You know what bothers me?
It bothers me when people don’t corral their shopping carts.
It also bothers me when people act like ancient peoples were stupid.
Take the theory that aliens built/helped in the building of the Great Pyramids of Egypt and other ancient monuments (1). Some people have decided that the ancient Egyptians couldn’t possibly have pulled off those constructions on their own. Therefore, aliens. (2)
You mean you think people noticed the behavior of the stars back then and built around it?? Naw, that’s crazy talk. Ancient people were too busy huddling in caves, scratching themselves, and grunting at each other to actually notice their surroundings. Surely they didn’t envision and build grand things. Only aliens would have been capable of noticing and taking advantage of celestial patterns.
And the Nasca lines, which are truly enormous depictions of shapes and animals (1). People made those. Not aliens.
Whut? B-but people couldn’t possibly draw big spiders!!!! IT MUST HAVE BEEN ALIENS. ONLY ALIENS COULD DRAW BIG SPIDERS.
I get it. Aliens are cool to think about. But must everything mysterious be attributed to aliens? It’s like the conspiracy theorists don’t believe people were the same species we are today. It’s a slap to human ingenuity.
Humans are smart. They were smart. They are smart. They will continue to be smart.* Just because they didn’t write down every idea and accomplishment doesn’t mean they didn’t have any ideas or accomplishments.
To affirm that humans of the past were smart, let me tell you about Serefeddin Sabuncuoğlu. You know, that guy. Everyone knows about him. They have a whole week about him in grade school. Kids dress up as him. There’s a Broadway musical in his honor.
I’m kidding. Very few people know about Serefeddin Sabuncuoğlu. But now you know about Serefeddin Sabuncuoğlu! So, what is it about Serefeddin Sabuncuoğlu that is worth knowing?
Serefeddin was a very smart man. He was also a physician living in the Ottoman Empire in the 1300s-1400s (4). Serefeddin left his mark by writing the Turkish piece Cerrahiyetü’l Haniyye, which translates as “Imperial Surgery” (3).
Serefeddin knew a lot of crap. But I’m going to tell you about the crap that impresses me the most.
First, a quick lesson in anatomy and pathophysiology. That’s dork talk for where-people-parts-are-and-what-they’re-called (anatomy) and how-things-go-wrong-with-people-parts (pathophysiology).
Imma gonna tell you about the pneumothorax.
Pneumo = air. Thorax =chest. It’s dork talk for what normal humans with lives call a “collapsed lung”.
What’s a collapsed lung?
Lungs work thanks to changes in air pressure. When you inhale, your diaphragm tightens and the lungs expand. This lowers the air pressure in the lungs, which pulls in air from the outside. The lungs fill with air and oxygen is absorbed into the blood. You exhale: the diaphragm relaxes, the lungs are smushed, and air is pushed out.
That’s how things normally work.
But what happens when you get a pneumothorax?
Let’s say something screws up this lovely little rhythm you and your lungs have got going. You’re just sitting there, minding your own business. You and your lungs. Then an Ottoman warrior buddy of yours decides to engage you in a wrestling match and tackles you to the ground. But you land on a rock and a couple of your ribs snap. And then one of the ribs pokes a hole in your lung.
BAM. Your lung has a leak, and now you’re growing a pneumothorax. Thanks a lot, Ottoman warrior buddy. Air pushes out of your lung and into the space between the lung and the chest wall.
Here are pictures, because visuals help:
The more you inhale, the more air may end up in this space. The more air ends up in this pocket, the more that air pushes on the lung. The more the stupid air pushes on the lung, the more the lung deflates. The more the lung deflates, the less air gets in it. The less air gets in it, the less oxygen you absorb.
The less oxygen you absorb, the sicker you get.
You’ve got yourself a pneumothorax. How do you fix it?
Tiny pneumothoraces can patch themselves up, but larger ones need help. The trick is to remove that misplaced air pressure – restoring the proper settings – so the lung can re-inflate like a happy lung. Nowadays, we often use chest tubes to do this.
But Serefeddin Sabuncuoğlu did not have chest tubes. Serefeddin Sabuncuoğlu would have been helpless in the case of a pneumothorax, right?
Wrong! Serefeddin Sabuncuoğlu knew how to encourage a collapsed lung to re-inflate. In cases like these, Serefeddin used a cupping technique called mihceme, which had been in use before to draw out blood (5). To treat a collapsed lung with this, Serefeddin would cut an incision over the injured area. A glass container of sorts was then placed, and a flame was started in the container. The fire would consume the oxygen in the glass, which created a vacuum. (5) This vacuum would pull the air (and blood, if you had a hemothorax going on too) out of the pocket causing the pneumothorax. This gave the damaged lung a chance to re-inflate. That made for a more comfortable Ottoman warrior.
And that’s SO FRIGGIN’ SMART.
References (and a Footnote)
*I also think humans are stupid, have long been stupid, and will continue to be stupid until things change on a fundamental level. But hush – I stand by both assertions.