Summary: This article is devoted to the study of the concept of human health in homeopathy, using scientific methods of cultural anthropology in combination with philosophical and sociological ones. The concept of health in the homeopathic theory is analyzed from the point of view of the philosophy of holism. It is considered how the theoretical positions are manifested at the empirical level, as far as the ideas of holism are perceived and reflected in the worldview of homeopathic physicians. The analysis of data from an expert survey of homeopaths from different countries is presented.
We are presently observing the establishment of a new inter-disciplinary scientific paradigm. Achievements of modern science in such fields as electronics, genetics, biophysics and neurobiology have enriched our knowledge about humans. Consideration of a human as a whole of the physical (natural, body and biological), mental (psychic) and spiritual (notional, value-related, cultural and ethical) planes, as well as human’s unity with mankind and nature, is substantiated in modern anthropology and the philosophy of holism which is currently evolving in the overall theory of systems and in synergetics.
Although the holistic approach to the understanding of the world and humans existed for ages, the academic term “holism” emerged in the early 20th century, when discoveries of electromagnetic fields by Faraday and Maxwell and, later on, works by Einstein and Rutherford’s nuclear model all formed an environment requisite for the replacement of the mechanical scientific paradigm. This is how a new philosophical area – holism (derived from Greek holon – unity) – emerged as a doctrine of an integral inter-relation between the material and the spiritual, and of continuous instauration and development of all types of living matter driven by the coherence factor (J. Smuts, H. Bergson, A.A. Bogdanov, L. von Bertalanffy, J.S. Haldane, A. Meyer-Abich, A. Loman, E. Husserl, N.N. Moiseyev, P.K. Anokhin, and others). In Russia, the ideas of a human being connected with the planetary processes and the macrocosm were evolving into the philosophy of “Russian cosmism” whose most prominent representatives were K.E. Tsiolkovsky, V.I. Vernadsky, A.L. Chizhevsky, and N. Berdyaev.
The modern holistic concepts of living creatures and their properties are based on such notions as semiosis*, autopoiesis** and emergent reality*** . They suggest an approach that considers a live organism not as an object, but rather as a complex structure that is continuously modified and ensures data exchange with both inner and outer environment. Studying the concepts of health in various cultures and medical theories can cause a vast enrichment of one’s understanding of his/her inter-connection with the world and exploration of the actual phenomenon of health, as it is in these particular matters that the relation between theory and philosophy of the method and practice is observed, since health specifically is a starting point that determines the direction for healing. The very success of recovery depends on how thoroughly the perception of health is elaborated in the medical method.
On the other hand, the study of views inherent in the traditional and modern alternative medical methods – specifically, homeopathy – within the scope of a system approach makes it possible to explain many phenomena from the viewpoint of modern science and arrive at the practical comprehension of the place these methods hold in modern medicine.
It is commonly believed that a deeply developed concept of health based on the idea of holism exists in homeopathy. The problem is seen in holism not fitting into our everyday worldview; it demands a different paradigm that is other than commonly accepted. Therefore, to become a part of the physician’s nature, holism should affect his/her worldview and be reflected in it. Thus, this article suggests considering to what extent the worldview of homeopaths is ready to perceive the ideas of the holism philosophy and how theoretical points of homeopathy are manifested at the empirical level.
The study is based on the data analysis of an expert survey of homeopaths. The survey was carried out in March and April 2017 in a written form as a questionnaire containing both closed and open-ended questions. Participating in the survey were 23 homeopaths from Russia and 11 more from other countries, namely India, Belgium, Serbia, Germany, Canada, and the USA. The majority of the experts practice classical homeopathy (97%). 80% of the respondents have a higher medical education. Their age varies from 32 to 74 and the length of their homeopathic practice ranges from 3 to 56 years. This survey’s subject concerns the concept of human health contained within the scope of the system approach:
– what it means to be healthy (that is, what this notion includes, how it is measured and what affects health);
– the reasons to be healthy;
– how to maintain health (that is, what to do to stay healthy).
What does it mean to be healthy?
