You find a lot of machine metaphors when trying to understand how the human body works. Fuel is compared to food, for example, or an engine is compared to our digestive process. Computer circuitry is said to be like our nervous system. And just like mechanical parts, body parts are said to wear out with time and overuse.
But a machine doesn’t have feelings. Or morality. It doesn’t have an internal compass that tells it why it shouldn’t party all night and eat soda and chips all day, nor a knowing side that nudges it to go outside, connect with nature, and move its mechanical parts in a healthy way.
The machine metaphor for the human body overlooks one of the most critical components to good health: good character. And yet the human body as a machine idea is everywhere.
In the past, doctors drew metaphors from nature to describe health and biology. Perhaps Weismann’s idea was influenced by the ever-increasing role machines have played in our lives since the industrial revolution. Whatever the inspiration, the idea is more ingrained than ever. And the modern medical model continues to justify it. Worn out hips, knees, and even hearts can now be replaced by a skilled surgeon, much like how a mechanic replaces a faulty fuel pump.
It’s easy to accept the wear-and-tear concept because we can easily find evidence of it. Unfortunately, it overlooks how our choices are the foundation of our long-term health. We don’t consider that many of those who exhibit signs of physical and cognitive decline are suffering from the many seductions of our modern era.
So why do some people manage to keep strong bodies and sharp minds after racking up so many more miles than others?
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