Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Topologist's View of the Body

Perchlorate is an an interesting compound. It's found in air bags, some lubricants, mortars, and rocket fuel. It's also found in human breast milk.

Perchlorate is present in virtually all milk samples, the average concentration in breast milk is five times higher than in dairy milk....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., 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 butt 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.


We think of ourselves as separate from the environment, and that is partially true, at least at macroscopic level. Still, you must join in the global party of life, consuming bits and pieces put together by sunshine, or 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 our Western sensibilities balk at this sort of nonsense, the rest of our 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.


lucychili said...

our half baked notions
rising from this mortal coil.
like salty language

doyle said...

Dear lucychili,

(I could use a lesson in succinctness--I think I just got schooled.)

lucychili said...

nope. I use your stories like beaches and pick up shells.

momomom said...

I can't resist referring you to Peter Hartman's work on human breastmilk storage capacity (done with topography).


A pretty amusing way of explaining our human variations.

doyle said...

Dear momomom,

Your link made me titter. =)

momomom said...

I thought it might.