A great example of this focused way of looking at the world is cancer

We treat cancer in isolation. We have spent billions looking for a cure, millions fighting against the most egregious causes like smoking and we also spend ridiculous amounts of cognitive effort in denying the systemic causes that science has shown us. For example? Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. If we spent half the time and money countering the "enterprise" that brings these carcinogens into our human environment as we do searching for a "cure", cancer would not be the scourge it is in our society today. Our passion for new cars, mobile phones, marble counter-tops, luxurious carpets; this is what is killing us, but because of ever narrowing laser focus on the symptoms of our disease, we miss the bigger picture and with it, the opportunity to minimize the human suffering inherent in the products that we consume.

We have had the cure for cancer firmly in front of us for generations. The cure is prevention. But that runs counter to our primary cultural value which is money and the status that it can buy. Until we can openly address this, nothing will change.

Science proposes to describe, explain, predict, and control. But when we talk about global problems of the biosphere, science often fails in explanation, prediction, and problem-solving.

Embedded Link

Emergy: you spelled energy wrong! – A Prosperous Way DownA Prosperous Way Down
What is Emergy, and how do I learn more about it? I’ve been getting questions about EMergy–so here is a brief explanation and some suggested links.

Google+: View post on Google+


  1. George Hilbert
    George Hilbert says:

    I agree with you for the most part. However, the preventable causes of cancer  are a small minority of cases (we may disagree on this). If we do not continue on the quest for cures (yes, I said cures, because cancer is NOT just one disease), the alternative is to just write off people when they get it. Great strides have been made in my lifetime and cancers that routinely killed all who got them are today easily cured. Prevention is important, but mostly involves choices that cannot be legislated in a free society. The best we can do on that front is to continue to educate and minimize it wherever, as in the enterprise, where you suggest. I believe the cure still has to be the priority, though……You may feel free to disagree with me on any or all of these points…I have lived them repeatedly, and am not likely to change my opinion.

  2. Chris George
    Chris George says:

    I would never argue to not do the research to find a cure for the many different facets of cancer. But our laser focus on issues and our lack of looking at the whole has led us down this same path in many different areas. Cancer is simply the one I chose to make an example of. It is the reductionist scientific and technological focus of our society that is the problem. Looking to actual causes rather than continuing to play "whack a mole" with symptoms simply makes more sense to me. I try to find those causes and examine why that search for causes was so painfully difficult.

    We live in a world where the causes of problems have been abstracted away to the extent that all we are left with is the actual symptom. I argue for a more holistic and synthetic approach, that better reflects the reality we all face in many different aspects of technological society.

  3. George Hilbert
    George Hilbert says:

    Well, I don't agree. And I have spent a lot of time with the medical/research community. A large part of finding cures is tracing back to causes. I believe that your view is the reductionist one, because you reduce something very complex down to an "either or" situation. I suspect that your only exposure to this issue has been media coverage, because I don't believe that anyone who has seen it up close can make such statements…

    But then, I am civil….show me your extraordinary documentation for this extraordinary claim and I am willing to be convinced.

  4. Chris George
    Chris George says:

    My claim is that by focusing on the reductionist view we miss the integration. Nothing happens in isolation.

    Drop cancer, bad example on my part and address the greater point I was trying to make. Ignoring root causes, like industrial civilization for example, in order to facilitate a reductionist view of very complex problems leads to a focus on symptoms, not root causes. We are very good at addressing symptoms in a partial way, not so good at addressing causes. Which was my point.

    I appreciate your laser focus on my bad analogy.

  5. George Hilbert
    George Hilbert says:

    I really had no choice but to focus on your analogy. It is what you chose to illustrate the problem. Let's find a better one. If what I thought is true for cancer, it might also be valid in the next analogy. If you make a claim and cite an analogy, that should be the best illustration of your point, not just something picked out of the sky (not my first choice of location).  Personally, I think we focus on what we can, and what we can get funding for, which is a very real consideration. Sometimes, it is easier to work back from symptoms than to hypothesize  a root cause and fund the research.

  6. Chris George
    Chris George says:

    So lets spare the analogies and cut to the chase then. We attempt to understand the biosphere while we are in the process of systematically dismantling it. Who is funding this grand practical experiment? Which narrow field of specialization can look at the whole and determine what is the best path forward? If the problem is rooted in a confluence of five or six different fields of scientific inquiry and is mired in social, cultural and economic realities, who will be in a position to even ask the questions? 
    We have followed a path laid out for us by specialists, many in non-scientific fields. Do we trust the physicists to light a path? The chemists? Biologists? 

    We are conducting a grand experiment with our means of being on this planet. If our specialists, many who have not even been asked for their input on the advisability of this experiment cannot identify the overall cause of the problem due to their very specialization, what are we to do? Do we leave it to the economists and hunker down in our drywall boxes and watch TV until we cannot do so any longer?

  7. George Hilbert
    George Hilbert says:

    I did not see a real question in that whole essay, except to say that something undefined is wrong, and that we should do something about it. I think you need a definite question and a hypothesis before you can determine the best way to address it.

    If you are looking for one root cause for "everything" you may not find it. Even so, how do you propose to do this? You don't want to trace back from symptoms, but propose no better way, except to assume that your initial statement is "true" with no backup……..In fact, after all this back and forth, along with reading the article, I still have only the vaguest idea what you are talking about…And I think I have spent more time on ity than most would, without any concrete information to grasp…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>