Huffington blog DARE TO BE 100

December 27, 2017


Aristotle used to be my best Greek friend, because after all he is the one who taught us that the world is knowable, that what we see and feel is real and not the nether world of metaphysics and witches. Aristotle gave us the scientific method.

My new best Greek friend is Heraclitus, 535-475 BC. He lived at Ephesus an important city on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor. He is celebrated today as the proponent of the doctrine of change. He is sometimes mentioned as the first humanist. He believed that most people are not capable of wisdom, and that understanding is a rare and precious commodity. The senses are poor witnesses for man, and rarely reveal the secrets of the world. He wrote that all men have a share in self-knowledge and sound thinking. What is needed is an improved way of comprehending. Heraclitus’s most memorable saying “it is not possible to step twice into the same river as it is constantly flowing”.

As a geriatrician I am intimately involved with change. The only constant is change, the better we can understand the effects of time in the world the larger will be our grasp of existence. I was a close friend of Richard Strohman, eminent biologist at Berkeley. He insisted that the human intellect was stymied by our fixation on things rather than processes. Life as a verb rather than a collection of nouns makes much sense. I have contributed to this domain by writing an article entitled “updating homeostasis”. Homeostasis is one of the central tenets of physiology. It connotes the amazing stability of an organism when confronted with shifting environmental challenges. Claude Bernard who was the father of contemporary physiology contributed much to the science of stability. But it was Walter Cannon who taught my father physiology at Harvard who coined the term homeostasis. It represents a cornerstone of medical science, but it is wrong. A moment’s reflection yields the reality that there is no stasis in life. The only stasis is death. Recognizing this incompatibility my dear friend Gene Yates of UCLA School of Medicine coined the term homeo dynamics that captures the reality of the world that is in constant flux.

Heraclitus would approve of this amendment. He is my new best Greek friend.

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