The Relationship Between LIGO and Health Equity

By Melanie Gillespie

I know you’ve been disappointed that my recent posts haven’t had any good space references. I am sorry! Sometimes the trees just take over! They are people too, after all, and wise friends. And of course they too are made of stardust.

I cannot allow another week to pass, however, without ensuring you all are aware of the huge news that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity has finally been proven correct due to the observational detection of gravitational waves resulting from two black holes colliding. I know, most of that is crazy-making sciencey gobbledygook. But how about the two black holes colliding bit? You can get on board with that right? Super cool for us #geeks4healthequity types.

As the NY Times put it, “scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.” Anything with weird and wild, I’m in!

And, get this part; one of the two machines doing the detecting is right here in Washington State! The project is called the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and includes two observatories, one in Hanford WA and one in Louisiana.

Okay, but besides being a space geek, why should I or anyone connected to Healthy Gen care? Because of this statement about the implications of the LIGO discovery on our understanding of space and time: "Rather than being fixed, unchanging quantities that matter and energy traveled through, they are dependent quantities: dependent on one another, dependent on the matter and energy within them, and changeable over time.

And now you’re with me, yes? More scientific proof about our deeply rooted connectedness to each other and everything around us. In this country that is hard to work with. We need to shift the dominant paradigm from an “I” narrative to a “we/us” narrative.

While you let that sink in, check out this super cool 4 min video the NY Times put together on the discovery:

Click image to visit NY Times to watch video

Click image to visit NY Times to watch video

And for you music lovers, the sound of two black holes collapsing into one? Peaks at middle C. Yep. I’m not making that up.

In the health equity landscape I believe many of us are thinking about the need for this shift from I to us. At Healthy Gen, we are working with partners now on how to optimize our population health surveillance systems. One issue is the way in which all these systems appear to only reflect a very western model in how they are designed and how questions of the populace are framed. The increasing elevation of the voices of those with other world views is helping us. 

I am always deeply moved by and connected to indigenous spirituality and perspectives. A few days ago, Healthy Gen Board Member and Program Committee Chair, Nancy Anderson, shared with me the Indigenous Health Indicators project of the Swinomish Tribe. This is incredibly cool. Please take some time to check it out and play with what is also an elegant and fun website for their final results.

Click on image to visit site

Click on image to visit site

Just one example if you don’t have time to dig in at their site: a top level health area is Community Connection. Within that are three indicator areas including “Relations,” described as “community members support, trust and depend on each other.” I think we would all agree how vital this for individual and collective health and well being. So why isn’t it part of how we measure the effectiveness of our efforts in that regard? 

Another connection between the LIGO work and Healthy Gen’s mission is the idea of core elements being changeable over time. You already know we take a life span and multi-generational approach to our work of creating enduring health equity. The new LIGO discoveries spur me again to remind you how new science is informing us all the time now that IT IS NEVER TOO LATE. Our bodies and brains are changing all the time. Our understanding of how communities work and can be more effectively resourced, supported and connected to each other is changing all the time. We have so many ways to shape things to create a better experience for ourselves and each other.

I hope you’ll join us at The Science of Hope April 19-20th where we will explore these and many other wonderful topics (although probably no sessions on space… sadly… I should figure out a way to get something space oriented into my opening talk…). 

For example, Dr. Laurence Steinberg will teach all about the new adolescent brain science and how and why adolescence is the “age of opportunity.” 

We will have some amazing workshops from epigeneticist, Moshe Szyf, pioneering and preeminent researcher in the field. Epigenetics is really teaching us so much about how what came before both in our lifetime and past generations is playing out in our genetic expression and health today. Which means what we are experiencing and doing now is affecting future generations. Yes, right now. Who said there’s no time travel? It’s happening right now inside our bodies. 

I am very excited to learn from Dr. Szyf, especially since I believe my best understanding of epigenetics so far has actually come from science fiction, and that doesn’t really seem right… does it? Either way, I highly recommend the book Seveneves for a compelling, fun ride which also includes space AND epigenetics. It’s like Neal Stephenson is writing just for me!! And he’s a Pacific Northwest guy. Why don’t I know him? Please introduce me if you do, ok? Thanks. Plus if you use that link, a tiny portion of your pennies comes to Healthy Gen where we will liberate it from Wall Street and release it back into communities!




The new topical agenda is released this week. Pop over and check it out. Each week we’ll have more of the sessions revealed in depth as they get written up! We’re looking at 37 sessions, 4 keynote/plenary sessions and one happiest of happy hours! Interest has grown rapidly and I’m starting to fear it may sell out… better register or apply if you need scholarship support quickly!

I will leave you with this great overview video on black holes - a region in space where the gravitational pull is so strong, not even light can escape it. Otherwise known as that pile of papers on your desk you keep meaning to file… 

Love you!

click on image to visit video page

click on image to visit video page