Dr. Keith Souter was a GP in Yorkshire for almost 30 years and is a specialist in medical homeopathy and a medical acupuncturist. He’s the author of a host of homeopathy books including Homeopathy for the Third Age, Homeopathy: Heart & Soul, The Art Of Homeopathy – Remedy Selection Made Easy, and Prescribing Methods, Rules Of Thumb And Bias In Homeopathy, as well as numerous popular fiction novels.
Dr. Keith Souter
A.S. I want to first introduce you to our readers by saying that your career includes decades as a physician, highly skilled specialist in medical homeopathy, acupuncturist, professional actor, medical journalist, author of homeopathy books and prolific novelist of westerns, mysteries and crime stories. Is there a thread that runs through all those passions?
K.S. The first thing I have to point out is that I am not a professional actor. A frustrated actor, perhaps. It came about that a few years ago I had the opportunity of playing the part of Agamemnon in a guerrilla production of Troilus and Cressida with the British Touring Shakespeare Company in front of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum. I loved it so much that I signed with a couple of Supporting Artists agencies and have had several SA parts (the modern term for extras) in both television and film, mainly as a surgeon, doctor or psychiatrist. These were all paid, so perhaps that makes me a semi-professional?
Your question is whether there is a thread running through the various things I do. Curiosity is probably the best answer. I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to study and practice medicine. After qualifying from the University of Dundee and doing my pre-registration posts as a house physician and then a house surgeon, I actually started out with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist. But it didn’t take long for me to miss the other areas of medicine.
I didn’t like the idea that I would never handle a baby, not do any practical surgical procedures or look after someone at home, so I changed tack and became a General Practitioner. Then again, I found the limits of conventional medicine too constraining and so I explored and then trained in homeopathy, acupuncture and to a more limited extent hypnotherapy. Eventually, I went part time as a GP in order to devote energy to my private holistic practice, using homeopathy, acupuncture and hypnotherapy, and my writing.
The writing started when I was a medical student, and I began writing short children’s stories for a family magazine. I then wrote various articles for the medical press. When I became a GP, I was approached by the editor of the local newspaper, who was both a patient and became a good friend, to write a column in the newspaper.
In a few months I will have been writing that weekly column, The Doctor’s Casebook for forty years. So, I suppose I have a sort of dogged determination to keep at things. Certainly, that curiosity and enthusiasm I have to research topics for my weekly column has never left me.
Inevitably, I started writing books, initially homeopathy and health books but then general non-fiction. I then became curious about whether I could write novels and so I started with westerns and that same curiosity saw me look at writing detective fiction and now historical mysteries.
A.S. That curiosity has manifested in lot of creativity! Can you tell us who doctor George Goodfellow is, and what inspired his creation?
K.S. Doctor George Goodfellow (1855-1910) was one of the real characters who shaped the history of the Old West. He was a doctor practising in Tombstone, Arizona Territory (before it became a state) and then Tucson, who became famous as the Surgeon to the Gunfighters.
He was a remarkable character; a doctor, naturalist, writer and intellectual. He became the acknowledged expert on gunshot wounds, as well as a pioneer in other types of surgery. For example, he was the first surgeon to perform a perineal prostatectomy along with many other ‘firsts.’
Yet he was no shrinking violet, but a man of his times. He would gamble, drink and on occasion, fight. Indeed, he had been the boxing champion at the US Naval Academy before he took up the study and practice of medicine. He is famous as the town doctor who treated both Virgil and Morgan Earp after the famous Gunfight at The OK Corral.
Some months later he had to operate on Virgil again, after another gunshot wound, this time removing three inches of his left humerus. And a few months after that he performed a post mortem examination on the body of Morgan Earp, who was fatally wounded in an ambush in Tombstone.
Dr Goodfellow shared his expertise in papers that he published in the medical journals of the time and they give a fascinating insight into surgery on the frontier. His clinical cases are highly informative. He delineates the exact path of the bullet in each case, describing the anatomical structures that had been damaged, and outlining how he treated them. He details how he closes intestinal holes, mesenteric vessel damage, liver tears and liver holes. He even talks about repairing the rectum in one case.
