Experimental Shift

Doing immunocytochemistry, histology and laser confocal microscopy, my mental exercise was to imagine being at the particulate and microscopic level. Pipetting saline buffer, administering antibodies and mounting delicate tissues containing fractioned neural processes, using my ungainly human fingers introduced an order of magnitude problem. In French, the word molécule means “extremely minute particle.” That is, this analyst (me) is mismatched from these entities by size. Molecules measured in angstroms (10^-10) to neurons measured in microns (10^-6) to my own hands measured in centimeters. Given our relative discrepancies, how can I examine them?

Alice struggled in Wonderland, growing and shrinking, skewing her reality. Trying to count, she cannot ever reach the number 10! Nearly drowning in her own tears of frustration, Alice’s dilemma was that she was not counting in base 10. In fact, author Lewis Carroll was a mathematician, himself struggling with the abstractions of nonEuclidean geometry and imaginary numbers (=i^2 = -1).

Anyhow, imagining myself at that molecular to neuronal level of organization meant maneuvering better in the laboratory. Whatever works, right?

Enter the coronavirus. Humankind in upheaval, our daily lifestyles altered because of ‘social distancing’, etc. Let us imagine the corona pathogen itself.

This corona pathogen cannot recognize us individual hosts, of course, only that mucosal droplets are a good vehicle to travel between hosts. Sneezing or coughing, we each might expel a spray of such mucosal droplets, inadvertently inhaled between us as our shared microbiome. These miniscule pathogens comfortably embed into our nasopharynx and lung tissues to successfully reproduce exponentially (= f(x) = ab^x). They have no recognition of our individuation that we humans hold so sacrosanct. Our sickness that is a sequela of their existence is merely a side effect, from their tiny perspective.

So what? Putting ourselves into the corona’s pathogenic shoes is no solace, I guess. But, from my perspective, solving problems entails shifting perspectives, countermanding by putting ourselves at the proper order of magnitude.

For me now as a forensic scientist and criminal behavioral profiler, I similarly shift my mental perspective, albeit at a psychological level rather than physical level of organization. Experimental shift.

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Dr Amy Du Beau
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