The Body in Question

Apart from its obvious complexity, there is something else that is vaguely perplexing about the human body. This common apparatus predicating our existence bends so easily to our will that it jolts us to realize that it is a mere contraption, subject to the flaws and failures that characterize our world; that it escapes collapse daily is in itself a source of infinite wonder. As in the physical world, chronic organization also manifests itself in the body’s structure, and this partly accounts for the mystery of our daily survival. Still, this only leads us to ask another question: how did this arrangement come to be? In this book, Jonathan Miller elucidates some of the answers.

Part medical history and part scientific philosophy, The Body in Question links information from the vast pool of the author’s knowledge and combines them into a unified chronology of modern medicine. Its chief endowment to readers is not so much rote knowledge but a deeper understanding of how the body works, and how this understanding came to be acquired. Often punctuated by words like “paradoxically” and “ironically,” Miller’s text prompts further reflection on our understanding of the body by pointing out several contradictions that further complicate the matter. Looking at the various activities of the body, one cannot help but wonder: Why this process and not another? Why this ability and not that? By introducing the brain to the methods and processes of its own existence, Miller awakens in readers a fundamental curiosity about the human body. His descriptions of its unconscious everyday efforts to manage mini-catastrophes are nothing short of astonishing, all the more because it takes place within this shell we rarely give meaningful notice.

Aside from its combination of history, philosophy, and medicine, what separates The Body in Question from straightforward textbooks is the author’s ability to unravel the mysteries of the human body in a way that is undeniably intelligent but without an overt reliance on scientific jargon. Marked by the abundant use of metaphor, Miller’s flowing yet pragmatic prose makes his book stand out as both an informative text and a good read.

Science is not a blasphemy; the wilful rejection of its insights is. …one of the most effective ways of restoring and preserving man’s humanity is by acknowledging the extent to which he is a material mechanism.

Living in a body that acts so faithfully in obedience to his will, man has found it almost impossible to shake off the conviction that the changes of the physical universe are the outcome of mental processes like his own and that any alteration in the state of things is the expression of agency as opposed to causality; in short, that all events are actions.

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