Jan Scholten is interviewed by David Nortman

Dr. Jan Scholten, who pioneered the periodic table method of classifying the elements for homeopathy is interviewed by homeopath David Nortman. Dr. Scholten explains how he developed his stages and series and the associated themes and much more.  

Dr. Jan Scholten took a conceptual leap and pioneered the periodic table method of classifying the elements for homeopathy.

His works include –Homeopathy and Minerals, Homeopathy and the Elements, Minerals in Plants. Visit his website

This is part 1 of a 4 part video interview

Jan Scholten Interview (Part 1)

D:  Welcome, Jan. Thank you for taking time today to share your life’s work on this beautiful fall day.

J:  Thank you.

D:  You don’t need much introduction, but you could tell us a little bit about your early years and under what circumstances you first encountered homeopathy.

J:  It was after I finished my medical degree as a doctor and I had plans to become a general practitioner. But there was a waiting time before I could start, and I thought: OK, I’ll do some courses in vitamin and mineral therapy, and acupuncture, a little also homeopathy. But I didn’t know much about homeopathy and thought it was kind of herb therapy. I didn’t know really what was the depth of it. But when I studied it then I was reading stories of people not only getting better with complaints, but also feeling better in general, and feeling as they were 20 years ago before the disease started. And that struck me. And then I was thinking that I’ve never heard in normal medicine that that can be, that that happens. And then I thought: Is that true? I was a skeptic at that moment, too, because I was thinking that it is not normal medicine: when it’s true everyone should know it, you know, because that’s what you want to do as a doctor, that people feel healthy again, that they feel like they were before, and then you have joy and you feel happy. And that’s what the stories were telling. Of course, not all cases were like that, but there were stories like that, and that intrigued me, so I couldn’t let it go, so I had to study it.

D: And what was your belief system at that time: Were you a strict scientific type of person, or open to more spiritual endeavors?

J:  For me that’s not a contradiction: for me that’s the same. A real scientist is open to everything. When you limit yourself as a scientist to experiences then you’re not a scientist. A scientist is always open to what’s there: spiritual, whatever, or material, it doesn’t matter. So I didn’t see myself as limited, so I think I’ve always been a scientist.

D:  Right. So what was the first thing about homeopathy that really intrigued you once you actually got into it?

J:  That’s that effect: that you can really heal people. And that’s what I’m always trying to do with every patient, not only that the complaints go, but they feel their old energy again and they feel happy and they’re not bothered by all kinds of circumstances. That’s what I want to achieve. And then the second thing is of course that the philosophy is quite beautiful, especially in the theoretical part, not in the materia medica part. You know, the description of the remedies is from the scientific point of view awful: it’s rubbish, it’s a bunch of unrelated facts. So that’s not beautiful. In science something beautiful is also very simple. In that sense the law of similars – like cures likes – that’s a very simple law, and that has a beauty in it. So that attracts me. But first, of course, it has to work, otherwise you can make a beautiful thought, but when it doesn’t work in practice it’s not science, it’s maybe art or whatever, but not science. So it has to work, too.

D:  Right. So you’ve become a pioneer in classification, of the idea of classification. And it does date right back to Hahnemann. But what made you start again, after a long hiatus, to think in those terms of classification: there was Hahnemann and a little bit later on, but not that much of any systematic thinking in this direction.

J:  Well, there has always been… a lot of homeopaths forget that Hahnemann started the first classification with miasms, which is a classification in its own right. And also Kent, you know, he describes combination remedies like Kalium silicatum without a proving, and also George Vithoulkas was describing Kaliums. so it’s not very uncommon in homeopathy at all, although it has never been done very systematically. But from my point of view, classification is basic for science. Without classification you cannot have science. Even our normal knowledge, our own language, is classification. When we talk about a cow, it’s a classification. Every word is a classification. So we cannot do without it: our whole materia medica is words, and they’re all classifications. So, the idea that we can do without classification and be completely empirical is nonsense. And that’s an experience that also Einstein had. He said: “Epistemology without science becomes an empty scheme.” So what he says is when you only experience but when you cannot classify, when you cannot give it a reference, then it’s empty, you have nothing, from the scientific point of view.

