First a reply to some of the subjects discussed before.
John and Lionel, here is something that may answer the conundrum of Aristotelian views as opposed to Bacon´s.
THE POWERFUL PLACEBO
Van Wijk and Wiegant (1997) examined the validity of the similia principle. With their research they showed that ‘if low doses of harmful conditions are administered according to the similia principle the capacity for survival (expressed in terms of development of tolerance) is stimulated at cellular level and protector proteins are also stimulated.’ The research gives an important indication of a regulatory mechanism on which the similia principle is founded. Eskinazi (1999) expounded on the scientific state of affairs with regard to the theoretical objections to homeopathy. With modern insights there is little left of the theoretical objections. First the objection to the theory that pathogenic substances can also cure. The author gives and extensive list of examples in which this principle also applies in conventional medicine. This principle has also now been recognised in cellular biology and is known as hormesis. The most surprising thing is that it was a conventional scientist who removed the objection to high dilutions.
Recent articles by two research groups have raised doubts about the scale and even about the existence of the placebo effect. Kienle (1995) carried out a critical analysis of Beecher’s fundamental research, which produced the initial concept of the ‘Powerful Placebo’. She describes a multitude of weaknesses in these studies and demonstrates that all Beecher’s so-called proofs of the placebo effect could have other explanations. From an entirely different point of view, Danish researchers Hrobjartsson and Gotzsche (2001) reviewed 130 clinical trials in which a placebo was compared with an experimental treatment.
They concluded on this basis that is was unlikely that the so-called placebo effect could lead to significant changes in the parameters of physical diseases, but that it can lead to significant changes in psychological disturbances, such as anxiety. Given the notion that a placebo is in essence a psychological phenomenon (for example, the thought and feeling that you are receiving something which will probably help), the researchers’ conclusion that placebos only have a significant psychological and not a physical effect, is understandable.
Based on the arguments raised above, it is clear that the theory of ontological reductionism fails on internal and external conceptual grounds, as well as empirical grounds. It is also demonstrated that there is evidence of a working mechanism underlying the similia law. Finally it is clear that the alternative explanation – i.e. the placebo effect – for a subsequent effect in studies on the effect of a homeopathic treatment, is unlikely.
This disposes of the theoretical obstacle to the acceptance of homeopathy, namely that a homeopathic treatment cannot be effective because the working mechanism is not compatible with recognised scientific, in this case, biological, chemical and pharmacological, theories and insights.
Furthermore there is the discovery that many scientific facts argue in favour of the theory of ontological holism. This raises the question of why it is not more widely embraced as a theory in science. In my view this is due to the deep-seated belief that effects in nature can only be attributed to material phenomena. Many people are unaware that this belief was not held throughout the majority of human history.
From Plato (427 - 347 BC) and Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) to the Middle Ages however the notion has existed in scientific history that there is a world of ideas, which, as causal principles, give shape to things in nature. These ideas or universals were seen as complex, differentiated systems of forces which gave an organism such as a plant or a human being its shape and enabled it to keep it. Both Plato and Aristotle maintained that such causal principles existed, and that they could be known and understood: according to Plato, by looking in thought into a spiritual world of ideas and according to Aristotle by turning one’s sights on the world of the individual things (Hartmann, 1941; Kienle, 1998).
In the medieval debate on universals, this world of ideas was not denied, but Realists and Nominalists argued about whether man could know these causal principles. The debate was eventually won by the Nominalists and the question was answered in the negative.
Francis Bacon´s ‘Novum Origanum’
The next historical milestone was the work of Francis Bacon in the 17th century. Bacon argued in his ‘Novum Origanum’ that the task of the scientist should not be the broad sweep of ideas, but careful observation and experimentation. A final phase in this historical development came in the second half of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century. In this period, following on from the previous historical views that man could not know the causal principles of forms (universals debate) and that it was not the task of the scientist to know these principles (Bacon), the existence of this body of causal principles was denied. Rudolf Virchow (1907) summarised the biological and medical view of his time as follows:
‘Modern medicine has defined its view as mechanical, its aim as establishing a physics of organisms. This has shown that life is merely an expression of a sum of phenomena each of which proceeds sepa-rately according to the normal physical and chemical (that is to say mechanical) laws. It denies the existence of an independent life force and natural curative power.’
(Virchow R. ‘Cellular Pathology.’)
This summary conclusion illustrates the historical steps, which led to the gradual denial of the existence of causal principles and the reduction of the cause of natural phenomena to the functioning of material particles. Causal-mechanistic or ontological reductionist thinking is an expression of this development. We have demonstrated above that this theory is not tenable on a number of grounds. To arrive at a reasonable alternative we have to look more closely at the question of causality.
The Perfect Shot
If an experienced tennis player hits a perfect shot at Wimbledon there is, at the physiological level, a sequence of biochemical reactions in time. In this case there must be a transfer of information, which causes all the biochemical steps in time to be attuned to each other so that ultimately the entire process of preparation and execution lead to the ball hitting exactly the right place at exactly the right time. We could call this a ‘time Gestalt’.
In a general sense all this applies afresh to a subsequent but different perfect shot in another place. However, since this is another type of shot there is a different ‘time Gestalt’. In this ‘Gestalt’ we can distinguish two causal layers: a vertical and a horizontal layer. In the horizontal layer there seems at first sight to be a cause-effect chain because, for example, increasing the hormone level leads to an increase in the glucose level in the blood. Each preceding ‘cause’ in time leads to a subsequent ‘effect’ in time.
However, on further consideration there is a problem here, which was previously identified by Bertrand Russel. That is that an effect which precedes something in time, no longer exists when the effect occurs. The cause has already disappeared. How can a cause, which no longer exists, bring about an effect? (Kiene, unpublished).
To solve this problem the scientific literature turns to the concept of ‘information’. The information is supposedly transferred from one stage to the following stage. This brings us to the second, vertical, layer of causality. In the case of the perfect shot, but also in other self-regulatory skills, and the self-organising physiological processes which can only be understood in terms of the species, there is a hierarchically higher-ranked principle that provides the coherence between, say, biochemical stages in time, but which also provides the context for the object of all the processes as a whole, namely performing this specific tennis shot at this moment or creating this specific tissue structure. The principle also provides an explanation for the transfer of information between the various stages in time in the horizontal causality layer. This higher-ranked principle is not immediately perceptible to the senses, but is manifest in bringing coherence in time and space.
Homeopathy and also anthroposophic medicine assume this sort of higher-ranked and forming principle in nature. The pharmaceutical processes used in these forms of complementary medicine, are aimed at releasing these forming or in-form-ing principles from matter, which is set in time and space. In this way these matterless forming forces can be used as medication. From this point of view it is also conceivable that there are medications in which no material molecules remain.