We live in a world where it seems things happen for a reason. If THIS, then THAT. Certain things probably CAUSE other things to happen.

It would be great if this were true. The fact is we don’t know what causes anything. We perceive that two things are associated and sometimes the association is so strong that we connect the things in a cause-effect relationship.

For every such relationship there is always an exception;

  • pull the trigger and the gun doesn’t fire,
  • the match doesn’t light the first time it’s struck,
  • the plastic baby bottle shatters when it falls three feet,
  • people with a terminal disease get better and live a long life,
  • not everyone who gets shot in the head dies,
  • the treatment is often worse than the disease
  • dead people are reported to have come back to life…

This means that nothing is 100% certain. However, we can’t even be 100% certain about that comment because it might be possible that there are some things about which we can be perfectly certain. I can’t come up with any right now, but it is still possible.

What am I driving at? Most of us want to believe that there are certainties and that there are real, certain things that cause other things. We want to believe that eating this thing or drinking that juice will cure our ills. We cite evidence and insist that our belief is certain. The problem is that, while some things are part of the cause, there are probably other things, many of them. We don’t know all of the factors and I suggest we can’t begin to know all of them. This is important, especially when it comes to health and well-being.

Health is commonly acknowledged to be one of the sciences.

Science is revered because it is through science that we have so many things. Just look around and pick something that isn’t associated with a scientific discovery. In a practical sense, we can believe in the almost limitless power of science. After all, science got us to the stars and it helps us make amazing weapons. Entertainment wouldn’t be near as dynamic without science. Despite all of the wonders of the process, science still fails us when it comes to health.
Cigarette smoking causes cancer and death, yet millions of people smoke and live well into their 90s.
Vaccinations are supposed to protect us from disease, yet large numbers of people still get the disease even after getting the vaccine.
Antibiotics aren’t as smart as they “should” be.

All of the “failure” we can think of might actually be the result of not having all the facts, or having facts and using them in a wrong way – but not knowing it. Here’s an inane example that might make my point;

If we look at a graph of sneakers sold per year from 1970 to today, it would similar to a graph of obesity rates. A person could make a logical connection between sales of certain athletic shoes to obesity, going so far as to identify a positive correlation. That means that as sneaker sales climb, obesity rates also climb. This is inane because it is clear that there is something missing and we don’t have to know the details of the missing parts to understand that the observed correlation between sneakers and obesity is not accurate.

The same kinds of missing elements are possible in all correlations and cause-effect situations. Think of the admonition to “take it with a grain of salt.” This is more than just a saying. It holds a truth that tells us how to process and accept information we want to convert into a fact. While it might be a very good analysis, adding just one grain of salt (another detail, regardless of how small), can have devastating implications.

We have long held that there are differences between people. When I was in school we referred to this as “20% biological variability”. The number might actually be 15%, 50%, or maybe even 100%, but the idea we were espousing is that what works for some people might not work for others. What is safe in clinical trials might prove deadly when used in larger populations.

This is important when the doctor tells us that we need a certain operation, or a drug. It is true when certain foods are said to be healthy – or even harmful. It is so often true that I suggest we elevate that single grain of salt to a new position of importance. It signifies all of the pieces of the cause-effect puzzle regardless of how many, how small, or how large. There is always something that can interfere with how we believe something will work.

The only reliable source of information about yourself is yourself.

  • The doctor doesn’t know – all of the doctors together don’t know.
  • The government doesn’t know.
  • The lab tests aren’t accurate. The drugs can make you sick.
  • Normal values are just averages and ranges.
  • Your individual cholesterol is yours alone and really not comparable to anyone else.

Does this mean we can’t trust anyone or anything? Of course not. It means we must be cautious, first listening to our own bodies, then evaluating how other information impacts us. Beliefs are important. We would not survive without them. Question beliefs – all of them. Accept the ones that fit you and use them. Question them again and again as more information enters your world. Each data bit is another grain of salt that just might make things better, or at least make more sense.