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TRIUMPH OF THE TRIVIAL WILLIAM[J. M. HRUSHESKY* Inertia, dualism, linearity, and reductionism are deeply ingrained habits of thinking, genetically and epigenetically selected endogenous properties of mind, which have obstructed science since its inception. These tyrannies of human nature have resulted in an apparently inevitable success of incrementalism over revolution, hierarchy over matricity, serialism over parallelism and integration. The mental comfort derived from these triumphs of limitation does not excuse scientists from the central task ofliberating their thinking and, thereby, science from the constricting bonds woven by these four massive chains, conspiring daily to deify the trivial and demonize the novel. The prejudicial orthodoxy ofestablishment science faithfully reflects these four horsemen of apocalyptic human limitation. Inertia The scientist's primary commitment is to change, yet one fundamental attribute of the nature of both physical and animate reality is profound resistance to change, resistance with every atom, joule, and facilitated neurologic pathway. The mysterious concept of inertia, a primary property of existence, described by many and understood fully by none, places the scientist on the horns of a ferocious dilemma. The physical concept demonstrates that great energy is required to change a state of motion. The analogous inertia of idea is as much responsible for the triumph of the trivial as any other human characteristic. Almost all members of the scientific community and virtually all members of the public do not recognize this inertia as the threat that it truly is. We picture ourselves as flexible and accepting of new ways of thinking. This delusion is possible only because inertia is so powerful that it suppresses all but a very few genuinely novel ideas per century and disguises trivial variations upon established themes in "the emperor's new clothes" of apparent novelty. *Stratton VA Medical Center, 113 Holland Avenue, Albany, NY 12208. I would like to thank several colleagues for reading and improving this essay. Some of these include: Michael Baum, W.D. (Gus) Russell-Hunter, Richard Strohman, Ralph Estling, Kilmer McCuIIy, BJ. Kennedy, Jim Higgins, Dan Von Hoff and Bob Wittes.© 1998 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/98/4003-1064$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 41, 3 ¦ Spring 1998 341 The 1300 years between Galen and Harvey allowed the emergence and persistence ofno new idea. Harvey's accurate description of the circulation of the blood, undercutting and ultimately refuting the totality of Galenic dogma, brought him suffering, ostracism, loss of his private practice and death in penury. There have been not many more than three novel ideas during the past century and a half to serve as the foundation for modern biomedicine. These three, which somehow survived the crushing force of inertia, are, in one man's order of their general power and beauty: natural selection, genetics, and the germ theory of disease. Darwin Natural selection demonstrates how processes and subprocesses are interactively linked: how interactive relationships of these component processes result in a rich array of robust solutions to constantly, periodically and episodically changing circumstance. Natural selection helps explain the development of the neurological capacities to perceive, to remember, and to reason. It illuminates how immune networks interact with the environment and with one another to protect us from a virtual sea ofpotentially lethal microbiotic invasions. Natural selection is equally the fundamental idea behind evolution and combinatorial chemistry. In this regard, natural selection is as relevant to understanding and overcoming drug resistance as it is to appreciating biological diversity. It is equi-relevant across ecological dimensions from the subatomic to universal. Mendel The essence of genetics—that there are detailed, heritable, physical plans within each organism responsible for many, if not most, of its characteristics —is a second cornerstone. Mendel's formalization and codification of ancient observations of plant breeding, animal husbandry, and tribal culture and taboo leads in an unbroken line through Haldane and McCHntock ,Jacob and Monod, Watson and Crick, to the Human Genome Project of today and the genetic testing and somatic gene therapy of tomorrow— and to the inevitable germ line manipulations that will follow. Minor and less minor technical variations on the theme of smooth and wrinkled peas have been trumpeted endlessly to the point where even...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 341-348
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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