Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Health Is Not The Absence Of Illness

Krista Tippett's On Being programs are usually pretty interesting, but this one was more compelling than usual...

Photo by Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson was probably paraphrasing the organizing principle of the World Health Organization* as he was interviewed for this week's episode of On Being.  Dr. Davidson spoke about his work at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds attempting to apply current neuroscience and a variety of meditative practices to increase well-being instead of merely eliminating illness.  Is this an example of looking to the fruits of our efforts rather than the roots of our beliefs?  Perhaps.  Following, as it seems to, on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, it certainly makes intuitive sense that concentrating on healthy practices may be more beneficial than focusing only on understanding what is making us unhealthy.

I know not everyone appreciates Krista Tippett's approach to religion, metaphysics, or ethics, as expressed at On Being or its predecessor, Speaking of Faith, but how boring would it be if everyone did?  Yes, she accepts Templeton Foundation money, which angers angry atheists and skeptics swimming at the scientism end of the pool, but she has made no claim to be irreligious or an impartial journalist.  I find some episodes tangential, and a few needlessly credulous, but she has mapped a niche not addressed by reflexive extremes.  I originally regarded the name change of the show with some cynicism, but have come to appreciate that Being is what we do even while we Speak about what we Believe.

* "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." - Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization