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A new metaphor for health

In Biomedicine, the body is treated like a machine. Health is optimal performance; disease is damage and malfunction. When malfunction occurs, a cause is identified and neutralized (if possible). Parts may be replaced over time, and some emphasis may be given to regular care and maintenance by the owner.

In many alternative medicine practices, the metaphor is more quaint, but not all together different. The body is treated like a musical instrument. Health is a beautiful melody; disease is a racket. Some instruments may be superior to others in craftsmanship and material, but when the curtain falls, critics agree that performance depends mostly on the technique and commitment of the player.

Given everything we know about the human condition, these perspectives are too narrow. They remain stubbornly focused on individual bodies and some single factor - exercise, diet - to the exclusion of the rest of a vast landscape of health determinants that surround each of us. It's time for a new metaphor:

We each experience health and disease like we do a symphony, performed, not by a single player, but by a many-player orchestra. All possible determinants of health are players in that orchestra and determine the quality of the experience. Health is harmony; disease is discord.

Like sections of an orchestra, the factors that determine health can be grouped into categories. Here is my list of sections:


Air and water quality, sound and silence, light and dark, colors, temperatures, weather, safety


Social support structures, relationships, family, work-groups, community, access to vital resources and services, resource and burden sharing


Food choice, food quality, food network integrity, medicines

Physical Body

Prevention of injury and infection, movement and exercise, rest and sleep

Emotional Body

The stress response, trauma, habits and unconscious biases, presence

If the goal is health (and happiness), all sections must be in harmony and playing the same tune. Sure, single one player out when he is the only one playing off-key, but when there is a cacophony, it's time to sit everyone down together for some practice.


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