Posts Tagged ‘Reading Science’

I discovered Daisy Hildyard’sThe Second Body‘ serendipitously when I was looking for something else. The premise sounded interesting and I couldn’t resist getting it. This is my first Fitzcarraldo nonfiction book, so yay!

Daisy Hildyard’s main thesis in the book is this – that each of us has two bodies, the first one is the physical body which we have and experience each day, and the second is the impact and footprint we leave on the environment by our lifestyle choices and the things we do. She says we experience the first body at the individual level everyday and though we don’t experience the second body at that level because it is global, it is also a physical, real body. In the rest of the book, Hildyard tries to find out how she can bring both the bodies together, and for this she talks to different scientists to get more insights.

The Second Body‘ is an interesting book. There is lots of food for thought and Hildyard’s prose flows smoothly and the pages fly. I didn’t find Hildyard’s second body thesis very convincing though. The book doesn’t appear to give any clear answers and I’m not sure which side Hildyard is on with respect to questions like ‘Is it better to drive a car or is it better to walk?’, ‘Is it better to eat meat or is it better to be vegetarian / vegan?’, ‘Are humans part of the environment or is the environment there to serve humans?’ But the book explores interesting ideas which makes us think. One of my favourites was the research on bacteria that a scientist called Paul did and the insights it revealed on whether an organism is an individual or a part of a mega-organism and whether this insight could be scaled up to humans. It is a fascinating thing to think about.

Daisy Hildyard’s book has won good praise. One of my favourite descriptions of the book was this – “In its insistence on the illusion of individuality and on the participation of human animals in the whole of earthly life, ‘The Second Body’ might be an ancient text; in its scientific literacy and its mood of ecological disquiet, Daisy Hildyard’s book is as contemporary as the morning paper.” However, this description of the book – “her sly variety of scientific inquiry is incandescent” – made me smile 😁 What does this even mean? So many adjectives!

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“I always wanted to be a scientist, Paul told me, but I started off with this impression that there is universal truth – you find out a truth and then that is the fact. But now I know that most of the things you read are not right. No research project I have done has given me the answer I have expected.

The way that Paul talked about his work made it sound like a process of painstaking, almost painful disillusion. He spoke of learning as a process of realising his own mistakes. When he made a discovery, there was no self-congratulation, but another set of problems. His errors would outlive him. My impression then was that his research was only the container for a force – a sense that something was missing – that would have driven Paul even if he had been a hairdresser, writer or account manager.”

Have you read ‘The Second Body‘? What do you think about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you liked Hildyard’s thesis and found it convincing.

Read Full Post »