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Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion: What Immunology Can Teach Us About Self-Perception

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Personal, poetic, and anchored by research, Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion is a provocative look at the startling ways in which modern science shapes our identities. At the heart of modern medical science lies the soul of self-perception. In this book, scientist and poet Gerald Callahan reveals what science has uncovered, sometimes unwittingly, about us-wh Personal, poetic, and anchored by research, Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion is a provocative look at the startling ways in which modern science shapes our identities. At the heart of modern medical science lies the soul of self-perception. In this book, scientist and poet Gerald Callahan reveals what science has uncovered, sometimes unwittingly, about us-where we begin, how we grow, why we die, and what comes afterward. An immunologist, Callahan dissects the immune system to reveal its most intimate underpinnings-the selves hidden inside our thymuses, the pieces of others lodged in our lymph nodes, the gift of human death, and the fires that burn inside our bodies. From the seemingly sterile voice of science come the words that define each of us. We are singular men and women only because we have immune systems. When immune systems fail, people disappear, and in their places arise communities of living things. Buried inside our genes and our lymphocytes science has found faith and love, madness, and the fierceness of human beings. In Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion, Callahan uses research and personal anecdotes to examine these complex issues, proving ultimately that rigorous scientific facts can be intensely intimate.


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Personal, poetic, and anchored by research, Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion is a provocative look at the startling ways in which modern science shapes our identities. At the heart of modern medical science lies the soul of self-perception. In this book, scientist and poet Gerald Callahan reveals what science has uncovered, sometimes unwittingly, about us-wh Personal, poetic, and anchored by research, Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion is a provocative look at the startling ways in which modern science shapes our identities. At the heart of modern medical science lies the soul of self-perception. In this book, scientist and poet Gerald Callahan reveals what science has uncovered, sometimes unwittingly, about us-where we begin, how we grow, why we die, and what comes afterward. An immunologist, Callahan dissects the immune system to reveal its most intimate underpinnings-the selves hidden inside our thymuses, the pieces of others lodged in our lymph nodes, the gift of human death, and the fires that burn inside our bodies. From the seemingly sterile voice of science come the words that define each of us. We are singular men and women only because we have immune systems. When immune systems fail, people disappear, and in their places arise communities of living things. Buried inside our genes and our lymphocytes science has found faith and love, madness, and the fierceness of human beings. In Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion, Callahan uses research and personal anecdotes to examine these complex issues, proving ultimately that rigorous scientific facts can be intensely intimate.

30 review for Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion: What Immunology Can Teach Us About Self-Perception

  1. 4 out of 5

    Massanutten Regional Library

    Eve, Elkton patron, June 2019, 5 stars: One of my favorite books so far, this work by Immunologist and English professor is a collection of essays woven together that explore how our immune system makes us unique, protects us, and leads to events and conditions which are a miracle of biology and humanity. He uses personal narratives and other stories to illustrate the science, and weaves several threads throughout in poetic and captivating language. My book club LOVED this one!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mary Dansak

    Loved! Who knew the immune system could be so lovely? So poetic?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Crosby

