I was teaching what is called the medical model, the perception that human biology represents a biological machine comprised of biochemicals and controlled by genes. Therefore when a patient comes in to see a doctor, the belief system is that the patient has something wrong with their biochemistry or genes, which can be adjusted and can lead them to health. At some point I realized that I had to leave the university because I found great conflict in teaching the students about what controls the cell and yet getting a completely different understanding from the cells in my cultures.
A New Understanding of Science
When I was outside the university I had a chance to read into physics. Again I found information that did not conform to the science I had been teaching. In the world of new physics, quantum physics, the mechanisms that are described completely collide with the mechanisms we were teaching, which were based on the old Newtonian physics. The new physics currently is still not introduced in medical schools. Before conventional science, science was the province of the church. It was called natural theology and was infused with the spiritual domain, teaching that God's hand was directly involved in the unfoldment and maintenance of the world, that God's image was expressed through the nature we live in. Natural theology had a mission statement: to understand the nature of the environment so we could learn to live in harmony with it. Basically this meant learning how to live in harmony with God, considering that nature and God were so well connected.
However, through the abuses of the church, their insistence on absolute knowledge and their efforts of suppressing new knowledge, there was what is called the Reformation. The Reformation, precipitated by Martin Luther, was a challenge to the church's authority. After the Reformation, when there was an opportunity to question beliefs about the universe, science became what was called modern science. Isaac Newton, the physicist whose primary studies were on the nature of gravity and the movement of the planets, provided the foundation for modern science. He invented a new mathematics called differential calculus in order to create an equation to predict the movements of the solar system. Science identified truths as things that were predictable. Newtonian physics perceives the universe as a machine made out of matter; it says that if you can understand the nature of the matter that comprises the machine, then you will understand nature itself. Therefore the mission of science was to control and dominate nature, which was completely different than the former mission of science under natural theology, which was to live in harmony with nature.
The issue of control in regard to biology becomes a very important point. What is it that controls the traits that we express? According to Newtonian physics life forms represent machines made out of matter and if you want to understand those machines you take them apart, a process called reductionism. You study the individual pieces and see how they work and when you put all the pieces together again, you have an understanding of the whole. Charles Darwin said that the traits an individual expresses are connected to the parents. The sperm and egg that come together and result in the formation of a new individual must be carrying something that controls the traits in the offspring. Studies of dividing cells began in the early 1900s and they saw string-like structures that were present in cells that were beginning to divide. These string-like structures were called chromosomes.
Interestingly enough, while chromosomes were identified around 1900, it was only in 1944 that we actually identified which of their components carried the genetic traits. The world got very excited. They said, oh, my goodness, after all these years we finally have gotten down to identifying the genetically controlling material; it appears to be the DNA. In 1953 the work of James Watson and Francis Crick revealed that each strand of DNA contained a sequence of genes. The genes are the blueprints for each of the over 100,000 different kinds of proteins that are the building blocks for making a human body. A headline announcing Watson and Crick's discovery appeared in a New York paper: "Secret of Life Discovered" and from that point on biology has been wrapped up in the genes. Scientists saw that by understanding the genetic code we could change the characters of organisms and therefore there was a big, headlong rush into the human genome project to try to understand the nature of the genes.
At first they thought these genes only controlled the physical form, but the more they started to manipulate genes, they saw that there were also influences on behavior and emotion. Suddenly, the genes took on more profound meaning because all the characters and traits of a human were apparently controlled by these genes.
Are We Victims of Heredity?
Yet there was one last question: what is it that controls the DNA? That would be going up the last rung of the ladder to find out what is ultimately in control. They did an experiment and it revealed that DNA was responsible for copying itself! DNA controls the protein and the protein represents our bodies. Basically it says that life is controlled by DNA. That is the Central Dogma. It supports a concept called "the primacy of DNA" that says who and what we are and the fate of the lives we lead are already preprogrammed in the DNA that we received at conception. What is the consequence of this? That the character and fate of your life reflects the heredity you were born into; you are actually a victim of heredity.
For example, scientists looked at a group of people, scored them on the basis of happiness and tried to find out whether there was a gene that was associated with happy people that was not active in unhappy people. Sure enough, they found a particular gene that seems to be more active in happy people. Then they immediately put out a big media blip on "gene for happiness discovered." You could say, "Well, wait a minute. If I got a sucky happy gene, then my whole life is going to be predetermined. I'm a victim of my heredity." This is exactly what we teach in school and this is what I had also been teaching-that people are powerless over their own lives because they can't change their genes. But when people recognize the nature of being powerless, they also start to become irresponsible. "Well, look, Boss, you're calling me lazy but I just want you to know my father was lazy. What can you expect from me? I mean, my genes made me lazy. I can't do anything about it." Recently in Newsweek they wrote about how fat cells are waging war on our health. It's interesting because in an epidemic of obesity science stands back and says: it's your fat cells that are waging war in your life.
The Human Genome Project
To come and save us, the human genome project entered our world. The idea of the project was to identify all the genes that make up a human. It would offer the future opportunity of genetic engineering to correct the ills and problems that face humans in this world. I thought the project was a humanitarian effort but it was interesting later to find out from Paul Silverman, one of the principal architects of the human genome project, what it was actually about. It was simply this: It was estimated that there were going to be over 100,000 genes in the human genome because there are over 100,000 different proteins in our bodies; plus there were also genes that didn't make proteins but controlled the other genes. The project was actually designed by venture capitalists; they figured that since there were over 100,000 genes, by identifying these genes and then patenting the gene sequences, they could sell the gene patents to the drug industry and the drug industry would use the genes in creating health products. In fact, the program was not actually for advancing the human state as much as it was for making a lot of money.
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The Wisdom of Your Cells