GOING TO THE GUTS
What I’m interested in -- and occasionally good at -- is looking at assumptions with new eyes. This is because I want to. What has made it an even more desirable practice is that with a search engine I can guide myself through FAR more material more quickly than I could in a library, even a big university library. So here goes.
I want to look at the “inner realm” of code signals sent to the brain for sorting and translating into action, even though the actions might be so small as the release of a few molecules from a small organ or the dilation of fluids in the tissues between the nose and the mouth. Sometimes these small “actions” on the part of the brain are signals of something much bigger or something that is in process, soon to appear, like an arousal of some sort. And they can trigger memory or outright re-experiencing. The “trigger” input may be so small as a puff of wind or the slight twist of an ankle when walking on an uneven surface.
Sympathetic/parasympathetic -- Autonomic
This is the nerve system entirely separate from the nerve systems serving the voluntary muscles that move arms and legs. It is a complex system that works as a give/take, compensating, complementing, constraining tension like so many systems in the body. Reading about it and figuring out what I’m reading will take a while because I’ll have to learn a new vocabulary: like “mesenteric splanchnic vasodilation” which means the wrappings around the internal organs that hold them in place against the inside of the back (mesentery are the sheets of tissue and splanchnic means organs) can vary in blood engorgement according to prompts from the autonomic nerve system. One can imagine that this is crucial to gut function, if only to keep them from getting displaced or twisted. It’s unclear what it has to do with things like whole-body blood pressure or food digestion.
Malfunction and infection in these materials could be deadly and painful. The wife of my former Unitarian minister died of cancer of this mesenteric splanchnic tissue. We hear about peritonitis, how hard it is to control and how deadly its consequences. This is only ONE of several functions of the autonomic nervous system, almost all of which are subconscious, hard to measure, subtle when detectable in outside phenomena.
Only recently have we learned how many small biota flourish inside of us, much of the population quite helpful. Little creatures live in our eyelashes, our belly buttons, the nail beds of our toes. Normally the body’s own systems accommodate or eliminate them, sometimes with genetically supported systems -- that is, adaptive mutations. But a change in environment can bring sudden awareness of hostile bacteria, fungus, and rickettsia -- to say nothing of the wild code of viruses. Then there are worms.
On the other hand, healthy fecal populations are so important that after the constant barrage of antibiotics modern medicine is so fond of, restoration may be in order -- even fecal transplants from someone else’s healthy guts, though most people prefer to eat a lot of yoghurt and there are pills that theoretically re-implant new immigrant populations.
It’s clear to me that emotion is the perceived consequences of autonomic responses. I’ll have to come back to this when I learn more about the autonomic system.
Empathy allows us to experience other people’s emotions, at least as we fancy them. We don’t approach the sonar-powered sharing of dolphins, but we do respond to people in grave danger or high on excitement or madly in love. Just how this works is mysterious, but it is clear that actors can do it. Even writers can paint a “word picture” that will do it. Learning the techniques of mimesis or narrative or image means working with this phenomenon. It is what distinguishes art as “expression” from art as “communication.” But it should be said that genuine and intense expression can hardly keep from triggering vicarious mirroring.
Management of fluids
Though we are aware that blood and lymph move around the body both inside and outside of the “tubing” and though one way we detect what the brain is doing is by using instruments to “see” vasodilation in various parts and systems, we still don’t know a lot about how fluids go in and out of cells, mostly a matter of plasmolysis -- movement across membranes -- I assume, but don’t know. Since my own body (esp. since I’m female) manages fluids in a rather faulty moon-ridden way (which I seem -- strangely -- to have inherited from my father), I’m very much aware of stress or fatigue making me turgid or deflated. On long retreat workshop nights I wondered about women whose faces became more defined when the hour was late and caffeine intake went up. Sometimes alcohol intake. Then dehydration revealed their facial bones. I have no idea what “we” know about all this stuff.
Are there other periods in history when people were so interested in the anus? Is it a product of our obsession with cleanliness (high retention enemas) or is it the eternal search for ecstasy? Is it about breaking taboos about shit or is it about penetration into someone else’s viscera? Is “fisting” just a recent invention, a method of torture, or an historical practice? What does it do to peristalsis if the rhythm is reversed? What happens to the biota when foreign objects push into their midst without going through the acid bath of the stomach that normally sterilizes food?
Lately there has been research about teeth and how their infection can affect the heart, soaking through tissues, I assume. The brain is even closer to teeth, of course.
Sound is an object -- a reality that previously has not struck our tympani through earbuds in such quantity, such strangeness, such unspoken meaning and pattern. What does it do to brain waves?
I suppose I could bring up the nasal membranes as access for drugs, but what about our highly suspect atmospheres, esp. in cities or around manufacturing or mineral resource extraction? At the same time, noses are the most exquisitely sensitive points on the body -- do nose rings create erotic twinges? We are so ambivalent about perfumes. For a while in the patchouli days the more aromas the better -- incense everywhere! Now all of a sudden there are people who are so allergic that church congregations ask their members not to wear perfume to worship services.
I’m almost to my self-imposed 1,000 word limit, but this is another vast subject. I’ll come back.
My friend with avascular necrosis has given me a new awareness of the ACTIVE role bones can play, more than simply structural, or factories of essential cells, or sources of sensation. One doesn’t think about “blissful” bones, but bone pain is among the worst. We don’t think about bones as constantly in process, recreating themselves according to the demands made on them. We think of HIV-AIDS as a blood disease, but it has been bone marrow transplants that have supplied what appears to be a cure.
I’m a person who lives in my head -- maybe too much. Maybe I should pay more attention to my guts.