Light year — the distance which light travels in a year (about 6,000,000,000,000 miles) (six thousand millions miles)
Morphological class — a biological classification by form, especially outer form and inner structure of living organisms and their parts.
Diatheses — belonging or pertaining to an individual from birth; resulting from one's heredity or prenatal development.
Substratum — the substance in which qualities adhere; a basis, foundation, ground; an underlying layer.
Lumen — the cavity or channel within a tube or tubular organ.
Auricle — either of two chambers of the heart, placed above the two cavities called ventricles, and resembling in shape the external ear. It receives the blood from the veins, and communicates it to the ventricles.
Serum — the clear, yellowish fluid which separates from the clot when blood coagulates; the clear, fluid part of the blood, freed from its fibrin and corpuscles.
Sinus of the carotid artery — a dilatation of the proximal portion of the internal carotid or terminal portion of the common carotid artery, containing in its wall receptors which are stimulated by changes in blood pressure.
Teleological — relating to final causes; concerned with design or purpose in nature.
Extirpation — extermination; total destruction
Concatenation — a series of links united; a successive series or order of things or events regarded as causally or dependently related.
Metamorphoses — changes its shape, transforms; a metamorphosis is the marked change which some living beings undergo in the course of growth, (as caterpillar to butterfly, tadpole to frog).
Lesion — a hurt; a morbid change in the structure of body tissue caused by disease or injury, especially an injury or wound.
Syncope — a fainting fit caused by a sudden fall in blood pressure in the brain.
Fibrin — an elastic, thread-like, insoluble protein forming the network of the clot.
Leucocytes — any of the small colourless cells of the blood, lymph and tissues, which move like amoebae and destroy organisms that cause disease; white blood corpuscle.
Omentum — a free fold of peritoneum (transparent serous membrane lining the abdominal cavity) connecting the stomach to the other visceral organs and supporting blood vessels, nerves and lymphatics.
Osseous — bony ; composed of, or like, bone.
Pulmonary alveoli — air cells of a lung.
Subcutaneous — under the skin
Lymph — a clear yellowish alkaline fluid found in the lymphatic vessels of the body; it resembles blood plasma but contains only colourless corpuscles.
Interstitial (lymph) — in anatomy, situated between the cellular components of an organ or structure.
Sidereal — of, like or relative to the stars.
In vitro (Latin) — in glass; in the test tube.
Osmotic — pertaining to the diffusion of fluids through a membrane or porous partition.
Alexis Carrel — A brief biography
Born in France in 1873, he became a surgeon and a biologist. In 1912, he received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for his pioneering work in developing a method of suturing blood vessels. He spent most of his professional life in the USA (Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research), from 1904 to 1939, with the interruption of World War I. Among his main research lines was the preservation of tissues outside the body and the application of this process to surgery. (A strain of chicken heart tissue was kept alive for more than 30 years by the use of his techniques). He returned to France during
World War I. He then developed, with a fellow researcher, the Carrel-Dakin method of treating wounds with antiseptic irrigations. His deep interest in human problems at all levels led him to become in 1941 director of the French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems. He died in Paris in 1944.
Besides Man the Unknown published in 1935 (the original text was written in French under the title L'homme, cet inconnu — Carrel did himself the translation-adaptation of his book in English), he wrote two other books: The Culture of Organs (with C.A. Lindbergh, 1938), and Reflections on Life (This posthumous book was published in 1952 by Mrs. Carrel who collected, under this title, many notes left by her husband).
The Body Speaks Out
There have been many written attempts at communicating the mystery, the complexity and the marvels of the human body. Perhaps one of the more original is the book published by the "Reader's Digest" under the title "I am John's Body" where various organs and components of the body are made to speak in turn about themselves and their functions. We give below very brief extracts from four chapters:
I am something like a big city. I have power stations, a transport system and a sophisticated communications set up. I import raw materials, manufacture goods, operate a waste-disposal system. I have an" efficient government — a rigid dictatorship, really — and I patrol my beats to keep out undesirables.
All this in something my size? It takes a microscope to even see me, and a super-microscope to peep inside my metropolis. I am a cell, one of the 60 billion in John's body. The cell is often called the basic element of life. Actually, we're life itself....
