grip of mortality



Picture this...

A man holds a clenched fist before his mouth as he coughs, hunched over, face contorted into the action. His body expelling the toxins inside the trachea and bronchi, particles of dirt and dead cells caught in sticky phlegm. He pauses in his coughing fit; slowly his fist and posture relax, he sinks into the soft seat underneath him. A pang of gladness that he is again in control of himself.

What is distressing about the hacking cough of an ailing creature?

It is when we allow ourselves to empathise with suffering that we recall the helplessness of illness, remembering our own distress from times past. Sometimes our scenic world of elegant apparitions falls crashing to earth, tugged down by the leash of the body. Priorities change suddenly to the most basic of instincts, and the mind is wiped of its higher functions.

Feeling forlorn whilst lying in bed, sore over your body's betrayal, what a depressing feeling. Along with the inherent unpleasantness, experiences of personal illness are distressing in another, cognitive way too. Even after a full recovery we are left with the dull aching realisation of our own mortality.

Our bodies are often distant from their residing mind with its lofty intellect and long term ambitions. Yet however independent they seem, really they are totally dependent on each other. For all the pleasure that our flesh can deliver, from the sweet taste of fresh fruit, to the height of orgasm, for every hedonistic sensation there are as many notions suffering and pain. That which gives us life, energy and ecstasy can bring also give shackles and branding irons.

Understandably humans have been long interested in the relief of their visceral torments. Doctors are the traditional harborers of wellness; fundamentally their task is to ease the complaints of the body, and these are themselves manifested in the mind. Eradicating the cause of disease itself is not always an option, despite medicine's best efforts. Indeed some complaints cannot be remedied by any therapy, surgery or elixir.

In recent decades the tools available to many scientists and doctors have become vastly more effective and precise. However the revolution of health has been restricted to labs and clinics - most people live now as they used to before, just with the extra reassurance of modern therapy being there, should it be needed. Some progressive individuals are trying to take medicine further, by widening medicine's target zone to include previously disregarded ailments.

O ver the millennia medicine has been busy seeking to understand the intricacies of the human body, and knowledge has been accumulating. Currently many disciplines exist, each dedicated to uncovering the workings of and manipulating subtle bodily systems, and hence medicine has become a powerful tool. Many ambitious people have seen that the potential of medical knowledge is well beyond curing simple diseases. It is whispered in quiet discussions and shouted in all night raves - "What are the limits....... where can our tools take us?"

Medicinal chemicals and plant extracts are increasingly available. Many psychoactive substances are on sale in shops and on high street corners. The production and distribution of drugs and therapies is currently slaved to supply and demand. Despite the shortsighted attempts of governments and police to play nanny to the people's desire to self-medicate, the market is largely open.

With the power and range of pharmacological tools at our finger tips, the question is timidly being asked more and more often, "What can we achieve?". What a shaman or witch doctor knew was his duty, armed with an array of herbs and earthly substances, is again surfacing in the era of the clinic.

Human beings owe their individuality in the animal kingdom to the genetics that create the brain, bestowing the gift of extensive self-control. The higher lobes, the cerebral hemispheres give us a perceptive, and yet self-administrative, nature found in few other species. Perhaps as a race we can take another step out of the primal soup, by using our newest inventions in even newer ways. After shedding the cocoon of tradition we may unfurl the wings that every mind longs for.


"You cannot use butterfly language to communicate with caterpillars."




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