The Order of Things Sep 4, 2012

by Rick Rader, MD

We often overlook the obvious.

Take for instance the summary of an article in an international chemistry journal:

"Metadynamics simulations show that the eggshell protein ovocleidin-17 induces the formation of calcite crystals from amorphous calcium carbonate nanoparticles. Multiple spontaneous crystallization and amorphization events were simulated; these simulations suggest a catalytic cycle that explains the role of ovocleidin-17 in the first stages of eggshell formation."

There it appeared, right in front of us. And most of you (okay all of you) still don't get its significance. Maybe the title will serve as the "lifeline." "The Structural Control of Crystal Nuclei by an Eggshell Protein." Still nothing. And even though EP (Exceptional Parent) Magazine consists of words on a page, or impressions on a screen, I can sense the legions of blank stares.

It refers to one of the oldest philosophical questions known. The ultimate causality dilemma. It relates to the quagmire and futility of ascertaining the first case of a circuitous cause and consequence.

We know it as: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" And, thanks to the analysis of amorphous calcium carbonate nanoparticles, we finally have the answer.

Aristotle, who always comes in handy when we make a reference to "one of the oldest philosophical questions known," was perplexed by the idea that there had to be either a "first bird," "or a "first egg." And so, in a classical philosophical cop-out, he concluded that both the bird and egg must have always existed. That conclusion is in part why 98% (I made this up) of college grads who majored in philosophy still live at home.

To make matters worse, the Hindu's talk about a "cosmic egg," which sounds more like the nickname given to a 1960's VW bus belonging to a hippie commune in Oregon. Native American Indians relate to time being eternally repetitive and therefore a "first" cannot exist. Perhaps we should start with something easier like which came first the chicken or the chicken salad. But I'm sure we would find the Mayans arguing that chicken salad doesn't really exist.

In order to keep EP subscriber's from pounding on their computer screens demanding the answer let me provide that, according to "science," the egg came first.

What may be the final word on the argument comes from Samuel Butler : "A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg."

So while we are in the "what came first" mindset, let me pose another philosophical causality dilemma. "What came first...disability or compassion?"

And why does it matter, if it matters at all. Isn't it enough to say there's plenty of both to go around. To multitudes of exceptional parents, they would argue that there's not an abundance of compassion in IEP's, coverage exclusions, eligibility rejections, waiting lists and blanket denials.

Compassion has not always been considered a virtue. The Greek and Romans had a marked distrust for compassion and dismissed it as having little value. In their view, reason alone was the proper guide to conduct. Thomas Szassa in his book, "Cruel Compassion," notes the Greeks and Romans "regarded compassion as an affect, neither admirable nor contemptible."

Clearly we are safe to assume that disability came first. Without a condition, a person and a struggle there can be no response. Why would compassion predate the condition in which it could (and should) be exercised?

We now know.

In a recent article in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Science," there is evidence of the first person with a disability. A prehistoric (500,000 years ago) pelvis, nicknamed "Elvis" (I can just imagine the sheer delight on the face of the paleontologist coming up with that) is believed to be from the world's first known elderly human with clinical signs of impairment.

The male fossil (of course males had to try out "disability" first) was found in Spain and appears to have been over 45 (old for prehistoric neo-humans) with significant evidence that he suffered from a spinal deformity causing him great pain and debility.

Alejandro Bonmati, one of the lead researchers in the project provided: "He possibly used a cane, just as a modern elderly person does. This individual may not have been an active hunter and was impaired to carry heavy loads, thus an important source of his food would depend on other members of the group, which would mean sharing."

It is obvious that the old man provided some value to the others, perhaps his experience in finding food and shelter. There is a belief that compassion and cooperation go hand in hand in survival strategies.

Compassion and cooperation have appeared on the wish list of every exceptional parent since they first adopted the moniker.

Penny Spikins, a British archaeologist and theorist of early forms of compassion remarked, "Compassion is perhaps the most fundamental human emotion. It binds us together and can inspire us, but it is also fragile and elusive."

Something to consider the next time you're having eggs or chicken.


"Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human."

-Henri J.M. Nouwen

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