D:  Right.

J:  But for me classification has been so normal that I was in a way surprised that people could be against it. But I knew at that time that I was thinking: What will the other homeopaths say about this? Because there was no proving, really nothing, only classification. But I had a feeling I had to do it, I had to try it.

D:  Right. Now, your first seminal contribution was to apply the idea of classification in a highly systematic way to the entire periodic table. So what made you think about taking on such a more systematic project, and specifically how did you come up with the themes for the Series and the Stages?

J:  The themes of the Series were already a little bit there. You know, I compared first, in the Iron Series, Ferrum and Manganum, there’s a similar kind of quality of duty and work. Kali has that too. And in the Gold Series there was a kind of heaviness and responsibility. So gradually it became more and more clear that there was a basic theme in each row. In the beginning I skipped the upper rows like Carbon Series and Silica Series, because they were too vague. But then I thought: OK, but when the lower rows have a theme then the upper ones must have that, too. So I started searching for what it could be and comparing it. And of course I had already an idea that Carbon had something to do with the father. So I thought: OK, maybe it has more to do with the earlier stages in life, that you become a child.

D:  So at some point things clicked in terms of the stages being related to each other in terms of human development?

J:  Yea, and that came then as a result of that.

D:  Right. As a sudden insight or a gradual…?

J:  That was a gradual thing… there was not one point. And the whole thing is that it’s often not one insight. Sometimes it is, but… (I’ll tell another example of that [later]). But often it’s, you know, you have an idea and then you apply it and then it works and then you get confirmation. And then I start thinking: OK, but when this has that then the others in the group must do have that too probably, and I extend that, try that too, again use it in cases, and then look it up in the materia medica and toxicology, what fits and what not, and what I can extract. So it’s a process of circular thinking of science – generalizations and experiences – which is the basis of science anyhow.

D:  Right. And what with regard to the Stages?

J:  The Stages were a bit difficult in the beginning, because I remember that one of the crucial aspects was that I was wondering how Platina and Aurum – which were very responsible and strong, and Platina even haughty – how that could be connected to Barium, you know, because they are in the same row. But Barium is… completely the opposite.

And then I suddenly realized that that’s the theme, that it is just the opposite of the same theme of power. And then I remember that one moment that was a real insight – going back to that insight – that I got the idea, OK, that’s an evolution. It starts with a very powerless, very weak possibilities, and then gaining power and strength and then after that losing it again. And that was a kind of eureka experience, quite sudden.

D:  Right. And then subsequently you’ve filled out the details of all the stages, and that I presume took a while?

J:  Yea, that took a year or so… Once you have the idea it goes quite fast, but then all the precision and all the details – that takes more time.

D:  Right. So having discovered the Stages and Series, then what do you make of the actual existence of a correspondence between increasing atomic complexity and some parallel process in human evolution? Because it’s quite an astounding discovery, and not an obvious one.

J:  It started with seeing the development of the themes, you know, when you connect Gold Series to being the leader and Carbon Series as being the child, and you see already the age difference. And then you have the working people, Iron series, which is adulthood. Then you see gradually the whole age coming through it. And then of course the next thing is, then, you see the symbolism of it. And that’s a beautiful thing… that, you know, you wouldn’t expect that an element would be a reflection of how life is, but it is.

D:  It seems to just show through, shine through.

J:  Yea. And that’s probably also that all those themes, they come back in all kinds of different fields, on earth and in the universe. The whole idea is that you have an evolution of something coming into existence coming to full blossom, and then disappearing again. That’s basically how the whole Big Bang is and then it comes back to nothing in the end, I think. But that’s every life goes like that. Our life goes like that, even the lives of animals in the lives of stars and suns and planets go like that: they come into existence and they disappear again in the end.

D:  Right. So definitely a major case of parsimony: the idea that the simple, single explanation can account for many different phenomena.

