Basic Instinct


One of the main myths of medicine is that it was invented by human civilization. In fact, it appeared long before us. We will never know who was the first living creature to resort to natural medicines, or what social animal first helped rid another member of its species of parasites. But we can be sure that this behavior contributed to survival, and therefore was fixed in the process of natural selection.

Now we can observe both self-treatment and medical mutual assistance in a variety of animals starting with relatively simple insects. Infected fly larvae caterpillars of butterflies of mole crickets eat the leaves that contain toxic alkaloids. And, apparently, the drug is quite effective: this behavior increases the chances of caterpillars to survive. And fruit flies infected with rider larvae switch to food containing alcohol, such as rotting fruit. Harmful to the parasite alcohol can inhibit its development and significantly increases the chances of fruit flies to stay alive. Interestingly, if there are female riders nearby, fruit flies begin to lay eggs on alcohol-containing food, providing their offspring with medicine in advance.

Social insects ants and bees go even further: they bring in anthills and hives of resin with antifungal and antibacterial properties. Ants are more focused on prevention: they collect resin before infection occurs, but do nothing if infection is not prevented. Bees also begin to actively collect medicine after the appearance of the fungus in the hive.

Some marine animals exhibit behavior similar to the doctor-patient relationship. During symbiotic cleaning, specialized cleaning species remove parasites from other animals. In the role of a parasitologist are certain species of fish and shrimp. The similarity is enhanced by the fact that the cleaning takes place in specially designated areas – stations. As well as the fact that the cleaner is fully fed by the service provided to patients.

It is known that some species of birds, such as starlings, use plants with antibacterial and insecticidal properties in the construction of nests. It is shown that fewer blood-sucking mites live in such nests, which can positively affect the survival of Chicks, especially in the case of food shortages.

And of course, the behavior of mammals is even closer to us. So, among living in North America bears meet pharmacists. They prepare a real medicine by chewing the plant Ligusticum porteri, known as bear root, and applying it to wounds and skin – presumably to ward off insects. Our closer relatives, the highly social Capuchin macaques, live in captivity and make simple medical devices from plant materials, with which they treat their own and others ‘ wounds. And wild Capuchins drive away insects, rubbing themselves and each other with plants with a strong smell. As in the case of grooming, the individual providing such a service to others receives some social benefits. This is probably how the early humans developed health-care behaviors and developed a specialized member of the community – the forerunner of the modern physician.

It is not easy to find evidence of the existence of medicine in humans in those epochs,when writing was not yet. We can rely only on the few surviving drawings and traces on the bones found by archaeologists. It is believed that the oldest image of the doctor is 20 thousand years old and it is located in The CRO-magnon cave in France. The horned man in the animal skin was probably a priest. We cannot know for certain whether his rituals were connected with treatment, but, relying on the functions of priests among the peoples who have retained this role in our time, we can dream up, as it was in ancient times.

Perhaps the CRO-magnon priest acted as an intermediary between the tribe and the invisible spirits, which he tried to control to ensure a successful hunt, the right weather and victory in skirmishes with hostile tribes. For no apparent reason, the sudden illnesses that sometimes afflicted the entire tribe could also be the work of otherworldly forces. To return to the tribesmen’s health, the priest tried these invisible forces to cajole, intimidate or deceive and enslave. And if sometimes after the magic ritual the patient got better, this was made physician in merit and have contributed to its credibility, social and financial situation.

However, we should not assume that ancient medicine was reduced to magic dances and spells. Man always noticed the connection between diseases and visible changes in the body and, acting on the latter, tried to defeat the disease. The oldest finding, confirming medical manipulation of the body, 14 thousand years. On the human tooth found in Italy there are signs of instrumental treatment of the carious cavity. On the other tooth, which is “only ” 13 thousand years old, the cavity is not only treated with tools, but also sealed with bitumen. It is not known whether these procedures performed only a cosmetic function or were attempts to stop the development of caries, but the similarity to what we are doing now is striking. Judging by these and other similar findings, dentists have a good reason to call their profession the oldest.

