Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Can I Borrow Your Stomach for a Year?

This week’s Radiolab (a fantastic NPR show if you have not heard it) addressed our guts. Here’s a quick summary of the first Act: in the 19th century a scientist, Dr. William Beaumont, saves the life of a gut shot individual, Alexis Saint Martin. Martin retains a hole in his stomach that allowed aforementioned scientist access to his insides by dropping and removing food at will, as well as naked eye observations of the surface workings. He does these experiments for the remainder of Martin's life. Previous to this point it was thought that the “bowels” were only connected to emotions. Beaumont is the pioneer who essentially realizes the stomach is “a big muscle full of juices.”

Beaumont pressed into unknown territory and created a map. When we press into an unknown territory over the course of a few decades – or even centuries – we take a detailed topography of the geography. These discoveries change our colloquialisms, even the way we perceive ourselves, and construct our identity. For our generation the unknown landscape is the brain.

It’s odd that our bodies which we are each at the maximum level of intimacy with can be such a mystery to us – even our realization that it is a mystery is a function of it. Our bodies can surprise us and betray us all while remaining enigmatic. In our information age the degree of mystery is constantly decreasing and, at the same time, becoming more complex. We have constant access to short articles, radio programs and television programs (even entire stations) dedicated to our personal biology.

Will these discoveries impact our identity as we strive to achieve mental, physical, and spiritual health, or will it plunge us into a level of neurosis that will destroy our civilization?

History may tell us – when he returns our calls -that nothing extreme will occur and the changes will be negligible and slowly accruing. Perhaps, in greater knowledge of self, we will usher in a new era of self-regulation. Where we would use hand held digital medical monitoring devices, detailed applications to track diet and exercise and sleep, all to strive for optimal health. Our new found knowledge could press us into a new era of personal responsibility where we can only blame ourselves or the super wealthy.

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