Tuesday, December 27, 2005

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0033 - Script Runner

If you’ve ever programmed a computer or been responsible for updating databases, you’ll understand all about scripts. One variety of script is the SQL script (structured query language) in which a series of instructions are carried out against tables, views, fields, indices, and relations.

Today, for instance, I spent my time sequestered in a concrete bunker we call the data centre running update scripts against our ERP (enterprise resource planning) database in Oracle. The longest of these scripts ran for about 2 hours. Its purpose in life is to ensure that the entire database is modified so that it will accept new data generated by the Delphi 7 software application which powers our ERP system. When the users of our ERP system come back January 2nd, they will find new features and functions available to them provided by both software and database modifications both of which are generated by scripts.

Scripts can be easily corrupted. Misspell one word or move one line into the wrong location and the entire database or application can collapse into a heap of meaningless bits and bytes.

Cancer is something like that. At the biochemical level of our existence (in fact, all life), DNA scripts can become corrupted, thereby shattering the patterns which sustain life. Medical science has made great strides in treating cancer through blunt force methods like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. But it hasn’t helped as much in explaining how these script errors are introduced into DNA in the first place or in preventing such errors. In that regard, it is still very much like computer programming and database engineering – any attempt to fix errors in scripting can easily backfire, generating other unacceptable problems.

Cancer as an illness is all about scientific knowledge; it’s like software as the product of database engineering and programming constructs. Cancer as a sickness, however, is about the cultural meaning we assign to the experience of having cancer. In this regard, it is like software experienced by users who see only the forms, reports and menus. For them, the meaning of a software application is provided by their job description and the keystrokes or mouse clicks in the application which help them do their job. The less the user knows about the underlying programming and database constructs, the more the meaning of that application becomes the product of their own scripts, the meaning they assign to the experience of the software.

Cancer as a sickness is vastly more important to the patient than cancer as an illness. In fact, cancer as a sickness is much more significant to everyone, medical practitioner and patient alike, than cancer as an illness. There are still scripts for cancer as sickness (cultural meaning), just as there are scripts for cancer as illness (DNA). We may have options available to us in the scripts we run as we try to determine the meaning of cancer, just as the meaning of a software application varies according to the job description of the user. But, I would argue, we have to be very vigilant about the scripts we choose to run in providing meaning for the sickness of cancer.

What are some of the scripts available to us (what follows derives from Ken Wilber’s Grace and Grit, p46-7)?

  • Christian: cancer is a punishment from God for some sort of sin

  • New Age: cancer is a lesson; you have given yourself cancer and now need to learn something about mistakes you have made in the past

  • Medical: cancer is a biophysical disorder; psychological and behavioural approaches are ineffectual

  • Psychological: cancer is repressed emotion, perhaps even a death wish

  • Gnostic: cancer is an illusion; when you awaken from the illusion, the cancer will be gone

  • Existential: cancer has no meaning; whatever meaning I give it is the only meaning that matters

  • Magical: cancer is retribution for bad thoughts and feelings about other people

  • Buddhist: cancer is an inescapable part of the manifest world; only in enlightenment is it possible to transcend the impermanence of all manifest existence

  • Scientific: cancer is the effect of either a single or a cluster of causes; some causes are determined, others occur by chance; either way, there is no meaning, only chance or necessity

Coping with cancer is mainly about running scripts to discover the meaning of the sickness. If it was just about treating the illness of cancer…well, then my blog entries would be far fewer in number. As it is, I am a script runner, trying to learn what I can about the illness and doing what I can to create meaning about the sickness.

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