Cancerfighter’s Weblog

Alternative cancer therapies and ideas

Cancer as an Emergent System

Posted by Jonathan Chamberlain on February 27, 2012

Cancer as an Emergent System

What causes cancer? Is it A or B or C? Is it bad diet, depression, chemicals in the atmosphere or what? This is the way most people approach the question of causation. This approach is reductionist. If there is a problem there must be a chain of causation. A causes B and that makes C happen and the result of that is cancer.

This is the way ALL medical research approaches the problems they study. They look for linear chains of cause and effect. “The problem with this approach is that it has trouble explaining dynamic complexity,” David Books ( The Social Animal,  Short Books 20012 p.131)

It seems so obvious a way of thinking that to imagine there is another way of looking at a problem is at first difficult to conceive. But there is another way.

Emergent Systems is the term given to situations where there is a dynamic context underlying a problem but where no specific element of the dynamic context appears to be causative.

Let’s take the example of poverty and IQ .  Poverty has the effect of reducing IQ – but how? Is it a question of genes? Parental relationships? Bad diet? Poor living conditions? Living in crime-ridden neighbourhoods? Well, it appears that none of the above single conditions on its own causes lower IQs. Lower IQs occur when they – and other factors – are all present together. It is the combination of factors that causes the negative cascade one of the results of which is a lower IQ.

What is interesting about this way of looking at the problem is that it leads us to a different way of trying to solve the problem. Instead of  tinkering ( by, say, improving diet or trying to add special remedial classes etc) the only way to change the result is to change the entire underlying context – change everything all at once.

If we apply this idea to cancer, that is if we see cancer as being an emergent system, then we need to change everything at once: habits, diet, relationships, activities, attitudes, goals, biochemical terrain – everything. The more we can change in a positive direction the more likely we are to induce a new emergent system – one that will initiate a positive cascade of results.

That leads to a very interesting conclusion: the more things you do, the more likely you are to live longer, the more likely you are to recover.

(c) Jonathan Chamberlain 2012

Note: The Cancer Survivor’s Bible (2012) is now available – see

“The book is more precious than gold.”


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