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Beyond Cell Doctrine: Complexity Theory Informs Alternate Models of the Body for Cross-Cultural Dialogue

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Cell doctrine is the foundational paradigm of Euro-American medicine and biology. Even without stepping outside that tradition, one may imagine alternate models of the body such as a fluid model in which cells do not exist or a model wherein cells are described as overlapping fields of molecular organization in space and time. With a complexity analysis of cell biology, we find that the existence of cells as unitary entities, as things, is contingent on the level of scale at which the body is observed. Therefore, alternate models of the body may be conceived that are specific and appropriate to other levels of scale. These ideas suggest that some bodily phenomena, particularly from Asian traditions, which have previously resisted explanation from within the cell-based Euro-American tradition (e.g., acupuncture) may be productively investigated with one or more of these other models. Additionally, the seemingly metaphorical concepts from Tibetan medicine of the coarse, energy, and subtle bodies may represent precise, though somewhat poetically expressed representations of the body at different levels of scale.
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Keywords: acupuncture; cell doctrine; coarse body; complexity; emergence; energy body; subtle body

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Departments of Pathology and of Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center of Albert Einstein College of Medicine New York, New York, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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