The Limitations of Body as Machine

human body

Metaphors and the Body

Metaphor of Body as Machine

The long-established metaphor, body as a machine, a by-product of reductionism (the primary scientific method of inquiry used in the study of living systems) is losing its relevance in the face of advancing scientific knowledge.  Why should this matter to you and me?  It matters because according to medical anthropologists, Robbie Davis-Floyd and Gloria St. John, the cultural manner in which the body is defined determines how it is viewed and treated within the medical health care system.


Biomedicine and the Reductionist Method

Most of us were introduced to the reductionist method in our high school science classes.  In bio-medicine, this method involves the breaking down and dissecting of anatomical structures and physiological pathways into biochemical and structural components for analysis with the aim of developing more effective ways to intervene in the disease process.  While this approach has supported advancements in molecular biology, pharmacology, and surgical interventions, it is proving to be too limited in understanding and intervening in chronic illnesses as these tend to be whole-body-systems disorders.  More importantly, this perspective nearly discards what physiologist Dr. James Oschman calls “the single most important attribute” of every living organism:  it’s systemic interconnectedness.

Beyond the Metaphor

With chronic disease becoming epidemic and health care costs skyrocketing out of control, it behooves researcher and consumer alike to examine the  emerging evidence of contemporary models of the human body which have incorporated the principle of holism, the idea that the body must be studied as a whole interconnected system.  This series will explore the emerging idea of body as information system and discuss how this novel perspective can help you take charge of your health and wellness in order to avoid or reverse chronic disease.

How do you experience your body, as a machine that can have its parts reworked or replaced when needed or as a dynamic interconnected system? Do the two concepts mutually exclude each other?

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