About Me

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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Quo modo differt homo sapiens?

UPDATE: My response to this TIME Magazine story was printed amongst their Letters, available here and here.

The October 9 TIME Magazine cover story, "What Makes Us Different?" examines the current trends in comparative genetics to try to discover what exactly makes humans different from our common evolutionary ancestors, the great apes:

"Agriculture, language, art, music, technology and philosophy—all the achievements that make us profoundly different from chimpanzees and make a chimp in a business suit seem so deeply ridiculous—are somehow encoded within minute fractions of our genetic code. Nobody yet knows precisely where they are or how they work, but somewhere in the nuclei of our cells are handfuls of amino acids, arranged in a specific order, that endow us with the brainpower to outthink and outdo our closest relatives on the tree of life."

I, however, am struck by one very bold assumption: that the answer to the great achievements of humanity must lie encoded in the amino acids of our DNA. Is it possible that the mystery of human thought and creativity is simply that: a mystery beyond our own comprehension? When I revel in a Mozart adagio or sit captivated beneath the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I wonder by the very fact that I cannot explain how Mozart or Michelangelo accomplished what they did. Genius amazes because it is a mystery: if you could explain to me why, after all these years, I keep picking up a book of Milton’s poetry, I would stop picking it up, because the wonder would be gone.

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