerve impulses and enrich and enliven it with memories. We add to those clicking strings of dendrite-clad flesh our own blend of what we’ve become. Our knotted bundle of neural mass fills in the details from the paint-by-number sketches it receives from the world, adding to and subtracting away what it needs to make the impressionistic landscape into which we step. Bold coherence trumps tick-toc adherence to the particulars of what is the case.

To make a whole apple, say, the brain takes a little red spectrum light, a curve here, a horizon of peal, the splash of a stem, and then? And then from the apples of its memory, from the apples of hundreds of apples sampled, makes the apple you see. Makes the one so real, so rich and tangible, the one you grab and from which you take a bite, it seems all there. It gives to you a fact and a presence in the world. And this apple too, will add to the cache. Placed in a mental storehouse, used in a wet toolkit for making future apples. The apples you will see. The apples you will construct. The apples of mind. (Of course, the first apple must be attended to closely. Attention compensates when memory is deficient.)

And so on and on we construct ourselves. We make ourselves a character in the story of our life. Selecting those elements that contribute to the narrative. Ignoring those that don’t. An act of self-deception? No. No. No. For we are all an act of self creation. An act of memory. A bold fashioning from deep time. We are art. We are sculpture. We are music. We are artist, sculptor, composer and canvas, clay and score.

What is real then, if it is only of our minds? Only of our minds? As if that dismisses this emergence. There are givens. There is the world offering itself. It makes its demands. These must be attended to. Of course. But their suggestions are often slight. Subtle. So, only constructed from our minds? No. But much. Are we less because of this creative upwelling? Our physical soggy mind mixing with and from the elements of existence? No. We are plump with more, not less. We walk in a dance in which everything you are is grace in motion, pulling matter with it. Reshaping our world. Our universe.

But you! Sensation. The narrative that rockets from these building blocks, is neither conditioned nor structured solely from them. The matter only manages to provide substrate.

Remember this. You are full of lies. Full of falsehoods. Full of holes. Inconsistencies. Missing data. Incorrect readings. Interpretive blunders. Missteps. Yet. This is art. Not science. What you are making will be interpreted in a hermeneutic of grace and sympathy, not suspicion. What matters is that you be about the work of creation. Making something. Something wonderful and lasting. A good read.
This aphorisplash came after reading: Atul Gawande’s ‘The Itch,’ in The Best Science Writing of 2009, which claimed that neurologists show that construction of a visual image, gets 20% of the data from the retinal nerves and 80% from the memory centers of the brain.

More Than a Hand in a Glove: Spirit and Body (And Memory)


  1. Full of holes. Inconsistencies. Missing data. Incorrect readings. Interpretive blunders. Missteps. or, as Brigham Young would have said, your language is imperfect, your experiences limit your understanding.

    But yes, memory and perception deals more with labels than with actual perception. That is why we think of time slowing down in emergencies, we suddenly start dealing with real perceptions, time doesn’t slow down at all.

  2. Wes Brown says:

    After clenching my teeth upon reading even a mention of the hand-in-glove, I really enjoyed your prose about the mind. The human brain is a miraculous mishmash that functions despite the problems pointed out above. Studying and explaining the brain deserves much more than the disproven dualistic view. The hand-in-glove (or a more detailed version of it) is a completely false notion that continues to be perpetuated in church primary and beyond. Making the mind a willful, eternal, and supernatural phenomenon leaves room for many misleading ideas.

    -Yet. This is art. Not science.-
    Or perhaps both. And it is beautiful.

  3. Oh my, I suddenly miss BCC terribly! SteveP, this is wonderful stuff.
    I wonder how this construct deals with the inevitable intersection of humans in the great maw of love and need, such what Toni Morrison shows in this dialogue wherein mother and daughter are almost indistinguishable:

    From _Beloved_
    You are my sister/You are my daughter

    You are my face; you are me

    I have found you again; you have come back to me

    You are my Beloved

    You are mine/You are mine/You are mine

    I have your milk/I have your smile

    I will take care of you

    You are my face; I am you. Why did you leave me who am you?