He always kept up with scientific advances and he understood the need for sterility in any surgical operation, using carbolic acid to sterilize instruments and to cleanse wounds. I like to think that he brought aseptic surgery to the western frontier. I could go on about him, because he was a doctor that I admire a great deal. I actually wrote a short biographical novel about him entitled ‘The Doctor,’ in a series of novels about famous people West of the Big River. He was also the model for at least two medical characters in my novels.
A.S. One thing that’s been missing in literature and film is a homeopathy fiction genre. Do you think that would help homeopathy seep into the popular culture? Has the subject of homeopathy ever entered your novels, or might it in the future?
K.S. I am not sure if it would help homeopathy at all. The difficulty is that many people are so antipathetic to the subject that it would be hard for it to get a fair read. Some people would not consider reading a novel with a strong homeopathic theme, others would read it specifically to ridicule it.
I suspect that those who like and accept homeopathy would give it a fair go, of course. My point is that regardless of whether or not it was a good novel it would attract negative criticism by those who have an axe to grind. It would give those antipathetic to homeopathy another target to aim at with their venomous darts, no matter how good the piece was.
You can see this when politicians turn their hands to writing thrillers and pen them under their own name. Readers of the opposite political bent will leap in and savage it and give it one-star ratings. To twist the knife, they often add something to the effect ‘I would have given it no stars, only the site would not permit it.’ I have seen this several times, but I will not, of course, mention names.
A few years ago, I wrote an article in Health & Homeopathy about Glonoine, the explosive remedy. It seemed to be well-received, but some months later, out of the blue I received some explosive comments on Twitter. Perhaps that was appropriate considering the nature of Glonoine.
It started with a tweet that tagged me, saying that the tweeter had ‘…read an article by a doctor advocating this homeopathic remedy to treat angina and that surely can’t be right.’ It was quickly followed by a tweet from one of the arch-skeptics who tweeted ‘Preposterous, made up nonsense that sounds real on first reading.’
Then more of the skeptics came out of the woodwork and a whole thread of venomous tweets followed until finally one of them, a pharmacist tweeter wrote something to the effect of ‘Just found out – he writes fiction! lol’
Then followed a number of lol (laugh out loud) tweets and then it went dead. Some of the tweets were quite personal, but they were all derisive. It was all very unpleasant. It made me realise that when people have such entrenched views, they are unlikely to be dissuaded.
You also ask if I have written about homeopathy in my fiction. Not exactly, but I have referred to Dr Samuel Hahnemann in my novel about Dr George Goodfellow. In it I have the good doctor use the Hahnemann test for arsenic. Hahnemann was, as you know, a very good chemist and in 1787 he devised a test for arsenic that preceded the Marsh test. It involved converting the arsenic (found in food residues or stomach contents when used as a poison) into a yellow precipitate on treatment with hydrogen sulphide gas.
Finally, might I use homeopathy in a future novel? Possibly. I have used phrenology a few times. This was a method of looking at the shape of the head and assessing character by the lumps and bumps on the skull. It was the ‘brainchild’ of Dr Franz Joseph Gall, a contemporary of Hahnemann, who taught that the prominences or depressions on the skull corresponded with organs or faculties within the brain. Both phrenology and homeopathy seemed highly plausible in Victorian times, but phrenology was eventually discredited totally and died out. Homeopathy, however, persists. Long may it do so.
Just a final word about phrenology, though, if I may. This was promoted as the science of the mind. Its name came from the Greek phrenos, meaning ‘mind’ and logos, meaning study of. Psychology came along later, but since the phrenologists had already bagged the Greek name for mind, they had to make do with Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul.
My psychologist friends do not like it if I suggest that they do not actually study the mind, but the soul, the territory of theologists. Yet although phrenology is now regarded as pseudo-science the old phrenologists had the last laugh for the phrenological head with the faculties labelled is used by many as a symbol of psychology, or by advertisers when they want to promote a particular bright idea.
