We act as though we own and rule our bodies, but really we’re more primus inter pares, the figurehead at the centre of a whole living organism, the vast majority of which operates for our whole life without our active input. Our body changes, grows, develops, mostly in ways that are beyond our conscious control. Oh, sure, we can try to control the outcome, but we can do so very little to change the process. If we eat too much of the wrong kind of food, for instance, we’ll put on weight. We can stop ourselves from getting bigger by changing our diet, eating less or taking more exercise, but we can’t change the unbreakable equation that too many calories in mean that we store the extra as fat. We have no thermostat on our metabolism.
It’s as if the boss of Toyota had no way to change the way his factories produce cars and was still forced to operate a production line set up in the 1950’s. Oh, sure, he could change the type of steel and paint that’s used, he could employ more workers and set up more factories, he could change the working hours so that he’s producing round the clock, but at the end of the day, the changes he could make would strictly limited by that antiquated production line. No sexy modern engines – the antiquated machines can’t fit them. No laying off workers and relying on robots – if he lays off workers, the production line grinds to a halt. And sadly, no replacing the line as it gets old and starts to break down more and more and become more and more expensive and difficult to repair, either. How frustrating for him! This is no way to run a business!
And yet its the way we have to run our bodies. We are amazingly clever monkeys; we can build machines that can travel to the stars, we can create computers that can girdle the world in the blink of an eye and bring all the knowledge of the ages to us via an object we can hold in the palm of our hand, we can produce a weapon with the power to destroy the world. We can take a piece of wood and some animal bristles and some powdered rock mixed with water and make marks on a piece of animal skin or plant leaf which can be seen and deciphered hundreds of years later by someone who lives half the world away from us and does not know of our existence, and yet they know what we wanted to communicate as clearly as if they were standing in front of us. But we don’t know how our brains work, we can’t cure the common cold and if we want to lose weight, we still have to do it the way our neolithic ancestors did.