Health & Elephants


Thought-tober: Reality Is In the Hand of the Beholder

When it comes to health and the human body there are so many different viewpoints out there (that often make sense and are backed by both science and personal experience) it begs the question: Why is there so much confusion about health? The best way I’ve found to sort through this dilemma is to look to the parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant, that has been told in many versions but is most famously known from this poetic rendition…

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So many people seem to think only in terms of what they know to be true, aka their reality. Via their experience, they see the truth as self evident and literally undebatable. These are the people feeling simply one part of the elephant. When your world is food, the answer to all questions and problems lies in food. The same goes for hormones, stress, digestion, energy metabolism, exercise and bacterial status (or any other part of the elephant we come across).

As a general rule the more certainty with which someone speaks about the body makes me question how well they really know the complex human system. There are a lot of blind men out there convinced they are right and for good reason. There is no reason for them to believe otherwise. In their reality, they are certain of everything and it can’t be refuted. When they claim to have it all figured out you can bet good money they’ve not spent enough time around elephants.

Tying all this back into some previous thoughts: When coming across a health guru, doctor, researcher or health blogger (wink), think about what part of the elephant he/she is holding. If your expert is holding a tail, reality is the tail. They are much more likely to be an expert on everything tail related but missing much of the whole picture.

Some blind men will have come across enough elephants to have experienced different parts and will appreciate there is more to the creature than they originally thought. A few may have even felt the entire metaphorical elephant. Although rare, these blind men are as close to being able to “see” as possible. When they also rely upon their other senses, such as smell and sound, and combine these with the experiences of other blind men they can come very close to gaining the true picture of an elephant.

Even so, although adding all of the parts together gives you the best general picture of the elephant, you still don’t know how the parts connect or what details you cannot see. This unknown realm, the space between what we know for sure, may be what matters most in our quest for knowledge, yet could be the hardest to completely grasp or even comprehend.

Thanks for thinking, have a great day!

P.S. This concept is generally how things like cholesterol get blamed for heart disease and other complex things get misunderstood so easily when we simplify them and stick to our convictions.

P.S.S. Even if we completely figure out the elephant before us, what do we do when a different animal comes before us?


  1. […] your mind but it’s often helpful in finding what makes sense in your world. Similar to the Blind Men and the Elephant parable, you often get a whole new outlook on health when you are willing to rethink your […]


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