DESCARTES, RENE: (1596-1650) French mathematician, physicist and physiologist, who wrote philosophical treatises (The Discourse on Method and the Meditations on First Philosophy) to attempt to make his science palatable to a religious and university world in which Aristotelian philosophy and science were so entrenched that they were almost regarded as inseparable parts of Christian doctrine. Descartes is regarded as the modern father of "dualism", the idea that we have both souls and bodies. It is generally accepted that, in Descartes' philosophy the soul and the body have equal status, or perhaps the soul is even more important. But his "real distinction between soul and body" really opens the way for a mechanistic scientific approach in which we can study the workings of the body through Cartesian physiology and mathematical physics with no need to take the soul into account. So perhaps Descartes is more the father of modern secular science than of spiritual philosophy. But Newton's fame quickly eclipsed that of Descartes.
Descartes lived at a time when sailing ships and empires were increasingly opening contact and trade with Asia. He called his major philosophical work: "Meditations", and in it he tries to forget by doubting, at least temporarily, his education, his cultural heritage, indeed to empty his mind of thoughts, imaginations and memories, until enlightenment in the form of what he called "clear and distinct ideas", should finally appear. The similarity to Zen and to the Tao are too great for so many years to have passed without someone's writing a doctoral thesis exploring the connexion. (FL)
DES See DIETHYLSTILBESTROL.
DESENSITIZE: (Latin: de "away from" + sentire "feel"). 1. In biology, to render an individual less sensitive to, for example, specific allergy-producing antigens. 2. In psychiatry, to relieve an emotionally disturbed person by encouraging discussion about their traumas, phobias or neuroses and their possible origins. 3. In relation to the effects of media and culture, to decrease the normal responses of shock or disgust as a result of repeated exposure to images of violence without showing their explicit consequences (See DESENSITIZATION) (MP)
DESENSITIZATION: (Latin: de "away from" + sentire "feel"). A technique used in behavioural therapy for the elimination of maladaptive anxieties associated with phobias and neuroses. Psychological trauma, feelings of shame or revolt from acts of violence, and inhibitions to aggression can also be decreased as a result of desensitization of the normal reactions due to frequent exposure. Such desensitization can result from repetitive violence without apparent consequences in media such as movies and video games, as well as various techniques common in military training. (See DEHUMANIZATION, DEPERSONALIZATION, DESENSITIZE, VIOLENT MEDIA) (MP)
DESIGNER BABIES: See EUGENICS.
DESIGNER DRUGS: Term coined by pharmacologist Gary Henderson referring to the use of chemical technology to illicitly produce drugs of abuse; such as methamphetamines etc. Such designer drugs and their variants are tested - self-tested - despite unknown toxic effects. Additionally the compounds manufactured are not standardized with respect to potency risking harm and death by overdosing. The major aim of this secret industry is to invent lucrative drugs not already covered by legal prohibition, however, new laws attempt to control all compounds with mood-altering intent. (See RECREATIONAL DRUGS, ECSTASY). (IP+MP)
DETERMINATION OF DEATH: Use of cardiorespiratory and/or neurological criteria to establish whether death has occurred. (See BRAIN DEATH). (DM)
DETERMINISM: The theory that for every action taken there are causal mechanisms such that no other action was possible. Determinism is the denial both of free choice and of randomness. Everything is determined in advance. There are at least three kinds of determinism: logical, theological and scientific.
Logical determinism is based on the Aristotelian Law of the Excluded Middle. There is no middle ground between truth and falsity. Any statement is either true or false. So a statement like "By the end of the 21st Century, human cloning will be widespread and legal in most countries", is already true or already false. We just don"t know which. So there is no free choice about this matter or any other. Aristotle tried to avoid this problem, and to save free will, by declaring that the Law of Excluded Middle does not apply to contingent statements about the future. Those who believe in free will may applaud Aristotle, while those who do not may call his tactic artificial and unwarranted.
Theological determinism says that God already knows the future. Therefore, since God knows what we shall do tomorrow, tomorrow is already determined. Although we may be aware of ourselves actually making choices, God knew in advance exactly what choices we were going to make.
