Propositional truth is not the whole truth.

In his later years, long after he had achieved his scientific feats, Charles Darwin wrote an autobiography for the edification of his children. In it, he reveals a good deal about the formation and operation of his intellect. The following passage sounds perhaps the single note of regret about his past:

“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds … gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare.… I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music.… I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.… My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

If Darwin were alive today, brain psychologists could assure him that his diagnosis of his case was surprisingly accurate. A part of his brain had indeed atrophied by lack of use, and he was, quite literally, mentally unbalanced because of it. The human cerebrum, the largest part of the human brain, is composed of two ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: