Holistic/non-Western medicine

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 23 Jul 1994 06:19:07 JST

Barbara Campbell has asked,
"Do you have time to add more to your comment about not lumping the
models together? I'm in the process of extracting components from
each system I can find a decent amount of "scholarly" stuff on to
contrast with the biomedical model which practically everyone in the
press is trashing at the moment. I also have to lay some theoretical
framework for all the 22,000 + references that I downloaded from
Medline. It's outside the scope of the dissertation to refute
the comments made in the articles I download as I'm only coding them
to show change over time but "holistic" medicine is being used
as a catch all term for what some say is a new paradigm."

I would distinguish between two types of intellectual enterprises. In the
first your 22,000 plus references are evidence for the evolution and use
This could be a
respectable piece of intellectual history/sociology of knowledge/critical
anthropology, etc. It would be interesting in this context to know if
say people who cite the Ayurvedic tradition come to any different conclusions
from those who cite Chinese medicine, Islamic medicine, local traditions
from Latin America, North America, Africa, etc.

In the second type of intellectual enterprise you mistakenly assume that
data "extracted" from your sources tells you something useful about the
traditions to which they allude. Could be, but without the stringent
quality control that requires a deep knowledge of the individual traditions
in question, the languages in which they are spoken and written, and the
specifics of the cosmologies to which they refer, the result will be the
worst sothreads-and-patches ripped out of context and assembled into my own
scarecrow sort of pseudo-scholarship.

Consider, for example, Lee Bradley's statements that
"The Chinese system is
basically humoral, and has written information records based
on oral information that describes the organs and the philoso-
phical concepts. The Chinese belief is that humans are made
from the same elements as the universe and are a part of the
universe, effected in the same way."

What does it mean to say that, "The Chinese system is basically humoral"
beyond saying that there is some sort of loose family resemblance between
humoral theories developed in classical Europe and "The Chinese system"
as practiced today? And what, after all, is "The Chinese system." In what
sense are a Chinese granny's home remedies, the stuff sold in Chinese
pharmacies, the practice of shamans, barefoot doctors and a Johns-Hopkins
trained surgeon with an interest in alternative medicine the same thing?

Consider again a statement like "The Chinese belief is that humans are made
from the same elements as the universe and are a part of the universe,
effected in the same way." Change one word; the result is "The biomedical
belief is that humans are made from the same elements as the universe and
are a part of the universe effected in the same way." Of course

$@$ (J
this universe has more elements (a hundred-odd or so; God knows what's been synthesized
lately), quantum mechanics, organic chemistry, viruses, etc. It's not the
same universe, you say. Precisely, I reply, and except for statements at
the same level of fatuous generality I'm picking on, the same is true of
the universes of Chinese, Ayurvedic, Islamic....Nuer, Navaho...take your
pick medicine, too. Where do we get off lumping them all together?

Seems about as sensible as lumping all the non-white folks together, calling
them niggers, and admiring the way they all got rhythm. Gee whiz, they must
be in better tune with the great cosmic cycles of things.Us honkies better
get our act together....


The line noise is line noise. No meaning here. The ranting is me on a hobbyhorseBest of luck with your research.

Cheers, John McCreery