To understand a thing a scientist first breaks it down to its component parts to see how all parts work together. This is the way most science works currently. It is presumed in most sciences that, if the object of study is not first dissembled, it cannot be understood. Dutiful as people are, most of us approach the world with the same assumption, that nothing can be learned about anything until you first break it in pieces.
There is little in our world that tells us that we can learn anything about how a thing works by simply observing it whole and in action.That’s why Frankenstein is such a compelling figure because we can understand intuitively that, if we take an arm here, a leg there, a stomach, a spleen, liver, digestive tube, bladder, kidneys, tongue, eyeballs, brain, all the component parts of a human, and sew them together somehow we will create a human being. And when we see this done before our eyes and recognize a Boris Karloff lumbering around we see ourselves or how we perceive ourselves, as a misshapen patchwork of parts that may not look or work the way we want, that feels ungainly whether pleasant or unpleasant to look at and that is received either with warm acceptance or rejection for reasons that are not always clear to us.
People have these perceptions about themselves, perceptions that I see as untested hypotheses, but that are the framework of how we understand things in our world. Skinny people think of themselves as fat and fat people as skinny. Then, we have our own ideas about each other, projecting our perceptions, myths, and fantasies about each other that are the basis of how we interpret our daily experience, most of which may be inaccurate, but that allows us to function without taking a moment to reflect or to observe what part of it, if any, is true.
It is in these moments of considering what we think we know that we stop for a moment and look down at the family dog. Poor little thing is looking up at us as we look down at it and its tail wags, happy for even a moment of exchanging glances. Perhaps it will get a treat. Maybe it’s worth giving it a pet because petting makes us feel good. We let ourselves believe that we love it, while we also choose to believe that the dog loves us with the only evidence being the wagging of the tail, perhaps a nuzzle. But there is no objective evidence that any of this is real, something that gives us a little comfort before we retire to our basement laboratory where we go back to attaching limbs and guts and brains, inserting an electrode or two to make the whole of our labors seem real, like we are doing something that will prove our and the monster’s validity as a person.
Even if conscious, the poor dog will never be able to understand or appreciate this, what it takes to put kibble in the bowl or to create a living being to lumber stiff-limbed around the room and out the door to its own uncertain fate (or ours if the villagers come after us with torches and pitchforks.) Our dog proves to be the only thing that stands between us- our thoughts, beliefs, and labors- and the real world. It attends us even after we watch the last test-tube, Bunsen burner, operating table, cable, and kite being smashed to smithereens in the basement and those large and defiant fists pounding on the door to get into the house to finally kill us for daring to alter Nature.
Whew! We just managed to get away, although the dog would always know better than to get close to that creature and will be too quick to let the monster get hold of it, unless it tries to take a chunk out of that large, meaty haunch. It knows better than we do because the thing does not move like a human. Moreover, each part smells like it belongs to someone else, each like a different neighbor or relative, despite being a little fetid, and therefore is not to be trusted, while we know the creature as being made by us. Ah, we recall, I got that part from Uncle Enos before they found him, that from Aunt Enid when she fell in the hole because she wasn’t looking, and that came from a night of digging with my comrades in the graveyard. That one came from the gravedigger, but no one liked him anyway because he was believed to be digging up and selling bodies to the local laboratory for research. Damn bastard deserved what I did to him! Ah, for those pleasant days when I was simply sewing people together from parts!
But, it’s the dog we need to pay attention to, the one that begs for attention, that needs to be observed. More than that, the dog likes it.
Well, we think, it doesn’t take much to investigate this little creature. It hasn’t much of a brain. It’s rather primitive in its wants. Not a lot to look at really. Maybe take off the top and have a look at its brain to see about the wagging tail, salivation and digestion. Pavlov did that already though.
But, why, I wonder, do you have to open the head at all to understand its contents, whether man or beast? The real question here is why the dog likes you at all? Shouldn’t it know better than to trust as unpredictable an animal as Man, especially one like you? What brain function is involved anyway? The answer is simple enough. The poor dog has a limbic system, too, its own lizard in its skull that makes it feel in synchrony with us. We like it and show it affection; and the dog, for all its cognitive limitations, likes us. Who could possibly imagine? “I scarcely like myself, but the poor, dumb, little thing likes me.”
Is it so hard to imagine that one could simply try to understand a phenomenon by observing it as it is without altering it? And still I will argue that this is the first necessary step before you start examining pieces. Why? Because there may be other things involved, things other than the parts you think are worth looking at. The parts may be pernicious, but in the end the whole is more likely to kill you outright.