From the viewpoint of synergetics, there is a macro-world whose particles are micro-worlds that are interconnected to each other and to the macro-world. A human is a micro-world which is a non-linear system, possesses all indicators and properties of a system and has a complex informational and energy function. Such an approach allows placing a human into an integrated space-and-time continuum where, as M. Bakhtin wrote, “a spatial world with its value-based center – the living body, a temporal world with its center – the soul, and, finally, a notional world” whose center is the spirit [2: 165] and exists in the interpenetrating unity.
For homeopathy, the system approach has an experimental justification in biosemiotics that studies the origin and evolution of sign systems in living organisms. Particularly, M. Bastide and A. Lagache, the authors of the “theory of corporeal signifiers” who study the similarity law in ultra-diluted solutions, discuss the importance of of living organisms as complex autopoietic systems that reconstruct themselves throughout their entire life [14: 12].
Thus, within the scope of the preset paradigm – the philosophy of holism – a human should be considered as an open autopoietic system that has its own special system properties. Such special property is called the “vital force”  in homeopathy and the “energy complex of an organism”  in the modern terminology. It is a super system notion commonly considered as vitalism in a simplified form, yet in the holistic approach, it is a phenomenon that makes a human an integral biological system, rather than a package of organs and functions. In this case, we shall consider the perception of health that covers a bodily, a psychic and a spiritual level of a human as a holistic one.
Let us examine the way various definitions of health are perceived by the homeopaths that participated in the survey. For this purpose, they were offered various well-known wordings that had to be ranged by their importance. Out of the various definitions of health, the survey used a statement by G. Vithoulkas, “health is freedom from pain in the physical body, having attained a state of well-being; freedom from passion on the emotional level, having as a result a dynamic state of serenity and calm; and freedom from selfishness in the mental sphere, having as a result total unification with Truth” [3: 67]. 73% of the survey participants marked this wording as “important” for the understanding of health. The same number of votes (73%) was given to the definition of human health commonly adopted in conventional medicine and embodied in the preamble to the WHO Constitution. Outwardly, it looks similar to the first one, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely an absence of illnesses and physical defects”. However, the definition of health suggested by the WHO reflects the integrated approach, rather than the holistic one. With this approach, we receive no answer to the complex questions about the body’s aggregate functioning, about interaction between the body and the environment, and about relations of health and illness. Thus, it is significant that the expert participating in the survey saw it necessary to supplement the above definitions with wordings that characterized health both in a static and in a dynamic way:
- health is the state of equilibrium of all systems of a human body – 83%;
- health is the state of equilibrium between the body and the environment – 76%.
It should be noted here that, since individualization plays a crucial role in homeopathy, the matters of the body’s equilibrium and adaptation for which there is an individual propensity acquire a practical focus and a special sense within the theory of systems. Biomedical wordings are acknowledged as important by a smaller number of homeopaths:
- health is the body’s possibility to resist harmful factors 64%;
- health is the absence of illnesses and physical defects 20%.
Thus, the definition of health given by homeopaths involves an integral perception of a human (health at all levels – physical, psychic and spiritual) and a view of health as a dynamic process. The concept of health is integral, if it contains relevant dimensions – that is, indicators of health. Such dimensions are of special value when confirmed by practice and clinical experience. This is why we found the experts’ opinion crucial in this matter. Since health is seen as a dynamic process, the presence of energy is a requisite condition of overall life and that of maintaining life in equilibrium, i.e. in a healthy state. The majority of homeopaths who attach great importance to the energy in a human body pointed out that the presence of energy is one of the indicators of health (80%). The feeling of a lack of energy is in itself a sign of health weakening. The clinical background of any homeopathic physician contains a great number of stories where the patients complain of the lack of energy and apathy after an extensive treatment with antibiotics or after an injury, whether physical or emotional.
Health indicators that are next in terms of importance from the viewpoint of the expert survey participants are self-assessment of oneself as a healthy person (40% respondents marked it as a sign of health) and satisfaction with life in general (30%). These indicators characterize subjective sensations of individuals of themselves as healthy ones. The attitude of homeopaths in this matter is easy to explain, as in the homeopathic science, the principle of individualization which is one of the core concepts is associated with the doctrine of sensations. In aphorisms 9 and 10 of his Organon, Hahnemann points out that the vital force both keeps the body’s functions in harmony and governs the sensations. Therefore, the indicators or health are believed to be, firstly, the absence of functional faults in the human body and, secondly, self-assessment of oneself as a healthy person, i.e., the given fact of sensations. The matter of unity of the psychic sense of health and a bodily one (physical, functional) is given sufficient focus in the theoretical works by homeopaths.
