The Specificity of Immunologic Observations

Constructivist Foundations 6 (3):334-342 (2011)
Context: Immunity includes cognitive concepts: the organism is thought to specifically recognize foreign materials and develop a memory of these encounters. Vaccines are thought to work by enhancing this immunological memory. Lymphocytes are key cells and specific antibodies are key molecules in immune recognition. Antibodies are blood proteins called “immunoglobulins.” Spontaneously formed immunoglobulins are seen as “natural” antibodies to dietary components and commensal bacteria. Immune cognition is used simply as a didactic metaphor. Problem: Do the cognitive aspects of immunology stem from the activities of cells and molecules, or are they ascribed by the immunologist operating as a human observer? (1) An immense variety of immunoglobulins may bind to the same antigen with different binding energies. It is the immunologist who arbitrates the boundary between those that are specific (and declared antibodies) and those that are not. Specific antibodies serve as functional labels pasted onto natural immunoglobulins, as if they were recognizing elements. Is this “arbitration” the true cognitive event ascribed to immunoglobulins and lymphocytes? (2) A major impasse exists between progress in experimental immunology and its translation into clinical results. A proper understanding of immunological activity demands a wider view of an organism’s biology and, also, of the interference of human observers in delineating experimental realities, such as the specificity of immune recognition. Maturana’s biology of cognition and language provides one such approach. Method: Use of Maturana’s biology of cognition and language concepts to describe immunological activity. Results: A whole new understanding of immunological activity is suggested. Implications: A major change in the way of seeing is proposed that may eventually help the translation of this knowledge into clinical results. Furthermore, the immune system may also become a proper model for cognitive analyses
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