This article is an attempt to define the current dynamics of a changing scientific paradigm and possible directions of its development in medicine. The present medical scientific doctrine is likely to split into two streams of development (materialistic versus holistic) which will produce diametrically opposite results in the future. Our task is to define our position in relation to this process.
Keywords: Scientific paradigm, Singularity, Western allopathic medicine, alternative medical modalities, holistic medicine, robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, genetics, sacred tradition, traditional Chinese medicine, disease, health, human centered development.
Opinion – In the modern world, we are witnessing the signs of important changes in medicine and medical science. These signs reflect the gradual emergence of new medical scientific paradigms. There are two main clearly discernible streams of scientific development. One of them leads to a utilitarian materialistic paradigm, which in due time will result in the creation of a very sophisticated technological reality; this stream will take humanity away from nature and enmesh it into an artificial mechanical world where human beings will be treated as machines.
The second stream leads to a revival of the traditional systems of medical thought and practice, harmonious co-operation with nature, and the recognition of human beings as multi-dimensional spiritual entities. These two developmental streams are diametrically opposite and irreconcilable.
Without mutual reconciliation, independent development of these two streams will most likely lead to a deepening conflict between supporters of respective streams (technological and holistic) and a split of the society in the future. In order to avoid this conflict and reconcile the opposites, the third paradigm harmoniously uniting the principles of both materialistic and holistic paradigms is needed.
Let us consider the features of both streams of scientific development.
Undoubtedly, modern Western medicine has to be credited with a development of very effective ways of treating acute and life-threatening conditions. Significant progress has been achieved in the areas of surgery and emergency medicine.
Modern methods of diagnostics (e.g., CT scan, PET scan, MRI, endoscopy, etc.) allow us to detect many ailments which were virtually undetectable prior to development of these techniques. Genetics, molecular biology, and biochemistry offer ways for timely detection and prevention of congenital malformations, creation of recombinant vaccines, and synthetic drugs; modern prosthetics armed with technology are capable of building artificial well-fitting and functional limbs. These are just a few examples of the applications of modern scientific and technological methods in medicine.
However, in the area of chronic disease, allopathic medicine is often powerless because it does not operate at the level of subtle energetic processes. Many chronic diseases emerge from underlying, often undiagnosed and untreated, disturbances of health. This fact has not been yet recognized by the modern allopathic medicine as a decisive factor in detecting, treating, and effectively preventing chronic diseases.
Excessive use of antibiotics and drugs eagerly promoted by medical establishments and pharmaceutical corporations has led to a host of new drug-induced ailments, which in turn need to be treated with other drugs. Thus, unwise use of medications leads to a vicious circle of cause and effect.
We can already see that this predominantly technical approach to human health has created an array of unexpected problems. In the modern Western medical paradigm the goal of therapy is to remove the undesired symptoms, or “fix the patient,” an expression that can be often heard in hospitals and doctors’ offices.
Dis-ease is perceived as an adversary, as a foreign intrusion of known or unknown origin. Therefore, according to the Western medical paradigm, any ailment needs to be vigorously fought against in order to restore health.
This combatant approach to treating diseases is the result of a very serious misconception of the ailments’ origins. In most cases of both acute and chronic diseases, the causes of morbidity cannot be found on a symptomatic level only. These causes are complex and lie on a deeper level — on the level of underlying imbalances of substances and forces existing throughout patients’ lives.
Fixing problems may bring a temporary improvement in a patient’s condition, but this superficial repair does not address the true origins of ailments, and in the long run this mechanistic approach is destined to fail. Without seeing the true roots of diseases, any therapeutic measures will be partial and incomplete.
Moreover, the problem of disease prevention can be solved only when these deeper causes of ailments are properly understood on the basis of accepting the complexity and multi-dimensionality of a human being.
In modern Western medicine, disease prevention is a fairly recent development, and much more is needed to be done in order to understand and effectively address the emergence of numerous chronic diseases in recent decades. Surprisingly, rapid advances of modern Western medicine did not bring about the awaited solution to numerous problems in public health. The solution is more complex and demanding than it may appear at first.
If we consider the present, we will notice many signs pointing to the rapid advancement of materialism in medicine: various computer-controlled robotic surgery machines (e.g., da Vince and ZEUS robotic surgery systems), abundance of artificial tissues, composite materials and adhesives, artificial joints, man-made blood vessels and countless other medical devices, materials, and medical diagnostic-therapeutic software programs.
Exploiting sophisticated advertising and marketing technics and driven by large economic gains, bio-technological and pharmaceutical companies promote active and wide use of vaccines and medications, thereby creating a dependency on drugs in a large portion of population.
