If the body itself is an amalgam of workaround kluges, then maybe our regulators should be more tolerant of medical MacGyvers who attempt to keep the body working through medical workaround kluges.
(p. A15) Mr. Pievani is a professor of biology at the University of Padua. His brief and thoughtful book (translated from the Italian by Michael Gerard Kenyon) isn’t just a description of imperfection, but a paean to it. There’s plenty of description and discussion, too, as “Imperfection” takes the reader on a convincing whirlwind tour of the dangers as well as the impossibility of perfection, how imperfection is built into the nature of the universe, and into all living things—including ourselves.
. . .
Readers wanting to get up to speed on imperfection would do well to attend to two little-known words with large consequences. The first is “palimpsest,” which in archaeology refers to any object that has been written upon, then erased, then written over again (sometimes many times), but with traces of the earlier writings still faintly visible. Every living thing is an evolutionary palimpsest, with adaptations necessarily limited because they’re built upon previous structures.
Consider, for example, childbirth. As smart critters, we’ve been selected (naturally) to have big heads. But in becoming bipedal, we had to rotate our pelvises, which set limits on the size of the birth canal. As a result, an unborn baby’s head is perilously close to being too big to get out. Usually, they manage it, but not without much painful laboring and sometimes, if this cephalopelvic disproportion is too great, or if the baby is malpositioned, by means of a cesarean delivery. In such cases, obstetricians take the newborn out the obvious way: through that large, unobstructed abdominal space between pelvis and lower ribs. Things would have been much easier and safer for mother and baby if the birth canal were positioned there, too, but our palimpsest nature precludes such a straightforward arrangement.
Which brings us to our second unusual word: “kluge,” something—assembled from diverse components—that shouldn’t work, but does. A kluge is a workaround: often clumsy, inelegant, inefficient, but that does its job nonetheless. Because we and all other living things are living palimpsests, we are kluges as well.
For the full review, see:
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 25, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Imperfection’ Review: Unintelligent Design.”)
The book under review is:
Pievani, Telmo. Imperfection: A Natural History. Translated by Michael Gerard Kenyon. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2022.