J:  Yea.

D:  You’ve said in the past that all the elements are projections of possibilities, of talents and problems. And my question to you is: How did you come up with your peculiar style of describing materia medica, where break down the remedy into several themes and then explore all the possible permutations and combinations of the remedy?

J:  That’s also a gradual development. Once you have the themes of the Series and all of the Stages, you can make all kinds of combinations, and of several aspects of them. Sometimes it’s a talent aspect and sometimes it’s a failure aspect, or an element or a stage or a theme. And it’s always there: there’s always a talent in something, and there’s also a failure in something. Even when you look at a baby, you could say it’s a failure: the baby can hardly do anything. But he has a very charming thing, you know, people, they love babies, because the baby has something which is very… maybe the symbol of innocence. So, projecting your innocence into life is a talent – once you see it.

D:  Right.

J:  In the beginning you see one aspect, one expression. And then there comes the next patient and he’s a bit different. And it shows other aspects of the same remedy, the same element. But when you look at it from the point of view of the essence, basically it’s the same.

D:  And that’s your main criticism of traditional materia medica: that it’s often one-sided, and that the other side remains undiscovered for long?

J:  In a way what I try to do is extract out of the materia medica the essence. Because my experience is that a big part of the materia medica as it is from the past is incorrect.

D:  Now, you coined the term perfinity to represent the idea that materially (meaning chemically or biologically) similar substances are likely to have similar homeopathic pictures. But in homeopathy we also encounter homeopathic groups of substances that are not related materially: for example, as Mangialavori has done, say, with sea remedies, some of which are from the sea, some of which are not from the sea but somehow related to this theme. And also, we can look at different kingdoms and how, say, gold, eagle, lion and so on have something similar that could be confused with each other if we just thought in terms of the scientific classification alone. Could you discuss the similarities and differences between these approaches and yours?

J:  Many questions, so I’ll first start with perfinity. I coined it but I skipped it later on, because basically it’s just an expression of classification. It means when you have a class then all the members of the class will have similar symptoms more or less. Otherwise it’s useless to make the class, or you can make the class ‘cow’ but when you put ‘sheep’ in it it’s confusing. So you try to make a class that’s as good as it can be.

D:  In terms of matching the natural classification?

J:  Yea. A great example of course is the periodic system. And it took them quite a long time to get it: it’s only one-hundred-thirty years old. We think it’s all from eternity but it’s not true: it’s quite recent historically. And it took them quite a while, and they put it together first on the kind of qualities those elements had, first in rows and then in columns. And they didn’t know why it had to be that way in the beginning. But they just [based it] on symptoms, on qualities that they did have. Later on they found out the real background, which is the atomic number – and that’s a real sequence from 1, 2, 3, 4, and that means the amount of protons and electrons that they had. So a good classification is always built on the essence of something – in the case of the periodic system, on the essence of atoms. What is the essence? It’s the amount of protons. But in the beginning you often don’t know that. You start making a classification and the classification brings you to the essence. And then you have a more firm structure, like the periodic system is without a question, basically. You have different forms, different presentations, but basically everyone is agreeing on how it should be.

D:  Right.

J:  But in the beginning there were also discussions if there were some mistakes in it, etc., because there were things that didn’t fit very well, etc. Now, the same is true also with the classification of the plant kingdom. I’ve been busy quite a long time with it. And Linnaeus started with it and before that also some [other] people, but not really systematically. Linnaeus was the first who did it systematically. And he put them into families, but later on they put those families also into groups. But there were a lot of botanists and they each had different forms of how to do that, there were contradictions and similarities, etc. And the latest classification is the APG classification. It’s based on DNA analysis. And the beauty of it is, it mostly confirms what was already known. For instance, you have the family of Solanaceae. And that was first confirmed by the form that they have. Later it was confirmed by the chemicals that they can contain. And also by the effects they have on people, they have very similar toxic effect. But now it’s also confirmed by the DNA. So you see that when you have a good classification, different approaches lead to the same classification. And that’s how it should be. And that’s how they also have a similar effect on people.

