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Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Weird" science #1: Louis Pasteur

This post originally appeared on my personal blog. Ported to Forbidden Questions on 11/21/2011.

This is one of those posts I have been tied up in knots over because I have simply not had enough time to study it out to the final degree I want to. But I think I have gone far enough to share it with you so, if you are intrigued, you can study it far enough to feel comfortable yourself either to affirm or deny its veracity.

If you think I may be following a primrose path to error, please feel free to correct me!


I had always been led to believe that Louis Pasteur was a great person, worthy of great honors. After all, it is he who developed the germ theory that led to most of the tremendous advances in late 19th and early 20th century medicine and, of course, to the process that bears his name: pasteurization, "a process of gently heating foodstuffs like milks to kill these organisms without changing the flavor or nutritional value." I have even found him held out by many conservative Christians as a model of religious rectitude.

This is what I have been taught.

Except now I am finding that nearly everything I was taught about Pasteur's science and discoveries, not to mention the value of pasteurization, may be wrong.

More specifically, I'm learning, there is quite a number of historians who claim,
  • Pasteur didn't "discover" what is credited to his name. All of those "discoveries" were known before he came along. --It appears the case for this is quite strong. (See Chapter 1 of The Dream and Lie of Louis Pasteur for one source.)
    • Question, however: Could it be said that Pasteur "discovered" the germ theory in the same way that it can be said legitimately that Columbus "discovered" America (even though we have definitive evidence Columbus was not the first European to make it to the Americas and back)? No, Columbus was not first in the sense of absolutely no one having done it before. But, yes, he was first in the sense that it was only after Columbus went and returned that "America" came to be generally recognized for what it was. I.e., he was first in somewhat the same sense that George Washington was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." . . .

      My point: Is it possible that, while, as R. B. Pearson notes, it was proposed by many people even centuries before Pasteur that diseases are transferred by microscopic "seminaria contagionum" (Geronimo Fracastorio (1483-1553)) or "animalcula" (described in 1683 by Antonius van Leeuwenhoek) or "germs" (proposed in 1762 by M. A. Plenciz), the world really needed a Pasteur to popularize the concept and make it stick?
  • I lack the capacity to judge one way or another on this matter, but several credible sources suggest that bacteria are not so much the causes of disease as they are the consequences. Microorganisms are, as it were, the "cleanup crew." When a macroorganism is weak, the microorganisms will come in to put it out of its misery and/or digest (and, thus, remove) the diseased parts. They say that the germ theory of disease--the theory that germs cause disease--is ill-conceived.
It was/is this latter point, really, that has put much of my blog writing on hold over the last few weeks. I have had this post semi-written (up to the words "ill-conceived") for the last month. But/and I have not been able to get far enough into the underlying literature to feel satisfied about the truth or error of the claim.

So let me share some of the sources I have perused:

The Dream and Lie of Louis Pasteur. --That, actually, was my first introduction to this set of weird ideas. It focuses primarily upon Bechamp and Pasteur. I received the link from a friend who has bought into the theory that "the [physical] terrain [of the host body] is everything; the germ is nothing."

The Lost History of Medicine. A development of the terrain/germ dichotomy with lots of links.

. . . I would like to develop this more, but I think the development will come in subsequent posts. (Be glad! 1--I'm getting this stuff published. And, 2--maybe my posts will be shorter than they used to be when I would get into this kind of stuff!)

For those who think I have jumped off the deep end, that I would even "listen" to this kind of stuff, let me acknowledge that I am finding myself extremely skeptical about the claims. But I am intrigued that, even if (as I expect), the authors of these articles--and the books and articles that they reference--are mistaken in some fundamental ways, they are probably more right than conventional medical advocates are willing to acknowledge. Put another way: Conventional medicine has some insights (but claims far more knowledge and competency than it has a right to claim), and these possible "quacks" are onto some keen insights that most of us ought to know about and utilize to our benefit. At the same time, I expect, they also claim far too much for their theories than they have a right to claim. --Just for example, "The terrain is everything," I imagine, is way overblown. So, too, I'm sure, is "the germ is nothing." But it would be extremely valuable to notice the terrain, and pay attention to the terrain, and to work on the terrain--something that conventional medicine, by and large, refuses to do; and something that the U.S. government, through its subsidies, actively undermines (a subject we will return to in subsequent posts).

