One organism

There is a very good posting (here) in the new Scientific American Mind Blogs, by Jon Lieff. He discusses the ties between the immune system and the nervous system. I recommend reading it. My posting here is not about what the Sc.American post said but what it reminded me of, the reaction to biology.


It is the under-the-radar unease with biology that is on my mind. This is what seems to be at the root of dividing ourselves into the biological and the intellectual. Whether the divide is between the frontal cortex and the rest of the cortex, the cortex and the rest of the brain, the brain and the rest of the nervous system, or the nervous system and the rest of the body – the divide is a mistake. It is unreal. The parts work together to form an organism. The parts cannot live, let alone work, by themselves. We may study the parts separately, but we should not be surprised that they cooperate and have to be seen as part of a whole. Each of us is a single system, an organism.


I may be somewhat too sensitive to this unease with biology. For example, I do not disapprove of vegetarianism. I am not a vegetarian, but I can understand. I can understand those that feel meat is unhealthy and they can get healthier protein and fat elsewhere. I can understand someone having a moral objection to killing animals. I can understand someone raised on a no meat diet not finding meat appetizing (as I might find grasshoppers unappetizing because I was not feed them in childhood but instead learned dislike rather than a taste for them). I can understand someone feeling it is part of their identity, especially religious identity. I am sure there are other reasons that I would find reasonable. But I have encountered many vegetarians who appear to have none of these positions (or to have them only as superficial justifications for a deeper motive). When it gets right down to it, they do not want to be reminded of what the inside of animals actually looks like. Perfectly ordinary muscle, blood, connective tissue, fat, or any internal body parts make them nauseous. They find ‘wet’ and ‘moist’ to be disturbing words, ‘animal’ is an insult. How can someone suffer from such a deep self hate? It makes it hard to accept themselves as animals.


I find biology so amazingly beautiful and engaging that I seem to have almost no common ground with those that are disturbed by it. When we understand our thinking processes, it will be a biological understanding, and more satisfying for that. A biological explanation will replace all non-biological metaphors. The understanding will not separate us from the rest of our bodies. We will be connected with the whole of the biosphere. At least I hope so.

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