But another massive prehistoric operation could not bring most patients no benefit. The oldest skull with a hole from trepanation is 7 thousand years old. In some cultures trepanation was almost as common as visits to the clinic in our time: found burials, in which the characteristic holes have every third skull. Sometimes trepanation was used to remove fragments of skull bone in head injuries, and in these cases it could improve the patient’s condition and even save lives. But most trepanation was not associated with injuries: apparently, holes in the skull were drilled to treat a variety of diseases. Perhaps the idea of the operation was to release the evil spirits from the patient. Some patients inevitably perished during the operation, making the trepanation, the oldest known case of mass iatrogenic medical interventions, a harm which outweighs the benefits. Survival after this operation varied in different epochs from 50 to almost 100%. Nowadays the tradition continues from Kenyan Kisii tribe with postoperative mortality [5], according to different sources, from 0.5 to 5%.

Only way to look at the reception of the prehistoric sorcerer doctor study medical views and treatments of people not exposed to the strong impact of modern civilization, and track traces of magic, preserved in modern medicine. Reading this book, you will see how the basic magical ideas and practices are almost unchanged transmitted from era to era.

Medical magic is based on natural, intuitive ideas that emerge in the absence of knowledge about how the body works and how diseases arise. It is based on three main principles: purification, transfer of properties by contact and symbolism.

The idea of disease as a blockage of the body is the basis of magical pathophysiology [6]. It is very stable in different epochs and cultures, although the polluting essence changes with the picture of the world and ideas about the human body. When the world was inhabited by demons, it had a supernatural nature, and the treatment consisted in the expulsion of evil spirits. Later, with the development of natural philosophy, it will turn into an excess of bad fluids that can be removed from the body by releasing blood. In the XIX century, thanks to new discoveries in physics, bad electricity had to be removed from the body. In the XXI century – caused by bad ecology slags and toxins. We will repeatedly encounter the magic of purification in different epochs and in very different theories and methods.

Another important feature of medical magic is the idea of disease transmission through physical contact. Of course, it has a healthy grain: this is how some infectious diseases are transmitted. However, in the absence of an understanding of the microscopic causative agents of the disease, contact has become a simple, visual and therefore very stable rule that applies to everything.

Contact and purification should not be physical or literal. Symbolism is characteristic of magic: the image and the symbol are an equal substitute for what they signify. Thus, congenital deformities have long been explained by what the mother saw during pregnancy. Mention of this kind of photo effect is found in the Bible [8]. When Jacob wanted his plain flock appeared spotted goats and sheep, he took the rods, cut them into strips and laid before the cattle when the animals were mating. This was enough for some lambs and goats to be born striped. In a very remote from ancient Judea ancient Greece, pregnant women are advised to admire the statues of the ideals of male beauty castor and Pollux, we meet. It was believed that because of this children will be born and grow up as stately. And in the days of possible conception Greek women avoided looking at monkeys, fear anacephal give birth to a baby with a deformity that makes his head looks like a monkey. If, in ancient times, a black child was born to a white couple and a woman explained that during pregnancy she considered drawings with black people, such an explanation could pass for a sufficient and convincing. Probably saved a lot of marriages. Until the XVII–XVIII century, there were records of how the woman who watched the execution of the wheel gave birth to a baby with broken bones, and saw the severing of the hand of the offender – an armless baby.

☛ In the XIX century, a man named John wood was accused of being the future father of the child of a young unmarried lady. When wood was subpoenaed, he categorically denied any involvement. In his heart he cried out that he would only acknowledge himself as the father of the child if his name was written on his face. According to the Newspapers, the pregnant lady in court was so impressed that after the birth of the baby, the words “John wood”were found on the iris of his right eye. It was added that on the left was written ” born in 1817.” The young father was forced to leave the city immediately. It is strange that this is the only known case of confirmation of paternity in this way: with a great desire on the iris of the eye you can see anything.

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