Health Is A Meaningless Word

Yesterday I was watching a YouTube video called The Mystery of Water. I think water is mysterious stuff, so I was attracted to a video with that sort of name. It was about the “memory” of water. Because apparently water can remember things. They were doing experiments with drops of water, which they let dry, and looked at the residue of the droplets that remained, and found they were all different..

I was a bit puzzled about this, because surely when you allow a droplet of water to dry, all the water evaporates, and what you’re left with is something like a tide mark made up of impurities in the water that didn’t evaporate. You’re not looking at any water at all. So how can you talk about water having a memory?

I carried on watching anyway, but came to a dead stop 21 minutes in when a “river engineer” who was talking about rivers and floods said:

“If we river engineers can successfully find a way of keeping the water in the landscape, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble, and a lot of money as well, and at the same time we can return to a kind of landscape that gives us back the thing we can – and must – call our highest good: our health.”

And I realised that this softly-spoken river engineer with a trim little moustache was a healthist. He was someone for whom the highest good was health. And he believed that it wasn’t just that we can call health our highest good, but that we must do so. Here spoke a zealot who worshipped health, and clearly felt that everyone else must worship health too.

And it seemed clear that for him, “regaining health” was something different from merely “saving ourselves trouble and money”.

He looked perfectly healthy to me. He wasn’t covered in spots or sores. He wasn’t breathing heavily. His eyes and nose weren’t streaming. So why was he talking about regaining health? Perhaps he had some form of cancer that wasn’t apparent on cursory inspection?

I was reminded of the WHO definition of health:

The World Health Organization (WHO) defined health in its broader sense in its 1948 constitution as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

So this definition of health invokes something called “well-being”, “disease”, and “infirmity”. What’s “well-being”?

Well-being, wellbeing, or wellness is a general term for the condition of an individual or group. A high level of well-being means in some sense the individual or group’s condition is positive.

OK, what’s “disease”?

A disease is a particular abnormal condition that affects part or all of an organism and that consists of a disorder of a structure or function.

Or “infirmity”? According to Google that is

physical or mental weakness.

So when we ask what “health” is, we’re told it’s “well-being”, and when we ask what well-being is, we’re told that it’s an “in some sense positive condition”. And we have learned nothing at all. Or we go round and round in circles, using different words which all mean more or less the same thing, but also quite possibly mean nothing at all.

Of course we can always say that “Well, everybody knows what’s meant by health. You don’t really have to define it. We know what it is.” But is even that true either? Is health a subjective condition or an objective condition? Is it for the patient to tell the doctor that he is unwell, or is it for the doctor to tell the patient that he is unwell? Can health be measured? If so, what are the units of health? And in what sense is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being” different from, say, “happiness” or “joy” or “peace”?

Perhaps if he had been asked to define what he meant by “health” the river engineer could have come up with something a bit more robust or informative that “well-being” or “vitality” or “positiveness”. But I doubt it. I doubt if he would have been able to define it any better than any of the definitions found in the WHO or Wikipedia or Google. But nevertheless he was telling us that this ill-defined “health” must be our highest good. It’s like telling people that they must eat strawberries, and then being unable to say what strawberries are, or how to tell them apart from raspberries or gooseberries or blackberries.

To the extent that “health” is an undefined word, it’s also a meaningless word.

In this respect, it seems to me that the “idleness” of Idle Theory is a much more well-defined concept than ill-defined “health”. The idleness of some living thing is defined as

I = 1 – Pm / (Pi – Pe)

where Pm, Pi, and Pe are all power terms (e.g. watts), and power has the physical dimensions of ML2T-3, where M is mass, L is length, and T is time. Idleness can range from 0 to 1, or 0% to 100%, with 0% idleness the threshold of death. Pm is its resting (idle) metabolic rate, Pi is the rate at which it can acquire energy (e.g. by eating), and Pe is the rate at which it expends energy while acquiring energy (e.g. by chewing).

Idleness is a physical quantity like power or energy or work or force or acceleration or velocity or mass or length or time. All these terms are highly defined in the language of physics. They can all be measured. They can often be measured very, very accurately. And they all have numbers attached. I weigh 63 kilograms, and I’m 1.75 metres tall, and I’m 69.5 years old.

But “health” is something undefined. It has no dimensions. And there is no number associated with it. You never hear anyone being described as “75% healthy”. You never hear anyone reply, on being asked how they are, “Oh, about 29.”

Ill-health is usually associated with infirmity or weakness of some sort. Those suffering from diseases of any kind are very often unable to do as much work as they usually can. They have to work longer to achieve the same result, and so their idleness falls. Or they may also be in pain, and pain is a form of work, and so pain reduces idleness. The course of a disease is very often one of gradually falling idleness while sickening, and then gradually rising idleness while recovering. Breaking a leg or an arm will usually see a very sudden sharp decrease in idleness followed by a slow recovery over several weeks or months.

So, in principle, tightly-defined “idleness” can be used in place of ill-defined “health”.

And anyone who works in “Public Health” should be asked what they mean by “health”, and when they are unable to define it, they should be told to please stop talking about it, since they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.