Scientific Determinism says that everything, which happens in the world, follows necessarily from the laws of science. Since we are ultimately composed of subatomic particles, are actions are the necessary outcome of the laws of particle physics. (See BIOLOGICAL DETERMINISM). (FL)
DEVELOPED NATIONS: Since this description of the First World is based around the achievement of wealth, wellbeing and some approximation of freedom and democracy, it is convenient to extend the continuum to point out that in many respects countries may be overdeveloped, or wastefully rich and self-interested to the detriment of equity, other nations and the global environment. (See DECONSUMERISM, DEVELOPING NATIONS, DEVELOPMENT, FIRST WORLD, NORTH, OVERDEVELOPED NATIONS,) (MP)
DEVELOPING NATIONS: Common descriptive term for countries with less economic wealth or social wellbeing with an emphasis on progress and the processes of development. Terms for developing nations have propagated in the search for political correctness and the right spin. The ‘Third World’ descriptive system has endured despite criticism, geographical reorganization and diminution of the Second World. ‘South’ is another term, with focus on geography since developing nations are primarily found in the southern hemisphere - with some notable inconsistencies such as Australia and New Zealand. Other descriptive terms such as ‘Less Developed Country’, ‘Newly Industrialized Country’ and ‘Emerging Economy’ have been used in different contexts. It is ironic that some economically-minded commentators consider the stagnating ‘Fourth World’ as not implied by the term ‘developing’ - where the emphasis on development is most needed. In this and other parts of the developing world, less emphasis perhaps on economic growth, consumerism and environmentally damaging development, and more on requirements for humanity and sustainability. (See CAPACITY BUILDING, DEVELOPED NATIONS, FOURTH WORLD, LESS DEVELOPED COUNTRY, NEWLY INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES, PEACE BUILDING, SOUTH, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, THIRD WORLD) (MP)
DEVELOPMENT: (French: développer ‘to unfold’) 1. Biology: The gradual process of growth and differentiation of an organism from the time of fertilization to the adult stage. The process of change and differentiation from a simple to a more evolved level of complexity acquired, typically, through growth, maturation and learning; for example, adaptive physical and psychological adjustments to environmental and social change. (See DEVELOPMENTAL ANOMALY, DEVELOPMENTAL POTENTIAL, GROWTH, LIFE CYCLE, ONTOGENY) (IP)
2. Environment and socioeconomics: Progress which increases the wellbeing of humans and the environment. Development is any activity or process which increases capacity to meet ecological needs and human quality of life. Too often it is accidentally or deliberately confused with the concept of growth, in particular economic growth including consumerism, commercialism, environmental destruction and demoralizing industries. Development has also been defined in many other more positive ways: poverty-reduction, modernization, infrastructure, more jobs and income, higher standards of living, more equity, democratization, increased freedom, fair trade, institutional reorganization, shift from capitalist modes of production, and socioeconomic transformation. It is internationally recognized that all large-scale development should adhere to ‘sustainable’ principles. Development can be measured, for example the Human Development Index, Human Freedom Index, Genuine Progress Indicator, Index of Social Health, and to a lesser extent Gross National Product. (See CAPACITY BUILDING, DEVELOPING NATIONS, ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT, GENUINE PROGRESS INDICATOR, GROWTH, HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX, HUMAN FREEDOM INDEX, INDEX OF SOCIAL HEALTH, MODERNIZATION, PROGRESS, STATE OF THE ENVIRONMENT REPORT, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT) (MP)
DEVELOPMENTAL ANOMALY: Any congenital defect; such as congenital heart defect, spina bifida, intellectual disability, that results from a disturbance of the normal processes of growth and differentiation during the embryonic and/or fetal periods. (See DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENTAL POTENTIAL, TERATOLOGY, TOXICOLOGY). (IP)
DEVELOPMENTAL PHYSIOLOGY: The study of the physiological processes as they relate to embryonic and fetal development. (See DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENTAL POTENTIAL). (IP)
DEVELOPMENTAL POTENTIAL: The full expression of an organism's latent genetic capacity. Any child's genetic potential is determined by the product of genetic endowment and by the environmental conditions, especially during prenatal development. Since the reproductive health of the parents can improve or undermine the expression of their child's genetic potential, planned pregnancies (that is, the conscious separation of fertility from sexual pleasure) should become the ethically acceptable norm. Major reproductive health determinants are lifestyle, socioeconomic conditions, medical knowledge and available services. (See ADDICTION, INTRAUTERINE GROWTH RETARDATION, PREMATURITY, SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME). (IP)
DEVIL: An evil angel. If there are spiritual beings at all, there is certainly no evidence that all of them are good. There might be some bad ones, who give people bad advice. It is not, therefore, clear that those people who are, or who claim to be "spiritual" are any more ethical than those who are not. So-called "spiritual" people, if they are not deluded, do not necessarily receive their spiritual inspiration from healthy sources. (FL)
