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Spanning The Globe September 2023

It’s time to go spanning the globe for anatomy news and notes:



Looking Inside Ourselves

We can’t recommend enough this thoughtful essay in the New York Times, contemplating the routine ability of medical imaging to see inside our bodies.


“I understood that a real human body is complicated — that the anatomy textbooks were the map, not the territory,” writes B.D. McClay. “Still, what I did not anticipate was that when confronted with an image of my own body — the product of the rotating series of X-rays known as a CT scan — I wouldn’t recognize it at all. I don’t mean as myself, but as anything.”


It was in 1895, McClay notes, that a physicist named Wilhelm Röntgen put the hand of his wife between a cathode-ray tube and a photographic plate. The idea of being able to see inside ourselves—that is, without cutting ourselves open—has been around for 125 years. It’s one of modern medicine’s “routine little miracles,” says McClay, even if observing the actual images leaves her feeling distant from her physical self.


“What I wanted from a CT scan was a particular kind of self-knowledge, even if it was just an understanding of how my organs looked packed together,” writes McClay. “Instead I saw the only thing I’ll ever see in any picture: a mass of shapes that might mean something and might mean nothing at all.”



What do you think when the doctor shows you an X-ray of a broken bone or when a dentist shows you an X-ray of a tooth that needs a root canal—or when an obstetrician shows you a sonogram of a growing fetus? Well, what goes through your mind?



Sex Ed

Consider this fact: “What nearly all students in the nation have in common … is that they live in states that don’t require them to be taught comprehensive sexuality education.”


That’s from an article in The 19th News, an independent nonprofit that covers gender, politics and policy.


More: “The type of sex ed students in this country receive depends largely on the state they call home. Some youth learn about the importance of consent or contraception, while others receive instruction on abstinence or sexually transmitted infections. Some don’t get any sex ed at all.”


There is pending federal legislation that would fix this patchwork approach. The Real Education and Access for Healthy Youth Act would make “inclusive, trauma-informed sex education a requirement in schools nationwide.”


The proposal would provide $100 million in funding from 2024 to 2029 for both K-12 schools and higher education to teach comprehensive sex ed, with a particular focus on serving marginalized young people that have often been unable to obtain quality instruction.


How many states require comprehensive sex education today?


Only three: California, Oregon, and Washington.


Chances of passage?


We are not optimistic, but this is an important piece of legislation. Understanding our bodies and how they work—in all its many functions—is critical. After all, our bodies are the only thing we truly own.



Selfishness

We were fascinated by this article in Pressenza about the fact that humans didn’t evolve to be selfish. The article was based on a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled, “Multilevel Cultural Evolution: From New Theory to Practical Applications.” The paper’s senior author was David Sloan Wilson, a distinguished professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University.


When most of us think “evolution,” we think of biological changes. But there’s also the related cultural evolution.


“The history of thinking about humans in relation to other animals is replete with claims of uniqueness that proved to be mistaken,” states the introduction to the paper. “Nevertheless, we are clearly highly distinctive in our ability to transmit learned information across generations in a cumulative fashion and to manipulate our physical and social environments. These abilities enabled our ancestors to adapt to their environments much faster than by genetic evolution. No other species has spread over the globe, occupied dozens of ecological niches, and expanded into cooperative societies that number in the millions and even billions of genetically unrelated individuals.”


Looking at cultural evolution, the paper argues, “helps us to recognize the common denominators that apply across all contexts of our lives—our families, neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and so on, and at all scales, from small groups to the planet. This is very empowering.”


Humans evolved most often, the paper suggests, through cooperation. We are “prosocial.” We evolved to care about the welfare of others, the greater good.


One key point the paper makes is that humans evolved most often through cooperation and we are, at our foundations, prosocial—meaning that we’ve evolved to care about the welfare of others and behave in ways that support the greater good.


We certainly hope the paper is correct! It certainly feels like it’s time for the larger “community” of us humans to pull together and work as one.

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