There is no such thing as a "typical" cell. We are as different in form and function as a giraffe and a mouse. We come in all sizes, the largest of all being an ostrich egg. From there we scale down to a point where a million of us could sit comfortably on the head of a pin. And we come in a variety of shapes —discs; rods, spheres....
Perhaps the ultimate wonder among cells is the female egg, as in the body of John's mother. Once fertilized, this single cell divides into two cells, which in turn divide. Division continues until there are the two billion cells of a baby. Phenomenal as such multiplication is in itself, the truly striking thing is the enormous amount of information stored within the fertilized egg. That tiny fragment of life contains the blueprint for building that complex chemical plant, the liver. It stores coded information on hair colour, skin texture, body size. It knows just when to shut off growth of a little finger....
Perhaps the story of cells can best be summed up by saying that we are where it all takes place — everything from John's beginning to his end. How 60 billion of us can live in such harmony — each minding his own business, efficiently performing his own tasks — is something to contemplate. It is a wonder, perhaps the supreme wonder.
The moment of fertilization
A red blood cell at the end of its life
Think big when you think about me. I am a transport system with 75,000 miles of route — more than a worldwide airline. I am also a dustman and delivery boy with 60 billion customers.... My customers are the cells in John's body. I haul away their wastes and provide them with the essentials of life. I am John's bloodstream.
He thinks of me as a sluggish river, and is hardly aware of the frenzied activity under way within me at all times. In the second it takes him to blink, 1.2 million of my red cells reach the end of their 120-day lifespan and perish. In that same second, John's marrow, mostly in his ribs, skull and vertebrae, produces an equal number of new cells. In a lifetime these bones will manufacture about half a ton of red cells. During its short life, each red cell will
make something like 75,000 round trips from John's heart to other parts of his body.
To distribute oxygen and food to cells, I operate like a town water-supply system. The heart pumps, blood is pushed through arteries that grow ever smaller, and finally the flow gets to the capillaries. These gossamer cobwebs, linking arteries and veins, are where the action takes place.
Capillaries are so small that red blood cells must squeeze through in single file, occasionally even twisting themselves into odd shapes to make it. But in the second or so required for passage there is a whirlwind of activity. It's like
unloading a delivery van, then reloading it with items no longer wanted. The big thing to be unloaded, of course, is oxygen, and carbon dioxide from cellular combustion is the main waste product reloaded in its place.
But the variety of other merchandise delivered to the tissues is amazing. The shopping lists of individual tissue and organ cells are by no means all the same. One cell wants a trace of cobalt; others call for minerals, vitamins, hormones, glucose, fats, amino acids, or a simple drink of water. If John is exercising, tissue requirements for just about everything increase enormously. His skin will flush — indicating that capillaries are operating at full capacity. When he sleeps, cellular food requirements become minimal, and over 90 per cent of his capillaries close down.
John worries about his teeth, hair, lungs, heart; he is hardly aware of my existence. I am John's liver. When he thinks of me at all, he has no trouble visualizing me. I look like what I am supposed to look like — liver. The largest organ in his body, I weigh three pounds. Protected by ribs, I pretty well fill the upper right part of John's abdomen.
Despite my unexceptional appearance, I am the virtuoso among his organs. In complexity I shame those headline grabbers, the heart and lungs. I do upwards of 500 jobs, and if I fall down on any of the major ones, John had better start making funeral arrangements. I participate in virtually everything that John does....
A chemical company would have to build an enormous factory to do my simpler jobs. The harder ones it couldn't do at all. I produce over 1,000 different enzymes to handle my chemical conversions. John cuts his finger and might well bleed to death but for the clotting factors that I manufacture. I make antibodies that protect him from disease. The protein fragments (amino acids) made in the intestine from that steak he loves so much could be as deadly as cyanide if they ever got into his bloodstream. I "humanize" them — change them from amino acid to human protein. And if there is any surplus that his body doesn't need, I change it into urea and pass it to the kidneys for excretion....
Compared to me, other wonders of the universe pale into insignificance. I am a three-pound mushroom of grey and white tissue of gelatinous consistency. No computer exists that can duplicate all my myriad functions. My component parts are staggering in number: some 30,000 million neurons and five to ten
times that number of glial cells. And all this fitted into the crown of a size 7 hat. I am John's brain.
