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Is Man Only a Glorified Robot?

March 24, 1985

With great interest I read Rex Julian Beaber's essay (Editorial Pages, March 1), addressing the question of whether we are emotional robots or not.

His point of view was that of a scientist who had dissected the human body down to a series of "mechanical" relationships. He then extended this analogy to include the human persona. Equally, the same could be said of society's mechanization of human production. Ever since the inception of the production line labor has been divided so that now the human element in production consists of no more than the turnings of a mere cog in a larger machine.

However, I do take issue with Beaber's statement that "the concepts of psychology appear to be little more than trivial summaries of complex electrical activity of the brain's cells." (Emphasis added). This is typical of the attitude of many people in the medical profession such as Beaber. Taken the theme of his article, that would mean he, himself, is no more than a glorified mechanic.

A majority of the current psychological research is based on the very same principles of investigation that form the cornerstone of such so-called "hard" sciences as chemistry, physics and biology. Being a former physical science major at the University of Michigan, who now holds a master's in social work from the same institution, I have more than a passing knowledge of these disciplines.

To go further, chemistry, physics and biology are not so steeped in facts as they would like to believe. In chemistry, the atom is the basic unit. Atoms form molecules, which in turn congregate in many fascinating forms to comprise the universe around us. Has anyone seen an atom? No. Yet, scientists believe they exist. Their belief is based on indirect evidence. Because chemistry is based on this belief, who can say it is no different than religion.

Religions verify the existence of God through indirect evidence such as prayer, faith, and the occasional miracle. Why not call religion an imperfect science, or chemistry a religion? Biology in turn borrows liberally from the doctrines of chemistry, and is therefore based on the same belief system. Why trivialize psychology, which addresses such issues as depression, which Beaber mentioned?

I am glad Beaber does not consider himself a robot. I hope he remembers to instruct his students at UCLA that their patients are not robots either. They are human beings who have loved, cried, felt happiness and pain, and carry emotional as well as physical scars.

JAMES B. SCHEEL

Los Angeles

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