Why Car Analogies Are Bogus

Car analogies to the human body drive me crazy. To be fair, sure, they make sense at a certain level: we both run off our own versions of “fuel”; their parts wear out (drivetrain), so do ours (knees, hips). They’re both used to sell beer.

Though out of the many fundamental difference between us and machines as a whole (you can hopefully name lots), it seems one important distinction often gets only lip-service, even in the world of health care.

That is: we’re not assembled from parts.

Embryologically speaking, we have grown as seeds grow. From the initial zygote in the fallopian tube to the unimaginably complex organism reading this post now, you have grown as one continuously dynamic and interrelated system. Your heart developed on the top of your embryological head, detaching as your form unfolded in the uterus, cells increasingly complex and specialized taking on the jobs of forming nerve tissue, connective tissue, muscle tissue, organs, eyes, bones, dimples …

A car, on the other hand, is made of parts put together. It’d be weird if there were little baby cars scooting around.

Does it not seem a bit surprising, then, that we talk about our bodies like they were piecemeal? “My shoulder hurts.” Of course, it’s convenient; the statement “my shoulder” makes a great pointer for where the pain is being felt.

But how much does that statement reflect the reality of the tissues in what you call your shoulder? Things tend to get a little more complicated, and our answers a bit more ponderous, when the statement becomes more dire: “Your shoulder is shot; you need a new one.”

We can challenge this kind of thinking. Instead of asking “what’s happening in this shoulder that’s making it hurt so much?” try this question: “What’s happening in this entire body that’s not allowing this shoulder to heal properly?”* Do you get a different answer? Do you know the answer?

In a car, we can replace a part without affecting the whole. In the human body, in us, our reality is not so convenient. A worn-out hip will be seen again soon enough if the whole system isn’t addressed (which, in terms of physics and kinesiology, could be stated that nothing will ultimately change if the forces acting on the hip don’t change).

Thankfully, it’s not entirely true that we’re not made of parts, either. A brother can donate his kidney to save his sister; strangers can give others in need tissues, blood, organs, all amazingly safely with the phenomenal progress of medicine the past 100 years. These things are true.

And yet, if we’re seeing ourselves as piecemeal little bits somehow held together, we’re not seeing our body as it truly is.

It’s been said that a very talented healer can read the state of your whole system by testing/feeling any part, even your pinky. Try as you might, I wouldn’t suggest diagnosing your engine troubles by putting your hand on the tires. As for you, however …

*Thanks to Tom Myers for posing this beautiful distinction at a Kinesis training last week.

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7 Responses to Why Car Analogies Are Bogus

  1. Jen says:

    Thanks for a good read, Liam. I hope you don’t mind I reposted this on my Facebook page. I especially like the part about baby cars driving around. 🙂

  2. Liam Bowler says:

    Hi, Jen. Of course! And glad it was helpful, baby cars and all 🙂

  3. Nasa Koski says:

    Car analogies “drive” me crazy … 😀

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