Apart from creating and steadily increasing a medication-dependent population, bio-technological and pharmaceutical business promotes a morbid (disease-oriented) mentality in people by means of aggressive and incessant advertising of drugs.
Modern Western medicine is a form of corporate business and is driven by profits. In this setting, patients are perceived as consumers of medical products and services, and the logical outcome of this attitude is to have more sick people to sell these products and services to.
The future of modern Western medicine without the shift of paradigm in the direction of human-centered, spiritualized medicine is inevitably self-indulgent, decadent, and anti-human. Modern materialistic science fascinated with robotics and technological advancements will enter the realm of applied artificial intelligence and attempt to merge human beings with machines. A very good example of this fascination with technology and machines is the book The Singularity Is Near. When humans transcend biology by Ray Kurzweil.1
In this remarkable book, the author – the American inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil, describes the future of humanity with great enthusiasm and fervor. He predicts that in some 30-35 years, as a result of major technological developments in optimization of computing technologies, reverse engineering of the human brain, advanced genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and AI (artificial intelligence), the “Singularity” period will unfold. Mr. Kurzweil gives us his definition of Singularity: “What, then, is the Singularity? It is a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.” 2
Mr. Kurzweil predicts that the first half of the 21st century will be characterized by three revolutions in Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics (GNR). He points out that in the field of genetics the advances of biotechnology will lead to the extension of human life, somatic gene therapy, reversing degenerative disease, overcoming cancer by developing cancer vaccines, reversing aging, human and animal cloning, therapeutic cloning or cloning of one’s own organs, human somatic-cell engineering, and solving world hunger by means of cloning animal muscle tissues in a factory without animals.
In the field of nanotechnology and its applications in medicine we should expect nanobots, small robots the size of a human blood cell or smaller that can travel inside the bloodstream and perform various tasks such as precise drug delivery to specific cells, performing assembly or disassembly of targeted cells, and nanofactories – small robots able to produce desired drugs in situ, right at the target site.
Mr. Kurzweil describes robotics and strong artificial intelligence as the pinnacle of technological development in the first half of the 21st century. He enthusiastically tells us the following: “Of the three primary revolutions underlying the Singularity (G, N, and R) the most profound is R, which refers to the creation of nonbiological intelligence that exceeds that of un-enhanced humans…
Artificial intelligence at human levels will greatly exceed human intelligence for several reasons… machines can readily share their knowledge… machines can pool their resources in ways humans cannot… nachines have exacting memories.
As human knowledge migrates to the Web, machines will be able to read, understand, and synthesize all human-machine information. Another advantage of machine intelligence is that it can consistently perform at peak levels and can combine peak skills.
For these reasons, once a computer is able to match the subtlety and range of human intelligence, it will necessarily soar past it and then continue its double-exponential ascent.” 3
Mr. Kurzweil develops his idea of the future enhanced humans to the point that we, human beings, become cyborgs: “The human body version 2.0 scenario represents the continuation of a long-standing trend in which we grow more intimate with our technology.
Computers started out as large, remote machines in air-conditioned rooms tended by white-coated technicians. They moved onto our desks, then under our arms, and now into our pockets. Soon, we’ll routinely put them inside our bodies and brains. By the 2030s we will become more non-biological than biological… by the 2040s non-biological intelligence will be billions of times more capable than our biological intelligence”.4
These are the signs of possible developments in life and medicine. In all likelihood, a possibility of losing our common humanity and merging with machines is not as far-fetched as it seems.
What can be done to prevent this futuristic nightmare from becoming our notso-distant reality? The answer to this question could be found in the recent revival and recognition of the traditional systems of thought and practice.
In the West, the relatively recent resurgence of public interest in traditional sources such as Yoga, Chi Gong, Buddhism, Sufism, Gnosticism, and shamanism sheds light on the gradually evolving cultural stream that may re-unite humanity with nature and sacred traditions of the past.
Perhaps, people’s interest in what is now called alternative or complementary medicine is a kind of instinctive counter-measure to the wave of technological seduction. Recent emergence of an array of traditional and new complementary medical techniques points to an interest in and valuation of the holistic and multi-dimensional approach to understanding disease and health.
The traditional medical systems include indigenous or folk medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Unani, ancient Iranian medicine, traditional Islamic medicine, Ayurveda, Siddha medicine, traditional Korean medicine, traditional Tibetan medicine, and traditional African medicine.
