Gut Smarts

Who knew that that sensation in your stomach could actually be more than a ‘gut feeling?’ Surprisingly, there is a literal ‘brain-in-the-gut,’ as Ed Cohen discusses in his article Gut Wisdom, Or Why We Are More Intelligent than We Know. This so-called ‘brain’ is actually the enteric nervous system, which, as Cohen writes, “has all the same neuro-receptors and makes all the same neuro-transmitters as the brain does (and more recently the same has been found to be the case for the heart),” proving that the gut really does have a ‘mind’ of its own.

What’s interesting is the anthropological view that can be taken on this subject. The gut fits perfectly what neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco Varela described as “the intriguing paradoxicality proper to an autonomous identity: the living system must distinguish itself from its environment, while at the same time maintaining its coupling” (Varela). The science of the gut actually relates all humans as a species. Furthermore, this part of the body is what “mediates our relations to each other” (Cohen). Anthropologists see it as the true paradox of being “simultaneously open and bounded” (Cohen), like a miniature representation of a human being, which must simultaneously act as an individual being while at the same time being part of and open to a larger culture or society.

It is funny to think that our gut of all body parts is one to have such an impact in our feelings and relationships with others. Until now, I’ve always been torn between going with ‘my gut feeling’ and what I know to be true.