Beyond Cell Doctrine

Complexity Theory Informs Alternate Models of the Body for Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Abstract: Cell doctrine is the foundational paradigm of Euro-American medicine and biology. Even without stepping outside that tradition, one may imagine alternate models of the body such as a fluid model in which cells do not exist or a model wherein cells are described as overlapping fields of molecular organization in space and time. With a complexity analysis of cell biology, we find that the existence of cells as unitary entities, as things, is contingent on the level of scale at which the body is observed. Therefore, alternate models of the body may be conceived that are specific and appropriate to other levels of scale. These ideas suggest that some bodily phenomena, particularly from Asian traditions, which have previously resisted explanation from within the cell-based Euro-American tradition (e.g., acupuncture) may be productively investigated with one< or more of these other models. Additionally, the seemingly metaphorical concepts from Tibetan medicine of the coarse, energy, and subtle bodies may represent precise, though somewhat poetically expressed representations of the body at different levels of scale.

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2 Responses to Beyond Cell Doctrine

  1. Matt Faw says:

    Excellent, Neil, well said! There are many other metaphors for looking at the body, probably all incomplete by themselves, but so is cell doctrine. Processes, qi, awareness, relationship, interchange – these are metaphors that are harder to quantify, but which cannot be ignored. Like a hologram, if we pass light through the subject from various viewpoints / metaphors, we can have a representation that is much more three-dimensional.

    • neiltheise says:

      thanks matt! i would eliminate “probably” from your statement – definitely. see the paper on Biological Complementarity linked below, here on my blog. its unavoidable. and THAT is complementarity – any one view is incomplete, no view gives the complete view, the full view is the superposition of all these incomplete states…

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