Monday, May 20, 2013

The parts and poems of the body

As I was walking to college this morning I heard, as usual, the "whistle" (horn) of the Boston train, five miles away in Stoughton. And suddenly a song popped into my head, perhaps the first song I ever learned.
Choo-choo-choo is an iron horse
And he has an iron wheel.
Choo-choo-choo eats wood and coal
and seems to like it still.
I'm a merry choo-choo-choo.
I'm a merry choo-choo-choo.
As far as I can recall, those lyrics haven't passed through my conscious mind since I learned them at the age of three. They were in there, in that tangle of neurons, tucked away intact. Here in the college library there are dozens of books on memory, and not one of them can tell me how or where choo-choo was stored.

The body balks account, says Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass. Balks account indeed! A lifetime of experience imprinted on a softball-sized glob of meat. The hoot of a locomotive and neurons fire in response. I sing aloud the lyrics -- choo-choo-choo -- as I walk along. I sing the body electric. "In this head the all-baffling brain," says Whitman.

On April 2, President Obama announced the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. "There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked," he said, "and the BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember. And that knowledge could be -- will be -- transformative."

Transformative! Listen again to Whitman:
O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul.
O I say now these are the Soul!