Thesis #1

Thesis #1 The biological fitness of a population is the average net reproduction of its members, which in turn is determined by their capacity to survive and reproduce; biological fitness is at the core of health.

The starting point of the present theses is to take Darwinian fitness as the key foundation for understanding health.  Stripped of such a Darwinian foundation, a wide spectrum of alternative definitions of health can be offered as the central focus for medicine:  biochemical efficiency, athletic performance, freedom from disease, and so on.  None of these definitions have particularly well-formulated scientific foundations, and certainly none of them connect to a scientific theory with the power, range, and depth of evolutionary theory.  It would be interesting to provide an historically well-developed presentation of the many alternative conceptions of health that have been promulgated and debated over the last few thousand years of Western medicine, leaving aside the more exotic traditions of traditional Eastern medicine or the shamanistic practices of pre-agricultural societies.  But instead, I will just get on with the task of developing of a coherent, scientifically formulated, alternative to the various confusions that are widely on offer.

Darwinian fitness is a single numerical measure which combines all the individual probabilities of survival and reproduction of a population of individuals in the particular environment in which it finds itself.  The mathematical form of this measure takes different forms with different population demographies, but it can always be defined in a scientifically cogent manner.

So why is Darwinian fitness a useful place to start developing the scientific foundations of medicine?  In all the biological sciences, there are few other variables for which we have such well-developed theory.  Moreover, it is Darwinian fitness that is the key to the arc of evolution.  This Darwinian variety of fitness is the key determinant of natural selection, and natural selection is the steering wheel for evolution.

But natural selection is not an all-powerful determinant of evolutionary processes.  Instead, it is constrained, limited, and often thwarted by other evolutionary factors.  Such constraints are the main theme of the first ten theses.  It is not possible to think about natural selection intelligently unless the constraints on its action are kept firmly in mind.  In particular, it is not a synonym for a benign, all-powerful, cosmic force that always maximizes our Darwinian fitness.

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5 Responses to Thesis #1

  1. David L says:

    I love the idea of having a Darwinian basis for understanding health. I’m confused, though, as to how it is measurable. For instance, my friend has survived to 38, eats a paleo diet, and exercises. He looks very healthy. But he has no kids– how do you measure his fitness?

    • robpatrob says:

      Diet is not the only aspect of getting close to our ideal design – important to also do our best to fit into our ideal social setting and also our ideal relationship with our body and nature.

      So how then so we measure this? Working on this as I think you pose a great question – there would be some process points for diet, social and nature and then there would be some outcome points too.

      The ultimate outcome woud be that you would plateau much earlier than say in your 90’s. I am hoping to plateau in my 60’s.That does not mean I don’t have wrinkles etc but it does mean that I maintain my current vitality.

      This is a work in progress and much work in measurement will follow

  2. Pingback: Welcome to Michael Rose’s 55 Theses – A New Context for Health | Michael Rose's 55

  3. Jason says:

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a comment is added
    I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can
    remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!

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