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IMMUNITY IN NATURAL HISTORY HOLMES ROLSTON III* Battle Within? The worldview of an immunologist, it often seems, is that life is a microscopic war in a macroscopic world: "the battle within."1 "Every minute of every day wars rage within our bodies. The combatants are too tiny to see." "Besieged by a vast array of invisible enemies, the human body enlists a remarkably complex corps of internal bodyguards to battle the invaders" [1, pp. 702, 706] . The body is a citadel surrounded by infiltrating invaders. Innumerable hostile bacteria, viruses, and parasites lurk everywhere; they float in the air, infest the water, pollute our food, cover every surface we touch. Even the body's own cells can turn traitors, such as cancer cells. The imagery is vivid. But imagery needs philosophical analysis, especially imagery that colors worldviews, even more if this seems to have scientific sanction [2] . When scientists speak of ant wars, or selfish genes, or queen bees and their slaves, they borrow words from one domain of experience and transfer them to another. What about this "battle within"? Does it need to be set in a more comprehensive scientific, and philosophical, picture ? What is the place of immunity in natural history? Physicians are scientists, and if one sees the world as a physician of infectious diseases, the world is full of these tiny enemies. There is no doubt about the struggle for health versus disease: that is not metaphor but straight truth. Infectious diseases can reach epidemic proportions, killing as many people as does war. Orthomyxovirus, the influena virus, killed 20 million people in 1918, more than were killed in World War I [3, p. 620]. We forget how feared were the black death, smallpox, or diphtheria, polio, or cholera—before modern medicine won the battle against them. Malaria still affects 300 million persons worldwide, with a million deaths annually [4, p. 311]. Each person suffers from microbial and viral diseases; our bodies are constantly at work killing these killers. * Department of Philosophy, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. 'From the Nobel Conference XXVIII, "Immunity: The Battle Within," at which this paper was presented.© 1996 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/96/3903-0946$01 .00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 39, 3 ¦ Spring 1996 | 353 Still, the "battle within" might not be the whole truth, even from within immunology—and much less when the other sciences, such as evolutionary biology or ecology, are added. Another term usedjust as often in relation to immunology is "self": immunology has been called "the science of selfnonself discrimination" [3]. That concept also requires a closer look. Self-Identity Life involves organization, information, reproduction—impossible for an organism until there is an inside and an outside. The phenomenon of life is, almost by définition, a self separated from nonself, the setting of limits (de-fining, Latin definió). There must be some defining envelope. After that, an organism can take in nutrients from the environment and sequester them for its own uses. The boundary line demarcates the order contained and maintained within against entropy without, an order which, in prospect of the disorder of death, has to be reproduced. An immediate biochemical implication is that an organism can have invaders : things inside that do notbelong, nonself, other selves violating these limits. Life must control passage across the defining membrane. That is part of the bigger truth that life is constantly self-defense; there are all kinds ofthings and events outside that the somatic self must protect itself against: hot and cold, wet and dry, solar radiation, poisons, predators. Cells have to be repaired when damaged, and outsiders that get in have to be controlled or eliminated. Also, there can be insiders that no longer belong inside. So the body has to void or recycle dead cells, to program the death of cells no longer needed. Sometimes, insider cells get out of control (neoplasia ), and, lest these become tumors, they must be stopped. Immunologists think of this as "killing"; they also think of this as ordering the self. In a multicellular organism, such as a mammal, this becomes quite complex . Residing in a world with millions of species, making...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 353-372
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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