Mystery and Excellence on The Human Body - Man The Unknown Introduction

Man The Unknown Introduction

Man The Unknown Introduction

Man The Unknown Introduction

Man the Unknown


The young gymnast, a girl, is on the balance beam. What would be for  most a precarious pose does not seem to be at all such for her. After a  short moment of concentration, she flips backward once, twice, and  again, and again till she reaches the exact end of the beam.

A few years ago, the maximum was three backward flips on the balance beam. Now it is four.... What will it be tomorrow ? And this is only  one of the numerous exercises where top gymnasts of the world show  amazing qualities of suppleness, strength, agility, precision and often  ethereal and effortless grace.

We know that to reach effortlessness at the crucial moment requires  a lot of effort in many ways. Besides the relentless training, the conscious care of the body must be intense. Probably very few are more  disciplined than modern athletes. They must be careful about their diet,  their rest, their emotional relations and many other aspects of their  lives as all these factors may powerfully affect their performances. The  results are admirable. They are supremely fit and their bodies are  superb instruments to reach higher and higher goals.

When looking at these top gymnasts' performances, we hardly think  of what goes on beneath the surface of their bodies. We see strong and  shapely muscles playing under the skin, but muscle play is in a way the  simplest external manifestation of an enormous activity which involves  the totality of the body -— inside out — with great rushes of blood and

Man The Unknown Introduction

Man The Unknown Introduction

air. There are also many minute chemical exchanges, each of which  might be crucial to peak performance and survival. Probably, the most  amazing thing is that, in peak effort, despite all the jerks, shocks, jumps,  dizzy turns and volts sustained, the orderly activity inside their bodies  goes on to keep various organs within the limits of their proper functioning. It is indeed a kind of miracle that the body is performing when it  manages to maintain an inner stability in the most trying circumstances.

Indeed, all bodies are marvels of complex, intricate functioning. The  main actors are billions of cells of different types, all interrelated. Each  cell is a remarkably complex unit performing multiple functions. Each cell  also contains the full set of instructions to build the totality of the body.  The amazing coordination of all the thousands functions that are going on  at every second to sustain life appears effortless in healthy bodies.

There was a time when comparing human bodies to marvellous  machines was thought as a compliment. Today it is finally recognized  that the most ingenious machines are clumsy fixtures compared to living organisms. The most elaborate of all living organisms is surely the  human body, in which spirit and matter are so delicately and intricately put together to produce this strange being called "human". In the  modern age, following Descartes and Newton, the human body was  seen as a machine in a universe where everything was moving according to definite and intangible laws. The body was made of parts and  each part had its own law of functioning. A disorder in any part of the  body had its own specific problem and remedy. It might be the liver or  the heart or anything else which should be then specifically treated.  The body was not seen as the totality that it is, a complex whole possessing great powers of self-healing if given a fair chance to do so.  Even now, most medical practices in modern medicine continue to treat  the body as a machine by dint of which hospitals are often like "body  processors " functioning in a mechanical way.

However crucial shifts of perception are happening: the mechanistic  view is giving way to a new vision of the body as an organic whole. The  reasons for the wear and tear of the human body are being researched  at a deeper level, where the body-mind connection is being addressed. In  this approach, a so-called physical symptom may be the external manifestation of a less material problem of relation to one's own self as well  as to others. Many experiences have shown that when the self-healing  powers of the body are liberated, remarkable recoveries happen which

Man The Unknown Introduction

Man The Unknown Introduction

are found baffling by holders of the orthodox medical view.

One of the pioneers of this new way of looking at the human body was Alexis Carrel. A well known French scientist, he wrote a now classical book Man the Unknown which truly heralded in its time, shortly after the first world war, a fresh approach to the mysteries of the human body. After more than fifty years, it is remarkable to find that such was the insight, one may even say the poetic inspiration behind the book that it is hardly obsolete in its description 'of the body. Here and there, scientists of today would go further, add newly discovered details, but they might not however be able to write such an inspiring text which stands today as a classic.

In his own preface to Man the Unknown, 'Alexis Carrel begins with a personal statement about his endeavour:

The author of this book is not a philosopher. He is only a man of science. He spends a large part of his time in a laboratory studying living matter. And another part in the world, watching human beings and trying to understand them. He does not pretend to deal with things that lie outside the field of scientific observation.

In this book he has endeavoured to describe the known, and to separate it clearly from the plausible. Also to recognize the existence of the unknown and the unknowable. He has considered man as the sum of the observations and experiences of all times and of all countries. But what he describes he has either seen with his own eyes or learned directly from those with whom he. associates. It is his good fortune to be in a position to study, without making any effort or deserving any credit, the phenomena of life in their bewildering complexity. He has observed practically every form of human activity.

Man The Unknown Introduction

Man The Unknown Introduction

He is acquainted with the poor and the rich, the sound and  the diseased, the learned and the ignorant, the weak-minded,  the insane, the shrewd, the criminal, etc. He knows farmers,  proletarians, clerks, shopkeepers, financiers, manufacturers, politicians, statesmen, soldiers, professors, school teachers, clergymen, peasants, bourgeois, and aristocrats.  The circumstances of his life have led him across the path  of philosophers, artists, poets, and scientists. And also of  geniuses, heroes, and saints. At the same time, he had  studied the hidden mechanisms which, in the depth of the  tissues and in the immensity of the brain, are the substratum of organic and mental phenomena.

  When we were looking for the best writing to describe the mystery  of the human body, we came across Alexis Carrel's book and it touched  us deeply. We felt it read like a profound meditation on the human  body. We hope that the few excerpts we have selected will bring to our  readers the same delight of wonder that we felt.


Man The Unknown Introduction

Back to Content