Pert's mission, as she describes it, is to bridge the gap that exists between the laboratory and the layman. "I try," she writes, "to make available and interpret the most up-to-date knowledge that I and my fellow scientists are discovering, information that is practical, that can change people's lives. In the process, I virtually cross into another dimension, where the leading edge of biomolecular medicine becomes accessible to anyone who wants to hear it."
Much of what Pert has to say is solidly grounded in new research, but she's on shakier ground in her occasional embrace of pop psychology and mysticism. Now a research professor at Georgetown University, she is as apt to speak at a conference of New Age gurus as at a gathering of molecular biologists. She is trying to open a dialogue between the mind of science and the body of beliefs many people are turning to for alternative healing. Whether these efforts represent critical lapses or welcome leaps of faith must be left to the perspective of each reader.
Paul Trachtman, who resides in New Mexico, is a regular contributor to Smithsonian. His most recent article, in the May 1998 issue, was a profile of the legendary horse trainer Buck Brannaman.