About Frank Davis

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19 Responses to Health Is A Meaningless Word

  1. smofunking says:

    “You never hear anyone being described as “75% healthy”. You never hear anyone reply, on being asked how they are, “Oh, about 29.”

    As it happens, when I get asked how I am, I invariably respond with a percentage figure, which is representative of my mental and physical well being.

    For your reference, I’m currently hovering around 59%.

  2. Frank Davis says:

    I’m currently hovering around 59%

    Is that good or bad? It might be construed as good because it’s above 50%. But equally it could be construed as bad, because it’s below 100%. Should we send for an ambulance?

    • smofunking says:

      According to some of the people I converse with 59% is definitely above average. It sometimes inspires others to respond with a percentage of their own, which is usually lower than mine.

      I can’t see myself using the 100% rating, as that would mean that nothing could ever get better, not unless I manipulated the figures, Nigel Tufnel style.

  3. Rose says:

    Life under full blown TC healthism is not going all that well it seems.

    Pollution blamed for lung cancer in people who have never smoked
    August 12 2017

    “Lung cancer rates among non-smokers have doubled over the past decade amid concerns that high levels of air pollution lie behind the rise, a study shows.
    The number of lung cancer deaths among people who have never smoked will overtake deaths from smoking- related cancer within a decade if the trend continues, according to the UK’s largest cancer surgery centre.

    Researchers worry that this shift would make the condition, which is the deadliest form of cancer, even harder to diagnose and treat in time. There are 46,400 new cases and 36,000 associated deaths in Britain each year, and only one in 20 patients survives for more than ten years.”

    Lung cancer rising, but not from smoking
    August 11, 2017

    “Chinese health authorities are trying to figure out the reason for the rapid rise in a form of lung cancer that develops deep in the lung and is not associated with smoking.
    China has seen a sharp increase in the disease over the past 10 to 15 years, hitting groups traditionally not susceptible such as women and nonsmokers, said Xue Qi, deputy director of thoracic surgery at the Cancer Hospital Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, also the country’s National Cancer Institute.”

    James Delingpole reminds us of what happened in 2001

    “Let’s remind ourselves who was responsible for creating this disaster: The Government and the EU.
    The rot set in, predictably, under Tony Blair, who eagerly bought into the great climate change scare of the 1990s and enthusiastically embraced the carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction targets recommended by the fanatically green European Union in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto treaty.

    Blair’s chancellor, Gordon Brown, helped achieve these targets by encouraging people to switch from petrol to diesel, because it produces less CO2.
    By offering various tax incentives from 2001, Brown is responsible for more than doubling the number of diesel cars on Britain’s roads from 3.45million to 8.1million.

    What’s unforgivable is even at the time the health hazards caused by diesel engines were perfectly well known.
    But successive governments, not just Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s Labour ones but also David Cameron’s “greenest Government ever” Coalition, were so obsessed with the imaginary problem of “climate change” they chose to overlook the genuine problem of diesel pollution.

    Every one of these administrations has blood on its hands because by continuing to incentivise diesel over petrol, they undoubtedly contributed to thousands of pollution-driven deaths.
    The same is true across the European Union, all of whose member states jumped on the diesel bandwagon with similarly disastrous results.”
    https: //

    Which fits rather well with that 10 to 15 year timeline between smoking cessation and the emergence of lung cancer we keep seeing.

    Many Lung Cancer Patients Stopped Smoking Years Before Diagnosis

    “July 14, 2010 (Los Angeles, California) — Much of what people think they know about smoking and lung cancer might be wrong, according to findings presented here at the 11th International Lung Cancer Conference.

    For example, many if not most patients with a history of smoking quit decades before. In a retrospective study of 626 people with lung cancer treated at a tertiary-care facility in Southern California, 482 (77%) had a history of smoking. Of those, only 71 patients (14.7%) were still smoking at the time of their diagnosis. Of the remaining 411 patients, 245 (60%) had not smoked for a mean of 18 years, 8 of whom had quit 51 to 60 years earlier. The other 166 (40%) had stopped smoking within 10 years of their diagnosis.

    “Sixty percent of our cohort developed lung cancer despite doing the right thing by stopping smoking over 1 decade ago,” according to the researchers.
    These findings contradict the popular perception that most people with lung cancer are ongoing smokers who did not kick the habit until cancer symptoms appeared, the researchers note”

    “In 1995, California passed one of the first antismoking laws in the nation when it banned smoking in enclosed workspaces. This might have encouraged more people to quit smoking than in other parts of the country and might help account for the preponderance of patients in the earlier stages of cancer.”

    “Lung cancer suffers from a stigma because most people assume that the patients did it to themselves,” said David R. Gandara, MD, professor of medicine and associate director of clinical research, Division of Hematology and Oncology, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine.
    However, that perception is changing rapidly, and funding for lung cancer research is growing, added Dr. Gandara, who was not involved in this study. “Although smoking cessation is important, it is not the total answer. One third of lung cancer patients have never smoked and have never been exposed to second-hand smoke.”

