I AM A SICK MAN…. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. So begins Fyodor Dostoevsky’s narrator in, Notes from the Underground. Certainly, the author has developed one of the most unpleasant characters in literature — not the most sinister or evil — but someone who is pure misery.
We’ve all had our narrow escapes from toxic personalities. Though they might deserve our pity, our inclination is to run as far away as we can. The fault may not be entirely of their making, however. As science pushes past the veil of nature’s secrets, we are learning enough about ourselves to begin to question the notion of free will. Human behavior, it appears, stems not from our ideas alone or our moods or even from our glands. Apparently our brain is also subject to the activities of microbes in our gut.
Ninety percent of the cells in what we like to think of as ‘our’ bodies actually contain microbial genomes rather than human ones. (“Microbes on Your Mind” by Moheb Costandi, Scientific American Mind, July/August, 2012 pg. 34)
These microbial genomes develop extensive networks within us and are adept at communicating with one another, so much so that this network is referred to as a “second brain.” (Ibid. pg. 35) Evidence suggests they effect learning, memory and other cognitive processes. (Ibid, pg. 36.) Lactobacillus microbes, found in yogurt, for example, is thought to improve mood.
(Courtesy of www.permanentheadach.blogspot.com)
The next time we meet a misanthropic character, like the one in Dostoevsky’s story, rather than extend our sympathy, it might be kinder to take him to the local dairy.