Spirit Lifters

Soul Scientists

It looked a little like a Trekkie convention: people discussing faraway galaxies with close to religious fervor. But Science & the Spiritual Quest (SSQ) is actually a meeting of world-class physicists, doctors, and religious leaders who reconcile their knowledge of science with their spiritual beliefs. Mixing the two can be like stirring oil and water: One is rational and provable, the other subsists on faith and inexplicable phenomena.

SSQ is dedicated to "the interface of science and spirituality." Its winter meeting at Manhattan's General Theological Seminary proved biologists and Sunday school teachers need not be enemies: Belief in science does not preclude faith in God. Presented by the Berkeley-based Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, SSQ is a four-year initiative that holds conferences, workshops, and public forums around the world. Two brilliant scientists took the podium: Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and William Newsome, a neurobiologist from Stanford. Hut, a practicing Buddhist, called scientists addressing issues of consciousness or spirituality "the most recent group to come out of the closet." Said Newsome, "In science, there's no need for a concept like the soul." Unlike many in his field, Newsome believes in the soul's presence, even though biological evidence for it is scarce. Carl Feit finished by analyzing a biblical passage: In Genesis, Adam is described as both physical and transcendent, making him an apt analogy for an SSQ meeting.

SSQ returns to New York's General Theological Seminary for private workshops, preceded by a public session, "Humanity and Cosmos: Spirituality and Science on Our Place in the Universe," with a French astrophysicist, a Vietnamese cosmologist, and a Romanian physicist, June 6 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $15 ($5 for students), 212-243-5150. —KATE MATTINGLY

The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences 2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley, CA 94709 www.ssq.net

In the Clearing

In second grade, my art teacher showed me how to make a diorama out of a Bosch painting. I painstakingly cut out each little twisted soul and glued it inside a box to make a three-dimensional image of a garden of earthly delights. Taking an antidepressant was a little like making that diorama: I thought it would utterly change my world picture, but instead I still saw the same obstacles, terrors, and ambiguities as before, only they no longer hindered me from moving forward in my life, and I found I could move around them.

I initially went to a psychiatrist because my feelings had become like the shadow impression an amputated limb makes on the nerves: I had a vague recollection of what it was like to have a heart, but was able to feel only the memory of feeling. I did not feel depressed, exactly, but as though depression itself would be a relief from my posthumous existence. "The bad news," my doctor said, "is that you have depression, anxiety, social dysfunction, and an obsessive-compulsive disorder." Meaning I slept all the time, ran from phantom stalkers, and compulsively did everything in multiples of three. "The good news is, they're highly treatable."

But the treatment wasn't easy. First he put me on Paxil, which gave me unsteady bowels, a perpetual headache, and insomnia. I spent nights either thinking in lucid loops or high on Ambien. I vacillated between bouts of immobility and regression into a hysterical, self-lacerating 14-year-old. "Paxil makes me feel like I'm coming back to myself again," I told the shrink, "but now I remember why I went away in the first place." I switched to Celexa (I thought it was spelled Select-xa and would help me make decisions) with a Xanax chaser. I stopped running through the streets after midnight and began to work on my dissertation a little. After a couple of months, I felt ready for the academic job market, conferences, and even marriage. It seemed as though my life was finally moving forward.

Then on Valentine's Day, after six months on Celexa, I was at the computer when the lights went out. I ran into the living room and met a wall of flame that ended up engulfing the entire apartment. I lost all my material possessions, my dissertation, my cats. Sifting through the ashes of what I suspect was once my novel, the loss I felt was somehow still preferable to the numbness I'd experienced before taking Celexa. A good antidepressant doesn't necessarily remove depression, I realized. It just makes the darkness more visible. —AMY LEAL

Smells Like Cream Spirit

Your doc may say it's laughing gas, but I propose terming the invisible propellant in Reddi-Wip pass-to-where-there-is-no-laughter-or-sadness gas. It wipes your mind, makes your body tingle, and—I'm guessing here, the only soul I know about is the food—just might awaken your spirit. For about as long as it takes to uncap the next can, that is. Doing "whip-its" (as teenagers call them) is basically like sniffing glue or gasoline, without the nasty lower-class associations. A lovely raven-haired assistant recently followed my directions in order to compare America's Choice ($1.35 for 198 grams at Food Emporium) and Reddi-Wip ($2.85) brands, with light, regular, and nondairy (RW only) options. Reverse the corporate instructions: Leave the can upright and unshaken, take the spout in your mouth and press it sideways, breath all the fumes in at once, and—mmmmwwaaaahh—hear your brain cells popping? (The sound of silence.)

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