Tuesday, May 31, 2011


As a society, we have created many complex systems. Think medicine, education, and finance as prime examples. In parallel to these collectives, we also create perhaps a false belief that each individual in these systems should focus on their selfish selves and, by doing just that, these collectives will prosper and make progress.

Atul Gawande talked about these issues eloquently using an example in medicine.

He said "The truth is that the volume and complexity of the knowledge that we need to master has grown exponentially beyond our capacity as individuals. Worse, the fear is that the knowledge has grown beyond our capacity as a society. When we talk about the uncontrollable explosion in the costs of health care in America, for instance—about the reality that we in medicine are gradually bankrupting the country—we’re not talking about a problem rooted in economics. We’re talking about a problem rooted in scientific complexity."

He further added "That’s why we as doctors and scientists have become ever more finely specialized. If I can’t handle 13,600 diagnoses, well, maybe there are fifty that I can handle—or just one that I might focus on in my research. The result, however, is that we find ourselves to be specialists, worried almost exclusively about our particular niche, and not the larger question of whether we as a group are making the whole system of care better for people."

Overall, Gawande raised very fundamental questions for society to seriously consider and take some actions NOW before it is too late. Also, how do we make sure that the new generations are raised to ask important questions about collectives and their roles in them?

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