Saturday, May 10, 2008

Quirky Little Things: Meet the Does

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm a slightly obsessive-compulsive person. That's not necessarily a bad thing, particularly in my line of work (academia) where it's good to really clamp down onto a complicated research problem. But occasionally, I stumble onto something rather tangential that just sucks my attention in, such as the The Doe Network, and before you know it I've spent the last three hours reading about some dead guy sitting on a row of bleachers in Sacramento, or a woman discovered floating in a Texas lake wearing a black teddy and blue jogging pants with white stripes (what was she thinking?), or a skeleton in overalls still leaning against a tree, the same spot where he'd been bitten by a poisonous snake at least a year before.

I suppose I just find it absolutely astounding that so many people could live and die as if they never lived at all. Or, at least, without cultivating even a meaningful enough relationship with one other living person who's willing to say, "Well I'll be! Is that where he's been for these past twelve months? Really? You say under that tree this whole time? Heh, that's just like Mike, good ol' Mike, Mr. Lazy Bones!" Most of the files in the Doe Network are cold cases -- corpses, skeletons, skulls long ago cross-checked and double cross-checked with missing persons reports. Granted, many of these folks were presumably homeless, expiring on park benches, empty train cars, or in abandoned buildings, but certainly not all. Some were in fact quite coiffed and well-dressed, healthy, in the prime of their lives, wearing expensive jewellery and a mouthful of costly dental work ... just no ID.

It all strikes me as perfectly reminiscent of a quote by Thomas de Quincy in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater, "All men come into this world alone," he writes, "all men leave it alone." In fact, when you really think about, we live our entire lives entirely alone. It may well enough be obvious that others are like us in having experiential, subjective selves. But, at the moment, the closest that even the brightest scientist can come to "proving" to you that another person experiences mental states is by pointing out on a computer screen the vibrant flares of colorful light emitted by this other person's brain during an fMRI scan. The idea that other people have minds may therefore rank alongside the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution by natural selection in terms of empirical support and plausibility, but because it concerns an unobservable construct it's no more than a theory nonetheless.

Read more ...

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | cna certification