- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (January 30, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679746749
- ISBN-13: 978-0679746744
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 76 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine Paperback – January 30, 1996
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Is our tendency to "fix" our bodies with medicine keeping them from working exactly as they're supposed to? Two pioneers of the emerging science of Darwinian medicine argue that illness is part and parcel of the evolutionary system and as such, may be helping us to evolve towards better adaptation to our environment.
"By bringing the evolutionary vision systematically into one of the last unconquered provinces, Nesse and Williams have devised not only means for the improvement of medicine but fundamental new insights into the human condition."--Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University
"In moving the focus from 'how' to 'why' questions, Nesse and Williams introduce readers to a new way of thinking about illness, one that promises to be of increasing interest as...our culture turns toward evolutionary explanations for human predicaments."--Peter D. Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac
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At first glance, this quote from WHY WE GET SICK wouldn't seem to be relevant to the topic. But since the hypothesis of the book is that evolution and natural selection govern the senescence of aging and the physiological responses to diseases and mortally competitive environments, the fact that the gaudier frog has evolved with potent internal poisons that (should) signal "danger" to any potential predator makes the connection vis-a-vis both the amphibian's toxin and the starving hiker whose internal defense mechanisms may at least cause vomiting and diarrhea if frog's legs make it onto the dinner menu.
As authors Randolph Nesse and George Williams summarize:
"First, there are genes that make us vulnerable to disease ... Most deleterious genetic effects ... are actively maintained by selection because they have unappreciated benefits that outweigh their costs ... Second, disease results from exposure to novel factors that were not present in the environment in which we evolved ... Third, disease results from design compromises, such as upright posture with its associated back problems ... Fourth, ... natural selection ... works just as hard for pathogens trying to eat us and the organisms we want to eat. In conflicts with these organisms, as in baseball, you can't win 'em all. Finally, disease results from unfortunate historical legacies ... the human body must function well, with no chance to go back and start afresh ... Susceptibility to disease ... cannot be eliminated by any duration of natural selection, for it is the very power of natural selection that created them."
Under the umbrella of natural selection, the authors include everything from the obvious and non-arguable, such as fever as a mechanism to kill invading pathogens with heat, to the less obvious and perhaps debatable, such as the instinctive desire of small children to remained unweaned from mother's breast, which serves to prolong lactation and ensures that Mom won't become pregnant with a potential rival. Other examples fall into the category, Gee, Why Didn't I Think of That, including the morning sickness of pregnancy, which serves to prevent Mom from ingesting toxins during that vulnerable period when the unborn child is experiencing peak organ formation, and the causative agent of gout, uric acid, the build-up of which also protects the body from the aging effects of oxidative damage. Then there's cancer, which wouldn't be a problem had we not tissue cells that grow and regenerate. And did you know that premature ejaculation in the male is ostensibly selective, in an evolutionary sense, for those men that can get the gene transfer job done, so to speak, and then flee before the female's alpha male partner shows up to brain the interloper with a knotty pine cudgel?
Nesse and Williams lucidly present an unconventional paradigm of medicine, a different perspective from which to view disease and aging, that's only accasionally preachy. They rue the fact that it's not part of the mainstream, and argue for its inclusion in the curriculum of the country's medical schools. They fail to mention what I think is the more practical route to widespread acceptance, i.e. when it can make the medical industry lots of money.
Hey honey! How about some frog legs for dinner? I see a bright green one with yellow and red speckles perched in the carrotwood out back!
Succinct and easy to understand. If you want to think and act, to take things into your own hands, and all this science-based not one of these idiotic fake books by swindlers who propose weird solutions for the gullible. This is a book for someone who actually wants to think.
It is endorsed by Professor Robert Ornstein, a giant of deep thinking about the brain and the body relationship, about consciousness, about who we are, what how we think and what we are aware of from the myriad od aspects of the universe.
It explains the beneficial effects, among others, of fever, vomiting, low iron levels, pain, cough, diarrhea, fear, anxiety or panic.
The basis of the book is Darwin's theory of natural selection which explains the functional design of all organisms. Natural selection involves no plan, no goal, no direction, only `selfish genes' (R. Dawkins). Survival of the latter depends on their reproductive success, not on perfect design, health or (sexual) satisfaction. The role of chance ensures that the future course of evolution is unpredictable.
The authors see six categories of evolutionary explanations of diseases: defenses (ex. fever, emotions); infections (ex. by bacteria); novel environments (ex. artificial light, agriculture instead of hunting-gathering); genes (ex. mutations); design compromises (ex. walking upright predisposes man to back problems); evolutionary legacies (ex. food passes through a tube in front of our windpipe).
The book contains also a serious warning: New breeds of disease-resistant plants should be treated very cautiously.
Why has, until now, the medical profession not taken advantage of the help from evolutionary biology? Opposition to the idea of evolution (ex. by religion) has minimized in general education the impact of Darwin's contribution to the understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.
This book is a must read for all those who want to understand who we really are and how and why we live.