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GUEST POST by Nelson Borelli, MD: Steve Jobs, the Unpious-In-Chief 02/22/2013

Posted by ALT in Guest Post, Philosophy/Spirituality.
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Steve Jobs, RIP.


Steve Jobs transferred the natural piety for his body to his idol, the computer.

(For the thinker: just the above; for the curious: my two bits, below.)

Natural Piety

Piety is a disposition and behavior that is based on the recognition and respect of nature. Nature is what is outside of me (that is the metaphysical me, or “I”, — as in “I am”).

A person’s physical body is part of nature. My body is not me. “God gave me my body in stewardship, and God will take it away when God should so decide” is a helpful metaphor to understand that my body is not me, that it is part of nature. My body is outside me, separate from me.

The same metaphor suggests that I have to take good care of my body (maintenance and repairs) to best profit from its capabilities. Think of this: I own my body as I own my horse (or automobile); the care of either is very important to my living. Yet the care of my body is more important than the care of my horse, because if my body dies I cannot replace it.

My body is, by far, my most important possession. It is a most respectable tool because it allows me to live. There is no tool in the world that could serve me better than my body, not even the most sophisticated computer or robots could do it (they cannot tell the love in a woman’s eyes or the perfect doneness of a paella).


Steve Jobs, the super technocrat, ignored the scientifically based medical technology when his body started to have trouble. The scientific method (widely recognized as the best predictor of outcome) demands objective observation of nature, a pious posture, and many other things. Unpiously, Steve Jobs went into the world of mystical treatments for his illness until it was too late for formal medicine to help him.

Steve Jobs’ (pseudo) piety was to the machine. He venerated the machine as a religious fanatic would. At the cost of his life.

Yes, Steve Jobs was the Unpious-in-Chief of modern time.

His enormous, superb, technical skills and charisma greatly enhanced the contemporary idolatry of material things. Material objects — machines, computers — can be very useful in pursuit of human projects, provided we do not ignore nature, piously.

Steve Jobs’ tragic end may stand as a metaphor for the way we seem to be going on this planet. Let us think about that metaphor, for what it represents may be Steve’s best legacy to us.

Nelson Borelli, MD

(Mailed to Apple Corporate Headquarters 2/22/2013)

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1. Biocadence - 02/22/2013

Thought-provoking statement here. Thank you!

Annie at Biocadence

2. jacqueline Roig, PsyD - 02/23/2013

Piety is a virtue too long forgotten. Obviously. We as a society chase the stuff, the fame, the superficial. A much-needed and well-articulated reminder, thanks, Dr. Borelli.

3. R2DTew - 02/24/2013

Dr. B’s essay on piety is both perplexing and useful as a way to begin a discussion about who and what we are. Dr. B. expresses the nearly-consensus worldview that we are somehow apart from our body, somehow separate and distinct from our body. This formulation permits and endorses the belief that we are not part of nature, that we are somehow embodied. At least that’s what I think he was saying.

Today there is a deep and growing schism between those whose sense of self and other, and of existence itself, is traditionally religious, and an emerging paradigm hypothesizing that the distinction between body and self is an artifact rooted in primitive prescientific understanding that is today dissolving before a growing wave of scientific inquiry. Piety may be a hallmark of traditional belief and understanding but it does not convey, unless considerably redefined, how many scientists view themselves and their world.

It’s a little difficult to understand Dr. B’s point about that larger-than-life figure, Steve Jobs, as both eschewing the best of medical science when he made his personal healthcare decisions and at the same time his being ” unpious”. It would seem that Dr. B. almost thinks that following science is embracing piety. Perhaps he can provide some additional comment about that later on.

For me a more useful direction to take this topic is to examine the question of whether we actually are distinct from our bodies, and, as Dr. B. suggested, apart from nature itself. I submit such thinking is hubris worthy of the adolescent mind. It may have served to comfort people in times past when there was no other way to think, but today it is archaic and, worse, a hindrance to us finding ways to relieve our suffering.

Yes, at one time the traditional view almost certainly provided some hope and salved peoples suffering, but today that viewpoint far more often fails to do much if only because it is a mere echo of its former self. Why is that so? Today there are too many conflicting pieces of data to permit any but the most devout and obstinate some comfort. Today a new paradigm is emerging that considers, accepts, and really acknowledges that who we are is exactly opposite of those old formulations: we are what our body and brain is doing, in real time and for the totality of our existence.

Ideas that the body is our possession reflect more a sort of instinctive framing of ourselves than they correlate with reality. If one has a sense of how evolution works, and how new organisms appear, it’s fair to suggest that the phenomenon of self is just as much an emerging property of complex organisms as is some far more physical feature like, for instance, our advanced immune systems. This means that we are not important, or relevant, in the way that was formally taught and understood by the sages of past eras, but instead we are important in a new way, a marvelous miracle if you think about it — that we are what our organism is creating, for its own benefit. And in exchange for our creation we have developed an investment in maintaining our creator and improving its viability and success. Perhaps this is the new piety, and Dr. B. was actually referring to this, and I simply failed to recognize it in his words. If so I apologize for my oversight and lack of perception. On the other hand there is no small number of devotees to the old prescientific way of looking at the world who are clinging ever more desperately to their superstitions and atavistic beliefs. It seems as though there is no meeting between such minds and the one I have barely sketched out in these statements, so most likely the world will progress only as and to the extent the old ways and their supporters literally die out.

Now this blog is about mental illness, and how one views and responds to mental suffering. What might fairly be called mental illness certainly is influenced by the worldview one brings to the discussion. Some might mistakenly think these comments are in some way an effort to excuse the transgressions of scientific medicine as applied to what today gets called psychiatric problems. But that is not my intent. Rather my viewpoint is that addressing mental illness and difference involves grasping these larger questions of worldview and basic premises before offering remedy or help — what to say of hope itself — and these can only proceed if it’s clear how much efforts today are entangled in how we think of ourselves and who we see ourselves to be.

4. O N . P I E T Y | sera borelli - 02/28/2013

[…] O N . P I E T Y […]

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