neurobiological antinomies betray problems with hard sciences

GREGORY C.O'KELLY gokelly at
Sat Apr 16 22:56:13 EST 1994


	The paper "Biology, Bioelectricity and the Nervous System" deals 
with some key presumptions of biology that have their roots in 17th 
century rationalist philosophy and Newtonian mechanism.  These 
presumptions or 'meta-theories' have had an impact on biological and 
neurological thought in the most subtle of ways and in the most 
devastating of ways serving to ossify dogma that embodies 
incompatibilities.  In the former case the idea that life is somehow 
special, an 'emergent' quality of the elements, has been relied upon by the 
gradual school of genetic evolution championed by 
Ernst Mayr.  This view of life sees its beginning occurrence as unlikely 
even given meteorological and chemical conditions conducive to its 
origination.  This view of life encounters problems when pressed for a 
functional model of the nervous system, and can only gage nervous system 
complexity in terms of relative brain size and weight.  Its most glaring 
shortcomings are associated with vertebrate speciation in terms of 
phylogenetics, especially with regard to the field of paleoanthropology.
	In the most devastating way these meta-theories, with their view of 
life as something special and mechanical, prevent neuroscience from 
making connections that are obvious on more fundamental approaches to 
nervous system functioning.  The result is the characteristic lack of 
clinical efficacy of neurological science and the failure of medicine not 
only to understand the primary causes of degenerative illness and aging, 
but also to do anything about either.  Western medicine is focused on acute 
problems even though they may be brought on by degenerative maladies.  In 
a style of medicine and pharmacology that demands clinical results, it 
should seem surprizing that archaic neurological and scientific dogmas 
should be perpetuated when they result in so little therapeutic 
intervention.  The answer lies in an examination of the history of 
organized medicine in this country, the rise of Osler's "school of 
therapeutic nihilism" at Johns-Hopkins University, the adoption of the 
Hippocratic oath, and the institutionalization of certain ideas about the 
nature of nerve impulse propagation and electrical stimulation before the 
phenomenon of electricity was even understood.
	Ever since the middle of the last century the idea has been accepted 
that a nerve or a brain cell can be stimulated by touching an electrode to 
it.  It didn't seem to matter whether AC or DC was used.  It was thought 
that this simulated actual brain and nerve function.  Areas of control in 
the brain were 'mapped' using this technique.  But this presumption is 
incorrect.  In the first place, AC and DC are different in electron behavior.  
Despite what John Eccles and Charles Sherrington had to say about the 
issue, you cannot get charge from AC without changing it to DC.  
Neuroscientific work has always focused on the examination of voltages, 
something present in both AC and DC, but only DC has charge, amperage.  
Neuroscience has accepted a definition of depolarization that does not 
involve the annihilation of electrical charge, but is the result the balance 
of equal numbers of oppositely charged ions.  This sort of iatrophysics is, 
like life itself, thought to be an emergent property, though of nervous 
systems and cells rather than chemicals, that is the result of a type of 
electricity found no where else in the world, one in which the electricity 
is molecular rather than electronic.
	Such 'animal electricity' is though the result of fluid dynamics and 
molecular 'depolarization', an 'ionic mechanism'.  Such sciosophy tries to 
account for biology in terms of the first fundamental force of nature only, 
gravity (the world of Newtonian 'classical mechanics').  The effects of the 
second fundamental force, electromagnetism, are not thought particularly 
pertinent, are not understandable on traditional, theoretical models of the 
nervous system, and so are neither exploitable for their significance nor 
accorded any more status than artifact of research, e.g. that bones heal 
faster when a DC current flows across the break, that childhood leukemia 
rates are up around power lines, that electrical discharges in a simulated 
early-earth atmosphere triggers a rain of amino acids.
	Many claim that forces on the level of that of the electron and 
electrical charge have little influence on  life as we know it, though they 
admit, when pushed, of the use of such things as gel electrophoresis in the 
study of genes and amino acids.  They do not want to admit that electrical 
charge and its movement play any part in the body's functioning however, 
and back off to the Newtonian world to explain nerve impulse propagation, 
saying that electrons can have no existence in the body apart from 
molecules.  The equivalency of mass and energy is not thought of as 
biologically pertinent, and energy is spoken of as heat which is due to 
molecular collisions in a world in which only particles and their motion 
have any substance, and the particles are no smaller than atoms.  A 
strange form of iatrophysics is invoked to explain behavior in terms of 
consciousness as if this were somehow more than mere physics or 
biochemistry.  And neuroscience muddles on while clinical neurologists 
still check for 'reflex arcs' in their diagnoses before saying nothing can be 
	Would you care to find out more about these issues?  Ask me for a 
copy of the paper.  It is available in either binhex 4.0 form in which all the 
extras like italics, underlining, bold print, different size fonts, are used, 
or in a basic ascii format in which the text appears like that possible only 
on  a typewriter, though without underlining.  Write me 
GOKELLY at for a copy, specify the format, and then wait for a 
couple of days before I load the sucker again and send it along.  It's over 
40 pages long.

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