Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

Not even bones are mechanisms

Certainly there are reasonable analogies between, say, our bones and joints on the one hand and mechanisms such as levers and ball joints on the other. Such analogies can be multiplied many times over throughout the human body. But to avoid falsehood it is necessary to add that these are only approximations.

Bones and joints are not in fact mechanisms. Bones, for example, are continually undergoing an exchange of substances with their environment, and even after the main period of our development is past, they are still being shaped and re-shaped by their use or disuse and by the boundless range of other bodily processes with which they are interwoven. Astronauts on long missions in space lose significant bone mass, density, and strength (Keyak 2009); lions raised in zoos have a bone structure differing from that of lions raised in the wild (Holdrege 1998). It’s certainly true that mechanisms such as ball joints, levers, and cog wheels also suffer change β€” for example, through wear and tear. But, unlike bones, such mechanisms are not continually re-shaped through the seamless integration of their internal processes with those acting from without. Gears and levers are not maintaining themselves and being maintained in anything like the way an internal organ is.

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