D:  Right.

J:  You can make all kinds of groups. You can also make groups of sea remedies, or climbers, or carnivorous remedies. And that is OK to do, but then you take one aspect and build on that the classification, whereas I think it’s better to go to the essence and see where that brings the classification.

D:  Meaning, by essence you mean the natural classification of the substance?

J:  Yea. For instance, when you take carnivorous plants, they come from very different regions in the botanical taxonomy.

D:  Right. And yet some people claim that they are very similar homeopathically, so what do you do with that?

J:  Yea, and that’s true. So you can have a group of the carnivorous plants, and they have an aspect of Phase 7. But Phase 7, when you look at that in the botanical system, or at least in the plant theory how I do it, it’s everywhere in the plant kingdom. Every group can have its carnivorous plants or parasitic plants, because they are also in Phase 7. So there is some aspect of it which is true, but it’s only one aspect and then you want to have more aspects to see whole of the classification. The same you can do for instance with lion and eagle, or those kinds of animals. They also have a carnivorous aspect, so they are also in Phase 7. So you can see all kinds of qualities in different forms in different kingdoms, and you can group them. That’s no problem to do that. But I want to go further: I want to make a complete classification.

D:  OK. So your goal, I guess, is a general scientific goal as supposed to a clinically useful focus. And you hope of course that it will be also clinically useful at the same time.

J:  I think it’s even more clinically useful, because then you don’t only have one aspect but you have several aspects to go for. So that makes it more clear how to differentiate the groups. And that’s what the good classification does. Like, in the periodic system, the classification makes it obvious how you can differentiate all the elements – there is no doubt. And that’s the goal of a good classification.

D:  Now, that leads us to the next question of the stages of development of a science, which you’ve written are Fact, Generalization, Classification, Theory, and Comprehensive Theory. So could you explain what you’ve been doing with your work in reference to these terms. And also more generally, where do you think we’re at in homeopathy at this stage?

J:  Every science, even when it’s only facts, there are not just facts. I told already in the beginning: also facts are an interpretation of an experience. So that’s where science already starts. But when you look at the materia medica, for instance when you read in the book about Calcium carbonicum, there’s a lot of facts, but they don’t make any sense. You know, when people start reading it – I do that sometimes on purpose, I’m reading a part of the materia medica – people get very easily bored within five minutes, or within two minutes, they lose track.

D:  Right, or unless they’re able to start generalizing in their mind, and making sense of the remedy.

J:  Yea, we think in sense, in meaning. We don’t think in facts. We cannot recollect facts very well. And that’s our scientific attitude as humans. So, the next step is to make classification between all those remedies. But what happens then is that not only have a classification of remedies, but you also have a classification of symptoms. Because you compare the symptoms which are similar and you find the ones which are more basic. And gradually I start also to understand what is an essential symptom and which are expressions of symptoms. And it’s much more easy to work with an essence symptom than with expressions, because expressions can vary enormously. So, also there is a higher level of knowledge, but it’s not yet a very general level. So homeopathy is much further than most sciences. When we think of most sciences, it’s only basically physics and chemistry that have evolved to a higher level of science. All the human sciences, they are basically in a Fact level of science.

D:  More observational… descriptive.

J:  Observational, with here and there a little bit of classification, but very little. In that sense homeopathy is doing very well.

D:  So given that homeopathy is doing so well, do you think we have a comprehensive theory yet?

J:  Not really, really comprehensive in the sense that I would like to have. But we are much better than 20 years ago, and the periodic system, the element theory, gave already a comprehensive idea of elements and minerals. But also there are things lacking, because gems don’t really fit into that theory, they have a quality of themselves which is not represented in the element theory. But now with the plant theory you see that there is a similarity between the element theory, the minerals, and the plants, in the sense that you can use the same background of themes of Series and Stages as there is in the element theory. So they have a firm grounding of being more or less the same. But plants have it in a more complex form. And that’s what you would expect because they are more complex than minerals.

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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