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he Limitations of Medical Materialism

Larry Malerba D.O.

The following is excerpted from Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care available from !orth Atlantic "oo#s.

Normal Science $erhaps the most disappointing and disturbing reali%ation that & came to after five years of medical school and residency training 'as that almost no one 'as interested in discussing the nature of health and illness disease and cure or the cutting edge of ne' developments in the (uest to heal the sic#. )here 'as virtually no interest no innovation ** an intellectual vacuum. )here 'as little desire to e+amine novel ideas and sometimes even contempt for anything other than the latest state*of*the*art technological advancements 'ithin the confines of mainstream medicine. !ot a moment 'as spent discussing medical history or the history of scientific innovations for that matter. &t 'as as if to say that all that had come before 'as essentially irrelevant to the practice of medicine or 'as only of value to the academician or the intellectually curious. &magine if you too# all photos of departed loved ones thre' them a'ay and resolved never to tal# about them 'ith your family

and friends ever again because it 'as believed to be of no practical value to the present or future. Li#e'ise and e(ually disturbing 'as the fact that not a moment of class time 'as spent on the philosophical underpinnings of medical practice or the philosophy of scientific ideas or methodologies, there 'as no see#ing to understand 'hat it 'as that 'e 'ere doing or 'hy 'e 'ere doing it. Much to my dismay even 'ithin the halls of the psychiatry department there 'as a remar#able lac# of interest in these pertinent and essential topics. & suppose & 'as na-ve to e+pect that medical scientists 'ould be naturally curious about the historical and philosophical origins of their profession. And yes you can study the history of science the history of medicine or the philosophy of science in the rarified halls of academia but do not be fooled into believing that these fields of #no'ledge inform the average doctor pumped out by the assembly line of conventional medical education. Li#e many successful industries the end product is guaranteed to be of the highest (uality pre*pac#aged 'ith 'hite coats and stethoscopes standardi%ed and homogeni%ed ready to meet the needs of the demanding consumer. &ndependent thought is not permitted to gum up the 'or#s. And by e+tension these coo#ie*cutter doctors are designed to serve mainstream consumers and their coo#ie*cutter maladies. "ut there is one serious glitch in the educational program. $eople and their ailments rarely conform to the si%e or shape of the coo#ie*cutters that medical graduates ac(uire by virtue of their long years of medical training. &n my initial enthusiasm as a ne'ly enrolled medical student & initiated the formation of an alternative medicine club. & 'ent through the proper channels and obtained permission from the administration to use classroom space for meetings. )he 'heels 'ere set in motion and flyers 'ere made up to advertise the first meeting. "ut my e+citement 'as (uic#ly dashed 'hen & 'as called to the dean.s office at the last moment. & 'as informed that persons involved in accrediting the university 'ould soon be visiting the campus and that the club posed too great a potential threat to the status of the school. & remained undaunted and 'as given permission ironically by the /nitarian church directly ad0acent to the university campus to hold meetings in their basement conference room. Our club 'as ultimately a success and many young minds 'ere corrupted 'ith ideas of medical heresy that year. &n fairness that 'as almost t'enty years ago and & do #no' firsthand that the average medical student no'adays is significantly more receptive to green medical practices. Ho'ever the glacial speed 'ith 'hich modern medical institutions are inclined to change remains a significant impediment to progress. )homas 1uhn the influential historian and philosopher of science 'ould have said that my frustration revolves around the nature and activities of 2normal science.2 !ormal science entails the everyday activities of scientists 'ho are engaged in research and practicing 'ithin the frame'or# of assumptions of the prevailing scientific paradigm. 1uhn also populari%ed the term 2paradigm2 in relation to scientific pursuits to mean the 'orldvie' underlying assumptions or set of rules regarding ho' a particular branch of science is vie'ed structured and practiced. )his means that persons engaged in the activities of normal science 'ithin a given scientific paradigm are busy studying and testing phenomena that fall 'ithin the parameters of that branch of science. 3hat they are not busy doing is (uestioning or challenging the underlying assumptions of the consensus of the scientific community and its cultural milieu.

