The usual conception of Health is a state of physical and mental well-being free from disease or other afflictions. If we become sick and fall below what’s accepted as “normal” health, we go to a physician that may intervene via prescribing drugs to ingest accompanied by some behavior modification.
But the very definition of “normal” health as the absence of disease may be deeply flawed since it doesn’t account for biomedical advances and technological augmentation that permits us to far surpass what is currently normal health. This is especially when what’s currently normal may be far from what constituted normal before our current state of technology.
I will consider here what “normal health” means and why we should redefine what normal health means accounting for technology.
Some people may have depression, heart problems, or cancer, but I feel lucky that my own health is relatively good, except for severe myopia. The main reason I’m interested in what constitutes normal health comes from my own eyes being very bad compared to some accepted normal standard.
Here’s the official prescription for my own eyes.
- Right eye: OD is -12.25 Diopters
- Left eye: OS is -10.75 Diopters
As a kid, I used to be terrified of going blind since my eyesight got successively worse starting from about age 8. By the time each yearly exam came around, I felt my glasses were long useless. When the new corrective lenses arrived, I used to feel dizzy lasting for a few days due to the stronger prescription permitting a sharper vision.
Fortunately, the vision deterioration slowed down significantly around age 20 and worsens only by 0.25 Diopters per couple years now. I was told I couldn’t get laser surgery since my eye corneas are too thin, but will need to get implants behind them if I want corrective surgery to avoid glasses and contact lenses.
Normal human vision is defined as 20/20, which means that from 20 feet away, you should be able to see what a normal human being should see on a standardized eye chart that tests for visual acuity. My corrective prescription lenses got me back to that standard.
However, why should that 20/20 be the standard for a normal human being? Consider the following questions.
- What constitutes a normal human being and why should that 20/20 baseline considered the standard?
- Why is my vision considered relative to that human being and standard?
- Why can’t a normal human being’s “normal” vision be defined with respect to the technology they can utilize, much like the technology I can utilize through corrective refractive glasses?
It appears “normal” human vision is arbitrary indeed since it assumes what we’ve evolved up to until now should be the standard, and furthermore, the standard is limited to the metric of visual acuity.
With coming technology, why can’t “normal” also include the following?
- Different wavelengths and frequencies of light
Why do we not consider our definition of normal sight across the electromagnetic other than the “visible” spectrum between 400–700 nanometers to include ultraviolet light at shorter wavelengths or infrared light to longer wavelengths?
- Frame rates
— Similarly, why don’t we consider “time” resolution instead of just spatial resolution
— The human eye is physiologically able to see up to 1,000 frames per second, but we can only guess correctly up to 150 frames per second due to the signal speed.
— This limit in frame rate is less about the eyes, and more to do with physical limitations of speed of transmission of visual signals through our Optic Nerve and other myelinated nerves, and the processing speed in the visual areas of the brain, that then get processed at successively higher brain systems before entering the threshold of consciousness.
So what’s considered “normal” in terms of vision is highly contextual and arbitrary.
To further contextualize what constitutes a standard “normal”, let’s consider the important issue of life expectancy.
- Life expectancy in prosperous areas of the world such as the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago was only 35 years old, with lower life expectancies lower elsewhere.
- The lowest life expectancy in the world currently is around 50 years in less developed countries of the world such as Afghanistan and in sub-Saharan Africa of Swaziland, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, and Chad.
- Compare these life expectancies to that in the most developed nations such as Japan, Switzerland, and Australia where life expectancies are in the mid 80 years old.
To provide a more complete picture, these numbers also reflect the higher infant mortality in these historical contexts and less-developed areas.
Scientific Discoveries and Technological Progress Define “Normal”
We see that the standard for “normal” health or “normal” life expectancy is may be dependent on a greater number of factors that cannot be viewed necessarily as “natural” such as the following.
