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Excerpt from The Myth of Human Supremacy

Capillaries (p. 138)

From chapter "Wonder"

The heart disease also has me thinking about teleology, and how in this culture only human-created function counts as true function, which really means that only consciously-created function counts as true function, since our bodies aren’t considered “human,” but only animal matter; our minds are what’s important.

Here’s why I’m thinking about this. After the stress test, I went to see a cardiologist (and used my sparkly new insurance card; how cool is that to walk into a hospital, hand a receptionist a piece of plastic that is not a credit card, and get to have someone help you to be healthy?). He explained to me that we needed to do more tests, but preliminary indications were that one of the arteries into my heart is partially clogged. This means I’m getting insufficient blood flow to my heart, which deprives my heart of oxygen. This causes many problems, including the pain and breathlessness. Oh, did I forget to tell you I was breathless? I tried toforget that symptom as well, even as it was happening. . . . Not that we’ve ever seen anyone attempt to forget any symptoms on a larger, ecological scale . . .

A while later I asked him, why, if the problem was my heart, did taking the heartburn medicine seem to help? I went from debilitating chest pain as I was gasping for breath—and yes, I should have gone to the emergency room, but many of us don’t always respond appropriately to emergencies and instead hope the crises go away on their own, not, once again, that we’ve ever seen anyone ignore crises on a larger scale either— all the way down to reasonably serious discomfort and a mere shortness of breath.

He said, “It wasn’t the heartburn medicine. The improvement came because your body performed its own bypass surgery.”

What did he just say?

“It sensed you weren’t getting enough oxygen, so it grew new capillaries to go around the clog to supply oxygen to your heart.”

I couldn’t keep from exclaiming, “Just like plants know where to grow limbs and roots!”

I don’t think he heard me. Or maybe he was just polite enough to pretend. In any case, he said, “It’s not all good news, though, since sometimes these capillaries aren’t stable or strong enough to not blow out. But they’re certainly the body working to repair itself.”

“Teleology!” I said.

Actually, no I didn’t. This was my first meeting with this doctor, and I didn’t want him to think I was crazy. If it would have been my third or fourth visit, no problem.

Think about it: how do the capillaries decide where to grow? Who makes those decisions?

Why is it that when humans consciously conduct heart bypass surgery, we perceive it as miraculous and a sign of our superiority as a species, but when our bodies do it without our minds’ conscious intervention, we don’t see this as a sign of superior intellect on the parts of our bodies?

And why did I just identify with my mind and not my body?

It all comes back to that belief that only human functionality is true functionality. And in this and many other cases, “human” doesn’t include even our own bodies.