My notes taken from the book The Second Brain, by Michael D. Gershon, which concerns the enteric nervous system and the mind-gut connection.
“We all experience situations in which our brains cause our bowels to go into overdrive. But in fact, messages departing the gut outnumber the opposing traffic on the order of about nine to one.” Michael D. Gershon, M.D.
Published in 1998, The Second Brain by Michael Gershon addresses an important and neglected subject within the field biology, and which carries especial significance to medical theory and practice. This subject is the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) – the nervous system of the bowel – and the complex role that it plays in the body. In fact, the ENS displays a complexity of functioning akin to that of the brain—hence “the second brain”. Throughout the book, Gershon also reveals how the second (or “lower”) brain has been overshadowed by the first (or “higher”) brain within the science and medical professions, in matters of theory, research, and medical treatment; and his book represents a most substantial effort to redress the balance. Most significantly, Gershon highlights the fact that gut problems are routinely blamed on the brain; that is, on neuroticism of one kind or another—when it has for long been scientifically established that the gut itself – which is, “with respect to intestinal difficulties, right at ground zero” – perfectly capable of causing “enteric havoc” independently of the brain. Indeed, the independent functioningof the gut is stressed throughout this work, illustrated by references to scientific experiments and biological knowledge. Although Gershon – who was part-founder of the new medical field called neurogastroenterology – has effectively raised the scientific and medical profile of the enteric nervous system from underserved obscurity, his work still remains both highly relevant and insightful today with regards to the personal and medical implications of a malfunctioning gut.
Over the last century, general discourse concerning the topic of ‘free will’ has become increasingly more pronounced in Western culture—a trend that reflects the rapid development of societal complexity during this period: for especially since the postmodern era, the organisational phenomena of bureaucracy, specialisation, and compartmentalisation have intensified the diffusion not only of responsibility but also of knowledge. Concomitantly, scientific theory has supplanted philosophy as the locus of epistemology, producing theoretical phenomena such as relativity and quantum mechanics and instilling them into the foundation of Western ideology. Effectively, such theories have undermined not just traditional knowledge and wisdom but the very basis for their acquisition, i.e. the subjective perception of an objective reality. In concert, postmodern developments have thus created a culture of disintegrating knowledge and implicit indeterminacy, wherein matters both philosophical and practical are deemed – tacitly more so than explicitly – to be fundamentally uncertain. Crucially, this ideological domination includes the dimension of institutional contradiction; as in, for example, the periodical turnover of scientific axioms, many of which are treated as dogma until they have been deemed falsified and replaced by new axiomatic ‘truths’. Within this culture of impenetrable systemisation and philosophical confusion, the question of free will has arisen to prominence: For at least the last half-century, Western culture has been affirming an inherent inability to determine anything at all, let alone an ideology that is clear, consistent, and stable. Adversely, it has instilled a societal paradigm of reactionary measures against the flux of indeterminable existence, which thus represents the postmodern ideology of Western culture—an ideological inversion of Ideology.