Thursday, January 10, 2013

Soapbox Post: We Know Next to Nothing

Just an up-front warning: this post has nothing to do with running. Well, not much anyway. The catalyst for this post is a book I've recently been reading in conjunction with several articles I've come across lately. The book is "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" written by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It's a long book, but it's very well written and it takes you through the evolution of medical thought with regard to cancer itself as well as the evolution of cancer treatment. Among the many fascinating parts of the book is this sense of just how far our understanding of cancer has come in the past 50-60 years...AND how much there still is that we don't know.

In the 1940s the treatment for cancer, if there even was one for the particular type that you had, basically consisted of a surgeon trying cut it out of you. For breast cancer, the treatment ideas at the time were particularly horrendous and involved major surgery that a fair amount of patients didn't even survive. A new invention around that time was chemotherapy which, in it's infancy, was a terrible ordeal to have to go through and involved months of retching, weight/hair loss and extreme fatigue...for only possibly a few months of "remission." Most of these treatments back then only retarded the advance of cancer and for most patients, the cancer would return and eventually cause death. Today the treatment methods are quite a bit more nuanced and effective, but cancer is still a serious disease and some forms of it, like pancreatic cancer, have extremely high mortality rates.

So, what's my point? My point is this: in today's world, it's easy to think, "wow, look how technologically advanced our society is, I mean, we have smart phones, fighter jets, and starbucks on every corner - what else is there to discover?" The fact is, there is A TON we don't know about. I would even go so far as to say that there is more we don't know, way more, than things we do know about. For example, here is an article I saw today ( For all of our advancements in telescopic technology and in our understanding of space, it's likely that if there were an asteroid out there that could obliterate earth, we wouldn't even see it coming. As NASA puts it, "“With so many of even the larger NEOs [near Earth objects] remaining undiscovered, the most likely warning today would be zero,” We would see nothing at all until suddenly, just as the impact occurred, we noticed a “flash of light and the shaking of the ground as it hit.”" And yet our society is "so advanced."

Basically I've come to the conclusion that we know and understand next to nothing very little about our world. It seems like we know a lot and no doubt there have been huge strides forward in our knowledge and understanding in a lot of different areas over the past 100 years, but there is a LONG way to go. There are numerous examples throughout science and medicine. There are real-world examples RIGHT NOW. For example - why are there all these school-shootings happening in the U.S.? Is it the availability of guns? Is it the prevalence of violence on television and in video games? Is it our cultural attitudes towards mental illness? Is it a lack of real-parenting on the part of a lot of parents in the U.S.? Is it the decline of personal responsibility and morals in our country? Suffice to say, it's probably more than one of those things and perhaps there are additional factors than those that come into play.

Like I said before, it's easy to think we live in the 'age of enlightenment' and sure, compared to past eras and civilizations, we are "enlightened" I suppose, but there is still a lot of be discovered. I keep going back to the verse in the Bible, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9, NIV) I imagine we are quite amusing to God at times -- the created says, "I've figured this out!!" and God looks down and says, "Ha, just you wait and see." It's an incredible thought really. Another verse that comes to mind is God saying to Job, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand." (Job 38:4, NIV)

Anyway, those are my thoughts today - like I said, not related to running much. I suppose they could be related to running. There have advancements over the past 30 years in shoe technology, compression technology, physiological understanding, training philosophy and the like, but if all other disciplines are any indication there's still a lot more to learn about our bodies and about the sport of running. I'm looking forward to seeing more advancements and gaining further understanding, no matter the field.

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