Archive for May, 2013
The tower was the only part of Montaigne’s chateau to survive fire. On the ground floor is a beautiful and simple little chapel, with a blue ceiling studded with stars. Upstairs is his library where he wrote his essays, a lovely, simple room which was furnished with a large curved bookcase (sadly, long since gone)
I loved this visit. What an amazing thing that one man could sit here almost 500 years ago and try to get to know himself through writing, and still we read him and can be astonished at how relevant his thoughts are to us now.
I bought a little book in a bookshop in Agen, “Un été avec Montaigne”, which captured some of his key thoughts as “take time to live (preceding the “slow movement” by centuries), follow nature, enjoy the present moment, and don’t rush into anything”
Come and visit his place now….
Our blood vessels are a hugely important part of our bodies. I suspect most of us think of our blood vessels (arteries, veins, capillaries) as a kind of complex tubing. To the naked eye, blood vessels certainly look like tubes, or pipes, and their key function seems to be to provide channels to move the blood around our bodies.
But let’s look a little closer. Lining these vessels, on the inside, is a very, very thin layer called the endothelium. It is only a few nanometers thick (I know. It’s not actually easy to visualise something that thin). This is a fascinating, living, constantly changing tissue.
To fight infections, the body has to get specialised cells, leukocytes, to the right place. The endothelium co-operates with these cells by allowing them to pierce holes in it so they can pass through to the target area. However, a lining with holes in it would be a disaster for health, so the endothelium has to repair itself immediately. Researchers continue to learn just how it does this.
It’s now been discovered that the healing response involves an interplay of quite astounding behaviours and abilities. The whole process can be observed using electron microscopes which show how a leukocyte can pierce the endothelium, and over a ten minute period up to seven leukocytes can pass through the opening before it is completely sealed up.
The healing of the holes involves a change in the cells which make up the endothelium. In response to a loss of tension in the wall, the cells grow tiny little foot-like structures, lamellipodia, and actually move towards the hole to seal it up. The whole process requires the production of proteins which produce “reactive oxygen species” (ROS), such as hydrogen peroxide.
ROS chemicals have a bad name. High levels of ROS seriously damage cells, and are implicated in a wide range of problems, from heart disease to cancer and even aging. However, in much smaller amounts, they are the key to body defences and healing. This phenomenon is an example of hormesis where a small amount of something has an opposite effect to a large amount of the same thing. The large amount is damaging, whilst the small amount is healing.
I don’t know about you, but I find it exciting and astonishing to think of all this activity going on inside me body! All these incredible, responsive, detailed healing systems involving tissues which are made of individual cells which can grow feet and move, to amazingly complex feedback systems controlling the production and removal of an enormous range of chemicals, getting just what’s needed to the right place at the right time.
I don’t really understand why the model of a human body as a machine is so popular – it’s so wrong! We are a complex living community of cells who are in constant communication with each other to mutually support and enhance their existence.
This is what integration looks like.
This is what a complex adaptive system looks like.
A living community.
I took this photo a few weeks back and the image keeps popping back into my head.
It’s amazing for a number of reasons. First of all it looks as if the rock has been virtually split in two by a single blow. But not in the more usual way. If a rock is split in two the cut is usually narrow, as if done by a knife, but look how wide this cut is! It’s almost as if its been done by some giant axe. Secondly, I’m pretty sure this wound in the rock has been inflicted by water, and isn’t that in itself, incredible?
That water has the power to cleave a rock.
Well, we know it does. But look again. Where is the water? It is rushing, powerfully, past, right NEXT TO the rock!
So, what happened here? Did the water split this rock apart then veer aside to thunder down to the side of it? And how long did this take to happen? A moment? A year? An aeon?
Before I go, one more thing keeps me coming back to this image. It’s a kind of symmetry. There’s an echo, a shadow, a fractal, or something here. The flowing water and the wounded rock……
Life’s like this. In so many ways.