“The amoeba’s a blob. Man’s a blob with something missing. It’s
this something missing running all the way through that makes all
the difference. The hole makes the doughnut. It’s a topological
step up in complexity to go from being a spherical blob to being a
torus. Once the hole is there, there’s orientation.

“Orientation gives a point to perception, to motion and to
motivation. Then you have emotion growing out of all that. Then
you have the tremendous problem of sorting and refining perception
in the service of purpose, that is, turning perception back upon

“I think there’s a whole topological theory of biological development that
remains to be explored. I sometimes ask myself what lies
beyond the torus. Each new inclusion produces a more complicated
exploration of space and a more complicated space for exploration.”

Cecil G. Wheatin grimaced.

“The point is so simple and runs so deep. We’ve got a piece of the
outside inside us. The digestive tract is organized around the
emptiness that fills us up. It’s the emptiness we strive so hard
to fill because it fills us up. Mental function was born out of
the need for coordination in eating. That’s where the appetite
came from. I’m not meaning to debunk thinking and feeling, but
their complexities were elaborated on a base.”

Now Cecil G. Wheatin smiled, a huge ravishing smile that made him
look, even at 6’6″ and 286 lbs., like an oversized infant.

“They’ve found most of the neurotransmitters in the gut. When they
did, it shocked them. The neuroscientists like to think of
themselves as high and mighty, somehow up above it all. They’ve
got it all backwards. What happened was that they found the gut
transmitters way up there in the brain doing what they’ve always
known how to do in kind of strange surroundings. The gut had a lot
to think about long before there really was any such thing as a

Cecil G. Wheatin smiled again.

“I’ve had kind of a strange life. I grew more than a foot when I
was thirteen years old. Boy, did I eat that year. I was so hungry
I couldn’t think about anything else. When I grew so fast, I was
thinking that I was going to play football. I was a pretty good
athlete and I did like to hit people. But I got mononucleosis and
I spent the next year and a half being weak as a kitten. I could
hardly walk down the block. I tried to play football again when I
was sixteen and I wrecked my knee.

I read a lot of books and I got started thinking about worms.
Now, a worm is just a digestive tube that moves. Worms have
rhythm. They have to have rhythm. Their whole lives are built on
what I call the ‘squeeze it and leave it’ beat. Like most everything else,
the sense of rhythm starts in the gut.”

Cecil G. Wheatin flashed his teeth.

“Even now, when I walk down the street on the way to my lab here at
Crockefeller, people stop me in the street and ask me if I play for
the Jets or the Giants. They seem to be evenly split as to which
team I should be on. I think a lot of my interest really was born
that year I was so hungry and I grew so much. It surprised me and
it surprised everybody around me. My father was barely six feet
tall and my mother was just 5’5″.

“I don’t know that I ever recovered from the shock. I had a
strange perspective on it. It seemed to me something that my gut
did to me. So I’ve always looked at things from a different
perspective, that is, not what the brain told the gut, but what the
gut had to say to the brain.”

Cecil G. Wheatin chuckled.

“There’s this great big highway that runs from the gut up through
the auxiliary organs like the kidney and the heart to the base of‘
the brain. We call it the vagus nerve because it wanders around
all through the abdominal and thoracic cavities. It’s listening.
It puts its two cents in, but most of all it’s listening. It
listens to the gut and it listens to the kidneys and it listens to
the heart. Of course, it talks to them, too.

“Most people like to think of the vagus nerve as a command
communication system coming from the brain back down, but I’ve
always been interested in traffic up the vagus nerve to the brain,
in other words, in what the gut had to say to the brain. I’ve been
interested in what the gut does to orient the brain.”

Cecil G. Wheatin put his thumbs under his red suspenders.

“I am serious when I say that the inwardness we treasure so much
started in our guts, because they defined inside and outside and
started the whole process of sorting. Of course, the cell membrane
started on this task long before, but the gut brought it to a new
level of complexity by providing a higher order membrane that
conducted a whole different level of exchange.

“The gut knows what time of day it is, what season of the year it
is, how old we are, our habits and dispositions, if we happen to be
women, where we are in the menstrual cycle and how many of us are
aboard. In a most literal sense it is the gut that determines what
we take in.”

Cecil G. Wheatin swiveled in his chair.

“The gut as a part of the nervous system, as an integrated sentient
organ has been terribly neglected. The Greeks who thought in terms
of exercise and diet knew something. Our molecular orientation has
been tremendously fruitful in one sense but impoverishing in
another, because it has dismantled our approach to larger patterns.

“Attachment and loss are mediated in the gut. Our moods are
colored by our eating. Our thinking is colored by the gut. I
think that, as we become more sophisticated in the study of the
gut, we will be able to diagnose and treat even some important
disorders of mood and behavior through the gut. We will see how
gut function sets the stage for learning and synthesis, for what we
call creative activity.

“We will develop a much better understanding of ancient systems of
diet. It’s very hard to understand without appreciating. We have
to learn to listen to our guts, to hear what they’re saying, not
just to talk down to them. We have to learn to enter into much
fuller feedback relationships with the part of us that we feed and
that feeds us.

“We’re hard on the track of a dietary treatment and prophylaxis for
depression. We think that this is likely to be an illness that
wells up from the gut and so can not only be treated safely through
the gut, but can also be prevented through the gut. It’s not just
what we eat, but how and when we eat and what we do before and
after. Depression is on the increase in all industrialized
countries. We think that has to do with what a hard time we are
having digesting our lives. There is so much that we can not
stomach and that we are right not to be able to stomach.”

Dr. Ralph G. Primprop, the Acting Dean For Research at Crockefeller,
was high on Cecil G. Wheatin.

“I know,” he said, “that it’s a terrible pun, but you’ll forgive
me, because it’s apt. Cecil G. Wheatin has guts. He’s taken a
different approach and it’s starting to pay off. It’s much like
basing your whole approach to understanding chess on thinking about

“The problem in science is to take a fresh look over and over at
the simple things that are fundamental. It took us a while to
develop a taste for his originality, but I think we’ve got it.
He’s no crank. I don’t care if he is 6’6″ tall and comes from
Texas and likes to wear red suspenders.”

“I think,” Cecil G. Wheatin told us, “that what we are really
talking about is what we might call a decolonization of the body.
It has to do with an entire approach. I think brain centered
rationalism is running out of rations. The gut is not just some
sort of a territory that works for the brain, performing a
subsidiary function in a a mechanical way. The gut has its own
organization and its own rhythms and its own orientation. It has
its own wisdom.

“We need to appreciate the gut on its own terms, as we need to
appreciate each organ on its own terms, so that we can open up
wider and more practical vistas in our living. We need to rescue
the brain from its own perverted imperium. It’s a question of
loving to eat and eating to love, allowing for a back and forth.”

With this, Cecil G. Wheatin allowed himself at last the pleasure of
pulling both red suspenders forward and then letting them smack
back with a resounding “Thwack” against his substantial chest.

“If it’s alimentary, it’s not just elementary but also elemental.
Or, to complete a loop, the mental arises out of the elemental
through the evolutionary good offices of the alimentary passage.”

Cecil G. Wheatin licked his lips, leaving them so pink and shiny
that the fluorescent light fixture above his head was reflected in
the mucosal mirror.

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