Everyone is excited about the possibilities of crunching huge amounts of data and coming up with some more or less magical, emergent pattern that will cure whatever ails you. You can find terrorists by phone patterns, risk of diabetes by step counting, back pain by posture monitors cloud-linked via someone’s patented gizmo. Cool! I’m in!
One problem, however. Any large scale pattern will not reveal the invisible, even transcendent, ‘ghost in the machine’ of the human will. The willy-nilly of crowds? Sure. Still, God bless ’em, not the implacable will of the one; the lone wolf in all of us. How do we awaken him; how do we create a shared society that will honor the genetics, the behavior, the will of one, of each of us? Not only a shared society, there is no other, but a healthy, shared society and we surely do not have that.
Here is the weakness of the ‘cloud-based, crowd-sourced, citizen-science’ model as it applies to health; it does not attempt, does not address, the veritable structure of society itself except, so far as it does at all, in tepid forms of fashion. Think “Google glasses,” or iPhone 26 or whatever. Invoking ‘Namaste’ at each greeting is not the same as a transformed intention.
The reason I bring this up is to begin to dig a little deeper. You see, I actually do think that technology can be an aid to creating a healthy society that will yield individual health; always my goal as I remain at heart a physician.
The problem is we are still in the ‘boys love toys’ phase of technology. And as most of the ‘boys’ are engineers, the toys, the thinkers who extol the toys, and the philosophers who hold out the strange new promises of a fast approaching technological age have a strained, even stunted, view of human potential.
Let us not forget Gödel. For some the limits of reason that the incompleteness theorems seem to imply is a technicality they imagine stems from following any particular algorithmic set of rules and that ‘thought’ somehow escapes this technical issue. I am not the only one that does not believe this. If I and others are right about this then here is another place for that ‘ghost in the machine’ to reside; the ghost being ‘free will.’ There are others but any place for the will to be free leaves the simple ‘boy toys’ incapable of freeing society and the individual of disease. This remains the duty of the individual; the ‘lone wolf’ I mentioned above.
The analogy of the cosmos as a vast supercomputer does not escape the problem either. While addressing this is too long just here, this is really nothing other than another version of Laplace’s demon.
Where am I going with this you might ask? Well, I want to argue for the role of Cicero’s rhetoric, the Upanishads, Plato’s cave, the Torah, the Bible, Proust, Wittgenstein, Heinlein, Calvin and Hobbes, Mozart and Noah & The Whale. Etc.
Those who know my work with Tempus know that I have been trying to build a web-based, ‘cloud-based’, data-environment for physicians and patients, ‘crowd-sourced’, personally chosen, ‘citizen-science’, model of health for over 15 years. So I will not easily yield to anyone in my admiration, my hope for the technology of the future to be a tool for the healing of individuals and society.
However, so far, all I can find on the net are more or less ‘one trick ponies’ who, in very simple, clever, webese still appeal to the automaton, the ‘people’ and not to the human we all can be. Even the social elements are built around a trivialization of human potential: “I can wear my prom dress again!” There is nothing wrong with that; it is just not enough. I know, I know because I have worked with people over decades and know that such things do not endure, are not enough to carry each of us through the trials of life with clarity about the importance of our health, our duty to one another, of how the energy of wellness is also, in ways that should not be discounted, the source of ‘the milk of human kindness.’
So bring it on; bring on the ‘cloud-based, crowd-sourced, citizen-science’ future. Just be sure it is not bereft of the incalculable patrimony of literature, art, architecture and philosophy that is our freely offered heritage. Only here is where the role of choice, chance and outcome can change the future to a better one. The anthropology of man on the earth, through the ages is not infused into the technology of the future without intention. It will certainly not be infused without design and purpose. The reductionist myth- how flat man really is- is a poverty stricken replacement for the heroes, martyrs, thinkers and builders of the past many thousands of years. This past, woven into our culture and our genes, will be lost in a flat materialist future. It would have no place, no meaning, no purpose. The failure of the past to create a better present does not reflect on its value because there has been progress; it simply has longed to be free in the technology of the present and the future.
Let’s be better men and women and not just count our daily steps but our daily blessings. I will argue that the right understanding of the data-driven, parameter-measured, quantified-self of a business model of health that I advocate will also infuse us with the wisdom of the battlefield of the Bhagavad Gita, the Beatitudes of Jesus, the civic virtues of Cicero.
Smile, Have Fun, God Speed,