1uhn.s most significant contribution to the field is his boo# The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 'hich is a staple of almost every $hilosophy of 4cience 565 course. 4ome e+cerpts from this important 'or# 'ill help develop my theme: Scientists work from models acquired through education and through subsequent exposure to the literature often without quite knowing or needing to know what characteristics have given these models the status of community paradigms.78 )hey do not need to #no' because they are occupied 'ith 'or#ing 'ithin and not disputing the set of rules they have assimilated from their education and cultural environment. &f an e+perimental outcome does not conform to preconceived e+pectation then the result is commonly believed to be due to ineffective techni(ue on the part of the investigator and not to erroneous assumptions made by the paradigm the research is conducted in. 1uhn also spea#s of the peculiar colorblindness of the scientific enterprise: Closely examined, whether historically or in the contemporary laboratory, that enterprise seems an attempt to force nature into the preformed and relatively inflexible box that the paradigm supplies. o part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena! indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. or do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others. "nstead, normal#scientific research is directed to the articulation of those phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies.79 :esistance to ne' ideas and forcing the natural 'orld to conform to a predetermined frame'or# is particularly egregious in the field of orthodo+ medicine. )a#e for e+ample the historical reluctance to ac#no'ledge the e+istence of an illness li#e chronic fatigue syndrome ;C<4=. )he rationale has been that since C<4 cannot be proven through e+amination or testing it can not e+ist. As 'e shall see later >in $reen %edicine? the e+istence of all diagnostic entities can be called into (uestion because they are artificial predetermined constructs of modern medicine but for no' & 'ill frame the discussion in conventional terms. &n those terms then once all possibilities of 2real2 and 2legitimate2 physical maladies that might account for the fatigue of the C<4 sufferer such as anemia or hypothyroidism are ruled out it is by default assumed to be a psychiatric condition. )his demeaning assessment carries 'ith it the implication that the problem is 2all in the head2 of the complainant.

Science as Myth $opular culture tends to e(uate science 'ith truth or ob0ective fact failing to understand that conventional science does not have a corner on the mar#et of potential lenses for vie'ing the natural 'orld. @ach ne' pronouncement made by the scientific community is assumed to be true and tends to be accepted by the mainstream 'ith minimal if any critical analysis. )o recogni%e the e+tent of this 'holesale yielding to scientific authority one needs only to observe ho' popular ne's programs and ne'spapers dutifully report the results of the latest scientific studies. $redictably for e+ample each ne' nutritional 2fact2 supported by the research can trigger a cascade of food products ma#ing various health claims 'hich is follo'ed by a stampede of consumers all too

'illing to fall for each dietary (uic# fi+*even 'hile the ne+t 2fact2 indicated by the latest data may 'ell contradict the previous. A levelheaded revie' of these trends in medical science should ma#e one 'onder about the 2scientific2 nature of the science that it claims to be. 4cientific flip*flopping is commonly characteri%ed by research authorities as the price 'e pay for medical progress as our #no'ledge gro's through a process of trial and error. & 'ould propose ho'ever that it more closely resembles chaos and the truth regarding its ultimate value in terms of human health is a much more difficult thing to discern. A full perspective re(uired to ma#e an accurate 0udgment is not accessible to us through truncated studies that e+amine only pieces of a story and parts of the human body. )here is something seriously as#e' in the fic#le 'ay 'ith 'hich the scientific community ma#es its authoritative claims and the corresponding 'illingness of the gullible public to uncritically accept 'hatever they are spoon*fed. )his is the very same dynamic that causes some hungering souls to accept in blind faith 'hatever their spiritual leaders decree as truth. Dr. @d'ard 3hitmont in The &lchemy of 'ealing, his po'erful e+amination of the nature of health and illness boldly dra's little distinction bet'een modern science and myth: (e rarely stop to consider that any truth is multifaceted and that the postulated validity and claims of absolute truth of the current scientific ideas rest on a priori metaphysical assumptions . . . these modes of belief, in their sweeping claims, have become culturally dominant modes of thinking. &s a priori ideas, they are mere mythologems, the mythologems of the post Renaissance)*nlightenment period. &s mythologems, albeit contemporary ones, they have no more claim to absolute truth than any other myths.7A Myth here does not mean untrue but rather denotes the stories produced by the human psyche that serve to impart meaning to human#ind.s e+istence. &n this sense the myth of the tree of #no'ledge in the Garden of @den is a po'erful metaphor for a psychic reality but it is no more or less true than the story of the rise of modern technological society 'hose abilities to travel to the moon and to unravel the secrets of D!A contain 'ithin them the promise of someday solving humanity.s problems. Bust as in the myth of Atlantis 'here an advanced civili%ation 'as ultimately destroyed by greater cosmic forces because its advanced state of high technology had come at the e+pense of nature and soul so too t'enty*first century technological society flirts 'ith self*destruction 'hen it arrogantly presumes to be able to master and control the forces of nature. According to some the conse(uences of ignoring the higher la's of the universe ultimately led to the do'nfall of Atlantis through a #armic correction in the form of volcanic eruptions earth(ua#es and tidal 'aves. Modern humans are 0ust no' becoming a'are of ho' their (uest for control over nature may be contributing to the phenomenon of global 'arming. 3ill 'e heed the 'arning or 'ill 'e plunge ahead in rec#less disregardC Medical science may be able to synthesi%e a drug that reliably lo'ers a fever but the assumption that it is desirable to lo'er a fever is a highly debatable (uestion 'hose ans'er has far*reaching conse(uences and depends upon each individual situation. 4hall 'e forge ahead and lo'er that fever any'ay simply because pharmaceutical technology ma#es it possibleC Our lac# of understanding and failure to heed the messages of nature have resulted in an unprecedented degradation of the environment and a corresponding desecration of the