- Enhanced political development for stability and physical security, setting the stage for the other points of development
- Enhanced economic development that provides clean food, sufficient water, and access to medical care, all that permit better health
- Medical care based on scientific research that has produced drugs and other interventions
- Technology such as wearable heart rate monitors that can preemptively warn of heart rate abnormalities, as well as sophisticated instruments such as CAT or MRI scans to diagnose far beyond what’s possible by visual inspection
Accounting for Technology
Let’s then consider that a normal baseline of health if that health is continuously improving due to technology, which itself is improving at an accelerating pace.
- This may entail that normal human vision is what a median income human can afford for a smartphone video camera, which could involve much enhanced visual resolution, much greater frame rates, and vision outside the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum into ultraviolet and infrared.
- This may imply that a normal human lifespan is not 50 years in less developed areas or 80 years in more developed areas, but 120, 150, or 200 years old and beyond when new stem cell treatments with nanotechnology appear.
Let’s distinguish between the following general health states.
- 1. A diseased state
- 2. A normal state that’s absent of illness, and
- 3. Supernormal health
They are akin to the difference between psychological states.
- 1′. Severe depression
- 2′. A normal state psychological state free from depression
- 3′. A positive psychological state beyond just normal, that may entail a deep sense of meaning and positive outlook in life
For the sake of discussion, let’s create a simple scale of Health Scores that can serve to quantify the effects of technology.
- Health Score: 100
Let’s arbitrarily define this to be a state free from disease that permits live to standard life expectancy in the current political, economic, biomedical, and technological context in the modern developed countries of the world like America.
- Health Score: 90 (mild sickness)
This is a negative value, with negative values representing some mild health affliction like a cold or elevated blood pressure
- Health Score: 7 (severe and chronic illness)
This much greater negative value could mean something far more serious like cancer or multiple sclerosis
Our current conception is that we need intervention to bring the Health Score back to 100 since it is viewed as the maximum of the scale, with no greater value possible.
However, what happens if normal health now is sub-par compared to what’s possible with more advanced technological intervention?
Technology-Enhanced Health Scores
Let’s consider the following “superhuman” health scores.
- Health Score: 120
— This may mean that we are free from all genetic, congenital, and bacteria- or virus-based illness.
— Furthermore, we never feel depression.
- Health Score: 200
— This means everything at Health Score 120 already, plus more
— We derive deep meaning and satisfaction and feel great optimism during every moment of our lives
— We can run a four-minute mile and a two-hour marathon with ease
— We maintain very positive relationships with our friends and family
— Our life expectancy is age 200
Viewed in this manner, we would see that if the level of societal and technological development were much greater, then we could have normal Health Scores much higher than they are now.
- If Health Score 120 is the societal standard
— Those with a Health Score of 100 could be viewed as sick and must be brought up to level 120, even though that 100 score is viewed as free from disease.
— Life with Health Score of 200 may appear like Science Fiction and is not even worth striving for yet.
- If Health Score 200 is the societal standard
— Those with Health Score of 100 are severely sick
— Those with Health Score of 120 are also severely sick
— Both must be brought up to the Health Score 200 level
- The specific case of severe myopia may be corrected to normal vision, but the very definition of normal may be very limited since it doesn’t account for wavelength or frame rate.
- More generally, the correct conception of normal health and a scale to quantify it must factor in technology.
- This scale could also apply to life expectancy, as well as general and broader health.
- Defining this scale with arbitrary Health Score shows that absence or presence of disease is only one facet of “normal” health, since future technology may continuously define what constitutes “normal” health.
There’s much anticipation among futurists about how the coming Singularity will change things forever. Similarly, there’s talk about those who fear technology about the dangers of technology.
However, the fact is that technology has been with us through our evolution and formation of civilizations the entire time, and it’s just that its effects are more noticeable. For example,
- We are able to live in very cold climates because of our command of technology in clothing, materials, and fire.
- We’ve more than doubled our lifespans from 35 years to more than 80 years through technologies such as pasteurization and antibiotics, in the blink of an eye in evolutionary or cosmic time scales.
Thus, we should also redefine what it means to be of normal health by factoring in technology since this technology could relegate some previously intractable disease and death to a simple engineering problem that can be solved by technology.