Despite a steady increase in life expectancy, medical science is facing diminishing returns. It has been estimated that every increase in lifespan since 1990 has resulted in only ten months of increased healthy life; the rest is only prolonged suffering and the decline of aging. Globally more people now die of so-called “lifestyle diseases” than from infectious diseases. Doctors cannot make choices about lifestyle; only the patient can. Finally, half of all heart attacks before old age occur in people who live a good lifestyle, managing their weight, eating right, and exercising regularly.
What lies beyond lifestyle? That’s a matter of much speculation. Will human existence be improved in the future through technology, genetic manipulation, nano-robots in the bloodstream serving as cancer hunters? Or will it take a new philosophical conception, one that entices people away from a life of speed, constant activity, and stress?
By all odds it will take both, because innovations in technology can’t succeed if we continue to define well-being in old, outworn ways. Consider the following statements, which almost everyone, including doctors, take as fact:
- The body is a machine, and like all machines it breaks down.
- Aging is a pre-determined process, probably controlled by our genes.
- The body is a mindless lump of matter except for the brain, which has evolved to produce mind or consciousness.]
- The causes of most diseases are now known. What remains is to find effective drugs to target each malady.
- You are healthy until something goes wrong, which is signaled by the appearance of symptoms.
In reality none of these statements is correct. The body isn’t a machine; machines cannot heal themselves. The body isn’t mindless; every cell is imbued with vast knowledge that far surpasses anything found in medical textbooks. The brain doesn’t produce the mind; that’s merely an assumption that has never been proved.
The most urgent need facing each of us is how to envision our bodies without the burden of outworn assumptions, which is why, starting in two weeks, an annual symposium known as Sages & Scientists Symposium will bring together the best thinkers with views both humanistic and scientific. This year’s theme is “The Future of Well-Being,” and the public is invited to attend. There is nothing on the planet as open to the free exchange of ideas, from every kind of thinker and researcher, all aiming to find a way forward into a viable future.