Thursday, August 13, 2015

Batman and the brain

I haven't finished this week's stack of comics yet, but one of them has made an impression on me since finishing them. It's not every week that I get even one that does that, so this has been pretty special.

I'm talking about issue #43 of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's excellent run on Batman. The current storyline began in the aftermath of an epic confrontation with Batman and The Joker, resulting in the apparent death of Batman. Gotham City has decided that it can't be without the Caped Crusader though, so Commissioner Gordon now patrols the streets as a new armored Batman. Oh, and it turns out that Bruce Wayne is very much alive, and he's doing charity work. The most recent issue reveals why he hasn't returned in his role as the city's resident superhero.


It turns out that he did die, only to be brought back to life (don't worry about the process). As his brain was healed, the pathways didn't come back together in entirely the same way. All of the details are explained in a conversation between Wayne's trusty butler, Alfred, and Clark Kent (yeah - Superman). Clark points out that it's not "really" Bruce anymore, as his brain isn't entirely the same. One tangible result was that he no longer remembered his life as Batman. Of course, Alfred informed him about his past and his motivation for being a hero - the murder of his parents. 

And while Bruce certainly felt something, the pain was no longer there. In other words, the very thing that motivated him to become Batman - the aspect of his personality that made him who he was - was gone. That's why he's no longer patrolling the streets in the Batmobile. He's still the same good man, but the drive is gone.

I kept thinking about this idea, even though it's one that's been on my mind before. One of the reasons I have a hard time getting behind the idea of an afterlife is that so much of who we are is dependent on what's going on physically in our skulls. Get a serious head injury or a disease like Alzheimer's, and you won't seem like the same person to all of your friends and family anymore. What reason would we think that our personalities would somehow remain intact when our brains are completely non-functional and even decomposed?

I've heard religious apologists go on about how meaningless life must be if all we are is determined by the physical and chemical processes of the brain. All this tells us though is what they think, not what's real or not. Because what if that is what makes us who we are? Are we going to just completely give up and become nihilists because we're the product of a natural and physical process? I don't think so.

So, is Bruce Wayne still the same person when he's no longer motivated by what drove him his entire life? He's similar in many ways, but is it really him? If you remove the parts of my brain that make me love my family, get excited about comic books, want to write in my blog - is that still me? I'm not sure how much can change and have me still be me, but I know that if you change enough, eventually we can no longer say that we're dealing with the same Lance Christian Johnson.

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