This morning on the metro, I was listening to a stomach churning segment entitled “Dirt, Mircobes and the Immune System” on the Leonard Lopate Show with guest Dr. Joel Weinstock, chief of gastroenterology/heptology at Tufts University Medical Center. Weinstock was discussing “his research into how exposure to certain microbes may help us develop resistance to allergies and autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, asthma, and multiple sclerosis.” In particular, he explained how various living organisms, bacteria, worms and the like, live harmoniously within our bodies. Apparently, for example, a particular type of worm that was very common in our bodies at the turn of the past century, has now due to enhanced hygiene been largely eradicated to our detriment.
While most of this topic was unpleasant, I found Weinstock’s concluding remark that we as humans “are not creatures onto ourselves but colonies of organisms” ground breaking. Beside the fact that we have an obsession with the self and thinking of ourselves as unique and uniquely autonomous individuals, consider how this notion of not being a single entity but rather a colony of smaller entities (most of them kind of gross) ups the ante in the traditional conversation in metaphysics about the mind-body spectrum. It looks like the materialists and the Buddhists (who reject self outright) have the hands to beat.
Maybe no man is an island after all . . . he’s an archipelago.