The basics of good health

‘The one thing that can keep communities alive and health services viable.’

I am one of those who has enjoyed the pandemic journalism of Private Eye’s ‘MD’ who being both a practising doctor and a human being can understand and communicate stuff that journos (who often lack the right number of degrees) and politicians (who might be a bit detached from the truth) may not be so hot on. In pandemic-world, I think, journos and politicians are both talking about face-covering while actually attempting to cover something else, and I don’t mean the story.

So. MD (real name Phil Hammond apparently) on health in this week’s Eye (I mean the week I am writing this blog, which is about two weeks behind you reading it. I don’t blame you for this. It’s hard to ask readers to read stuff that hasn’t been published yet.)

The basic ingredients of health are well-known, well-evidenced and fairly easily remembered using the mnemonic CLANGERS, as in: Connect; Learn; (be) Active; Notice; Give back; Eat well; Relax; Sleep.

Friendship and a feeling of belonging; an ability and curiousity to learn and adapt; purposeful physical and mental activity; observation and appreciation of the environment; compassion for others; food that is both delicious and nutritious; an ability to switch off and relax and regular, restorative sleep — collectively these daily joys of health are more powerful than any drug. The privileged can do them every day, even in lockdown. If we all managed them, we would barely need the NHS. But if you’re living with debt, discrimination, depression, domestic abuse, drug addiction, dementia, etc, they are much harder to achieve.

The focus on prevention, helping others and lifestyle medicine is a lot cheaper and more enjoyable than medicating for diabetes and depression. Indeed it’s the one thing that can keep communities alive and health services viable.

MD has put some of his wisdom into a cheery YouTube video just here:

And if you are a regular reader of MD you can parenthetically notice that writers are often different in person than they are on paper, often gentler, as here.

Work as rest

The yoke’s on us

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

The solution to weariness and world-weariness, it seems, is not ‘no work’ but the right work. ‘Come to me’ says Jesus, if you are weighed down and tired out by the loads you’re carrying, and I will give you ‘rest.’ But the ‘rest’ he offered was a ‘yoke’. (He must have raised an eyebrow or two when people heard this. Mostly the word ‘yoke’ is about slavery.) But Jesus redefines his yoke as ‘easy’ or ‘kind’ or ‘kindly’ and the burden he asks us to bear is lightweight, a non-burdensome burden, like a day-sack rather than a full pack.

The ‘rest’ is a yoke. This speaks so strongly to the idea of vocation. We all have seen examples of when someone gets a job and it is exactly the job they always wanted. Or it is, at least, quite near to being the job or role they always wanted. They wake up, look around at the day, and feel happy. Mostly. Circumstances have aligned well for them. This is so freeing and brings such contentment.

It’s also makes us re-evaluate things like ‘rest’ or ‘retirement.’ Real rest is an easy yoke, a harness but not a heavy one, a work that suits, a work that to us, seems easy and light. It would seem.

The new creation prayer

A hymn and a prayer

Here’s what I learnt this week. It came from reading the ‘Lord’s prayer’ in Greek in Luke 11. You can strip it down as follows – the first three requests setting the framework, the next three filling in the human-level detail.

Setting the framework
‘sanctified’ – set apart as holybe your name
‘let come’your kingdom
‘let be done’your will
The human-level detail
‘give us the needful bread’daily rations
‘forgive us’like we forgive those who owe us
‘lead us not’ into fiery trial; ‘deliver us from evil’Fatherly company in a rough world

And then later on in the same teaching session, Luke has Jesus talk about asking the Father to send the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).

This all reminds me of ways you can dismantle Genesis 1. That passage on creation starts with the Holy Spirit brooding over primeaval chaos. And then has two lots of three, as follows:

Setting the framework
Day 1Light and darkness; day and night
Day 2Sky (or heaven) and earth
Day 3Land and sea; trees and grass
The human-level detail
Day 4Sun and moon as light and calendar markers – measuring our days
Day 5Animals and birds everywhere
Day 6Men and women as subregents of the animals; ‘cattle’ as a thing; vegetation for food

Genesis 1 is a picture of God ordering the primeval chaos, making it fit for humans, and then settling in to work with them — this settling in is God’s ‘rest’ of day 7.

The prayer that Jesus taught in Luke 11 has resonances with Genesis 1: first, setting a framework of God’s rule; then promoting God’s rule at a human level. Genesis 1 is a hymn of creation; Luke 11 is a prayer of new creation. Both end with God and people either in a harmonious creation or building towards a harmonious new creation. Both are universal and both are personal. This comparison may be rather contrived; but it is fun to see the two passages in dialogue.

Not quite the sixth place of decimals

There are surprises in store

Image by (Joenomias) Menno de Jong from Pixabay

“The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote… Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.”

Albert Michelson, Light Waves and Their Uses (1903), 23-4. 1

It was probably a shame that Michelson, first American winner of the Nobel Prize, came up with this quote, since it was his careful experiments on the way the speed of light never varied that provided the initial information behind Einstein’s 1904 theory of relativity.2.

It was a further shame that he wrote in 1903, just at the edge of quarter -century of discovery and theory that would turn physics upside down – the most exciting twenty-five years physics has ever known. Physicists since (arguably) have just been adding footnotes

What do we learn from this? Arguably, beware certainty in scientists. Think of this. Over here (I won’t draw it but you can imagine it) is the totality of reality. Over here (I won’t draw it either) is Science, a tool for exploring this reality. This is all very fine, except for the problem that since we do not know what the totality of reality is, we have no way of judging how good our tool is. It might be, for example, like a torch that only lights up the shiny things in a vast cave. Or it might be like an optical telescope, blind to X-ray sources that light up the sky. Or it might be like a child’s understanding, or like a fly’s, relying (in the case of the child) in a badly incomplete model or (in the case of a fly) on a deep cognitive lack.

Scientists generally, in my observation, are not good at looking at the acts of faith that underlie their discipline. What part does prejudice play? Or confirmation bias? How limited is our ability to perceive? How observable is the Universe? Science proceeds on assumptions that the Universe is generally observable, that human failings are ironed out by the need to replicate results, and, more broadly that it ‘works’. By which they/we mean: ‘when we shine a light into the cave, we can see shiny things.’

We don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know if we can know what we don’t know. And we don’t know, if we can know what we don’t know, how we will know it.

Apart from that, everything is absolutely fine.