The above-stated can be supplemented with a culturological view of the reasons why such treatment methods as homeopathy are popular. If we resort to history, we will see that the two branches of medicine – vitalism and materialism – have been coexisting peacefully in the European tradition since the ancient Greeks’ time at the latest. Yet, there it was not the matter of a historical tradition, but rather of a need for such medical reality where a subjective experience of health/illness has its place – the need some people seem to have. Nowadays, homeopathy has become a reality for a part of educated people with such approach to life. It is they that make a conscious choice of homeopathy as a treatment method.
Some of the homeopaths who participated in the survey (23%) pointed out the ability to adapt to the environment as an indicator of health. It illustrates the fullness of holistic mind in these experts, as one of the characteristics of any system of a living organism is its ability to organize itself and to maintain a balance while contacting with other systems – with environment in this case. The behavioral factor (actions to retain health) was marked by 20% of experts as an important health indicator. Actually, this aspect is not a direct part of the homeopathic theory, yet, it holds a central place in the modern perception of overall health and has been introduced from existential psychology via the idea of individualization as a process of personality evolution . For instance, according to A. Maslow, self-actualization means mastering one’s ability to co-align with one’s own inner nature, which actually ensures the optimal functioning of the human health, both bodily, psychological and spiritual [8: 352].
Why be healthy?
Yet another key component of the concept of health is the answer to the question “What does a human need health for?”. In aphorism 9 of his Organon, Hahnemann holds that “our indwelling, rational spirit can freely avail itself of this living, healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence”. There is no unambiguous solution as to what is meant by the higher purpose of existence. Some researchers believe it is the possibility for the human to develop individually and to make some valuable contribution to the society [7: 1236], while others think it is the “freedom from selfishness and unification with Truth” [3: 67] or humbleness and love for life on Earth [11: 36-37].
How did the experts solve this matter? 46% of the participating homeopaths agreed with the social factor; they replied that health was requisite for a person to be valuable for the community. Nearly the same amount of respondents (43%) agreed that one needed health so as not to be a burden for one’s children and grandchildren. Meanwhile, holism is most completely expressed in these very replies, as the system vision implies considering a human as a part of the mankind.
From the viewpoint of the survey participants, the necessity of health is much higher for the individualization process:
- health renders opportunities for creativity – 83%;
- one needs health to lead a full-scale life – 86%.
Some of the participants offered their options of replies to the question as to the purpose of health. These are similarly associated with personal fulfillment and reflect personal value mindsets (the authors’ wording is retained):
- health relieves a human from necessity to strive for success as a goal of one’s existence;
- health helps us to realize truly who we are and why we came to Earth at a specific time and in a specific place.
Less than one-half of the experts marked physiological aspects of health as necessary by answering affirmative to the following questions:
- one needs health to experience no suffering – 45%;
- health is directly linked to the lifespan – 43%.
In whatever way various authors and homeopathy practitioners solve this matter, one thing is important for them: spiritual, mental and physical health is a prerequisite for a human’s harmonious existence and resistance to the entropy.
How to maintain health?
Before answering to the question as to how one can maintain one’s health, we should make it clear what we mean by retaining health. Here we immediately face a problem: what is the primary goal of the medical science – discovering the nature’s laws for health maintenance and teaching them to people or medical treatment and restoration of health? Which one of the mythological daughters of Asclepius should a physician follow – Hygeia or Panacea?
The holistic approach relieves the tension of this problem. Since health is considered as a dynamic state, it is continuously changing and can turn into illness. In fact, health and illness are not set against each other in holism; instead, they constantly interchange and flow into each other. From the viewpoint of biology, it is quite natural, as for the purpose of saving a species, an illness is the way to adapt to the environment that makes the species stronger. From the viewpoint of an individual, both health and illness are the process of development and establishment of a personality, in consequence of which an organism acquires a new form.
