Fall 2014

The Healthy and the Holy

D. C. Schindler

The contemporary mind has difficulty conceiving the question of “health” as being anything other than a scientific or medical question: an organism, we believe, is made up of smaller parts— “organs”—which function together to produce the various activities we associate with life. This functioning, in turn, is itself the result of the coordination of the even smaller parts that make up the organ, each of which operates in accordance with its mechanical or chemical properties in obedience to the laws of nature. If there is some defect in those properties, or some foreign intrusion into the operation, which causes the functioning to break down or go astray, we say that the organism is unhealthy. We thus call on the doctor as the appropriate one to address the problem precisely because he is a technician of sorts: the doctor has studied in depth the complex composition of the organs and the even more complex cooperation of their functioning in the working of the various living systems, and he has been trained in the methods of chemically or mechanically manipulating the parts to restore them to their proper functions. The doctor, in turn, depends on the research scientist and the specialist, whose work consists not directly in the aim of healing particular organisms, but more proximately in the careful analysis of the elements in order to better figure out “how things work.” The governing assumption, here, is that we come to a more complete understanding of the whole the more precisely we grasp the parts that make it up and their various interactive systems. If we can shed some light in turn on the parts of even those parts, we have gone one step further in our understanding of the organism. And so on.



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