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Alternative Healthcare. Part 2

by Daniel on January 20th, 2012

Ancient wisdom — or what passes for it — has long fascinated me. We tend not only to be curious about ancient products of human endeavor but also to yearn for them. Even stagnant, absurd health methods may “improve” with great age. In Occult Science in Medicine, first published over a century ago, Franz Hartmann, M.D., expressed a misguided attitude that is prevalent today:

There is a certain law of periodicity, according to which forms disappear and the truths which they contained reappear… embodied in new forms. Seasons go and come, civilizations pass away and grow again, exhibiting the same characteristics possessed by the former, sciences are lost and rediscovered, and the science of medicine forms no exception to this general rule. Many valuable treasures of the past have been buried in forgetfulness; many ideas that shone like luminous stars in the sky of ancient medicine have disappeared during the revolution of thought, and begin to rise again on the mental horizon, where they are christened with new names and stared at in surprise as something supposed never to have existed before.

Consider just a few forms of born-again “medicine” and their postulates: acupuncture (chi and a network of invisible “channels”), Ayurveda (prana), homeopathy (“vital force”), macrobiotics (yin and yang), naturopathy (“life force”), shiatsu (ki), Transcendental Meditation (“cosmic consciousness”), and past-life therapy (reincarnation).

The keystone of alternative healthcare is a notion for which I have coined the term “body-mind-spiritism.” This refers to a supposed semiautonomy of body and mind, or of body, mind, and spirit. Proponents tend to blur the distinction between mind and spirit (soul). Yet an understanding of this distinction is crucial to the unraveling of many alternative approaches. The word “mind” refers basically to sequences of thoughts and sensations, a process that occurs continuously until death. The mind is not a material thing, but a concept representing the cascade of multitudinous physiological events that amount to thinking. Thinking is a “two-faced” activity: subjective and psychological at the macro-level, objective and physiological at the micro-level. Psychological terms such as “apathy,” “depression,” “fear,” “neurosis,” and “obsession” describe only the macro-level of thinking. All thoughts and feelings arise from physiological processes that occur in the central nervous system, especially the brain. The mind is a macro-level (large-scale or global) property of the brain. The mind, the brain, and the nerve cells of the brain are analogous, respectively, to water, water molecules, and the atoms of which water molecules are composed. Liquidity is a collective, macroscopic property of water molecules at room temperature. The elements of water — hydrogen and oxygen — bear no resemblance to water. As with liquidity, the mind is a manifestation of matter at high levels of complexity. The foregoing description is consistent with materialism and the identity theory of mind/body (also called physicalism) — a naturalistic theory. According to naturalism, nature consists of all that exists — nothing lies above or beyond it.

Naturalism is the basis of science. Its antithesis is supernaturalism, according to which there are quasi- entities outside the universe (natural world) that at least occasionally affect courses of events. Alleged supernatural beings and forces are, by definition, inherently mysterious — probably even inherently incomprehensible, since beings and forces are explicitly definable only in naturalistic terms. Medical supernaturalists portray the mind either as a reflection of a “vital force” or as a function of a “cosmic consciousness.” Although scientists have not yet worked out a definitive theory of mind, impenetrable or unknown forces or substances will not figure in any real understanding of the nature of thinking.

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