Thursday, September 21, 2006

That Which Makes Us "Alive"

Many times over the years, I've heard news stories or authors describing the enduring image of the pulse as the symbol of life. Literally, the pulse is the temporary increase in pressure when our heart contracts and pushes a volume of blood through our bodies. Every human being has had a pulse. If you've ever watched a TV medical show, you know that if you don't have a pulse, you're dead. Unless it's a cliffhanger, after which you will be remarkably revived after all hope is lost. Unless your character isn't popular. Sorry.

So, no pulse means no life. Not any more. Now doctors are working on an artificial heart that works on continuous pressure. No ups and downs. Apparently, it allows for a smaller mechanism and more reliable mechanical engineering.

I don't want to make "too big" of a deal about this, but this is incredible. In some ways, it may change human existence. Sure, it's just a small thing. How many times a day do you think about the fact you have a pulse? Probably not many. But this means fundamentally changing not only the material nature of one of our organs (which we've been doing for years and is also amazing), but we're changing the nature of the process itself. Your heart wouldn't beat. It would whir continuously.

Musicologists have done studies on whether or not the distinctly two-beat version of our heart beat has effected the human concept of rhythm and temporal structure. What does it mean when some people don't have it? Yes, I know: it would only be a small number of the already small number of people who need heart transplants.

I can't help thinking about it, though.

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