Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by distinguished biologist, Dr. Graham Bell, who gave a stimulating look into the world of biodiversity. His talk engaged the public to think about the role of biodiversity in the overall ecology of humanity.
It got me thinking about how his incredible research achievements relate to health. While biodiversity is an honoured science and is continually on the minds of Canadians and others worldwide, our health seldom can be linked to the work and conclusions.
It may be that there is something missing.
Our health is directly influenced by two major factors: genetics and the environment. The problem is that until recently, the two apparently have wanted to be independent of one another as scientific studies. Biodiversity and other environmental sciences tend to focus more on ’cause and effect’ rather than symbiosis. In turn, geneticist have become more reductionist in their study of the human genome without giving much room for environmental stressors, a major factor in the genetic evolution of ‘lower creatures’. Yet over the last few years, the links between the two have increased and many have now started to admit that the two must be thought of as co-dependent.
There have been a few new branches of science which try to focus on this link, including epigenetics, which focuses on the impact of genetic change by factors other than normal mutation events. However, epigenetics has its limitations in the grand scope of the environment and in particular, biodiversity. After all, humans are a specialized science due in part to the belief that we are separate from or above the many facets of nature. Of course, watching shows such as “Survivorman” or “Man vs. Wild” will easily show just how fragile humans are as a species and the dependence on the environment.
So, as I sat there, listening to the needs of biodiversity and the apparent lack of an applied link to health and medicine. I thought about how we could make that link. How could we study our influence on the environment and how the environment influences us on genetic, physiochemical, immunological and homeostatic levels. Or, more succinctly:
What is the best way to study humans in the environment and the environment in humans?
And the name came to me: Corporeal Ecology.
I asked Dr. Bell about the concept of ‘corporeal ecology’ and the definition of the term: how understanding the ecology outside our corporeality (i.e. our bodies) influences the ecology on the inside.
His answer was inspiring as it brought humanity down to the level of nature and immersed us in the innumerable ecological webs that exist. Moreover, it opened up the possibility that our health is in itself a web and that we can expand that web to the outside environment to bring a more robust set of hypotheses, objectives and experiments. It also opened up the idea that human science and non-human science are not exclusive of one another and that they should be merged together.
I’ve since pitched the idea around and it’s very interesting how positive the response has been. I’ve heard from parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations and individuals alike wanting to learn more and find a way to increase the presence of this scientific branch.
However, I’m not entirely convinced that corporeal ecology would be anything more than just another branch of unfundable science doomed to the fringes of the research community. Is it really worth developing further or would a treatise end up being another dust collector on a library shelf?
Which is why I would like to ask the public a question that may help me decide whether or not to develop this concept further.
Do you feel your life would be enriched knowing the complete spectrum of our interaction with our environment both on the outside and on the inside?
I would love to hear your thoughts.