Life is complex beyond our comprehension.
It’s also competitive.
Death lurks around every corner. The ongoing tension between health and sickness is literally a tug-of-war at levels we can’t see.
But with modern technology, we now understand more of this hidden universe than we could just a few years ago…
And of course light years more than we could a century ago.
Imagine the excitement surrounding the first understanding of germs or viruses. Justus von Liebig wowed the world with his proof that plants are primarily composed of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, or NPK.
Liebig’s discovery of NPK spawned a chemical fertilizer industry that still dominates agronomy even though we now know each handful of healthy soil contains some 8 billion beings… and we’ve become acquainted with only 10% of them.
Every day we’re learning new biological pathways and how these bacteria, protozoa and fungi interact to trade nutrients. Everything is eating and being eaten in an orgy of life and death.
Last week I spoke at a wellness summit with Dr. Max Gomez, who recently wrote the book Cells Are the New Cure.
He said, “Every cell has 1 billion biochemical reactions per second. You have 1 trillion cells.”
Read that statement again, and just meditate on it for a moment.
What does 1 billion multiplied by 1 trillion look like? And that’s total biochemical reactions PER SECOND!
Multiply by 60 per minute. Multiply by 3,600 per hour. Multiply by 86,400 per day.
1,000,000,000 X 1,000,000,000,000 = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
That’s the per second number. If we multiply that by a day, that’s another set of zeros, like 86,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Stare at that number for a minute. For you engineers, I’m just an English major, so I might be off a couple of digits.
But at this point, who cares?
This is so far beyond our comprehension it’s ridiculous.
You can’t think about numbers that big. People have turned inside out trying to describe a trillion. This number is a trillion trillion.
In other words, it can make your head explode.
Carrying a Sledgehammer
When scientists use the term biochemical reaction, it’s academic-speak for conversations between the minutest components of life. They respond, adapt and trade in an infinitely small choreography.
For a long time, however, as a culture we’ve been joining this choreography carrying sledgehammers of simplistic origin and function called drugs.
The sophistication at the cellular level is far beyond what a statin drug, for example, can imagine. But that simplistic framework, based on a mechanical notion of life, is the foundation of our current agricultural system and our current healthcare system.
More important, it’s the foundation of our regulatory system, and that gets to the crux of this essay.
Make Room for Disruption
Innovation versus status quo is the stuff of paradigms. In nature, when a disrupter comes along and changes the ecological context, succession moves rapidly.
After a fire, mudslide or flood, for example, new plants rapidly occupy vacated spaces. The old plants do not impede the new ones.
In layman’s terms, both the old and new plants seem to embrace the succession. It’s almost like the old plants eagerly give up space to make room for new occupiers.
But with cultural change, that’s not the case… at least for anything the government regulates.
If innovation occurs in an unregulated space, it diffuses rapidly and unimpeded. But boy howdy, if it dares to develop in a highly regulated space, everything is against it.
At the same summit, Newt Gingrich pointed out that the status quo first tries to ignore the innovation, then it tries to make it illegal and then it tries to drive it out of business.
In spheres where bureaucracy intervenes, the unholy alliance does everything possible to impede innovation.
That is where we are with FDA regulations, which depend on tiny cohorts and laborious studies to grant approval for innovation. The time it takes denies life-giving innovation to many sick people.
But just like the trillion trillion conversations happening in our cells, we now have the ability to assimilate, rapidly and in real time, massive amounts of data.
Gathering data has never been cheaper, but the FDA continues an expensive, laborious, stodgy and barbaric approach in an Uberized medical universe.
Gingrich pointed out that in our current regulatory system, nobody could get aspirin approved today. Since it was already in the marketplace prior to the FDA’s reign of terror, the FDA just grandfathered it in.
But tomorrow’s innovations are not as fortunate.
Look to Nature
The naysayers, of course, quickly point to snake oil, as if snake oil is the ultimate evil in society.
It is not. The greater evil is impeding healthcare innovations. Some will work, and some will not. But we’ve never been able to monitor or accumulate data in such quantity or urgency like we can today.
If the snake oil salesman were subjected to a million customers all reporting their findings in a public space, the charlatans would be exposed and the geniuses would rise to the top, like good cream on milk.
What we’re discovering, literally by the day, about life’s complexity leaves the archaic and obsolete regulatory structure far behind.
Anyone who thinks injecting more bureaucrats into healthcare will encourage innovation does not understand the tension between the government and its licensed fraternity and the innovators.
In this space, knowledge is the disrupter.
We need a political climate that mimics nature, where both sides are eager to embrace a new ecosystem rising from the ashes of disruption.
The problem is not partisan… It’s inherent.
The sooner we extricate the status quo fraternity (which includes insurance companies) from its ability to deny innovative succession, the sooner we’ll have options that tap into the wisdom of a trillion trillion conversations.