Science and philosophy must flourish together, for it is not possible to be deeply informed in one without an equal understanding of the other.
–Manly P. Hall, Words to the Wise
by Larry Malerba, DO, DHt – Modern science is not always what it claims to be. It is increasingly faith-based, it is not conducive to freethinking, and medicine in particular is hampered by this troubling trend. The rise of science in the West as the arbiter of truth roughly parallels the decline of philosophy. The capacity to think deeply on subjects of great weight has been gradually replaced by an unreflective faith in the facts brought to us by science. Some argue that the presumed certainty of scientific knowledge has rendered the need for philosophical inquiry obsolete. But without philosophy it would not be possible to acquire wisdom, an achievement that scientific fact alone is incapable of providing.
Western medicine eagerly embraces objective information related to human health but its materialistic bias prevents it from recognizing less tangible factors regarding energy, spirit, meaning, and consciousness to advance the well-being of patients. Dreams, synchronicities, spiritual insights, psychosomatic and psychic phenomena, therefore, are not recognized as legitimate research topics and are not factored into patients’ medical evaluations. Medicine’s reductionist bias favors a fragmented system of medical specialties that tends to the physical ailments of isolated parts of the human body, while it prejudges a multiplicity of holistic approaches as untenable, unscientific, and unrealistic. It welcomes mechanistic explanations compatible with its worldview, but doesn’t have the foggiest notion of what to do with a multitude of phenomena that cannot be explained by its conventional cause-and-effect perspective.
The rational bias of Western medicine predisposes it to devalue qualitative phenomena, such as the subjective experiences of patients, in favor of quantitative data that can be measured and manipulated. Empiricism, likewise, is defined in such a way as to exclude the subjective experiential reality of sensory observations. Like science and medicine, Western philosophy is grounded in dualism and therefore susceptible to the same errors of thinking. It will require a somewhat radical departure from Western thought, therefore, to rescue science, medicine, and philosophy from their innate biases, from the –isms that confine them (objectivism, reductionism, materialism, rationalism, etc).
The common perception of philosophy as an idle exercise in navel-gazing is, in part, a consequence of science’s imperialistic overreach into the realm of meaning, purpose, and values. Science has squeezed philosophy out of the picture, while philosophy has passively assimilated the values—if they can truly be called values—of scientific materialism. Lacking the courage to stand on its own, modern philosophy has assumed a posture that is largely in sympathy with the conventional scientific perspective.
Conventional medicine is convinced that questions regarding basic assumptions were settled long ago by science. Having dispensed with the need for self-examination, it set its course on cruise control, and is not particularly inclined to look back. The dearth of new ideas in medicine is a direct reflection of the moribund state of medical philosophy. Genuine innovation is no longer possible because underlying beliefs regarding the nature of health and illness remain static. Medicine cannot evolve unless its metaphysical framework evolves first.
Lacking a navigational compass, medicine continues to pile fact upon fact, unable to synthesize the lessons lying dormant in its storehouse of information into any coherent philosophy of health, illness, or cure. The result is a confusing and fragmented array of disjointed specialties, theories, and oftentimes hazardous practices. The only way to sustain the grand enterprise is through mental trickery, via an overly rationalized logic that continues to justify the benefits regardless of the risks. Gradually the goalposts are moved in favor of perceived benefits while downplaying the dangers. Lacking the capacity for self-evaluation, the medical behemoth rolls on, increasingly wedded to corporate interests that have little or nothing to do with patient interests.
The healing of illness is far from a settled matter. The belief that medicine has a lock on how to best handle disease is a function of a great number of erroneous assumptions. Medicine is so confident of its abilities that it dismisses most new ideas not in sympathy with its worldview without giving them serious consideration. It does so because it presumes that there is no other perspective that can achieve successes comparable to those achieved by contemporary medical scientific methodology. In doing so, it violates scientific principles of open-minded inquiry and discovery.
In making such assumptions, medicine creates an atmosphere that squelches freedom of thought. There is no need for new ideas; it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. All that is needed is to continue to fill in the knowledge gaps with the existing tools that medical science already provides. Anything else, whether they be energy healing techniques, indigenous healing traditions, or alternative medical systems such as acupuncture, homeopathy, or Ayurveda are believed to be inferior because they are not based in medical science—science, that is, as defined by a particularly rigid set of –isms.
While some alternative healing modalities may not be compatible with conventional medical science’s methods, they do, nevertheless, represent accumulated bodies of knowledge and wisdom, which have their own coherent methods that make perfect sense to those trained in such disciplines. Whether it is acknowledged or not, there is no one single scientific method. There are a variety of methods. There are also non-scientific avenues to knowledge that can provide valuable insight into the human condition, health, and illness.
It is rather puzzling to consider the enormous body of medical information, data, and statistics, and then realize that there is no mainstream equivalent of a medical think tank. How is it that we have arrived at this point without having given substantial thought to what it is that medicine does, why it does it, and whether it should be done? Are we to believe that science renders the need for careful thought and self-reflection moot? Medicine seems to have adopted the misguided position that it can’t allow unscientific ideas to interfere with scientific facts.
We have reached a point where science has departed from its own standards, and where the general public accepts most things uttered by scientists as scientific truths—regardless of their basis in science. Science is gradually morphing into a form of scientistic religious belief precisely because freethinking is no longer tolerated by the scientific mainstream. This perception of science gone astray is no longer a minority position as many are becoming concerned about the lack of restraint represented by scientific imperialism.
