Jan Scholten Interviewed by David Nortman (Part 2): Plant Classification and Case-Taking

Scholten describes his more recent work with the plant kingdom and different approaches to plant taxonomy. He also talks about how to approach case-taking, case-analysis, and kingdom classification to make use of the mineral and plant systems.

Click here to see the video interview of Jan Scholten.





This is the interview transcript:

D:  Now, how did you first transition from minerals to plants? In other words, how did you expand from the two-dimensional space of the minerals to the five-dimensional one of the plants? And what made you think that there is an underlying order that somehow is a continuation of the mineral order, rather than creating a new, separate classification system for the botanical realm?

J:  It gradually grew out of experience. Basically, I was in the past more interested in plants already than in minerals, but to make a classification of them was more difficult. So that’s why I did it first for the minerals: minerals are more simple.


D:  But you had it in mind that you would be getting to the plants?

J:  I was very much interested in plants. So, but what I did then is I started comparing them. You know, what’s essential in those patients. And then I said: This has a Boron quality. So a Boron quality, that’s already a mineral quality, when you start thinking that way. And then you see that the themes from the Series, they are universal, they are not limited to the mineral kingdom. For instance, when you have the Silica Series, it’s the series of having friendships and love affairs and hate and love. But how can you limit that to the mineral kingdom? It’s such a basic aspect of life that it will be found everywhere. So, in the beginning I was also wondering: Am I putting those ideas into the plants or are they really there?


D:  Right, because in the mineral kingdom they actually match the natural classification. In other words, there are actual Series, there are actual rows and columns and so forth. Whereas in the plants it’s much less structured, or at least appears to us to have less structure.

J:  It’s not too easy to be seen. So you have to look at it from another point of view. But my transition was that I realized that those ideas of Series and Stages are not from the mineral kingdom, but are something more in the background, more general, more universal. And you apply them everywhere. And that’s also the idea of the cycle of life: coming into life and dying again. And that’s the basic cycle of everything in life. So it’s everywhere. Plants have it, even minerals have it… they die too, once, although it can take a long time.


D:  Now there is another system of homeopathic plant classification created by Michal Yakir. And that one is based on the morphological characteristics specifically. And she suggests that those perhaps might match the homeopathic practice of observing symptoms better, rather than relying on laboratory data. In other words, that somehow genetic analysis is closer to laboratory data and is potentially less useful than looking at people’s symptoms – in other words the plant’s shape, behaviour, ecology, and so forth. So I’m wondering what are, in your mind, the disadvantages and advantages of each of your approaches?

J:  For me that’s not a contradiction: the good classification is always the best, because… but a good classification is always based on the essence. Like in the periodic system, it’s based on the atomic number, and when they made it without knowing that. And when we look at the differences and similarities, there’s a lot in common, because also the DNA classification of the APG group and the Cronquist which she is using, there’s a lot in common. But I think my system I prefer it because it is more precise, and it gives more of an extensive idea of what you can use. In a way you can use the whole plant kingdom. So I’m more open for expansion than in the Yakir system. And I prefer also the similarity with the mineral kingdom and Phases and Stages and Series, because it gives the common background and that feels, like, very strong. Of course you have to test and to see what is best in the future.


D:  So when there is some discrepancy, what do you make of it, or how do you propose to remedy that?

J:  In the end, the answer can only come from homeopathy. That’s my experience. Sometimes I have to use what people from the DNA have found. In other aspects… basically that’s possibly my starting point, because that was a complete overview. But now I’m sometimes arriving back on Cronquist and other ones, and sometimes I’m doing something completely different. To give an example: Nelumbo, the lotus, is in the DNA analysis placed in the Proteales, together with the Platana[ceae] and the Protea[ceae]. Now, when you look at the lotus and the platan[us], there is not much in common.


D:  Morphologically?

J:  From the phenotype: one is a big tree and the other is a water plant. And that feels awkward for a lot of classical taxonomists, because they think: How can you do that? But in the past they also had problems with placing the lotus, because some said that it belongs to the nymph family, the Nymphaeaceae, and others said, No, it has to be in its own family. They didn’t know exactly where to place that plant. Now I’ve put it in the beginning of the Asteranae, which is a new placement.


D:  Quite late in the plant kingdom?

J:  Quite late in the plant kingdom, yea. So it has a quality of Lanthanides, but it’s the beginning of the Lanthanides. And that’s a thing that I have to do because of information of how patients are.


D:  Right. So you’re actually breaking away from the scientific classification insofar as it’s not precise, and ultimately saying that perhaps homeopaths can help the botanists map out the true classification system.

J:  I think so. Because a good classification is always the same for every level of science. It should be.