These traditional systems, which have existed for a very long time and expressed the fundamental knowledge of reality, served well during their respective historical periods. In ancient times, human beings experienced the world as an undivided unity, and in their perceptions, they were tightly woven into the fabric of existence. They were not separated from the world’s natural events and forces. The traditional knowledge was an organic expression of their experience and possessed the quality of an all-embracing connectedness.
Modern humans are very different. If we consider the ordinary, unrefined cognitive process typical in modern people, we can conclude that we all have been cut off from the source of direct knowledge and no longer are able to experience the world as a unity.
An explanation for this transformation of consciousness can emerge if we strive to understand the significance of the human intellect’s development and, as a part of this development, the gradual liberation of cognitive ability from the natural order of the world. On the one hand, this liberation is required in order for humans to develop the independent and self-reliant individual consciousness.
On the other hand, this complete separation from the source presents a very serious danger of being severed from the very root of life and may lead to the creation of a self-contained, artificial, and unsustainable world.
In the course of time, as the development of independent human intellect progressed, the ancient knowledge gave way to the materialism which rapidly and very effectively erased and devaluated almost all millennia-old knowledge.
As a result, traditional systems were forgotten and gradually abandoned in the West. In the East, remnants of traditional medical knowledge survived in the form of Ayurveda, Chinese acupuncture and herbal medicine, Tibetan medicine, Korean medicine, Reiki, and Shiatsu. In the West, traditional medical systems were represented in the past by indigenous or folk medicine and Spagyrics (plant alchemy).
These remnants of the traditional knowledge serve as the rich soil into which the seeds of present scientific and cultural development should be sown, so that unfoldment of this organic fusion will produce healthy fruits for the future.
Therefore, humanity can consciously affect the future by bridging the gap between the past and the present. The alternative to this conscious creative process would be unconscious indulgence in inventiveness of a materialistic mind, which has rejected the sacred tradition and knowledge of the past.
This dried-up and lifeless mind cannot lead anywhere but into a dead end and inevitable self-mutilation in the future. The rootless plant cannot survive and thrive. Yet, this latent danger, which is concealed in the present, is not clearly visible to a modern man.
Modern people have already been seduced by the technological progress, even in the modern language (jargon) of scientific literature and media, a the human brain is referred to as a computer, and human cognitive ability and thinking are frequently likened to computer-related functions of downloading, computation, and data processing.
It is evident that the process of de-humanization has gone so far that the definitions of innately human qualities have merged with the definitions of machines and their functions. Is it not disturbing to realize that we are already and unnoticeably becoming these machines ourselves? What will our future be like if we do not see what is happening to us at present?
Now, let us return to the resurgence of public interest in the traditional systems of medicine. We should carefully look into the causes of current dissatisfaction with the Western medicine in order to understand the processes in social life.
Perhaps, there is a growing recognition among simple everyday people, not scientists or philosophers, of one-sidedness, narrowness, and coldness in the materialistic medical paradigm that exists today.
Possibly there is also a deepening mistrust toward modern healthcare. Yet returning to the forgotten traditional forms of medicine as an alternative to the modern institutionalized and commercialized medicine without understanding the value of experience gained in the field of materialistic scientific research will not be fruitful.
In fact, materialistic science is a result of liberation of the human mind and soul from centuries-old dogmatic theological doctrines. It has served its purpose. But now is the time to recognize and embrace the essence and enormous value of the sacred spiritual tradition and cultural inheritance, for without returning to the source of all knowledge and life we are doomed to be lost in the realm of pseudo-knowledge and ignorance forever.
Philip Sherrard, a British author, translator, and Christian philosopher, reflects on the cognitive process, which is rooted in a spiritual intellect: “The spiritual intellect… knows all visible things through knowing their causes, through a participation in the very ideas or energies of which they are the manifestation. It is capable of a direct perception of the intelligible and inner, or real, nature of everything that is, of which the sensible form is but the outward manifestation. Its way of knowing is through spiritual experience and intuition and not through concepts and discursive reasoning… When the mind is cut off from the source, when it has lost its roots in the heart…, our experience and intuition of what always is, really and unchangeably, is lost, and all that is possible are purely conjectural and hypothetical theories about things. We are left with a kind of pseudo-knowledge, not with the knowledge itself.” 5
We should consider the principles of objectivity and reliability that were laid down by materialistic scientists as a foundation of the current scientific paradigm. Modern Western medical science is one of the branches of materialism, and it employs investigative methods in accordance with principles of evidence-based objectivity.
It is empirical and analytical (from ancient Greek, analysis – ἀνάλυσις – breaking up, taking apart). As a result, only external, visible and detectable manifestations of a human being are considered real by modern medical science, whereas inner, invisible manifestations, i.e. life energy, subtle bodily processes, consciousness as a soul-spiritual process, existence before birth and after death, are discarded as nonsense.
