Theoretical Anatomy - Part 1
A detour from mathematics
For those of you who are only interested in mathematical thinking, ignore this article! For everybody else, the ideas in this series came up when fellow ThinQ member Mohanan and I were talking about poop while out for dinner in 2016. We were scolded for it by our fellow diners who, for some reason, don’t like discussing poop while eating - weirdos!
This will probably turn out to be a very long series of articles. So please sign up for email updates to the blog and share this and other pieces with those you think may be interested.
Near where Sonhlagot currently is, there lived a doctor called Crivsola. The year was 5427 BC. She had grown slightly concerned about the type of medicine she was doing - out of the twenty patients she had seen in the past year, fifteen had died, including one who had just come in with a slight bruise. Was she doing something wrong? All she was doing was what she had been taught - giving her patients snake venom and putting hundreds of leeches all over their bodies. Why were they dying?
She asked Hartrazu, a doctor friend, why they were following these practices. He said that these were the teachings of Sudgara, an old man with a long beard who everybody loved. Crivsola asked how he came up with these practices. Hartrazu told her that these ideas came to Sudgara in a dream. Crivsola was confused. She thought that these ideas were based on an understanding of how the human body worked and not the ravings of an old man. So, she decided to do something about it.
She realized that before she could figure out how best to treat people, she should try to understand how the human body works. However, there was a snag - the country she lived in had a ban on cutting people open even when they were dead. Crivsola always abided by the law, so she decided to figure out how the human body worked without cutting it open. All she was allowed to do was to observe humans and do some non-invasive experiments.
What Crivsola would do is what Einstein described in the book ‘The Evolution of Physics.’ Einstein, discussing theoretical science, gives the analogy of a clock attached to a wall. You cannot see what the mechanism of the clock is. All you can see is how the dials move, and maybe you can move the dials yourself. Using that information, you have to make guesses on the clock's mechanism and figure out ways to test those guesses.
Crivsola decided that she would assume as little as possible about the human body and try to figure things out independently. She would try to act like an alien from another planet who had never seen humans before and was trying to figure out how their bodies worked. Crivsola was eating lunch at the time. So, the obvious place to start was with food. She wrote down the following:
Observation 1 (Ob 1): Humans put objects into their mouth, mash those objects using their teeth, and then the object disappears, seemingly into the body.
Where were the objects going? She thought of two possible explanations. The first was that the entire body was hollow and that food was going to the feet. The other was that food was falling into a sack. Crivsola was an outstanding artist. Her artwork had gotten plaudits from everybody who saw it. So, she decided to draw the two models on the wall of her cave:
Given Crivsola’s experience of being a human, she knew that neither of these two models was complete. However, she decided that the first step she would take would be to look for observations that would allow her to choose between these two models. She would try to find which of these models was closer to the mechanism of the human body and then add in more complexity.
The strategy which Crivsola adopted is something that many theoretical scientists use. Rather than starting with a large amount of complexity, they begin with a small number of observations that call for an explanation. Then, they try to come up with alternative models. Adding in more observations serves two purposes: helping choose between the models and adding more complexity to the models.
Try to come up with observations that allow you to choose between these two models and then read Part 2. I promise that the following few parts of this series will involve an in-depth discussion of poop and other human excretions. I apologize for not discussing these things in this first article.