The mythological traditions confirm that a sacrifice and a destruction of old patterns are required for getting an access to the new energies and each act of destruction engenders birth and creation. Therefore, in mythology, the existential meaning of an illness is a small death that needs a sacrifice for a resurrection. Such unity of health and illness manifests itself in homeopathy in the law of similarity, according to which the same substance can cause illness (in the provings on healthy individuals) and health (in the course of treating the patients). The law of curing in homeopathy illustrates inseparability of health and illness as well. On the way towards abolition from a condition, the patient may develop various symptoms, such as increased body temperature, skin rash or mucosa swelling, that can be perceived as symbolic sacrifices necessary for a transition to the new level of health.
So what affects health and what can cause an illness? The reasons of an illness and the factors that break the balance – are these the same? In homeopathy, they are not, as there is a clear division of the external impact on the system and the internal reasons, such as susceptibility and predisposition (genetic and miasmatic). While replying to the survey questions, the experts also distinguish between internal and external factors affecting the human health. Among the crucial internal factors, the respondents listed those characterizing the innate ability of the human’s vital force to maintain the body in a healthy state:
- health level  – 83%;
- heredity – 66%;
and personal characteristics:
- human’s inner world – 87%;
- personality of the patient – 47%,
- ethnic background – 13%.
Replies to the question whether homeopaths link health to the ethnic background draws special attention. Opinions of the respondents divided here: 50% consider this factor completely unrelated to health, 37% regarded it as not very important and mere 13% marked it as an important factor. Meanwhile, genetics data presents us with extensive materials about genetic specifics of various ethnic groups and races affecting an individual’s predisposition to deceases and it should be taken into account when forecasting in the case of homeopathic treatment. Moreover, the data of medical anthropology provide materials about the cultural and ethnic environment that affects the visions of human health that, without doubt, are manifested in behavioral models and should also be taken into account in symptoms evaluation.
Then the experts participating in the survey were asked to determine external factors making a major impact on health and depending on the actual individual’s choice. Positive replies here split as follows:
- overall lifestyle of the individual – 96%; diet – 100%;
- family wellbeing – 66%;
- lack of a careful attitude towards one’s health – 63%;
- level of enlightenment in the matters of health – 66% (and an overall low level of education – 46%);
- selected treatment method – 80%; self-treatment, availability of medications, late visit to a doctor – 60%; people being focused on the technological methods in medicine in prejudice of the healthy lifestyle – 66%;
- family traditions – 53%; religious beliefs – 26%.
In addition, one more group can be separated from among the external factors affecting the human health – namely, problems of planetary importance and social factors over which an individual has no possible control:
- bad ecological conditions – these were marked as the most important factor by 83%;
- social insecurity, poverty, destitution – 73%;
- social health – 63%
- quality of medical aid – 53%.
Special focus should be made on the matter of social health as a factor of health of an individual. The system vision implies considering a human as a part of the overall humanity. Therefore, an individual’s health is linked with health of the overall mankind. This manifests itself both at the physical body’s level and is associated with the species retention and in the field of spiritual health.
In the philosophical works by the 19th c. homeopaths (K. Hering, C. Hempel, J.T. Kent) contain numerous arguments that the ultimate objective of homeopathy is to restore the human race in a harmony with nature and spirit . Contemplating about deep aspects of the genesis of illnesses within the scope of Hahnemann’s theory of chronic diseases, J.T. Kent says that it was the spiritual illnesses of the humankind which had resulted in the expulsion from the archetypical paradise (Eden) that was the basis of susceptibility to physical ailments. Originally, people – same as all living organisms on Earth – were both physically and spiritually healthy. Accordingly, restoration of spiritual health of an individual human and the entire humankind is a key to physical health .
Specifically what should one do to maintain one’s health? To obtain the broadest picture, this question was presented to the respondents in the open-end form. The aggregate reply was recommendations covering all levels of the human organism – physical, mental and spiritual ones. Homeopathic physicians believe that the following actions shall be necessarily taken to maintain health (original wording is kept in the transcription of replies):
- care of a reasonable lifestyle: healthy diet, physical activity, sufficient recreation, sleep, healthy sexual relationship, taking into account environmental factors (avoiding chemicals and toxic load, living outside the city limits), avoiding emotional stresses, do the labor of love, observe moral laws (live in love, be able to forgive);
- access to the proper medical service in the case of acute and chronic illnesses that supports the immune function and healthy adaptation and minimizes susceptibility and limitations. In other wordings, the matter of medical support was solved in a decisive manner, “treat oneself with homeopathy” was named a prerequisite for health maintenance by 17% of respondents;
- reflexive and true interaction with oneself, specifically freedom from delusions, not living up to others’ expectations, avoiding internal conflicts (living in harmony with oneself), being happy, be receptive to one’s inner voice, positive thinking, controlling the mind, “trusting one’s heart more than one’s conscious”, target setting, living consciously rather than “on automatic pilot”, and awareness of oneself as a valuable and important person.