D:  So, to summarize your answer, is that you would ultimately look at homeopathic pictures when in doubt, and then use that as the arbiter of truth.

J:  I’ve done that already in the plant theory a lot, because to split them into Phases is impossible for botanists, you know, because they don’t see any difference between, for instance… they see differences but they don’t know what’s the sequence of it, between Asterales and Apiales. Whereas from the homeopathic point of view you know that Apiales should be in Phase 7 and Asterales in Phase 4.


D:  So you provide a sequence, or at least a probable sequence?

J:  Yea, there are a lot of sequences that are not in the APG classification, and that’s purely [based] on the homeopathic information. And also sometimes splitting them, for instance in the APG classification they have the Campanulales. But in the Campanulales they’ve also placed the Asterales, or the Asteraceae. But the Asteraceae have a Phase 4 quality from Carbon, whereas the Campanulales have a [Phase 3] quality of Boron. So I had to split them again, according to homeopathic information. And that’s already a lot in my plant theory.


D:  Yeah, it’s quite fascinating. So could you tell us about how specifically you got from looking at Series and Stages in the mineral kingdom, but also you discovered the idea of Subseries and Phase and Subphase?

J:  Already from a very long time ago I’ve been busy with plant families and describing them as a family. And the more you have cases of those families, of those plants, you see also there a general theme – basically it’s the same kind of idea. But then it turned out that you can compare that with some minerals, for instance, Asteranae – Asteraceae (sunflower family) – has aspects of Lanthanides. That’s why in Arnica you have that symptom “Sends the doctor away, doesn’t want to be treated”. That’s a Lanthanide symptom. In the past I didn’t know that, but once I discovered that from the Lanthanides I realized that that’s what the Asteranae have, too, and the Asteraceae… later I generalized it to Asteranae. But then, you have for instance a group like Campanulidae – that’s a big group with seven orders, about. And then I realized that, for instance, the Asterales have a Carbon quality and the Campanulales have a Boron quality, and discovered that the Araliales have a Nitrogen [Phase 5] quality, and so I started thinking: OK, and there are seven of them, that fits very nicely. In the beginning I thought it has to do with the elements. But then later I discovered it’s not the elements but it’s the two together. For instance, when there is a Sulphur quality there’s also an Oxygen quality, which is in the Phase 6 of the Carbon series. Where there’s a Nitrogen quality is also a Phosphorus quality. So my first idea that it was linked, that the families were linked to elements, was not correct. That had to be expanded, they had to be linked to the column of the Phase. And then it fitted with some of them. When I started with one of them, with the Campanulidae, that they fitted with the seven Phases that you see in the Carbon series and the Silica series.


D:  So that was your starting point.

J:  Yea, and then I started to think: OK, and then can I do it also with other groups, with other orders, and with other subclasses? And of course there’s a lot of information lacking, so then I had to fill it in. But here and there they seemed to fit. And the more I was doing that, then I thought: OK, I think this is the basic structure of it. So it’s a gradual development also. It’s not something that I imposed on it, but that came to me then. Then, of course, I generalized again.


D:  So that’s as far as Phases specifically? And then the idea of Subphase or Subseries, that kind of iteration?

J:  That was an iteration, because orders often also have seven families in them. Not always, sometimes too many, but very often about seven, sometimes six, but when you split a few you have seven again. So it’s the same kind of idea of splitting Campanulales and Asterales. But then of course you need the homeopathic information of how to do that. Without that it’s very difficult to do.


D:  And the Subseries, is it that you saw that there is a greater complexity in plants in terms of the theme appearing as an ideal versus a reality? How do you see that?

J:  That could be done to refer [to] the complexity. When you have such… because we have quite a lot of plant species, about 350,000. We have about 50,000 genera. So that’s quite complex: you cannot fit it into three numbers. When you have three numbers you come to a thousand and not more.


D:  But what made you iterate let’s say the Series as opposed to any other classification?

J:  I just try to find out how you can fit it and where you can find equal elements. And I don’t know exactly how I did that, but it gradually grows also. So there’s not one point of “There is where I did that”.


D:  So, I’m curious: With this level of complexity – so many dimensions, so many degrees of freedom – how do you know that your theory is actually true as opposed to merely a useful classification that helps zoom in to certain remedies, maybe helps you use previously unused remedies? How do you know that there is a correspondence between reality and your theory?

J:  My idea is always: when you can prescribe a remedy out of nothing and it works, then the theory that predicts that must be quite good. Of course not all prescriptions are correct, but the amount of prescriptions that are correct, out of such a huge amount… you know, the chance of getting the right remedy is very small. And right, I mean really right, so that you really get a reaction like the healing of a profound disease, and in general feeling better. That for me is always the criteria. Not that they feel a little bit better, I skip that always, it can easily be palliation. But really the healing, a real good healing, that for me are the key points to fix my theory on.


