Particle theory

November 10, 2005 § 2 Comments

I’ve been forgetting lately to make things-to-do lists, which probably accounts for why I’ve been forgetting nearly everything else. Without lists, I am a soda can lost in the current, a plastic shopping bag blowing in the wind. Without lists, my life is transformed from a manageably interesting adventure to an unstoppable flood of entropy, against which I am as powerless as Kleenex.

The astrologers say: Your life is a constant striving to bring order out of chaos. They neglect to mention that I usually fail. Miserably.

In any case, I made a things-to-do list today. I also started taking my iron pills again, which seem already to be having an effect. It’s strange to think that our relationship to the world can be so strongly influenced by particles in our bloodstream; if the balance is even slightly off, we are suddenly full of fog, or nerves, or fear. The strangest part is that we can’t see the presence or absence of particles: imbalance is invisible, and, in most cases, we will never know that it is there.

At moments, I wonder if this is all we are—an aggregation of levels of things in various states of disequilibrium. I picture one of those thoroughly excessive mixing boards that coke-addled producers used in the 1970s, with their endless rows of knobs and faders. Track 16: serotonin. Track 43: hemoglobin. Track 71: estrogen. Track 27: electrolytes. Track 9: nicotine. How stoned do you have to be (that would be Track 32) to get the mix right?

This would seem to be the implication of much recent brain science, which assumes a causal relationship between particles (e.g. serotonin) and behaviour (e.g. depression). But brain researchers almost never describe the relationship in terms of a mix: they isolate one of the particles and attend to it exclusively, without regard for the others. In a sense, theirs is a binary view: serotonin levels are up or down, on or off, 1 or 0. You get Paxil, or you don’t. Done.

In my case, I have chronic iron anemia. To remedy the problem, I am prescribed iron pills, which ostensibly turn “on” my iron levels. However, iron cannot be properly absorbed without vitamin C, and vitamin C is known to be depleted by nicotine. (Unlike iron, there is no blood test for vitamin C, so it is impossible to know if one is deficient. That is, unless you have scurvy, in which case it’s fairly obvious.)

Nevertheless, all the doctors I have had have been well aware that I smoke, but none have ever suggested that I combine iron with vitamin C supplements to restore my iron levels, as I recently did. In other words, they’re thinking binary, and I’m thinking mix, which are entirely different approaches to the problem of balance.

The ultimate test of the mix hypothesis will be, once my iron levels have been restored, what happens when I stop taking iron supplements but continue to take vitamin C. Will my iron stores remain at normal levels, or will they once again drop precipitously? I’ll report my findings in about three months.


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