An interesting thing is that, out of all survey participant, only one person (a US homeopath) made a special point that recommendations for health maintenance should be formulated in the context of a specific person and his/her circumstances: “when I worked as a volunteer in Haiti, good health meant finding enough food to eat that day, which is very different from the objectives of a common person in San Francisco who selects well-balanced organic food for his/her health maintenance”. This is true a holistic worldview – fully comprehending the link between an individual and the environment.
Overall, despite the fact that the homeopaths’ notion of factors that are requisite to maintain human health is massive, it is obvious that these are primarily general recommendations that do not differ dramatically from recommendations and notions of other medical systems.
Nevertheless, the homeopaths can use practically their specific knowledge about a human, such as the knowledge about general human symptoms, and individualize the health maintenance recommendations. As in homeopathy, the general symptoms characterize one’s ability to adapt to the environment – to the temperature, to the seasonal changes in the nature, to the food and to specific climate – this data may prove important for developing recommendations regarding lifestyle the homeopath makes for the patient. Yet, in practice, a patient seldom receives such recommendations from a homeopath. Nowadays, it depends on the homeopath’s personal experience and beliefs, whereas it could become a part of the common practice.
A homeopath is given even greater possibilities by the knowledge about the so-called miasmatic predisposition of the patient, especially in the light of new modern sciences, such as epigenetics. The idea of preventive medicine based on the person’s individual genome whose aim is to prevent possible diseases with a consideration to his/her genetic predisposition or to find them at early stages is presently becoming increasingly more widespread. Homeopathy may fill its specific niche here using the knowledge about the patient’s miasmatic predisposition both for treatment and for preventing of possible illnesses.
Homeopaths have peculiar tools at their disposal, enabling them to teach the patients conscious health protection that takes into account their susceptibility and predisposition. Yet, such approach requires expanding the borders of homeopathy and integrating of knowledge from biomedicine and physiology, as well as that from other holistic medical practices, such as nutritiology, psychosomatics, acupuncture, osteopathy, and others, into the homeopathic concept of health.
Thus, the data of the performed expert survey allow us to say that homeopathic practitioners possess an integral worldview and a fully conscious concept of human health, where ideas of the philosophy of holism are reflected. At the same time, the survey reveals that homeopathic physicians suffer some difficulties in comprehending the concept of health at an individual level. It is especially clearly manifested in the open-end questions, where prevalence of common, widely used wordings, rather than reflection of specifics of the homeopathic method, is seen.
Perhaps, among other things, it has to do with the fact than not all health-related questions have been developed in homeopathy at the modern theoretical level. Philosophy of homeopathy is feasible to advance, including that within the scope of the theory of system and synergetics. Perhaps, in the due course of time, it will help creating an intellectual environment for the new understanding of the world. Then homeopathy which is actually the very symbiosis of rationalism and vitalism the philosophy of holism is based upon may fit nicely in such paradigm.
On the other hand, in order to become a part of the worldview, holism needs to be comprehended and digested in the physician’s mind, and it demands resources – time, effort and targeted education. Homeopaths must study modern philosophy, because philosophy of a subject is just as important as its purpose.
* Semiosis is a process, where something functions as a sign. The term semiosis seems to have been initially implemented by Greek doctor Galen (139-199 AD) who called interpretation of an illness symptoms a semiosis.
**Autopoiesis is a term introduced in the early 1970s by Chilean neurobiologists U. Maturana and F. Varela and meaning self-construction, self-reproduction, replication of living creatures, including humans, that are distinguished by their organization engendering themselves as a product without dividing into a producer and a product.
*** Emergence – complex systems having special properties that are not inherent in their individual elements or a sum of elements.
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