The body: more like a machine, or a garden?

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This wonderful artwork on the front cover of the book Explain Pain Supercharged by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley (, gives us the perfect visual for exploring whether we should be treating the human body more like a machine or a garden.

Viewing our body like a machine?

Car engines operate in a linear fashion. Suck ® Squeeze ® Bang ® Blow. Air and fuel are sucked into the cylinder ® they are compressed ® they are ignited ® the waste gas is exhausted. When something malfunctions with a machine we usually seek out the defective part/s and fix it right? Surrounded by machines as we are, we are often tempted to view our bodies in the same linear way as machines, probably because it makes it seem more straightforward.

The “defective part” can be seen on a scan and then health professionals can be brought in to prescribe medication, therapy or do a surgery to fix the defective part. And hey presto! It seems that your machine/body is all fixed/cured?

While there are situations when we benefit greatly from certain medications, surgeries and therapies, all too often with the human body, there is not one quick fix that works the same for everyone. Health professionals love nothing better than getting you well again, and because I’m one of them, I can vouch for the fact that we too often wish the human organism was as straightforward and predictable as a machine.

Viewing our body like a garden?

Rather than the linear modus operandi of machines, perhaps it’s time to start thinking of our bodies differently. The opposite of a ‘linear phenomenon’ is called an ‘emergent phenomenon’.

An emergent phenomenon is when many factors interact at the same time to create something. Consider the fact that our bodies are constantly undergoing millions of changes at any one moment based on millions of various external and internal factors, all interacting at the same time.

Just as no two gardens are ever the same, no two human bodies (even identical twins) are exactly the same. Each body changes in its own unique way from one moment to the next. When cells become damaged or reach the end of their lifespan, the body valiantly toils to repair or replace those cells. Like magic, a similar complex creativity and regeneration occurs in even the simplest of gardens, and those gardens that thrive and delight have always been nurtured and tended by caring humans. Plants are incredibly complex and capable, a myriad of interactions constantly striving to repel pests, overcome diseases, and find the energy and nutrients they need to thrive.

Lorimer Moseley and Dr Daniel Harvie, in their book Pain and Perception – A closer look at why we hurt (, make four key points:

  • “We are more like gardens than machines”
  • “Gardens require the right conditions to grow and remain healthy”
  • “There are usually no screws to tighten or other ‘quick fixes’”
  • “Maintaining a garden requires knowledge, hard work, patience and persistence” (pg 37)

I don’t want you to decide right now, but I’d love you to give it some consideration over time.

How do you view and treat your body? More like a machine, or a garden?

Rosie Gospel BAppSc Occupational Therapy, Accredited Hand Therapist (AHTA)

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