A.S. Yes, it is difficult to change people’s deeply held beliefs. Freud said that only religion, love and psychotherapy could do it. Aside from classical homeopathy, do you include any other methods in your practice? What is your personal style of practice?
K.S. When the Covid pandemic came along I closed my private holistic practice and answered the GMC call for retired NHS doctors to come out of retirement to support the NHS. So for a while I donned headphones and did some work with Test and Trace, then I helped out with the vaccination service. I am now back treating patients homeopathically.
In my holistic practice I offered homeopathy, acupuncture and hypnotherapy. Patients would often self-select and come asking for the type of treatment they wanted. The majority of my acupuncture was for pain relief, but I also practiced auriculotherapy and could manage a whole variety of conditions with it. Hypnotherapy was very useful for phobias and anxiety. It was a technique that I had used since my days in psychiatry.
I used classical homeopathy, but also other methodologies, including complex homeopathy, layers, miasmic and toxin treatment, whichever seemed most apt for the person at that time. I work on the principle that there are many spokes in a wheel and all should lead to the hub. It is a matter of selecting which one.
To use another analogy, I like to think of my approach as being like playing golf. In my bag I have several different clubs, each suited to a particular distance, terrain and condition. But the game is more complex than that and there are a variety of ways you can strike the ball to shape the shot to avoid particular hazards or to maximise your chance of success to get the ball in the hole in the least number of shots. Experience will tell you what shot to play and which route to take.
So that leads me onto intuition and heuristics. This is a subject I think is very relevant to homeopathy. Indeed, I had the honour of giving the Richard Hughes Lecture to the Faculty of Homeopathy at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital in 2006, when I talked about Heuristics and Bias in Homeopathy. I followed it up with my book Prescribing Methods – rules of thumb and bias in Homeopathy, published by B. Jain.
Since Artificial Intelligence or AI is headline news these days this has relevance. There are two types of process that are programmed into AI machines: algorithms and heuristics. Algorithms refer to a detailed sequence of actions to perform in a finite number of steps in order to accomplish a task. In a cybernetic sense it is logical thought involving a purely mechanical, logical sequence of steps. Any computer program by this token is an algorithm.
Heuristics are rules of thumb that are also integrated into AI programs. They are defined as rules (of thumb) that are sometimes useful. They can limit the searches that are difficult, complex or poorly understood.
At the human level heuristics are fast, short cuts that are not necessarily logical, but can be surprisingly accurate. Experience and intuition seem heavily heuristically based. Going back to the golfing analogy, they help you to ‘know’ that a particular club and shot are needed, when it is not obvious which club to take in the prevailing conditions. And I think I operate heuristically in selecting which homeopathic route to take.
A.S. Speaking of A.I., the best chess masters in the world are now surpassed by computer programs. Will we see a day when an A.I. program can take a homeopathy case and arrive at a simillimum better than a homeopath?
K.S. I think the answer is probably a yes. AI would have access to all of the Materia Medicas and repertories, so if armed with all of the questions needed and programmed with sophisticated algorithms and heuristics then it should be able to reach the simillimum.
Whether it would be better at it than an experienced homeopath is a lot less certain. The empathy factor may be harder to develop. Although I have seen that a study has suggested that AI has shown a more empathic bedside manner than many doctors, I would like to see more evidence. We will have to wait and see.
Homeopathy is a vast and difficult subject to learn but I do think that an experienced homeopath develops a skill that incorporates intuition and a feel for the patient and the condition that is causing unease in their life. That is going to be hard for AI to achieve.
I remember going to a lecture by a famous homeopath who said he did not know how anyone could practice homeopathy these days without a computer. I have to say that I never use one.
A.S. How do you see the future of homeopathy?
So, how do I see homeopathy unfolding? Well, I am an optimist by nature. I think that homeopaths will continue to train, to learn and to build their own experience and unique way of practicing. They will continue to care for and help their patients, who will still want to consult an empathetic professional person.
I believe the future of homeopathy is still bright, regardless of the annoying skeptics.
A.S. Thank for this delightful interview. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m sure are readers will as well.