D:  So do you find in practice that there is indeed one simillimum that needs to be given?

J:  That’s a good question, how simillimum you have to be. And I answer that question for the plant kingdom, basically that a genus is good enough, so that all the species of one genus will do the same. But it’s an assumption: I haven’t proven that. I know from experience, for instance, that Magnesium phosphoricum will not heal a Magnesium sulphuricum case.


D:  Right. There you need to be dead on.

J:  Yea. Also when you look at it from the plant-theory point of view, sulphuricum is Phase 6 and phosphoricum is Phase 5. So the difference is quite big.


D:  So you’re in a different square, in a different cell of the matrix.

J:  Yea, in a different pattern.


D:  So could you explain how specifically you extract – let’s use the plant example because it’s a more elaborate one and encapsulates the mineral example – how you actually extract the Series, Subseries, Phase, the Subphase, the Stage… what they each mean in a person’s life?

J:  First you start with where they are and what their goal is, what do they want to achieve, because that’s the Series. And a very basic one is the one where really the problem is located: when they have a relationship problem you see the Silica series there. But that can be someone in puberty when it’s only a relationship problem, but it can also be with an adult or a spiritual person where you see a Lanthanide quality, and then you see other Series mixed with it. So when you see these three Series, the first one is the potential of someone. That’s a very basic thing but that means that most people need one of the Angiospermae (the flowering plants, plants that have flowers). That’s the evolution of the plant kingdom, that’s where it’s basically in. And the majority of plant species are Angiosperms. But it means, that’s a reflection of the fact, that most people have a reflective quality: they can reflect on themselves and look at themselves, and that’s a Lanthanide quality, they can do that. But it’s something in the background.


D:  In other words, the people’s level of evolution or intelligence?

J:  In a way that’s how you can express it: it’s the potential that they have.


D:  Right.

J:  The second one is the aspiration: it’s what they would like to do. Now you can ask them: What would you like to do in life? What’s your fantasy or what would be the best for you? That’s the second Series, and we call it aspiration, that’s what they want to go to. And the third one is where it’s really happening, that’s realization. And that can be three different Series. Basically, they can only go down, they cannot go up. You can never… when you have a potential of [Series] 2 you cannot have a spiritual problem. It can only [be with] the first Series the highest, and the other ones are equal or lower.


D:  Right.

J:  And that’s how you do it with the Series. Then, with the Phases you have two Phases: a Phase and a Subphase. Basically they are the same. That’s how they feel in their position towards the problem, towards people. For instance when you’re in families – a nice example – I always ask: “How did you feel with your parents, with your father and with your mother?” and “Are you very close to them, or were you maltreated by them, or they were nice but distant?” And that distance, it says something of how far they are. In Phase 4 they feel very close, they feel and they say: “Oh, no, I had a very good parent and I could discuss everything, and he accepted me for what I was”, etc. The ones beside of it, [Phases] 3 and 5, they feel accepted and loved, but conditionally, it’s not complete. They had to do something for it, or they were not completely accepted.


D:  What did they have to do in each case?

J:  It depends. In Phase 3 it’s often that they try to please the other, they do something out of themselves, but it’s often not enough, they feel it’s not good enough. In Phase 5 it’s often that they feel that they are pushed to do things, and even then it’s not good enough.


D:  A subtle difference!

J:  The differences are subtle, but once you know them more, then you see them more, and then you have also more clues for it. There are quite a lot of clues to help you.


D:  That you learn to pick up, I guess, as you use the system?

J:  Some, but also physical symptoms. For instance, when you have vertigo, then Phase 3 is very high in your analysis, because vertigo is typical for Phase 3. So, there are many things, but the basic thing is positioning. The ones beside 3 and 5, 2 and 6, they feel on the edge, they are only half-there, and they’re not really accepted, not even loved. Then the ones beside that, 1 and 7, are outside, they’re not in. They’re either pushed out or not, never got in. So that’s basically the positioning. The Phase is more the positioning that you do; the Subphase is more the positioning that others do to you.


D:  Can you explain?

J:  For instance, you have people who want to stay alone, they don’t go into relationships. That’s a Phase 1. And they do it themselves, so then the Phase is 1 and not the Subphase. When people are never let in by others, it’s the Subphase that’s 1.


D:  OK. It’s like being active and passive?

J:  Yea, more active and passive, a little bit. And the Phase is more near and the Subphase is more distant to you, in how you feel about yourself, it’s more what others do to you, whereas the Phase is more what you do. And the Stage is how you handle it. What do you do? How do you handle the situation? What’s your action? And that’s basically it. In a way it’s quite simple, once you see it.


D:  Right.