The prerequisite suppositions that define sound science and medicine are really biases that limit the boundaries of exploration. Constrained by the conventional –isms, we are left with a superficial understanding of the material body decoupled from the realities of consciousness, the mind-body unity, and the dynamics of healing.
Science deals in profane fact, not transcendental principles. Our understanding of the higher truths can have an enormous impact upon the way in which we live our lives and the way that we approach our mental, emotional, and physical health. Medical science has nothing to say regarding higher truths. Its realm is the mundane. Conventional science is a science of the mundane that simultaneously presumes to bypass the need for contemplation of higher metaphysical principles—principles without which science would have no foundation.
Our basic assumptions regarding life, death, reality, health, and illness make all the difference in the medical strategies that we employ. A renewed medical philosophy must return again to the fundamental questions regarding the nature, purpose, and methods of medicine. Plunging ahead in disregard for the answers will only result in more of the same haphazard, symptom-oriented, knee-jerk, putting-out-of-fires approach to treatment that never seems to get to the bottom of things.
We can ask broad metaphysical questions that influence our overall orientation toward human illness. Does mind exist at all or is the physical brain the only reality? Are mind and body separate realities or is the mind-body one seamless entity? Does subjective experience become irrelevant to health issues by virtue of the fact that it cannot be detected by the tools of science?
We can also ask philosophical questions regarding the dynamics of health and healing from a more comprehensive, holistic perspective. Is a fever a desirable or undesirable thing? Is it a sign of health or illness, immunological competence or weakness? Is a fever merely random or is it a tactic employed by the body’s bioenergetic defense mechanism? Can treating the fever undermine the self-healing intent of the body?
These larger metaphysical and philosophical questions regarding the nature of Western medicine and its inherent strengths, weaknesses, biases, and contradictions should not to be confused with medical ethics. On the whole, medical ethics tends to accept medicine as it is and does not question its fundamental premises. Ethics takes the conventional medical worldview and its –isms for granted.
Medicine is content when philosophers focus their attention on ethics because it allows conventional medical beliefs to elude criticism. In this arrangement, it is not medicine itself that receives the scrutiny but the applications of medicine. Ethics is more narrowly focused. It concerns specific issues and instances and is thus prone to the biases of reductionist thinking. Since medical ethics is a specialized version of philosophy, and since its core beliefs are in agreement with those of conventional medicine, it does not pose a threat to the medical profession.
Metaphysics is the broadest of philosophies. Its scope encompasses more than just the world of science or medicine. It is a philosophy that circumscribes matter, consciousness, and spirit. A metaphysical examination of core principles, however, is anathema to medicine, which is perfectly content to keep the balance of power just as it is. Questions regarding core principles can have profound implications; the kinds that have been known to lead to paradigm shifts in perspective and practice. Such questions, and their answers, are the kind that mainstream thinkers tend to resist.
Fortunately, medical philosophy is alive and well, mainly because it has found refuge in many alternative forms of medicine. Medicine can and should involve more than just short-term repair of the physical body. The goal of all healing should be the thorough, lasting, and comprehensive restoration of health to each ailing individual, both in objective and subjective terms. At its best, healing entails personal growth, the raising of awareness, and the expansion of consciousness in ways that contribute to ongoing health of body, heart, mind, and soul. In service to that end, one cannot focus solely on the material while dismissing the role of values, meaning, purpose, energy, consciousness, spirit, and soul. More than mere scientific knowledge, all authentic forms of green medicine, if they are to be genuinely effective, also require a deeper understanding of the dynamics of healing.
To engage in philosophy is to think deeply on subjects of import in ways that can contribute to the betterment of humankind. Metaphysics contemplates the nature of eternal principles. Conventional science concerns itself with temporal physical laws. Temporal laws do not exist in a vacuum, unaccountable to higher principles, as materialist science would have us believe. Philosophy is not a science and should not be judged on whether or not it progresses in the manner of a science. It is a way of examining worldviews, a way of keeping us honest, a way of holding science accountable.
Science can no longer dissociate itself from philosophy. Philosophy of science first emerged because it became necessary to address the inescapable contradictions inherent in the claims of science. In modern times, those differences have been whitewashed away, thus paving the way for the rise of scientism. Science is not about creating a set of rules that prohibits what we are allowed to investigate, to study, to know. The certainty of science is only temporal. Its laws apply to the material universe and, even then, only in the most provisional of ways. Scientism is just a few short steps away from fascism. Using science as a weapon to suppress free speech stands in direct opposition to scientific principles of free and open inquiry.
It is possible to bring medicine to life once again with the assistance of open discussion and debate. Freethinking is always preferable to no thinking at all. Freedom of thought is paramount; it should and will always supersede the scientific facts, regardless of their degree of certainty. Factual certainty will never eliminate the need for ongoing receptivity to new ideas and the potential future implications of unexplained phenomena, all of which may someday render that which was previously thought certain, debatable. What is needed is nothing short of a new metaphysics of medicine.
Larry Malerba, DO, DHt is a physician and educator whose mission is to build bridges between holistic healing, conventional medicine, and spirituality. He is the author of Metaphysics & Medicine: Restoring Freedom of Thought to the Art and Science of Healing and Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. He has written for Huffington Post, Natural News, and the American Holistic Medical Association. Dr. Malerba is board certified in Homeotherapeutics, is Clinical Assistant Professor at New York Medical College, and past president of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York. He is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland. Website: SpiritScienceHealing.com