    As a professor who teaches immunology, I found this book very unusual as it relates to the field of immunology. I have read the book twice not because I particularly enjoyed it but because I wanted to make sure I was not missing some of the connections he was trying to make in his essays. The book is essentially a collection of essays in which he takes an immunological topic such as immunological memory, foreignness, self recognition, etc and relates that to human experience. That is, he tries t As a professor who teaches immunology, I found this book very unusual as it relates to the field of immunology. I have read the book twice not because I particularly enjoyed it but because I wanted to make sure I was not missing some of the connections he was trying to make in his essays. The book is essentially a collection of essays in which he takes an immunological topic such as immunological memory, foreignness, self recognition, etc and relates that to human experience. That is, he tries to show, for example, how immunological memory is similar to memories we have stored in our minds. It is not always easy to see what connection he is trying to make because he jumps back and forth from the human mind to the immune system. In fact, there is more poetic, word-play about the human condition than there is about immunology throughout the book. It appears that immunology is just a weak frame-work around which he can discuss topics in human experience and perception. Nevertheless, there are some unique connections that he presents that made it a worthwhile read for a professor looking for a different way of looking at the immune system.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Found this in a used book store's tiny science section, bought it because the title captivated me. For a Ph.D and a scientist, he's a phenomenal writer; much like Loren Eiseley was, if you're familiar with him (if not, check out The Unexpected Universe). This book deals a lot with the immune system (it's subtitle is "What Immunology Can Teach Us About Self-perception"), which according to the author is the part of our biology that defines the self; but being about selfhood, it goes back and fort Found this in a used book store's tiny science section, bought it because the title captivated me. For a Ph.D and a scientist, he's a phenomenal writer; much like Loren Eiseley was, if you're familiar with him (if not, check out The Unexpected Universe). This book deals a lot with the immune system (it's subtitle is "What Immunology Can Teach Us About Self-perception"), which according to the author is the part of our biology that defines the self; but being about selfhood, it goes back and forth between science/medicine and psychology and philosophy. Almost poetic throughout and in many places incredibly profound, this book of essays (which run together along a common theme) blew my mind more than once. A great blend of science, philosophy and simple, honest humanness. Read it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This book is about the human immune system, which is more fascinating than I had realized. Some of the information the author presents is really amazing. The trouble is that he loves making analogies and comparisons and poetic references to other things in a way that is rather confusing. For instance, in the chapter in which he describes the way that the immune system "remembers" what illnesses you've had before, he also describes tricks the memory plays, as when he thinks he sees a long-dead lov This book is about the human immune system, which is more fascinating than I had realized. Some of the information the author presents is really amazing. The trouble is that he loves making analogies and comparisons and poetic references to other things in a way that is rather confusing. For instance, in the chapter in which he describes the way that the immune system "remembers" what illnesses you've had before, he also describes tricks the memory plays, as when he thinks he sees a long-dead lover in a coffee shop. Is he really saying that there is a link between these two things? I can't tell ... and with science writing I think you have to be really clear.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne

    A good read for stretching a mind constricted from reading textbooks. Here's an example: The immune system isn't part of the brain. The brain is part of the immune system. Mind is an arm raised against things too large to be destroyed by antibodies and cytotoxic T lymphocytes, the microscopic weapons of the immune system. The immune system is for plague, tuleramia, toxoplasmosis, measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Mind is for bears, coral snakes, sharks, snapping turtles, wife beaters, and Buicks. A good read for stretching a mind constricted from reading textbooks. Here's an example: The immune system isn't part of the brain. The brain is part of the immune system. Mind is an arm raised against things too large to be destroyed by antibodies and cytotoxic T lymphocytes, the microscopic weapons of the immune system. The immune system is for plague, tuleramia, toxoplasmosis, measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Mind is for bears, coral snakes, sharks, snapping turtles, wife beaters, and Buicks.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sky

    All I really have to say is... wow. And if you have an interest in just about anything + good writing and insight into not only how your body works, but how a lot of the world gets along as well... then this is a must read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This started out with a really interesting premise, but some of the essays were kind of cool and interesting, and some just wandered without coming to much of a conclusion. A lot of the creative writing bogged down instead of enhancing the text.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Candace

    Not all of the essays in this book impressed me equally. Some were merely good, but others were jaw-droppingly outstanding. He's as much an essayist as a man of science, and he gave me new perspectives on both immunology and the mysteries of life. Not all of the essays in this book impressed me equally. Some were merely good, but others were jaw-droppingly outstanding. He's as much an essayist as a man of science, and he gave me new perspectives on both immunology and the mysteries of life.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Edith

    A compelling look at how we perceive ourselves, consciously and unconsciously.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The body knows. Everything. Love it!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan Gray

    Very fun and interesting read

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susan Honthumb

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dave Schlumper

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sunderwood

  16. 4 out of 5

    Timothy S

  17. 4 out of 5

    Denise Williams

  18. 5 out of 5

    E

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paula

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erica

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Page

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joseph R Whitt

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ashliee Arreguin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sahara

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anome

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alison Woods

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leslye

  28. 5 out of 5

    Delascabezas

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rosie Lachesis

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