Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dostoyevsky's brain

I'm rereading Crime and Punishment for my philosophy class, and just beginning The Idiot. The latter book was written by Dostoyevsky during a period of exile, when he frequently suffered from epileptic fits. The introduction to the book says:
"How can it be good when my faculties are utterly shattered by my illness? I have still my imagination, and it isn't a bad one at that; I tested it on my novel the other day. But my memory seems to have gone!" ... he was also overwhelmed by "a feeling of terrible guilt" just as though he had committed "some dreadful crime". But his feeling before the onset of the fit... seemed to compensate him for its terrible aftermath. "For a few moments before the fit," he wrote to the critic Nikolai Strakhov, "I experience a feeling of happiness such as it is quite impossible to imagine in a normal state and which other people have no idea of. I feel entirely in harmony with myself and the whole world, and this feeling is so strong and so delightful that for a few seconds of such bliss one would gladly give up ten years of one's life, if not one's whole life."*
This description aligns with the findings of the researchers using the God helmet, that feelings of bliss and religious transcendence seem to be linked to electrical activity in the frontal lobes of the brain. I am looking forward to seeing what insights Dostoyevsky, by making his main character in The Idiot an epileptic too, gives into the workings of the human brain from his nineteenth-century perspective.

* Quote is taken from the Translator's Introduction to the 1955 Penguin Classics edition of The Idiot.

No comments:

Post a Comment