Archive for March, 2011

In the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor woes in Japan, The Edge has focused on the issue of prediction. As always they’ve got a fascinating range of pieces, some of which, I completely disagree with, and some which are truly enlightening. All of them, however, are thought provoking. My initial favourite on reading through them all is the contribution from Douglas Rushkoff. He says (referring to these unusual, unpredictable events as “black swans” –

But, as black swan events like this prove, our reliance on the data continually fails us. We just can’t get enough data about our decidedly non-linear world to make accurate predictions.

This is a key point for me – the connections between things in our world are non-linear, because we live in a complex world, not a simple, mechanical one. Non-linear systems have certain characteristics including the phenomenon of “emergence” (which many of the Edge contributors refer to). The detail of emerging events and phenomena is unpredictable.  So, what to do about that?

The coincidence of nuclear crises in Japan, combined with our inability to predict the events that precipitated it, forces another kind of predictive apparatus into play. No, it’s not one we like to engage — particularly in rational circles — but one we repress at our own peril. Science is free to promote humanity’s liberation from superstition or even God, but not from humanity itself. We still have something in common with all those animals who somehow, seemingly magically, know when an earthquake or tsunami is coming and to move to higher ground. And our access to that long lost sense lies in something closer to story than metrics. A winter bookended by BP’s underwater gusher and Japan’s radioactive groundwater may be trying to speak to us in ways we are still human enough to hear.

That bolding is mine, not Douglas Rushkoff’s. This is it. This is a great insight. We need to understand the importance of story, particularly when dealing with complexity, because there just never will be “enough” data.

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agate fungi

How often do you notice that something has strong echoes of something completely different? I’ve never seen fungus on a tree look like this. It looks like agate to me. Which got me thinking….this is a fungus looking like a stone…here’s another photo I took the same day of stone looking like water…

rocks like water

These are rocks in a waterfall, so you can imagine why they develop this particular form….but don’t they look SO like water?

Isn’t nature amazing?

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almost monochrome

Having just posted about “arrogance and ignorance” I thought again about this photo I took yesterday. When I looked at it, at first, I thought it was in black and white. Which was strange, because I shot it in colour. But then the blueness of the stone at the 11 o’clock position in the picture caught my eye.
Seems that in the real world, even when things look black and white……they’re not!

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What is that makes arrogance and ignorance go so hand in hand?

Why do people claim to know for absolutely definite whether something is right or wrong, whether something works or doesn’t, but, in fact, don’t know anything about it at all?

I heard a few stories last week of patients’ exchanges with specialists. One man with cancer spoke to his oncologist about changing his diet and got the response “What do you want to do that for? There’s no evidence changing a diet affects your cancer”. The patient was surprised, having read a lot about the research related to cancer and diet so challenged the oncologist mentioning a research paper or two (you can imagine how that went down! So many doctors, sadly, don’t welcome such an adult/adult discussion!). At this the specialist said he admitted that diet might have an effect on whether or not you got cancer in the first place but he didn’t think it had any effect once you actually had the cancer. The patient persisted asking some more about what diet effects the specialist was aware of, at which he responded “I’m not an expert on diet. I’ll refer you to the dietician”.

Another exchange…..man with cancer who hears about “Iscador” treatment (the details aren’t important here) – the oncologist responds “Well you can go to Mexico if you like but you’ll be wasting your money!” Mexico? What on earth has Mexico got to do with “Iscador”? (Answers on a postcard please…..from Mexico preferably!) When asked what the connection was the “expert” confessed he knew nothing about “Iscador”.

I could go on……I heard at least FIVE separate stories like this last week. Situations where a patient is keen to find something that might help and is dismissed, apparently authoritatively, by an “expert”, who, it turns out, is pronouncing on something he knows nothing about.

This happens a lot, not just in Medicine. Look at the nuclear disaster post-quake and tsunami in Japan. Or the financial crash of 2008. Plenty of “experts” would swear such things were impossible…..until they happened.

We could do with a bit more humility, a bit more tolerance and open-mindedness, and a lot less claim for being in possession of the final, definitive truth……about anything.

I would also like to see an increase in the ability of doctors to engage in adult/adult discussion, and to let go off parent/child type consultations with adults.


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morning sun

So….as I walked along the road I saw this sight before me. I tell you……NEVER leave the house without a camera!

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The 1000th post!

4 years ago today, I wrote and published my very first post, having spent a few weeks before that researching various blogging platforms, learning how to use them, and creating a name and a design for mine.

I chose the name heroes not zombies because I believe we humans have a tendency to slip into autopilot and drift through life zombie fashion. I also think that society is ordered to make people that way. Commodification and command and control seem to be the order of the day. People are reduced to units.