But I'm not just part of John, I am John — his personality, his reactions, his mental capacity. He thinks that he hears with his ears, tastes with his tongue, feels with his fingers. All these things happen inside me — ears, tongue and fingers merely gather information. I tell him when he is ill, when he is hungry; I govern his sex urge, his moods, every thing.
Even when he is asleep I continue to handle traffic that would swamp all the world's telephone exchanges. The amount of information flooding in on John from the outside is staggering. How can I cope with it all? I simply select what is important, and John ignores the rest..... I reside, of course, in a well-protected fortress. The skull is a quarter of an inch thick at the top, and even thicker at the base. I am bathed in a watery fluid that cushions me from shocks. A blood-brain barrier serves as gate-keeper, letting some things in, denying entrance to others. Thus, it welcomes the glucose I need, but blocks out bacteria and toxic substances....
A word about my architecture. Lift a piece of turf from a lawn and note the baffling intertwining of roots. I am something like that — multiplied by mil lions. Each of my 30,000 million nerve cells, or neurons, connects with others — some as many as 60,000 times.....
Extracts from / am John's Body, published by The Reader's Digest
The Ways of the body Remain Mysterious
More than sixty years after the publication of Alexis Carrel's book, the sense of wonder and mystery has not diminished. One might even say that it has increased. Today's knowledge about the human body is surely more precise in many ways than at the time when Alexis Carrel wrote. Yet this very precision makes most scientists only more aware than ever that we still know very little about the ways of the body, and today we know better than yesterday that we are very far from any comprehensive knowledge. Deepak Chopra, a leading American physician, originally from India, makes this point repeatedly in one of his latest books, under the title Quantum Healing. We present below a pas sage from a chapter of this book.
Counting the number of cells in the human body is no easier than counting the number of people in the world, but the accepted estimate is 50 trillion, or about 10,000 times the Earth's present population. Isolated and placed under a microscope, the various kinds of cells — heart, liver, brain, kidney, et cetera — look rather alike to the untrained eye. A cell is basically a bag, enclosed by an outer membrane, the cell wall, and filled with a mixture of water and swirling chemicals. At the centre of all but the red blood cells is a core, the nucleus, which safeguards the tightly twisted coils of DNA. If you hold a speck of liver tissue on your fingertip, it looks like calf's liver; you would be hard-pressed to discern that it is specifically human. Even a skilled geneticist would detect only a 2 percent difference between our DNA and a gorilla's. Of the liver cell's many functions, over five hundred at latest count, you would not have a clue simply by looking at it.
As clouded as the mind-body issue has become, one thing is indisputable: somehow human cells have evolved to a state of formidable intelligence. At any one time, the number of activities being coordinated in our bodies is quite literally infinite. Like the Earth's ecosystems, our physiology appears to operate in separate compartments that in fact are invisibly connected: we eat, breathe, talk, think, digest our food, fight off infections, purify our blood of toxins, renew our cells, discard wastes, and much more besides. Each of these activities weaves its way into the fabric of the whole. (Our ecology is more planet like than most people realize. Creatures roam our surface, as unmindful of our hugeness as we are of their minuteness. Colonies of mites, for example, spend their entire life cycle in our eyelashes.)
Within the body's vast array, the functions of any single cell — such as one of the 15 billion neurons in the brain — fill a good-sized medical text. The
volumes devoted to any one system of the body, such as the immune system or the nervous system, take up several shelves in a medical library.
The healing mechanism resides somewhere in this overall complexity, but it is elusive. There is no one organ of healing. How does the body know what to do when it is damaged, then? Medicine has no simple answer. Any one of the processes involved in healing a superficial cut — the clotting of the blood, for example — is incredibly complex, so much so that if the mechanism fails, as it does with haemophiliacs, advanced scientific medicine is at a loss to duplicate the impaired function. A doctor can prescribe drugs that replace the missing clotting factor in the blood, but these are temporary, artificial, and have numerous undesirable side effects. The body's perfect timing will be absent, as well as the superb coordination of a dozen related processes. By comparison, a man-made drug is a stranger in a land where everyone else is blood kin. It can never share the knowledge that everyone else was born with....
