I was in a flat somewhere in Edinburgh, Scotland when I got into a conversation about Euclidean geometry. My fellow undergraduate was studying mathematics (I was getting a Bachelor’s in chemistry), and had just learned a system of mapping three dimensional space using circles. This meant that what we had all been taught as children – x, y and z axes that were straight lines – was merely a particular way of looking at things. It had come from Euclid‘s approach to describing shapes mathematically. Instead of looking at space as being made of cubes and straight lines, you can look at it as circles and spheres. What we’d been taught as the way to map 3D space was actually just one way, based on one man’s theory. Whoa.
Then there’s the theory of light. First Newton said rays of light were made up of a series of particles or corpuscles (the corpuscular theory of light). My memory gets a little sketchy here but I believe this competed with a wave theory of light for a while. Sometime in the nineteenth century, someone set up an experiment to test which theory was correct. The wave theory correctly predicted the results of the experiment and won the day until Einstein came along. I can’t tell you what is happening on the pioneering edge of physics today but I do know that as recently as when I was in high school (or not so recently) quantum physics helped us to equate the corpuscular nature with the wave-like nature of light. Whenever I solved problems in Advanced-level physics, I knew how to choose which equations to use based on which aspect of light I was dealing with.
When I got my first job at Bell Labs in New Jersey, I discovered that despite my love of computers, I didn’t enjoy sitting in front of them all day every day. It just wasn’t as interesting as the projects I had pursued in graduate school, where the fun parts took place when I was thinking, away from my computer screen (sorry AT&T). My first solution to this surprising problem was to sign up for an acting class at a local community college. One day, somehow, the class got treated to my knowledge of the history of light theory! They were actually interested – and amazed. One person said that she’d always thought that science was certain and precise, unlike art. For me, the most interesting part of science, and of software programming in particular, has always been the artistic nature.
Which brings me, finally, to Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and twenty-first century medical science. (Thank you for hanging in with me!) What we know today about health and the human body is amazing. And the model on which the medical system is based works well for many conditions. But this logical approach is based on what we already know. What if the condition doesn’t show up on known tests? Or the symptoms don’t respond in a convenient amount of time?
If I could speak to a conference of doctors right now, I would like to remind them that they are scientists first. It’s of course useful that most cases respond to the prevailing, logical model. It would not be practical to return to first principles for every patient that walks into your office. But, in our journey to better understanding of health, there are bound to be cases that fall outside what we know (20%?). Please don’t make those patients wrong!
Allow me to return to my high school science for another moment. Apparently, when the elements of the organic compound benzene were first understood, scientists could not explain the properties. A substance which had six atoms of carbon and six atoms of hydrogen per molecule shouldn’t have been as stable as benzene turns out to be. Eventually, one scientist sorted out that in those proportions, the carbon and hydrogen atoms take on a special molecular structure which gives the chemical bonds added strength and stability. I believe this understanding came to the scientist in a dream. I too had a dream in 2009 that led to my trying a particular therapy, which resulted in dramatic improvement of my condition.
In 2010, I wrote about the two years it took for me to get properly diagnosed with CFS/FMS. I also wrote about the additional two years it took to find a doctor who knew how to help me, and about understanding the causes of my condition along the way. This year, I will share the amazing stories of figuring out how to treat my case. I think you’ll find them useful whether you’re a patient, doctor, friend of a patient or just another harried 21st century human being! I intend to eventually pull the information in these stories together, and turn them into a concise system of knowledge that can be applied not just to the specific condition of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia Syndrome, but also to the physical and emotional issues of having finite energy in an infinitely crazy and ever-expanding world. Everyone is dealing with the limits of their energy and abilities at some level.
Getting better enough to write this blog when I once didn’t have the wherewithal to read or get out of bed is obviously a triumph. It’s taken leaps beyond the logical to achieve that. I hope you’ll stick with me as I make my way to completely recovered … and use logic to explain the new, initially illogical, discoveries I’ve made!