Thursday, February 16, 2017

Systems Integration

In a healthy person the eleven interconnected biological body systems function normally as a single system. The brain, part of the central nervous system, controls and coordinates the functions of the other ten systems. Electrical messages pulse through the spinal column and into a network of neural branches toward the organs of the individual body system. This action is a regulatory response to information received from outlying sensory systems in the body. The control and coordination system is an incredible wonder of living things. Our use of a few descriptive words or phrases does not adequately explain the phenomenon of the integration of biological systems in living creatures.

With this disclaimer we attempt to draw several analogies between human body systems and the world of technology. Modern humanity operates in an age of complex machines. We cite two examples: In our home’s heating/cooling system and our personal automobiles, we are beholden to machines. They provide the ability to control our dwelling’s temperature and our personal transportation system automatically. In the pioneer days of our nation, our great-grandparents supplied the regulatory systems for home temperature control and personal transportation manually. They piled more wood on the fireplace, opened the windows, and used a manual accelerator pedal.

In our home’s temperature controlled environment thermostats sense rising or falling home temperatures and activate the cooling or heating system. According to our preset preferences, home temperatures remain in our chosen narrow range of comfort. In winter we desire a comfortable level of warmth. The control system raises the air temperature automatically—the furnace is programmed to go “on” when a certain limit is reached. In summer our bodies cry out for cooling to the desired temperature. The air conditioner kicks in to supply the desired cooling. Does this sound simple? It is simple to check the thermostat to affirm it is set correctly. If it is malfunctioning we call the experts to modify the system. In our day of “miracle” technology this is a minor inconvenience.

Our functioning brain has systems of sensory neural receptors with the ability to respond and react. Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) accomplishes the desired outcome. When we become overheated by exercise, the brain responds with complex physiological processes instructing the body to generate perspiration—a cooling phenomenon—neither too much nor too little. Perspiration is mostly water. When water evaporates, heat is removed from the body. On cold days our body calls for more heat. Reflexively, the body engages its “shivering” response—a good thing—because it forces the body to move about to generate more heat. In this case the body reaction is involuntary and automatic.

Speed control in our automobiles, also known as cruise control, is analogous to many brain functions which control various rates. A partial list includes (1) heart rate, dependent on increased rate of heart muscle contraction, (2) digestive function, also controlled by changing rates of muscle contraction and release of digestive juices, (3) respiration rate, summoned by a need for additional oxygen in working cells due to increased bodily activity, (4) salivation rate, controlled both voluntarily as well as by conditioning from food odors or other sensory cues, and (5) multiple glandular secretions such as adrenaline which appropriately heighten our response to stress. The human brain performs multiple functions controlling and integrating the biological systems of the body. 

Our brain, the control center of our body system and the acknowledged seat of human consciousness, is sometimes characterized as computer-like. Its capabilities, however, extend far beyond the most capable man-made computer. Yes, the brain and the neural network of the central nervous system are storms of electrical activity as are computers. But analysts say computers work in a manner foreign to biological systems. 

The Creator has produced humanity in His Image. This image is integrated with the mystery of consciousness by which we perceive divine reality.