Monday, February 25, 2008

The Power of the Stomach

Have I mentioned how much I love my local NPR station? I almost always am spurred to think in a different way about something I've either never considered before or something I thought I knew everything about already.
This morning, Frederick Kaufman, an English professor at the City University of New York and CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism was on talking about his new book "A Short History of the American Stomach." I happened to tune in to the conversation at the exact moment he was talking about the idea that human beings have two brains, one that consists of the cerebral tissue and spinal cord, and one in our stomachs; something he called the 'enteric brain.' I was pretty quick to dismiss this idea until he began to expand on it.
He pointed out that there is a greater concentration of nerve endings in the human stomach than anywhere else in our bodies. Greater numbers even than those in the traditional brain and spinal cord combined. Huh.
He went on to talk about 'gut reactions', things we all have although we might call them by different names such as intuition. We have all had an experience that hit us right in the stomach - either something that caused us to instantaneously be sick at the thought or sight, or a tragedy that we felt deep in our viscera.
Faithful readers of my blog will know that when I have deep-seated issues I am in need of examining, I rarely discover them via meditation or thought. Nope, I suffer immediate and prolonged bouts of stomach pain and diarrhea that eventually bring me to the notion that there is something going on I need to address.
I remember a philosophy professor of mine that used to encourage us to really investigate what was behind our most visceral reactions. We might be talking about slavery or persecution of some kind, euthanasia or abortion, and he would ask us what our initial 'gut reaction' response was - were we predisposed to cross the street when we saw a black person walking towards us on a city street? Would we automatically decide not to get to know someone better if we found out they had chosen to have an abortion? Whether we acted on those notions or not, he talked about the importance of acknowledging these immediate reflexive thoughts and then examining the roots of them in our lives.
Every time I see a smushed raccoon or possum in the middle of the road, I find it hard to turn my eyes away. As much as I want to, I often cannot and at the moment my car passes this poor dead animal, my stomach tightens and goosebumps run the length of my body until one big shudder shakes them off. Every single time. That is a gut reaction.
I am not sure what to make of all of this, but I am certain it will provide me with some interesting fodder for reflection today. Thanks again, NPR!


Carrie Wilson Link said...

"Food" for thought. Get it?

Deb said...

Hmmmm. Food for thought doesn't make me fat!

I'm going to have to ponder this a bit. It seems like there's something really important here. I think I might need to get one of my book groups to read this so we can talk about it.

Anonymous said...

This is so very interesting to me. I am such a big believer in "following your gut." This just makes so much sense to me, and I would love to hear more about this. I feel so much from my gut. When I don't follow my initial gut reaction, I usually regret it. WOW, this is so cool.
I love NPR, but I missed this.
Thanks for sharing.

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