body*heart*mind*soul. @ducation of professional and layperson ali#e regarding green medical philosophy and its holisticDecological 'orldvie' 'ill be essential if 'e are ever to reverse this recent and rapid decline. )hese materialistic and metaphysical assumptions about the nature of a universe that science aims to study are no less arbitrary than the assumptions that underpin disciplines that are not considered 2scientific2 by scientists such as parapsychology numerology alchemy or the study of the psycho*spiritual archetypes of Carl Bung.s collective unconscious. "ecause scientific endeavor is usually not concerned 'ith reflecting upon its o'n underlying assumptions the vast ma0ority of its energy is directed to'ard deepening 'hat it already does #no' rather than e+panding the breadth of #no'ledge into 'hat it does not #no'. )his disposition to'ard increasing the depth of #no'ledge 'ithin each speciali%ed field is often accompanied by science.s tendency to overstep its bounds by ma#ing hypocritical 0udgments regarding areas of human endeavor over 'hich it has no authority. &t 'ill not deign to allot scientific resources to the study of say astrology 'hich it dismisses as pseudoscience but it nevertheless reserves the right to pass 0udgment upon it. )he stereotype of the scientist as an egg*headed #no'*it*all provides a suitable image to consider here*it.s a#in to Star Trek+s Mr. 4poc# e+pounding upon the irrationality and lac# of utility of human emotion. 4imilarly in ,lanet %edicine, :ichard Grossinger points out the 'ay in 'hich medicine fails to recogni%e its o'n limitations: (e can summarily say that the thing which is wrong with orthodox medicine is not the system itself, but the way in which it presents itself as the only or most effective way to treat sickness . . . Sometimes orthodox medicine is shockingly provincial. "n order to save its reputation, it gives people the illusion it is handling more than it is and that the other methods for getting things done are either primitive, untested, exotic, unscientific, or un#&merican.7E )he point of this philosophical e+ploration is to ma#e clear that the conventional medical paradigm is grounded in an underlying set of assumptions that pre0udice one into believing that all health problems are based in the physical body and therefore ultimately solvable through material means. Fuite to the contrary truly effective green healing 'ill not be achievable until the left*brain of science 'elcomes the right*brain of emotion intuition the sub0ective and the intangibles of human nature bac# into the e(uation of human health care. Good science #no's its boundaries and ac#no'ledges 'hat it does not #no' and cannot #no' due to the limitations of its methodology.

Notes 78. )homas 4. 1uhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, )he /niversity of Chicago $ress Chicago second edition enlarged 5GH6 p. 9E. 79. )homas 4. 1uhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 79.

7A. @d'ard C.3hitmont MD The &lchemy of 'ealing- ,syche and Soma, !orth Atlantic "oo#s "er#eley California 5GG8 p. 8G. 7E. :ichard Grossinger ,lanet %edicine ;revised edition currently published by !orth Atlantic "oo#s "er#eley California= 4hambhala $ublications &nc. "oulder Colorado 5GI6 pp. 78*79.

Copyright J 7656 by Larry Malerba. :eprinted by permission of publisher