Saturday, March 29, 2008

There is No Justice In Biology

I have always been fascinated by biology. I was only one chemistry class shy of picking up biology minor as an undergrad. Had I taken that class, I might be sitting in the medical school’s library typing out this blog post instead of the law school’s

It isn’t difficult to be fascinated with life though. Life is simply a marvel. At a basic level all biological life forms are merely a collection of cells; an amalgamation of proteins, salts, chemicals and water. Yet, we are so much more. These simple building blocks form more complicated organs, muscles, tendons and other structures that allow us to breathe, to see, to run, allow us to type on little black keyboards, and, not least of all, to think.

Our brains are probably the most fascinating biological phenomenon ever. A simple mass of soft tissue consisting of billion of neurons, a complex web of electrochemical reactions that not only regulates are complex internal organs and systems, but allows us to perceive, to understand, to form thoughts, and to communicate. Amazing, truly. A mammalian brain is the definition of something greater than the sum of its parts.

At the heart of all this complexity is a mere system of acids that direct the coding of proteins at the molecular level, our DNA, which drives the whole thing. Again, it is awe inspiring that something like DNA could lead to something like us.

It does amaze me that life exists at all. When you think about the complexity in even the simplest mammal or reptile, it seems outrageous that it could all work. Yet, it does, for the most part. It is this essential mystery and marvel that is our existence that is at the heart, I believe, of most of the basic philosophical questions that man has posed over time. It is this awe inspiring notion of our own improbability, I also believe, that drives our collective sense of spirituality.

Despite the awe inspiring realization of our own biological complexity, I can’t escape the notion that the body is fatally flawed. From inception it is bound to expire and it is often weak or susceptible for no good reason. My first real experience with this truism was when my father-in-law died from cancer. A kind and gentle man in the prime of his life suddenly succumbed to his own body. His own cells turned on him, slowly choking off important systems until he could no longer live. One year he was with us, another example of an incredible biological machine, and the next year he was gone. Done-in by biology.

A spat of recent events had also reminded me of the failings of biology. A great blogger, whom I greatly admire, recently discovered that she had a brain tumor and had to under go surgery to have the tumor removed. A brilliant, young girl of quick wit and incite hindered by a biological mystery.

A few weeks ago one, of my wife’s friend’s one-year old daughter developed a condition called Lymphoid Hyperplasia where the lymph nodes develop on the intestine rather than on the surrounding blood vessels. The condition, if caught early, can be treated with steroids and overtime will probably correct itself, but it seems so odd that a vital structure like that would develop incorrectly and send an innocent young child into the hospital for days while her family struggles to cope with the fears brought on by this biological flaw.

Finally, a few weeks ago, a member of my law school class was stricken with an illness. In this case we have a young man in his early twenties who is at the same time brilliant (probably one of the top five in our class, member of law review, went to undergrad at Notre Dame) and healthy (an avid soccer player). This combination of youth, health, and potential was inexplicably brought down by a random lung disease with no apparent cause that has deprived him of the use of his own lungs, bed ridden him, and may put his future into question. Again, this is another example of a senseless flaw of biology.

All these things remind me that we are, despite the complexity, mere biological machines. Machines that despite of (or probably because of) our complexity are prone to break or be broken for no apparent reason. This does trouble me, to know that so many who are deserving of so much better should suffer, and yet we must accept it. It is the nature of living to know that we and others may die. In my heart, I think this is why I didn’t finish my biology minor and why I found myself in law school rather than med school. Despite my fascination and admiration of life, I know that life is capricious and that there is no justice in biology.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pics 'n Tid-Bits

My lack of posting can be explained by simply saying that life has gotten in the way. It's been a busy semester full of writing legal briefs, making oral arguments, and reading cases; the gristle of a second year law student.

A couple weeks ago my wife and I took a weekend trip into the Cascades to do some snow-shoeing at B&B outside Leavenworth. It was a great trip. We highly recommend the Mountain Home Lodge to anyone. The staff was friendly, the food superb, and the entire weekend was rejuvenating.

Here are some pics:
Just a shot from up in the mountains

The owners of the lodge have a number of dogs who will follow you out on your day's hike. Dog rental = no charge
this is me, once again, proving that I take a horrible picture