Sunday, October 12, 2014

No. 101 – June 12, 2014 – How ideas impact us – Meet the Homunculus

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

It started with philosophers sitting around observing the world around them and extrapolating on how things worked, which they could not actually see. Anything related to sex was naturally of extreme interest, the profession of philosopher being entirely male.

Theophrastus, Hippocrates, Aristotle and Aeschylus, weighed in with theories of how babies came about. Then one of them, likely, in 458 BC, who must have had very good eyesight, looked closely at some sperm, which he reportedly held in his hand. He deduced that sperm were tiny human beings, homunculi, which would be planted in the womb of the woman. He then proposed the interesting theory that the male was the only real parent of the child, the female carrying out the role of "nurse for the young life sown within her".

In the 1700s this interesting theory received more attention and back up through the work of Dutch microscopist Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723). Anton discovered what he called "animalcules" in the sperm of humans and other animals. You can imagine these fellows peering intently into the lens of their microscope.

These scientists started a school of thought known as the "spermists" repeating the original contention of Aeschylus that the only contributions of the female were to provide the womb.

The Theory of the Homunculus was noted by legal sages who were writing law and became the justification for giving fathers the entire legal control of the children born to his wife.
Naturally, this ignored the room and board, so to speak, the woman had provided for nine plus months and the related services of nourishing and caring for the child after the often painful and dangerous process of birth was completed. 
If you calculate the entire biological capitalization needed to produce a baby, conception to birth, ownership, or liability, would be viewed very differently, of course. 
Sperm generally have a negative value since men must pay to give them away. Human eggs cost around $8,000, ready to be fertilized and implanted. Payment for gestation services runs up to $100,000. Therefore, the capitalization of the baby making, calculated monetarily, is around: Male 1 Share, Female 99,000 Shares. 
This example of using theory to make law without thoroughly thinking through the ramifications and objectively assessing each contribution to the entire process is a useful exercise today. 
It gives us a moment to pause and consider many other issues which need rethinking.

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