The invention of the assembly line system by Ransom E. Olds in 1901 revolutionized manufacturing and made Henry Ford famous and rich. Over the next 100 years this system, originally designed for production, became the mental framework for the industrialized world and was used to re-create and deliver goods and services in just about every sector of society including business, agriculture, education and medicine.
In the 1970’s chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis developed the Gaia hypothesis observing that the Earth is a single and self-regulating complex system maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. This hypothesis is just one piece of a whole body of contemporary scientific inquiry that has developed into what is now known as Systems Theory - the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. Systems thinking, with its central concept of dynamic, interlocking networks, is being applied in fields covering natural, scientific, engineered, human and conceptual aspects of our lives.
Systems thinking in this context, is a Western creation and a reaction to the reductionist thinking of prior ages. But viewing the world as a complex system of interrelating parts is ancient, and is the basis for most of the world’s cultures. We may actually be at a point in time when the ancient and the modern meet, and finally agree.
Several books at CML delve into systems thinking as it relates to the body and health:
The End of Illness is by David B. Agus, one of the world’s leading cancer doctors and pioneering biomedical researchers. This book challenges a lot of assumptions. He describes the body as a system that is self-regulating and very complex and that health and disease (specifically cancer) are dynamic states. He believes that cancer is in all of us and that it takes the right environment to make it replicate and become a problem. Dr. Agus argues for the adoption of a systemic view—a way of honoring our bodies as complex, whole systems, and empowers us to take charge of our individual health in personal, customized ways.
The Healing Paradox: a Revolutionary Approach to Treating and Curing Physical and Mental Illness, by Steven Goldsmith looks at the dismal success rate of Western medicine to cure chronic physical and mental illness and asks, “Is there another way?” Convinced that the problem lies in our attack approach to killing off illness, he suggests that we should instead cooperate with our ailments using the feedback to lead us back to health. A medical doctor and psychologist for 40+ years, Goldsmith fills this book with case studies and personal experiences as well as abundant clinical, experimental, and public health data that support his seemingly paradoxical assertions. A fascinating read that will have you questioning much of what you think you know about health and medicine. — Erin