A fascinating exploration of the most under-rated, neglected mysteries in biology.
Some fractures just don’t heal — the broken ends of the bones refuse to grow back together. “Non-union” is a disaster for the patient, and a bitter disappointment for physicians. Fascinating and frustrated by this problem, Dr. Robert Becker ultimately devised a widely accepted technique for stimulating bone healing, using electrical stimulation. Along the way, he learned things about healing and biology that could have and should have — but haven’t yet — changed the course of medical science.
Traditionally, scientists are skeptical of any idea that connects electromagnetism with biology, because it smacks of an old, disgraced biology idea called “vitalism.” Vitalism was once a major contender for explaining the nature of life, but it was abandoned as the biochemical perspective on biology advanced and proved itself to be so powerful.
But Dr. Becker discovered that the role of electromagnetism in biology simply cannot be ignored, however out of fashion it may be. Starting his research career with questions about the almost miraculous healing abilities of salamanders, he devised one experiment after another that showed that life does interact with electromagnetic forces. We may not understand it well, and it may not be a subject of study in mainstream medical research, but it’s happening. Healing processes (such as bone union) can be dramatically altered by the application of current, for instance. But that is just the beginning. If even a fraction of the experimental results Becker describes reveal the true nature of organisms, it is clear that we have many really interesting things yet to learn about biology!
The Body Electric chronicles the progress of Becker’s exploration, from salamander experiments all the way to the profound implications about how life works. Much like Candace Pert’s classic Molecules of Emotion, the book is both a personal story about doing research, as well as a story about the science itself. It is brilliantly composed for the layperson, but also rigorously scientific in spirit. Becker’s experiments are well-designed, and he steers clear of unjustified speculation. In the second half, he discusses the implications of his research, and I am aware that other readers have complained that he gets a bit eccentric. However, I continued to find him largely credible throughout, and I am not generally tolerant of sloppy logic. I think he responsibly acknowledges his biases, identifies speculation for what it is, and keeps his feet on scientific bedrock, reminding the reader many times that hypotheses must be tested, and results must be replicated. I find it hard to believe that a researcher so determined to remind people of this can be straying too far from sensibility!
The result is a book that is a joy to read, credible and important, that stimulated my sense of wonder throughout, and left me feeling excited about the future of biology. It is also a “must read” for anyone who is interested in a potential scientific basis for Eastern philosophies that have always explained health and biology in terms of “energy” and other metaphors.
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