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The Origin of Diseases: Musings on Ecology and the Evolution of Medical Ideas

Mark A. Hyman, MD

Galapagos, December 20, 2006 Sailing in the equatorial oceanic islands of the Galapagos, retracing Darwin’s journey and observing the same phenomena he witnessed 170 years earlier, I was stimulated to consider the unique parallels between pre- and post-Darwinian biology and current trends in medical science and systems biology. I began to consider the confluence of events that led to such a radical change in our view of the world, and how that may help us recognize that we stand on the brink of a similar change in biologic theory as it applies to health and disease.

How did Darwin come to understand the nature of things, the nature of nature? How did an idea arise that was completely different than the collective wisdom of scientists, theologians, and philosophers of his time? How did an idea emerge that contradicted the belief that all animals and living things were the result of spontaneous creation manifested in one instant through the intelligent design of a benevolent god? Darwin said, Science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.1

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