I think we need to reclaim what it is to be human and we can do that through telling stories. We create a sense of self through the narratives we create around our experience, and we communicate our inner, subjective reality through telling others stories and through dialogue. We have the opportunity to become present and aware and in so doing to become the heroes of our own stories (hero, in the literary sense of the lead character).

But I had other motives for starting this blog too. I wanted to share my passion and my enthusiasm for life. This seems a good place to do that.

I also want to stimulate people to think differently about health and health care, so it pleases me greatly to see that the most visited post, by a long, long way, is the one about the Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp (click on “person sized medicine vs molecule sized medicine” in the top posts on the right). I really love that painting. I think it completely captures the shift in emphasis away from seeing illness as a contextually bound experiential phenomenon, to seeing it as a reified disease. What I mean is that through autopsies we began to see illness as a thing. As technology developed we delved deeper and deeper into the human body, examining smaller and smaller parts. That progress has enormously expanded our understanding of the body and of pathology. But too often, the downside is we forget that it’s human beings who experience illness and that disease is only a part of the problem.

I want to make the case for understanding and emphasising health and healing. Healing shouldn’t be just what you hope happens as a side effect of managing disease. It should be something we explicitly address, deepen our understanding of, and actively trying to deliver. After all, a healthy person is more likely to self-repair, self-regulate, and so, effectively deal with disease and pathology than an unhealthy one.

So, if this is your first time here, welcome, please take your time and browse around. I hope you find some things to stimulate you, to enlighten you, to delight you. And if you’re one of the folk who has been here with me back and forth over the last four years, thank you. It’s been great to make your acquaintance and I look forward to sharing much more with you in the years to come.

Here’s to great stories! Here’s to life! Here’s to wonder and awe at the amazing diversity and creativity of the everyday. Here’s to you!

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….stumbled across these stones in the garden today – aren’t the lichen patterns lovely? Natural art.

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Female/Male, yin/yang, moon/sun, there are these two aspects, types or tendencies described in many cultures throughout history. It’s too simplistic to say men are one way and women are the other. However, it’s also too simplistic to say men and women are the same. This way of thinking can be helpful if we consider male or female qualities are tendencies, rather than fixed types, if we see their interaction as being present and dynamic in all human beings, and if we aspire to an integrated, mature state, where each of us access both ways of being.

One helpful discussion about this is in Carol Gilligan’s “Different Voices”, where she highlights masculine and feminine ways or types of being in terms of “voices”.

A man’s voice tends to be focused on autonomy, justice and rights, whereas a woman’s voice tends to be focused on relationships, care and responsibility. In other words, men tend towards agency, and women towards communion (see the qualities of holons).
Men follow rules, women follow connections. Men look, women touch. Men tend towards individualism, women to relationships.

Neither of these are better than the other. For example, if the masculine way goes too far, or goes wrong, we see

not just autonomy, but alienation, not just strength but domination, not just independence, but fear of commitment. And if the feminine way goes too far, instead of being in relationship, she becomes lost in relationship, instead of healthy communion, she becomes dominated by others, and instead of flow, panic, or meltdown.

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In Ken Wilber’s integral map of development, he describes an evolution from egocentric, to ethnocentric, to worldcentric. By this he means an initial focus on “me”, to an identification with others like us (“we”), to an identification with all living things.

He demonstrates how this relates to stages of moral development, from preconventional, where a child is self-absorbed, to conventional, where they learn the rules and norms of culture, and identify with their tribe or group, then onto postconventional, where their sense of identity expands out to include all humanity.

Interestingly he suggests there may be another map which lays nicely onto these – body (a focus on my physical body), mind (expanding to shared relationships and values) and spirit (all sentient beings).

Or even, from a neurological basis, from the reptilian brain stem (centred on me), to the mammalian limbic system (centred on we – the seat of attachment), to the neocortex (able to perceive and identify with the world).

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I’m always interested to hear about non-pharmacological treatments for depression (especially as antidepressants are no more effective than placebo for all but the most severely depressed). Here’s a study on depression in the elderly. The researchers compared those who were prescribed antidepressants plus a Tai chi class, to those who received the drugs plus weekly health education classes.

Researchers at UCLA turned to a gentle, Westernized version of tai chi chih, a 2,000-year-old Chinese martial art. When they combined a weekly tai chi exercise class with a standard depression treatment for a group of depressed elderly adults, they found greater improvement in the level of depression — along with improved quality of life, better memory and cognition, and more overall energy — than among a different group in which the standard treatment was paired with a weekly health education class.

It would be interesting to compare the Tai chi class to the antidepressants……

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