So. Onward!

I hope you'll join me as we see where this leads. . . .

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Object v. domain of study . . .

This post originally appeared on my personal blog. Ported to Forbidden Questions on 11/21/2011.

I just started reading Science Held Hostage: What's Wrong with Creation Science AND Evolutionism by Howard J Van Till, Davis A Young, and Clarence Menninga.

In the first few pages they make an interesting observation. Actually, they make the observation in their very first sentence, but it took a couple of pages before I understood its significance:
Although the entire physical universe may be the object of investigation by the natural sciences, not all of its attributes fall within the domain of scientific inquiry.

What does this mean?

The authors attempt to illustrate the distinction by suggesting how we might study a page in a book.

Suppose we were able to describe every aspect of the page from the perspective of a natural scientist. Suppose we analyzed its chemical and physical characteristics, the distribution of atoms, the specific locations of different compounds, the proportions and dimensions and spatial relations of all the physical components. . . .

At the end of such an analysis, would we have missed anything of significance?


No amount of scientific investigation--at least no amount of scientific inquiry of the type described here--could possibly reveal, 1) that the object of our study [what we--as observers--know is a page of the book] actually is intended to convey meaning, or 2) what that meaning really is.

And, thus, "to say that this page is nothing but a particular assembly of atoms and molecules, or to assert that the physical universe is 'all that is or ever was or ever will be' (as Carl Sagan does in Cosmos, p. 1) is to speak nonsense."

Frustrated! Need to change my methodology . . .

This post originally appeared on my personal blog. Ported to Forbidden Questions on 11/21/2011.

I keep reading books and articles and tell myself I need to blog what I'm reading and studying and thinking. I feel the need partially because I find I really "master" something when I am able adequately to explain it. But I rarely get around to blogging . . . perhaps because I keep wanting to ensure I've done a thorough job of hitting every fine point.

So I've decided I need to change my mentality. "Just get the basic points out on the blog. Let your readers get a glimpse of what you're thinking about and, if they are interested, let them do their own research. Give a few clues, maybe a few links, but don't worry about being completely thorough."

So that's what I hope to do . . . and hope, thereby, to break up the ice and the backlog of posts I've been wanting to write but have never gotten around to.


And thanks.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Self-healing DNA . . .

This post originally appeared on my personal blog. Ported to Forbidden Questions on 11/21/2011.

My friend Perry Marshall just sent me a link to his latest article titled The Mathematics of DNA.

I have to confess, I can't follow all the math. (Or, perhaps more accurately: I have been unwilling to invest the time to figure out exactly what he is saying when he speaks about the implications of certain ratios.)

But ignore the more technical aspects and--as long as he isn't blowing smoke--the article is filled with some very intriguing ideas, indeed!

I'll quote the introduction just to whet your appetite:
Imagine that someone gives you a mystery novel with an entire page ripped out.

And let’s suppose someone else comes up with a computer program that reconstructs the missing page, by assembling sentences and paragraphs lifted from other places in the book.

Imagine that this computer program does such a beautiful job that most people can’t tell the page was ever missing.

DNA does that.

In the 1940’s, the eminent scientist Barbara McClintock damaged parts of the DNA in corn maize. To her amazement, the plants could reconstruct the damaged section. They did so by copying other parts of the DNA strand, then pasting them into the damaged area. . . .

How does a tiny cell possibly know how to do that???

A French HIV researcher and computer scientist has now found part of the answer.
Check out The Mathematics of DNA.

And if you can find anything wrong with what Perry has written, you may be sure he (and I!) would appreciate hearing about it.