Analytical thinking is considered useful because understanding is believed to be achieved by separating complex phenomena into smaller parts and investigating these parts one by one.
This simplification has led to the creation of a reduced, compartmentalized image of a human being. By Western medical standards, human beings are machines, which if broken, need to be “fixed”. Although deemed to be the only reliable and objective method of investigation, the materialistic scientific method is flawed and destined to ever remain reductive, incomplete, and partial because the manifested and ponderable phenomena do not contain the essential keys for understanding their deeper origins.
External manifestations are real, but they are only reflections of the inner essence that cannot be detected by the sense organs. In order to get to the core of manifested reality, to see into its essence, we must develop and use a special skill – the ability for an enhanced quality of attention, deepened perception, and thinking enlivened by and harmonized with feeling.
Instead of becoming an “enhanced” human machine, according to predictions made by Mr. Kurzweil, our task should be to become completely human and unfold all latent abilities and skills, which we possess as human beings.
We look for progress and possibilities of development outside ourselves — in the world of technology. Yet we overlook the crucial fact — we are endowed with potentialities that are unknown and unfathomable for our unrefined understanding.
We are much more than what we think we are, and to undertake the journey into our inner world means to come into possession of the forces and capacities, which will open up the most profound and unexpected sources of knowledge and experience, enabling us to master our individual and collective destiny.
This is the ultimate goal — to become completely real! This work requires efforts directed at inner transformation and, through this process, a transformation of the external conditions of life, as opposed to the use of technology and external development to achieve our objectives. These two objectives are diametrically opposite. In the first case, we are transformed and become evolved and complete beings. In the second, we will become the appendages to the machines; we will become sub-human and meet our inevitable demise.
Philip Incao, MD, in his article titled The Paradigm Shift in Medicine and Science reflected on this problem with clarity and precision: “We are at a crossroads, and the forces of change are moving in two opposing and irreconcilable directions. We have a choice between actively working for the birth of a more human-centered paradigm, or standing by while the present dying paradigm in biology and medicine further expands its world domination. Today’s institutionalized and commercialized biology and medicine will apply its knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of physical reality to create a mega-technology with ever-increasing power over the forces of nature, both in the environment and in the human being.” 6
The emerging paradigm should address both fundamental questions: existential — who are we as human beings? and practical — how do we live and work? The existential question should be addressed first because without knowing the origin of our being we remain blind and purposeless. The practical question is secondary; it is the organic continuation of the first one because real doing can only be the outcome of real being. Therefore, the future of science and medicine depends on a thorough understanding of a human as a multidimensional being, and its future development calls for a human-centered model. To put it in simple terms, we are the purpose of any progress. The existing materialistic paradigm emphasizes the external procedures and artificial instruments to achieve practical results in order to make our lives more convenient, but it does not and will not provide an answer to the question of meaning.
Development of the human-centered paradigm is a conscious work of people keenly interested in objective knowledge which embraces the totality of the human being. To enable this work, a new system of education is required, a system which focuses on studying a human being in the light of the sacred traditions and, at the same time, includes the wealth of modern scientific research.
Attempts at creation of such educational institutions have already been made in the form of Montessori and Waldorf schools. Many prominent colleges and universities have included the studies of alternative medical modalities (Homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbalism, nutrition) into their curriculums. There are colleges of Naturopathic Medicine in which the study of diagnostic and therapeutic modalities is based on recognition of inherent self-healing processes in people. As a result of high public demand, many prominent hospitals created the integrative medicine departments where yoga, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, botanical medicine, and other modalities are offered.
Yet, despite these positive developments, many more steps should be taken. Most importantly, the human-centered paradigm should develop gradually and organically, eventually entering the system of higher education and be welcomed in the field of scientific research, not merely as a sort of supplement to the existing materialistic paradigm, but as a dominant progressive world view. It cannot be dogmatic or manipulative. Of course, this process cannot be forced. The crucial feature of a successful development of the new paradigm is a conscious choice rooted in human freedom.
The future depends on the choices we make today. Will our future be an artificial world populated with intelligent robots and “enhanced semi-humans” or an unfoldment of the true destiny of humanity? The answer is up to us.
- The Singularity Is Near. When humans transcend biology by Ray Kurzweil, Viking Penguin Inc., USA. 2005. 652 pages.
- Chapter one, p. 7.
- Chapter five, pp. 260-261
- Chapter six, p. 309
- Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition by Philip Sherrard, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, USA. 1998. 273 pages. Chapter one, pp.7-8.
- Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, issue #19, fall — 2008.