J:  And there are cases where you see very, very easily, and there are cases where it’s difficult to get out. And then of course you have a problem that often there’s not one problem but a few. And then you get a mixture of those and you have to untangle them, and then it becomes more complicated.


D:  And in those cases how do you determine what is the core problem? Is that sometimes you have to even experiment until you get to the core problem?

J:  Yea, and sometimes they don’t know and you have to imagine from certain events. And sometimes they don’t even tell the real thing. There are so many differences in how to do the case-taking. But I always try to go to what’s the real problem.


D:  So with your approach to the minerals and the plants, and the fact that you need categories such as Series, Subseries and so forth, that clearly requires a new style of case-taking. And you’ve said before that case-taking is not symptom-gathering but rather more of an analysis of a problem. So what are the peculiar features of your style, in terms of what do you actually do in the clinic to get to the information that you present in your writings?

J:  I think, when you look at it superficially I don’t do much different from before. But I do, of course. But it’s more that I interpret things differently than before. So I start with just asking: What’s the problem? What are you complaining of? And then the next question is: When did it start, and what happened before, and what was the stress, what was your problem? And then you can see what was their goal, what was going wrong, what could they not digest.


D:  So how do you know when you’ve got to the essence, as you call it, versus manifestations of the essence?

J:  You’re never sure. What I often do is I ask for examples. You know, if they are offended: Can you give me an example? Who offended you? How did he do it? What did he say? How did you react? How did you feel? What did you say back? Did you run away? Or did you start crying? You know, it’s as if you want to make a movie of it, to see all the details. And in all those details, when you have that enough, then in one event you can see all the aspects of all the Series, Phases, and Stages. And then, of course, what I very much to do is I go back to the beginning of their life to see if there was there a similar kind of state, a similar kind of situation – to confirm it, because often it gets confirmed.


D:  Now, I’d like to discuss kingdom classification, because ultimately both of your systems start with the assumption that a certain case is a mineral case or a plant case. And an issue that I see with kingdom thinking is that – what’s called the ‘order of nature’, meaning how things are actually constituted – in the order of nature, kingdom comes before orders and so forth, and so it makes sense to think of things in that hierarchical direction. But in the order of – what’s called the ‘order of discovery’, in other words how we approach looking at a specific situation in the case, we’re actually not privy to this direction but we’re rather going the other way, where kingdom is only the end result. So I’m wondering about your thoughts about the validity of kingdom thinking given that there’s lots of overlap also between remedies of different kingdoms, and one may be led astray by committing to a kingdom.

J:  I use it very much, the kingdom classification. But it’s not an easy thing in the sense of: You have one symptom and you know which kingdom it is. The thing with the kingdoms is, in my experience, that it’s often something that you decide almost at the end of the consultation, because it’s a way of being. It’s not reflected in symptoms as such, but in the complexity of symptoms, and in the way how they are, in the way how they present themselves, how they feel in the world. And that’s why it’s often not easy. And then of course you still also have a problem that when there are more problems, more remedies needed, and then from different kingdoms, it is very difficult to see and separate the kingdoms. That can be difficult.


D:  Right. And then there are substances that are not easily classifiable, or they’re easy to miss if you think kingdom-wise.

J:  But it’s like everything: it’s not an easy thing. Homeopathy is difficult compared to normal medicine.


D:  So do you in practice come to the classification only at the end, and you actually consider various kingdoms in the case in parallel?

J:  Yes, but it can vary very much, you know, someone can come in and you feel: oh, this is a plant.


D:  Right.

J:  But there are cases where I can only find it at the end. But it’s not only with kingdoms, it’s with everything. Sometimes someone comes in and you think: oh, it must be Stage 8. Or if he tells the first symptoms and you know already: Stage 8. Or he comes with an autoimmune disease then you know already: oh, Lanthanide.


D:  Right. So your order of discovery is actually arbitrary, which comes first: Kingdom, Series, Subseries, Phase, etc.?

J:  Every case is different.


D:  It’s a puzzle.

J:  Yea.

About the author

David Nortman

David Nortman, Hon.B.A., M.A., N.D. is a graduate of the University of Toronto (philosophy and chemistry), Tel-Aviv University (philosophy) and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. He has studied homeopathy with many of the world’s leading practitioners and has since worked with patients in Israel, Canada, and worldwide via his long-distance practice. He believes that in order to flourish, homeopathy must step beyond its vitalistic roots and become a modern scientific discipline, while preserving its deep spiritual insights as a gift to the world of science. He maintains an interest in philosophy of science, and is currently working on a textbook of homeopathy that will aim to address these issues in a way that transcends the mutual animosity between orthodox medicine and homeopathy. David is also a professional singer specializing in early music of the medieval, renaissance, and baroque eras.

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