Health and Flourishing


On his death bed, Louis Pasteur, founding father of ‘germ theory’, the notion that microrganisms are causal agencies of many ‘diseases’, is said to have confided to his friend, Dr Renon, that ‘Bernard avait raison; le microbe n’est rien, c’est le terrain qui est tout’. [‘Bernard was right; the microbe is nothing, it is the terrain that is all’].


What Pasteur was acknowledging is that ‘disease’ - and correspondingly ‘health’ - cannot be understood more than very superficially in terms of the one-sided action of one ‘body’, the ‘pathogen’, upon another ‘body’, its ‘host’ or ‘victim’. Deep understanding of disease can only come through appreciation of the context or ‘terrain’ that both ‘bodies’ inhabit. What manifests locally as what we call disease is situation-dependent and what we call disease is dependent upon which of innumerable nested organisational scales from microcosm to macrocosm our situational view is based upon. Since death and degeneration are inescapably vital to a dynamic evolutionary life, we can only make carefully balanced judgements in sensitive relation to contextual setting.