A History of the Life Sciences by Lois N. Magner

By Lois N. Magner

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Many modern problems, including pollution, resource depletion, threats to biodiversity, overpopulation, changing patterns of morbidity and mortality, and even the emergence of virulent new diseases and antibiotic-resistant pathogens, are regarded as the outcome of scientific and technological advances. There are demands that we either stop further progress in science or limit the practice of science to topics that can provide an immediate payoff in practical terms, such as a cure for cancer and AIDS.

Classical scholars explained the unity of nature, life, health, disease, and medicine in terms of the theory of yin and yang and the five phases. The five phases are sometimes called the five elements, but this is generally considered a mistranslation based on a false analogy with the four elements of ancient Greek science. The Chinese term actually implies transition, movement, or passage rather than the stable, homogeneous chemical constituent implied by the term element. Accepting the impossibility of translating the terms yin and yang, scholars simply retain the terms as representations of all the pairs of opposites that express the dualism of the cosmos.

Man developed from a fish-like creature which had adapted to life on land and discarded its fishy skin. Because man is originally helpless, he could not emerge as an infant, but had to be nurtured inside the fish skin until the land was ready to receive him. Anaximander did not believe that such changes were directed along a unidirectional path. On the contrary, change was a cyclical process in which the forces that led to the separation of the elements and the development of life could be reversed so that chaos would once again predominate.

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