A UNIFIED THEORY OF HUMAN DISEASE - IS INFORMATION FAILURE THE BASIS OF ALL DISEASES?
The author, a medical doctor, has attempted to offer a novel theory of human diseases which is fundamentally different from the way medicine is taught. Using systems theory he sees diseases as a result of disordered communication between the trillions of cells that constitute the body. Claude Shannon’s information theory is applied to categorize diseases into three types on More
Systemic disorder like a disease is not unique to human body. Any system, that comprises of multiple and dissimilar components like a machine or a society, is also prone to disorder. Our society is like the human body in that there are billions of human beings working together just as billions of cells work together inside the human body. Sociologists and economists try to solve the maladies that affect the society like poverty, unemployment, civil unrest, terrorism, overpopulation, illiteracy, debt etc. In my view all these social maladies are conceptually very similar to the diseases that affect our body. Each type of these maladies has a variety of causes and a number of solutions. Identifying these social disorders is one thing but it is a different ball game when it comes to finding a remedy that works. Moreover, it is not difficult to see that many of these social problems like poverty, illiteracy, unemployment etc. have a relation to each other and may even have a common cause that needs to be addressed rather than each one at a time. Eradication of the root cause may alleviate many of the social ills in one shot. This is systemic thinking. That is the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics.
I feel it should be possible to apply system theory principles to human disease. The human body is a dynamic, self-regulating, and adaptive complex system. A disturbance to the human body as a system is rectified by automated, regulatory mechanisms that will restore the system back to its optimal state in a manner typical of cybernetic systems. Physiologists call this the phenomenon of homeostasis. Any random deviation from the normalcy is met with a swift response to set this deviation right. This dissipation of internal disruptions is characteristic of life systems, especially multi-cellular life systems.
The systems theory that has come about in the last few decades prefers to look at systems from a holistic view with less emphasis of the parts. The human body is a complex system that comprises of too many interacting parts like organs, tissues, and cells. You need to go above the reductionist approaches to understand the human body in health and disease. Human body, like other multi-cellular life forms, are control systems amenable to descriptions according to the Cybernetic theory. There are a number of feedback loops, based on information input, that operate to control the multiple components of the human body.
Cybernetics is almost synonymous with the system theory though there is a connotation of engineering systems when we talk about Cybernetics. But, no one can deny that our body has a number of engineering design principles in the organisation of our endocrine and nervous system. Cybernetics is the study of feedback control in a system that is based on communication. Its focus is on how the system processes the information, reacts to the information and changes the system in response to the information. A whole lot of human function is precisely based on this type of information-based communication between body parts that act as control systems by their own right, often putting precision engineering to shame.
It is presumable that any multi-unit system will depend on information exchange between the individual components that constitute it. Claude Shannon, in his seminal paper in 1948, defined information as ‘a reduction in the uncertainty’ and formulated a mathematical theory for communication. Basically, a typical communication system, as described by Shannon, consists of a message source, a coder to encrypt the information, a channel for communication, and finally a decoder to receive the information. His information theory was developed to understand the transmission of electronic signals. In this book I apply Shannon’s model to understand failures in intercellular communication and how this translates to disease.