DIABETES MELLITUS: a complex disorder of carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism primarily caused by a) the absence or malfunctioning of the beta cells in the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas resulting in a deficiency or complete lack of insulin secretion or by 2) defects of the insulin receptors resulting in tissues being unable to utilize circulating insulin. Insulin and glucagon (released by the alpha cells of the islets of Langerhans) are hormones that regulate normal glucose concentration in the blood. There are two basic types of the disease. Type I diabetes (also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes) affects 15% of diabetics. Typically this form develops in children or young adults and these individuals have a total or near total lack of insulin and consequently need daily injections of insulin to prevent a life-threatening condition called ketosis where glucose and acids reach dangerously high levels in the blood. Type II diabetes (also called mature-onset diabetes, adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) usually develops after age 40 in typically obese victims. In type II diabetes insulin is synthesized but not in sufficient quantity to control normal blood glucose levels so prompt treatment may minimize diabetic complications such as diseases of the eyes, kidney and nervous system. Gestational diabetes greatly increases the risk of stillbirth, birth defects and the development of large overweight babies due to the mother's excess glucose levels affecting normal fetal growth. Viral infections at critical periods of prenatal or postnatal development may also be implicated in the onset of the disease. Diabetes is often familial but a genetic predisposition is not the only factor since environmental and lifestyle variables interact with heredity to determine whether the disease will be expressed or not. The Australian Aboriginals have the highest rates of diabetes in the world where it is considered to be due to the abandonment of a traditional lifestyle in favor for a more sessile existence together with an unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol consumption. (See AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL). (IP)
DIAGNOSIS: (Greek dia 'thorough' + gnosis 'knowledge'). The process of identifying a disease or condition. In western medicine this is a procedure involving a medical history and listing the patient's symptoms, physical signs and results from the laboratory analysis of blood, urine, tissue biopsy or other substance which may identify clinical signs of disease. The final stage is to assemble all the relevant information in order to decide whether it fits a known pattern of disease. (IP)
DIAGNOSTIC GENETIC TESTING: Use of genetic testing in a symptomatic patient to aid the doctors in their diagnosis, treatment and management of the disease. (JA)
DIALYSIS: Dia = two, lysis = separate, Separation of soluable substances from colloids by diffusion through a semi permeable membrane, to dialyze (verb) to pass through a semi permeable membrane. (JA)
DIAZEPAM: A benzodiazepine sedative and tranquilizer traded under the name of Valium. It is predominantly prescribed in the treatment of anxiety, nervous tension, mild depression and as an anticonvulsant for epilepsy and similar disorders. Among the more serious side-effects is its addictive property, and since the drug was popularly prescribed even overprescribed to alleviate minor complaints and dissatisfactions numerous patients became dependent on the drug. (IP)
DICTATOR:Absolute ruler. Now generally used pejoratively though benign dictators exist, though rarely. (MR)
DICTATORSHIP: When dictatorship relates to a mode of governing in modern states, it labels the unrestricted power of one person (or a group of individuals), who actually monopolizes and exercises all political powers. Dictators shape rules without being subjugated to them, and their actions cannot be sanctioned by anyone. All these features stand in sharp contrast to DEMOCRACY. Dictatorship can also refer to a particular mode of exercising power within a community or an ad hoc group of people, which is unrestrained by exterior forces and not dependent on the will formation within the group. (BP)
DIDGERIDOO: traditional Australian Aboriginal wind instrument from the Northern Territory made from a witchety grub-hollowed out tree trunk and emitting a mesmerizing drone. The modern perception that all Aboriginal people played didgeridoo is based on stereotypes rather than fact as its use was limited and women were not permitted to play the instrument. Nowadays it’s a most popular instrument instantly recognizable as Aboriginal whether solo, accompanying lyrics or orchestral. Contemporary music has extended the traditional role in the Aboriginal storytelling tradition and also has a place in modern political life (see MEN’S BUSINESS). (IP)
DIETHYLSTILBESTROL (DES):A synthetic non-steroidal hormone with estrogenic properties which was promoted between the late 1940s until its prohibition in the early 1970s for the treatment of women at risk of miscarriage. During that period its potent teratogenicity was discovered with the in utero exposed offspring suffering an increased incidence of a rare form of carcinoma of the vagina and cervix and a range of other reproductive abnormalities in both sexes. (IP)
DIFFERENTIATION: An increase in complexity and organization of cells and tissues during development. (JA)
DIGITAL: (Latin digitus 'finger'). 1. Pertaining to a digit; that is, finger or toe. 2. Using numerical numbers (digits - as in a digital watch) that show a signal in terms of a series of numbers rather than a continuously varying value. Digital devices work by a counting process either mechanical or electronic. Early calculating machines; such as the abacus, counted with mechanical relays while modern calculators are electronic circuits. (See ANALOG, COMPUTER, QUANTUM COMPUTING). (IP)
DIGITAL FINGERPRINT: An invisible code embedded into a copyright image or other intellectual property such that any unauthorized use can be traced across the internet, sometimes even if the image itself has been digitally altered. (MP)
DILEMMA: Two lemmas, i.e. two different conclusions. A dilemma is a situation in which one can equally well arrive at either of two mutually contradictory conclusions, or decisions as to action, from the same data. Bioethics is often taught as a series of dilemmas, such as "to abort or not to abort", "to turn off the ventilator or to keep it running". Although this is not the only way to approach bioethics, it is a legitimate way. (FL)
DINOSAUR EXTINCTION: See MASS EXTINCTION.