We have all been informed, doctors and public alike, about the body's wondrous intricacy. Yet we persist in thinking of the body in an obsolete mould, as basically matter, but with a smart technician inside who moves the matter around. This technician was once called a soul; now it tends to be demoted to a ghost inside the machine, but the same emphasis remains. Because we see and touch our bodies, carry their solid weight around with us, and bump into doors if we don't watch out, the reality of the body appears to be primarily material — such is the bias of our world.
But the bias has a huge blind spot in it. Despite the overwhelming superiority of the body's know-how, which scientists freely acknowledge, a minute amount of time and money is spent trying to grasp the living body as a whole, and for very good reason. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus made the famous remark, "You cannot step into a river in the same place twice," because the river is constantly being changed by new water rushing in. The same holds true for the body. All of us are much more like a river than anything frozen in time and space.
If you could see your body as it really is, you would never see it the same way twice. Ninety-eight percent of the atoms in your body were not there a year ago. The skeleton that seems so solid was not there three months ago. The configuration of the bone cells remains somewhat constant, but atoms of all kinds pass freely back and forth through the cell walls, and by that means you acquire a new skeleton every three months.
The skin is new every month. You have a new stomach lining every four days, with the actual surface cells that contact food being renewed every five minutes. The cells in the liver turn over very slowly, but new atoms still flow through them, like water in a river course, making a new liver every six
weeks. Even within the brain, whose cells are not replaced once they die, the content of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and so on is totally different today from a year ago.
It is as if you lived in a building whose bricks were systematically taken out and replaced every year. If you keep the same blueprint, then it will still look like the same building. But it won't be the same in actuality. The human body also stands there looking much the same from day to day, but through the processes of respiration, digestion, elimination, and so forth, it is constantly and ever in exchange with the rest of the world.
Certain atoms — carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen — pass through the body very quickly, being an essential part of the things we use up the fastest — food, air, and water. If it were up to only these four elements, we would be creating new bodies for ourselves literally every month. However, the pace of renewal is slowed by other elements that do not flow through us very rapidly. The calcium bound into our bones can take a whole year to replace itself — some authorities extend the time to several years. Iron, the component that makes red blood cells, is held on to quite tenaciously, being lost mainly through the sloughing of dead skin cells or the actual loss of blood.
Even though the rates of change may differ, change is always there. What I am calling "intelligence" takes on the role of guiding this change so that we do not collapse into a heap of bricks. That is one of the most obvious facts about the physiology, but intelligence is so changeable, so quick on the move — in other words, so alive — that medical textbooks devote almost no space to it at all.
To get an idea of how limited our current knowledge is, consider the structure of a neuron. The neurons that compose the brain and central nervous sys tem "talk" to one another across gaps called synapses. These gaps separate the tiny branchlike filaments, the dendrites, that grow at the ends of each nerve cell. Everyone possesses billions of these cells, divided between the brain and the central nervous system, and... each one is capable of growing dozens or even hundreds of dendrites (the total estimated at 100 million million), meaning that at any one time, the possible combinations of signals jumping across the synapses of the brain exceed the number of atoms in the known universe. The signals also communicate with one another at lightning speed. To read this sentence, your brain takes a few milliseconds to arrange a precise pattern of millions of signals, only to dissolve them instantly, never to be repeated again in exactly the same way.
In medical school, we were taught a simple model of how neurons communicate: an electrical charge forms on one side of the synapse, and when the
charge is large enough, it jumps like a spark across the gap to deliver a signal to another nerve cell. Assuming that this is the correct mechanism (in reality it isn't), the description we learned in our neurology textbook in 1966 told us next to nothing about how neurons act in real life; the book model makes sense only for a single nerve cell, isolated, stopped in time, and stripped of context. In truth, the action taking place at the gaps in the nervous system is like that of a cosmic computer reduced to a microcosmic scale. This awesome computer operates continuously, handles hundreds of programs at a time, deals in multiple billions of "bytes" of information every second, and, most miraculously of all, knows how to run itself.
Extracts from Deepak Chopra, M.D., Quantum Healing, ch.3,
(The Sculpture or the River). Bantam Books, New York 1989
A synapse or connection between nerve endings