    Identifying the cause of these malignancies is now the focus of intense interest among investigators. “Is it viral? Is it something else? We still don’t know,” Dr. Gandara said.”

    • smokingscot says:

      We’ve been warning about this for years Rose.

      While it’s nice to see that at long last the subject of lung cancer has been thrown into context as a condition that doesn’t JUST involve smokers (and made outfits like Cancer Research UK – and others to be thoroughly incompetent), I doubt it’ll result in resources being channelled into the most appropriate research facilities (namely those not corrupted by ASH, nor their “support groups”).

      Next is they’ll suddenly discover that many “smoking related” illnesses have nothing whatsoever to do with smoking, nor 2nd hand smoke.

      Especially that tosh about kidney cancer being caused by SHS.

      • Joe L. says:

        The same goes for colon cancer, which has also been “linked to smoking.”

        Deaths From Colon Cancer Are up in Younger, White People

        • Joe L. says:

          I thought I’d add a quote from the article I linked above:

          Siegel said there are clear guidelines for people who want to prevent colon cancer.

          “The main risk factors for colorectal cancer that we know of are obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption and smoking,” she said.

          “We don’t think that the obesity epidemic is driving this trend because we see different trends in blacks and whites.”

          So the main risk factors are the Big Four socially unacceptable lifestyles/behaviors (imagine that). They don’t believe this uptick is related to obesity “because we see different trends in blacks and whites” (that sounds a bit racist to me, but I digress). However, they don’t mention anything about the fact that smoking rates have steadily declined over the period they’re looking at (post-2004).

          This is yet another case of baffled scientists because they’re not allowed to question “settled science” so they look in all the wrong places, and will never find an answer.

    • waltc says:

      “Only one in twenty patients survives for more than ten years” so if you’re diagnosed at 80…

  4. beobrigitte says:

    … a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
    Social wellbeing for smokers? The WHO most certainly does it’s best to deny smokers these 100% healthiness.
    Apart from getting pretty fed up being exiled to the outdoors if I wish to go to a pub (exception is the smoky-drinky bar), I must be fine. Perhaps this is because I simply don’t worry about health.

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  6. Joe L. says:

    Another great blog entry, Frank. “Health” truly is a meaningless word. The fact that health is loosely-defined and subjective has allowed the religious ideology of Healthism to take root and grow as wildly as it has.

    People all over the world are changing their lifestyles–inconveniencing themselves and depriving themselves (and others) of pleasure –in a quest to obtain this intangible, mystical title of “healthy.” As you pointed out so well, health cannot be described in any quantifiable units of measurement. So how can someone know that they’ve achieved “maximum health?” They can’t–and that is the key that helps sustain this religion of Healthism.

    Like all popular organized religions, there is absolutely no way to ever know one has achieved their end goal. Thus, acolytes of Healthism are easily swayed by every new pseudoscientific report because they have faith in the “experts.” They blindly follow “healthy” trends in their endless pursuit of “maximum health” until one day when they inevitably (surprise!) fall ill and die.

    Even after death, there is no way to scientifically determine whether someone’s “healthy” lifestyle had any effect whatsoever on their lifespan. So, in the end, they achieve nothing. The only thing they can possibly gain is a false sense of superiority while they are alive. I can’t think of a more miserable way to spend one’s short existence on this planet.

  7. slugbop007 says:

    I researched what was required to obtain a Masters of Public Health Degree at the Harvard School of Public Health. Basically it was a reading list of books that were probably sanctioned by the WHO. It boiled down to rote memorization, much like memorizing Mao’s Little Red Book. Not very scientific. One year of three intense sessions of course studies will get you this MPh degree.

    I have been watching Beyond Belief, a series of lectures on science, religion and atheism that was taped in the first week of November, 2006. One of the speakers was Sir Harry Kroto of Carbon 60 fame. He cited this passage: ‘The problem is that there is not really much difference between the irrationality of the firm believer dedicated to humanitarian, socially responsible activity and that of the fundamentalist extremist.’


  8. Smoking Lamp says:

    It seems that for healthists (who form the core of tobacco and lifestyle controllers) worship health. It also seems that for them ‘heath’ is being accepted in the cult of health. That is they must accept the precepts developed by the cult. It also seems they are in large measure worshiping themselves. Therein lies the problem, it is all about them–rampant narcissism.

    Oh yeah, on the rise in lung cancer after imposing smoking bans (which were alleged to be causing those same cancers) they don’t really matter, it is all to be expected since smoking-related cancer is going down. That is, we’ll move the goal posts so reality will conform with our cult’s dogma. After all health isn’t about the absence of disease anyway it’s about accepting the cult’s worldview.

  9. Lepercolonist says:

    According to healthist zealots an 80 year old man serving a life sentence in prison for 60 years has
    achieved a more fulfilling life than a deceased 75 year old man who has led a honorable and respectable life in the free world. Human longevity is all that matters.? How utterly shallow.

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  11. Smoking Lamp says:

    And now in Australia the antismoking machine seems to be running out of steam. “More smokers lighting up, despite ever-increasing taxes”

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