DIOECIOUS are organisms, such as most animals and some plants like holly bushes, which have separate sexes where some of the individuals can produce only female gametes and others only male gametes (Greek di double + oikion house) (See MONOECIOUS). (IP)
DIOXIN: Dioxins such as TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin) are among the most dangerous of the persistent organic chemical pollutants, are highly toxic in small doses, and have been implicated as carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Dioxins are a by-product of the chemical industry, contaminants of herbicides used in forestry and agriculture, and were a component of Agent Orange. Dioxin-containing compounds have been recognized as hazardous and phased out in much of the developed world. (See AGENT ORANGE, PERSISTENT ORGANIC POLLUTANTS, POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS, SYNTHETIC HORMONE DISRUPTORS) (MP & IP)
DIPLOID: A full set of genetic material (two paired sets of chromosomes), one from each parental set. All cells except sperm and egg cells have a diploid set of chromosomes. The diploid human genome has 46 chromosomes (see haploid.). A nucleus with two sets of chromosomes (2n). total chromosome number specific for each species, double = 2n. (DM, JA +GK)
DIRECT ACTION: Protests outside the institutionalized framework, for example grassroots activism, Greenpeace-style tactics, illegal public demonstrations, protest movements, computer hacking, stoppage of work, prevention of transport, ‘locking on’ to machinery, sabotage etc. (See ACTIVISM, ECO-TERRORISM, HACKTIVISM, NONVIOLENT DIRECT ACTION) (MP)
DIRECTED DONATION: Tissue or organ donation intended for the benefit of a designated recipient. (DM)
DISADVANTAGED: Persons lacking the basic resources or conditions believed to be necessary for an adequate standard of living. These may include, homeless persons, minority groups, etc. (DM)
DISARMAMENT: Conventions against Nuclear Weapons include: Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and SALT II), Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START I, 1991 and START II, 1993), Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT, 1995), Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1996).
Conventions against Chemical and Biological Weapons include: Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous and Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (1925), Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (1993).
Conventions against Land Mines include: Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (1997).
National commitments against Missiles have generally gone through the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Agreements or restrictions on manufacture and trade in Conventional Weapons have been made difficult by the right of nations to self-defense, and economic incentives in countries with an extensive military-industrial sector of their economy. The drive to disarmament and demilitarization (See CONVENTIONAL WEAPONS, DEMILITARIZATION, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION) (MP)
DISASSOCIATION: See DISSOCIATION.
DISCLOSURE: Revelation of information, such as the risks and benefits or economic implications of clinical or experimental procedures, to help patients or research subjects make informed decisions. (DM)
DISCOURSE: Narrowly understood as talk but nowadays typically used much more widely to mean a whole way of thinking, understanding and even constructing reality, as, for example, in 'feminist discourse'. Habermas and others have used the phrase 'discourse ethics' when talking about the conditions (listening to others, being prepared to change one's opinions, etc.) that are necessary for valid debate among people preparatory to reaching a common ethical conclusion. (MR)
DISCRIMINATION: Selection between alternatives based on observable characteristics. Discrimination may be ethically appropriate or inappropriate. It is appropriate to discriminate in favour of a job applicant when she displays certain needed skills/abilities, e.g. excellence in teaching and research when appointing an academic, more than other candidates. With certain exceptions, it is inappropriate when the criteria used are such ones as sex, religion, ethnicity and age. However, there are many contentious areas. Is it acceptable to insist that airline stewards are below a certain age? Is it acceptable to favour Christian teachers for a Christian school? Will it be acceptable to test potential airline pilots to see if they have a genetic susceptibility to heart attack? (MR+GK)
DISEASE: Common-sense and widely used though difficult to pin down term generally held to mean either the absence of health or the presence of something that actively impairs full physical and/or mental functioning. Measles, cystic fibrosis and cancers are clearly diseases. But what about the menopause, crooked teeth or short stature? Without intending entirely to deny their objective existence, diseases are clearly also human constructions with a degree of cultural specificity. (MR)
DISEASES OF ADAPTATION: are stress-induced conditions; that is, diseases of exogenous non-infectious etiology such as hypertension, cardiovascular and renal dysfunction and gastric or duodenal ulcers. They are also sometimes called 'lifestyle diseases' (see DISTRESS, GENERAL ADAPTATION SYNDROME). (IP)
DISORDER, GENETIC: By characterizing the nature of the protein normally produced by the gene, greater understanding of the disease process can be obtained. Such an understanding help to assess the relationship of the protein to other body processes and how changes in the gene result in disease. These disorders in the genetic makeup of a person lead to disability and disease (See AUTOSOMAL DOMINANT DISORDERS, AUTOSOMAL RECESSIVE DISORDERS, LATE ONSET DISORDERS, MULTIFACTORIAL DISORDERS). (JA)