Thursday, June 21, 2012

Of Mankind,Bacteria & Warfare

drawing by marguerita
For nearly all of human history, this began with maternal transmission of beneficial microbes during passage through the birth canal — mother to child. 
However, the alarming increase in the rate of Caesarean section births means a potential loss of microbiota from one generation to the next. And for most of us in the industrialized world, the microbial cleansing continues throughout life.
Just as your tongue and nose are used to sense suitability for consumption, your immune system has receptors for sampling the environment, rigorous mechanisms for dealing with friend or foe, and a memory. Your immune system even has the capacity to learn.
For all of human history, this learning was driven by our near-continuous exposure from birth and throughout life to organisms as diverse as mycobacteria from soil and food; helminth, or worm parasites, from just about everywhere you turned; and daily recognition and challenges from our very own bacteria. Our ability to regulate our allergic and inflammatory responses to these co-evolved companions is further compromised by imbalances in the gut microbiota from overzealous use of antibiotics (especially in early childhood) and modern dietary choices.

APROPOS: JeanJacques Rousseau.
To a very large extent, the interests and concerns that mark his philosophical work also inform these other activities, and Rousseau's contributions in ostensibly non-philosophical fields often serve to illuminate his philosophical commitments and arguments.
He taught men to regard Nature and botanists to regard plants. Botany was not merely a question of dates and names and disquisitions sought after in the dusty parchments of Galen and Dioscorides. Rousseau cared for none of these things. Botanists must search, observe, and conjecture for themselves with the plant before them and the book on the shelf. He insisted on the divorce of botany from medicine, an alliance which hampered research in the pure science and reduced the study of vegetable life to the rank of handmaiden to the pharmacopoeia. J. J. shared Montaigne’s antipathy to physic and physicians, and the idea of his beloved plants being brayed in a mortar with a pestle and transformed into pills, plasters, and ointment revolted his romantic soul. Botany — that last stronghold of his imagination — must be jealously guarded against the calamity of defilement by association with such things as fever, stone, gout, epilepsy, and other ills of hateful, unhappy man.
Consider the picture of those two bizarre misanthropes — Jean Jacques Rousseau and Bernardin de St. Pierre — walking together into rural solitude and seeking there among the wild flowers what they could not find among their fellow-men!

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