Twenty years ago I wrote a good article entitled "The Biologic Bases for the Determination of Health." I presented my synopsis of the causative features in human health determination in the American Journal of Public Health. In my view they are design, accidents, maintenance, and aging. I pointed out that they are the precise same determinants as the health of your car, an interesting metaphor I felt.
Tomorrow I fly East for a small symposium sponsored by the National Science Foundation in Washington. 40 of us will assemble, mostly physicists, to update our understanding of the physics of living organisms.
In view of the prestige of my meeting partners I've updated my previous categories. Now the four determinants are: 1. design (genes), 2. contingency, which I feel is a more apt label for what happens to the organism. Ultimately the influence of the environment is critical to its life/course. Similarly, use of the term 3. energetics, instead of maintenance, more clearly reflects the agency of causation. Energetics is the prime mover for life, indeed of the entire universe. For us humans it comes in two varieties, too much and too little. Last week's blog "Too much of a Good Thing" was my recital of how my fibrillating heart is the casualty of my excessive zeal in marathoning.(1) Too much of a good thing. My jumpy heart is the result. Anyhow energetics is a central determinant of health.
At the meeting will be Harold Morowitz, ex of Yale, now at George Mason University. He has been high on my list of exalted experts. We have shared a platform before. One of my favorite all time science books is "Energy Flow in Biology" (2) in which he lays out beautifully how we creatures are maintained by the metabolic flow of energy provided by food, and originally from the sun, our energetic parent. I look eagerly forward to learning from Harold his updates and extensions.
And finally there's aging as the fourth determinant 4. Again on the program is a good friend Leonard Hayflick who is probably the premier aging expert in the world. He and I put on a pre-conference workshop in Washington in November making our insistence that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is fundamental to the process of aging. This philosophic stance will again be on vivid display this Thursday and Friday.
In my view this conference is a progressive step in resetting the basic paradigm for science, is nature guided by a fixed genetic program? or is it the end product of the interactions of the organism with the environment?
This is not just an egg headed academic question, but is fundamental to our perception of our place in the universe. I will report later on how these deliberations turn out. In the meantime my advice is to "keep moving."
The devil can't hit a moving target.
1) Bortz, W Too much of a Good Thing. Huffington Blog April 29,2015
2) Morowitz ,H. Energy Flow in Biology
Academic Press New York, London 1968