    I will never leave you again/Don’t ever leave me again

    You will never leave me again

    You went in the water

    I drank your blood/I brought your milk

    You forgot to smile

    I loved you/You hurt me/You came back to me/You left me

    I waited for you/You are mine/You are mine/You are mine

  4. Beautiful Margaret! Thank you.

  5. Latter-day Guy says:

    Combine this post with the fact that in the past few weeks I’ve been pondering John-Dylan Haynes 2008 experiments (following in Benjamin Libet’s footsteps) and with the fact that I just got back from watching Inception… Yeah, my world is shattered.

    Fascinating stuff, SteveP!

  6. SteveP:

    Great thoughts!

    I am always taken a little aback when discussing with LDS individuals who seem to think they know how spirit interacts with body — or, who seem to fully believe that consciousness is the physical manifestation of the spirit. Our simple minded conceptions would change if we could stare into heaven for but 5 minutes. Thus, for now, I prefer a scientific conception of the mind, and I am happy to let nature speak to me.

  7. Great musing’s Steve!

    I remember the red
    My brain tells me, makes me
    into a memory of the juice
    hitting me finger tips
    as I bite into the apple.

  8. Wes, #2 “Making the mind a willful, eternal, and supernatural phenomenon leaves room for many misleading ideas.” Yes it does.

    #6 “I prefer a scientific conception of the mind, and I am happy to let nature speak to me.” Yes! I think nature has to be taken into account for an accurate reading of spiritualities.

    #7 Cap, what a striking poem! Wonderfully well done.

    #5 LdG, Haynes and Inception! Do you have any free-will left?

    #1 Stephen, “perception deals more with labels” I’m not sure I’m following?

  9. This was awesome and pushes us past our simplistic conceptions of our mind as a some sort of USB port that downloads all experiences into data memory cells. This construction of ourselves is as organic as all of God’s creation and closer to what our eternal progression may end up being for us.

    As a high school teacher I was disillusioned to a degree early on when I realized what little impact my wonderful lectures had on long term retention. I learned a phrase from a brain-based teaching philosophy (Quantum Learning) –“experience first, label after”, which has re-formed the basis of my teaching approach in the classroom. We don’t teach or learn in a vacuum. Learning and teaching (which a conjoined part of the same phenomena) works together with prior knowledge, prior experiences, and individual personality traits, multplied by the individual aspects of all of the students or teachers in the classroom. So, learning (knowledge, memory, skills, what have you) is both constructed individually and socially. Actually, I think I like the term “created” better instead of constructed.

  10. Homer, I think I like ‘created’ better too. Thanks for these words.

  11. Steve, this captures beautifully why I simply love the foundation principle of “becoming” in Mormon theology. There is something about the evolutionary nature of how we describe eternal progression that is awe-inspiring to me, especially since it posits that I will be a different eternal Being than you – and that’s not just OK, but it’s right.

    I wish so badly that all members understood more fully the idea that we can be united communally while being fully unique as individuals. My favorite name for God is the OT, self-selected “I AM” – and this post resonates for me as reflection of that declaration.

    Truly, I am – and you are – and, together, uniquely us, we can be complete, whole, fully developed – one.

  12. Ray, I completely agree. Complexity and change are thought to be eternal attributes of our nature. Freedom, choice, growth, evolution, change are inherent in LDS concepts of both our own embodiment and our eternal potential. I like your ideas on oneness.

  13. #2. I was not aware that a dualistic view has been “disproven.” By whom and when? I think that reality deserves more nuance than the simple hand-in-glove analogy, but I know more than one psychologist who thinks that “dualism” is still the best shorthand for what’s going on in our minds, and that there is still an infinite explanatory gap between strict materialism and our experiences of qualia.

    Monism still might rule at the end of the day, but to say that any theory of mind is “disproven” seems pretty presumptuous.

  14. Enjoyed it, Steve.

  15. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    The creation is still occurring: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … male and female … “

  16. Thanks for this, Steve. I love your writing!