Archive for September, 2012

The Just-Enough Green Design Principle

A guiding principle in good design is the “just-enough” principle. What is aimed at here is to create something to perform a function that is just good enough to effect its purpose and nothing more. The product of overkill is conversely crude and inefficient, lacking the elegance. This zen-like approach provokes awe when it achieves this particular balance.

Medicine that relies on this can be imagined with the same streamlined ecological qualities of nature’s own design. Natural medicine developed in ancient China was inspired by nature and a practice of imitating nature. No where more can we see this than in the Taoist classics like the timeless I-Ching, or Book of Changes, or the Tao Te Ching.

“Yi” (the “I” in “I-Ching” is pronounced “Yee” in Chinese) and “Te” in the titles of these two classic texts both refer to the most awesome aspect of nature observed by ancient people, the effects of power. Power can not be perceived directly, but is inferred through the transformations occurring constantly everywhere.

Power is experienced in connection with nature but is difficult to see. When in can be seen, like in lightening, it became part of the mythology of the ancestors and the gods. Thus it seems natural that the weather, and thus the wind, would become a primary symbol of power in ancient medicine and in the first theories of disease.

So power and its path are the crucial subjects of study. Power becomes divided into its polar opposites, and thus the electrical charge that we know today had its ancient precursor in the theory of Yin-Yang, which is rendered as the familiar picture of the circle enclosing a fluid, undulating line separating its two halves, one white and one black.

This curve is the “Yi”, and this field of polarized energy is the “Te”. They are both occurring simultaneously, and together the are the very power and the path it carves for itself across our reality as it manifests. In other words, a wave.

This wave-like aspect of reality, usually hidden inside the appearance of a general solidity, evokes so clearly the dual nature of reality described in quantum physics with its particle and wave, or better yet, its “wavicle”. We have all heard tell of this uncanny similarity in these two sciences so far separated in human history. In between is the story of humankind’s promethian harnessing of nature’s powers, from agriculture and animal domestication, to fuels like oil and gas, and then to the very atom itself.

As the fuel resources of the planet dwindle and global warming confronts us with our very inefficient, unsustainable, and crude use of these powers, the best designers are working hard to imitate nature once again. Lower levels of waste become a crucial touchpoint for future technologies. This is the just-enough principle in its economic essence.

The antithesis of this in today’s medicine is the terrifying monstrosity of the list of side-effects associated with most medications. If nothing else, we are unconsciously astounded by the power of those medications when we read the entire pages of endless tiny legalese print connected with the alluring spreads of slick advertising. This is a kind of Dirty Harry approach to celebrating health that grits its teeth and provokes disease to “Make my day!”

Just-enough medicine is health solutions that are less wasteful, economically efficient and elegant in its execution. It is green medicine.

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