The Magic Factor

rumination1I looked at Suresh’s nose. It must have been a very shapely nose. But now you could clearly see the outline of the flesh that was transferred from the forehead in two stages to replace the lost tip of the nose.

Suresh was a young chief of security in an MNC in the city. He got into a fight with an auto rickshaw driver who he says drove rashly and almost rammed into his bike. He was a much smaller and older man and Suresh thought that he could beat him easily. But he did not know that the autowallah was an admirer of Mike Tyson. A strong bite and a few chews later, a blob of flesh rested in the auto driver’s mouth and Suresh was minus one nose tip. Well that is life.
But for the surgery that we did two months ago, in which we did a paramedian forehead flap to reconstruct his nose, he would have been horribly disfigured for life. I looked at his nose now and wondered what it would have been like to do this surgery three thousand years ago. I couldn’t imagine how anybody could have done it.

But somebody did. The Indian surgeon Susrutha has clearly described this operation in his book “Samhitha” written thousands of years ago. Many other surgeries are described, including cataract surgery, treatment for boils, carbuncles, fractures Etc.

In Europe, It was only in the fifteenth century that a Barber became a Surgeon. There, barbers were given the responsibility of treating surgical diseases. Ambrose Pare, a French barber surgeon was send to the warfront to treat soldiers. He learned on the job and laid the foundations of modern surgery as we know it. It still took three centuries more for modern medicine to rediscover and do Susrutha’a landmark method of nose reconstruction.

Why did we stagnate? Why did the entire ancient world stagnate till the runaway success of the age of science?
Well. Let us go back much further in time and examine an era of stagnation, buried in our pre-history.

Anatomically modern humans have been around for approximately two lakh years. They lived in tribes, hunted and gathered, fought with one another. They made stone tools. Stone axes in particular. This much we know from the fossil record. What is strange is that they did the same things, made the same stone tools generation after generation, for one and a half lakh years. The same lifestyle continued, century after century, generation after generation.

Then suddenly sixty to fifty thousand years ago, there was a marked change. Humans came out of Africa, and started spreading throughout the globe. Exquisite cave painting appeared. Beads and necklaces were lovingly made. Tools suddenly increased in sophistry. Spears, knives and shields were stacked in pre-historic caves. Arrow heads whizzed into bewildered prey. The conquest of the earth had begun. This is called ‘the great leap forward’.

What triggered this rapid change? Nobody knows. It is a mystery.

We can only say that human beings did the following things well after that period:

Observed the surroundings and learned from them (Science)

Utilized that knowledge to solve life’s problems and to express themselves (technology)

They transferred their knowledge well across generations.

Each generation improved upon this knowledge and innovations honed technology over generations.

Whenever there was a break in this process, we must have stagnated. Whenever a society thought that they have learned enough, and has achieved everything, they must have stopped progressing. Whenever a people thought that they have the best system in the world, they must have stood still. Whenever they punished new thoughts, and held all the old wisdom too sacred to question, the air must have turned stale. That is all we know.