Generally speaking, the most important frontiers into which science and technology are moving, are frontiers of ever-smaller bio-significant size scales. For the first time in human history, we (our scientists) can (even if only indirectly, by way of proxies) observe and measure, and seek ways to manipulate to our human individual and species advantages, more and more details of what goes on at, and below, the nanometer level.
The work of science is not complete at any size scale, and at all human-accessible scales, science cannot progress without benefit of technology, nor technology without benefit of science. Though these two “dimensions” of human discovery and learning are distinct from one another, each "informs" the other indispensably. But it is soundly arguable, I think, to say that the most important scale level at which we are making new and different inroads into how human physiology can be manipulated to our species’ coping advantage, is at, and below, nanometer level. New discoveries about subtleties of intra-cellular and intercellular functioning are taking us closer to something we (ideologically perhaps?) anticipate to be what a "healthy" cell is, and does…, what a "healthy" immune system is, what a "healthy" response is to any given irritant, chronic infection, acute trauma or acute infection…
Presently we do well, in treating cancer, to block a particular increment along an mutagenic pathway, or in treating epidemic diseases to interrupt a runaway cascade such as sepsis in certain pathological processes. Hopefully someday, however, we will be able – hopefully not too awfully many years into our future, to focus, intead, on how to maintain "HEALTHY" intra-cellular and inter-cellular metabolism overall, cellular waste disposal overall, cell replication in an entire organism, performance of each cells primary function in a healthy way (with a view, also, to what we might dream of as a healthy cell doing its primary job, while working in complex symbiotic harmony with and within an overall organism which, in turn, is functioning in a way that cooperates in an ideal physiological homeostasis with the organism’s species, in an overall (healthy) Earth ecology.
But wait. There's a dilemma entailed in this forward thinking, isn't there.
What if there is not any such thing as “the” ideal healthy cell, working in conjunction with the ideally healthy immune system, functioning in an ideally healthy human body which is behaving in an ideal way in an ideal species, in an ideal Earth eco-system. One common view of what the physiology of any species is, and ever shall be, is a war of attrition -- a dynamic in which an endless competition goes on, and there is no such thing as a state that is "healthy." From such a view, the human body can never achieve "health" in the sense that it would not (and would not need to) field any "defensive weapons" that cause collateral damage, as it were, or suffer harm from "friendly fire" from other players in the host organism’s overall struggle to live and let live. Among the human body's defenses against certain pathogens and recoveries from traumas, are some that result in collateral damage in the form of inflammation of the body's own health cells. Sometimes the collateral damage, itself, is more traumatic than would be the perceived “enemy” of the host. Similarly, our pharmacological medicines, which have brought us many “health” advantages, almost come as trade-offs, providing benefit in one way, but doing damage to healthy cells or organs or vital physiological processes. Whereas Isaac Newton observed in physics, in regard to every “action’s” having an equal and opposite reactions, in biological systems the notion of “equal and opposite” fades off into, biologically far more ramified than any characterization as “equal and opposite” would fit. (At SOME level it is conceivable that there is an equal and opposite push-pull, or give-take, but “living processes,” as we know them and seek to deal with them at as-near-as-possible the levels we so-far feel we understand and can manipulate to our species and individual coping advantage, we deal in a very practical sense with affects of affects of occurrences at levels of scale smaller than those we have, as yet, found ways to observe, measure or manipulate to our coping advantage.
But the dilemma – whereby every coping advantage the human brain comes up with is a trade-off against a collateral coping disadvantage (some examples veritably local and instant, but others delayed or cumulative) – does not go away. (For every set of coping advantages in, say, agriculture, there is a set of disadvantages, although the disadvantage may be local and immediate, and the disadvantages years in building up to a tipping point, or occurring at another geographical place. Today’s irrigated crop advantages are local and immediate, for example, whereas the impact on underground aquifers, or in gradually escalating toxic run-off may make a downstream area barren. And, so it is, it seems, with the branch of “coping” we think of as “medical care.” In a sense, we joust with ever-morphing windmills – the morphing of the windmills being but the footprint we leave when we ‘win.” Of course, too, our solar system, and our island planet Earth, continue to age and change in many ways for reasons not anthropomorphic, as well as from our anthropomorphic footprint.
Philosophically we could ask, “Do we, who seek to progress in our "war against the forces that would terminate or disadvantage our species existence,” misperceive our information-accumulation and information coping availing as though it were an ultimately winnable war? Or, in our game with nature, so to speak, do we raise the ante, only to prompt "nature" to respond by calling us on our bet, and raising the ante we have to match?
Or, more specifically for purposes of the present question, do we perceive “good health” to be an achievable, sustainable goal.
In our medical science thinking (from a pure-logic or mathematically rigorous approach) we could ask, "Why fight with too much heroics a war that never stops escalating, and that we can never win?"
However illogical it might be to argue that we Earth-humans have the potential to "win," a war against disease and trauma and death (and social conflicts, and even military wars), perhaps our highest and best pursuit of goals as "health and happiness" is justified by our enjoyment of immediate, local advantages only, and enjoyment of the effort qua THE EFFORT, ITSELF. Quixotic though any effort may be to "conquer" disease, suffering, aging, famine, hunger (the more food we have, the more we multiply), death... perhaps what makes life worth living is the "the game."
If there is no such thing as perfect health, or no such thing as any cure to any of humankind's problems that is not merely a new level of current and local trade-offs or, pushing a snowball of consequences of local and immediate winning up a hill of impact on our future progeny – if every perceived victory over some aspect of “nature” is but a synthesis that insinuates and initiates into being its own natural antithesis – then there is no winning against nature; there is only a moving about of the furniture, as it were.
Maybe it’s better, if we find a way to survive and be happier at any given moment, then that is as good as it’s ever going to get. The more diseases we prevent or cure… the more food we produce… the more babies survive and the longer they live on average. It's all worthwhile if we do not look too far up the road to where science and technology are leading us, and weigh the disadvantageous consequences of our advantages.
Perhaps the best we can do, as a species, is live for today, and seek to use our science to enable us to discover the meaning, and the route to, "health," and "perfect technology," and "perfect comfort," and "perfect happiness."
If consequences are not local and immediate, then perhaps we should not allow ourselves to think about them.
No, wait. That wouldn't be very nice, or very smart, would it?
Why does everything have to be so complicated?
(: > )