Thursday, December 11, 2008

A topologist's view of the body

Perchlorate is present in virtually all milk samples, the average concentration in breast milk is five times higher than in dairy milk. Although the number of available measurements are few at this point, for breast milk samples with a perchlorate content greater than 10 g/L, the iodide content is linearly correlated with the inverse of the perchlorate concentration with a r2 of >0.9 (n = 6). The presence of perchlorate in the milk lowers the iodide content and may impair thyroid development in infants. On the basis of limited available data, iodide levels in breast milk may be significantly lower than it was two decades ago. Recommended iodine intake by pregnant and lactating women may need to be revised upward.

Andrea B. Kirk et al., "Perchlorate and Iodide in Dairy and Breast Milk," Environ. Sci. Technol., web release date February 22, 2005

Ah, another environmental fountain of words. More sated Westerners, conquerors of the planet, seek to fight the good fight, to "protect" the environment, this soup we live in.

Maybe you're interested because your mother has breast cancer, or maybe you feel a little threatened by terpenes in your water. You're minding your own business, yet now you have to face some messy nonsense in this "environment,"

Swallow a long string. Keep feeding the string as it passes through your gullet. Eventually it will pass out your anus. You can tie the two ends, forming a nice loop. You are topologically related to a doughnut.

(Actually, given the holes in your nose leading to the pharynx, the holes in your nasolacrimal ducts leading to your nose, and the assorted other sorts of holes in your body, you are a bit more complex than a doughnut--we're closer to pretzels.)

It's easy enough to see one as a doughnut still separate from one's environment. Keep your mouth closed, your rectal tone tight, and you can maintain a sense of identity.


Think of a cell deep in your body. The only qualification is that it has to be alive. Let your mind meander to 3 centimeters inside your liver capsule, or maybe you prefer thinking about a kidney cell nestled deep in your back.

If it is alive, it respires--sugar combines with oxygen, heat and motion result. Life.

We think of ourselves as separate from the environment, and that is partially true, at least at the macroscopic level. Still, without joining in the global party of life, consuming bits and pieces of sunshine, you cease to be.

The surface area of your skin is about 2 square meters.

Your lungs? About 100 square meters.

Your gut? 300 square meters.

While your Western sensibilities balk at this sort of nonsense, the rest of your body wants to be exposed. 400 square meters of you wants to absorb air and sugars and proteins and water. You have giant sails of mucous membranes specialized in absorbing anything and everything around you.

Meanwhile, you spew off methane and carbon dioxide, urea and heat.

To say you live "in" the environment confuses the issue. Don't let your skin define you. Go with your gut.


Louise Maine said...

As long as people do not need to understand any of this, they do not need to feel connected in any way and miss some important connections of life. This is man's unfortunate predicament and legacy. Let me know if I am way off. Your writing is subtle. I unfortunately am very blunt.

doyle said...

Connecting the dots can lead to places we'd rather not know.

So we don't.

Most of us (and I'm first in line) would rather pretend mortality does not apply to us.