Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Truth of Beauty and Our Health

I read an article yesterday called "The Truth of Beauty: Educating the Moral Imagination".  It was written by Benjamin G. Lockerd and gave me lots to think about.  Particularly,  I spent a great deal of time pondering this excerpt:

St. Thomas Aquinas similarly argued that beautiful things have integrity, an integration of separate parts, as well as proportion and harmony (which seems to me to be another word for integrity or wholeness, since harmony is a resolution of different elements). Aquinas also points out that the true experience of beauty is not only sensory but intellectual—that it is a kind of knowing. Perhaps he was the first to make this distinction between beauty, which has this cognitive element interfused with sensory experience, and simple physical pleasure, which is exclusively sensory. This is another way of saying that beauty has to do with truth, not just with entertainment. St. Thomas wisely admits, however, that the term “beauty” is difficult to define and has different senses when applied to different things.

What Christianity added to the ideas of the ancient philosophers on this topic was the assurance that God had created the universe in such a way that it was inherently meaningful. According to the Christian view, everything in the world is a creature of God and a reflection of one part of His infinite goodness. The universe itself is the ultimate work of art, exhibiting to an astonishing degree that integration of parts within the whole. Thus the beautiful orderliness of the world is itself a reflection of God and a proof of His existence.

This excerpt stood out for me because I had been thinking about how the brain is affected by seemingly unrelated parts of the body.  I related it to things I have been reading about circumcision and gut bacteria.  In the case of circumcision, I read about MRI results of a baby boy who was circumcised.  The tests were run before the circumcision, during it, and afterwards:  

A neurologist who saw the results postulated that the data indicated that circumcision affected most intensely the portions of the victim's brain associated with reasoning, perception and emotions. Follow up tests on the infant one day, one week and one month after the surgery indicated that the child's brain never returned to its baseline configuration. In other words, the evidence generated by this research indicated that the brain of the circumcised infant was permanently changed by the surgery.

In the case of the gut bacteria, I listened to a talk on NPR about research conducted on rats and probiotics.  A control group was fed the standard rat chow for a period of time, then the individual rats were each dropped into water.  Each rat chow rat swam for five minutes and then gave up.  Another group was fed a probiotic-laced broth.  When they were dropped into the bucket, they kept swimming and did not give up.  The scientists removed them from the water after seven minutes, I believe, still swimming vigorously.  Tests were done on both groups to determine the level of stress hormones that were released during the rats' time in the water.  The rat chow rats had high levels of stress.  The probiotic rats did not.  Their brains had released GABA, a relaxing neurotransmitter.  So then the scientists cut the vagus nerve on the probiotic rats and repeated the test.  They swam for five minutes and gave up and had high levels of stress hormones, just like the rat chow rats.  Of course, this research was on rats, not humans, but my own experience with healing the gut and taking probiotics and GABA leads me to believe the same would be true in humans.

Clearly, there is a wholeness, an integrity, to our bodies that has not been being considered by standard Western medicine.  We are wonderfully and fearfully made.  Our bodies are beautiful, in the image of our Creator, and we cannot know the truth of them without considering the body as a functioning whole.  Modern medicine is all about specialties--looking at our bodies as a jumble of parts.  That's why modern medicine has been such a failure.  It denies the beautiful and the true.  It denies God's role in our creation and deifies "Science" instead.  We need to recover a truly Catholic idea of medicine.  

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