Today we will discuss the all-important topic of Vital Force and its role in health. Hahnemann has described the concept of Vital Force in aphorisms 9 to 17 of Organon of Medicine. The aphorisms 9 and 10 deal with the role of vital force in health. But before we elaborate these aphorisms, we need to understand what is the origin of the Vital Force? Where did the concept come from?
Literally speaking ‘vital’ means ‘essential’ and ‘force’ stands for ‘power/energy’. So the vital force means ‘essential energy’ or energy that is essential for our life. Vital force was not discovered by Hahnemann. It is a very old concept that probably dates back to the earliest human civilization and can be traced back in medicine to the times of Hippocrates and Galen. Vital Force is a name given to that ‘something’, which is the difference between a living creature and a dead body. Different people have related it to energy, soul, spirit, religion etc. People who have believed in the idea of vital force are called Vitalist. Others who believe in pure biological and material existence are termed materialists. Hahnemann is considered to be the last famous vitalist. Once the modern material science started progressing, the vitalist tradition more or less died except in Homeopathy.
Now let us move on to aphorism 9 and 10 to understand what was Hahnemann’s Vital Force. Later I’ll present some new ideas in which I’ll try to explain the concept of vital force in terms of the thermodynamics of biological systems.
In aphorism 9, Dr. Hahnemann states:
In the healthy condition of man, the spiritual vital force (autocracy), the dynamis that animates the material body (organism), rules with unbounded sway, and retains all the parts of the organism in admirable, harmonious, vital operation, as regards both sensations and functions, so that our indwelling, reason-gifted mind can freely employ this living, healthy instrument for the higher purpose of our existence.
I’ll explain each phrase in part before we look at the totality here. He begins defining the vital force with two adjectives ‘spiritual’ and ‘autocracy’. Autocracy means ‘self-governed’ or ‘governed/ruled by one single entity’. It is opposed to ‘democracy’, which means ‘ruled by consensuses’. So the first property that we know about vital force is that it is autocratic. It is the one that governs our biological system and there is nothing else above it.
The next qualifier is ‘spiritual’. This single word has brought lot of chaos and confusion to the homeopathic world. People with ‘scientific minds’ have rejected the concept of vital force because it has been defined as ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirit-like’. But what people fail to see is that the next phrase ‘the dynamis that animates the material body’ has been used as a qualifier to the ‘spiritual vital force’. The second phrase is there just to explain the first one. So we will first explain the second phrase.
The word ‘dynamis’ was originally the Greek term for ‘power’ or ‘force’. It was used by presocratic philosophers in reference to the qualities (non-material) of material elements. Aristotle later used the term to signify potentiality, or the capacity for undergoing change. Even during Hahnemann’s time the word was used to describe the ‘force producing motion’.
Hahnemann says, ‘the dynamis that animates the material body‘. This gives us insight into two aspects of Hahnemann’s philosophy. One, he considered the body to be ‘material’ and two, he believed that there is some ‘energy’ in our body that is responsible for our being ‘alive’. That the living body is more than the sum total of its parts. It is the energy that keeps us alive. If you understand this, it is very clear that the word ‘spiritual’ in the first phrase was not used to describe ‘soul’ or with any religious connotations. The word ‘spiritual’ was used only to describe the ‘non-material’ nature of the vital force.
Further he says that the vital force ‘rules with unbounded sway‘. The word sway has two meanings – ‘to move from side to side’ and ‘Power, Influence’. Here the second meaning is applied. Unbounded means ‘unrestrained’. So the phrase means that the vital force has unrestrained influence over the material organism.
Further he describes what the vital force does while retaining the ‘unbounded sway’. He says, it ‘retains all the parts of the organism in admirable, harmonious, vital operation, as regards both sensations and functions‘. So the vital force maintains (retains) the normal functioning of our body parts. To retain means ‘to hold together’. And what happens when you stop holding together …things degenerate, they break, they disintegrate. And that is what happens to our body when the Vital Force is no more …it disintegrates. The body needs constant flow of ‘regulated’ energy to hold this biological creation together.
So the vital force is responsible for maintaining our body together ‘as regards both sensation and function‘. So Hahnemann mentions the two primary characteristics of living organisms that need energy. Living organisms can ‘sense’ and they can ‘function’. And it is the vital force, the vital energy that imparts this ability to sense and function to our body parts and to the organism as a whole. Now just name a biologist, a physicist or any ‘modern’ scientist, who can deny this! Wasn’t Hahnemann just great!
He qualifies it further and says that the vital operations are maintained in a harmonious and admirable fashion. Harmonious means the ability to work together appropriately or to maintain the equilibrium. So the vital force not only gives sensations and functions to each organ but it also sees to it that all the organs and systems gel together to create a unit that we called life. The system is so complex at the biological level that it’s no wonder that Hahnemann called this feat ‘admirable’!
Now after describing what the vital force is and what is does in health, Hahnemann goes on to describe why the vital force does what it does. He says that the vital force keeps the body alive and functioning ‘so that our indwelling, reason-gifted mind can freely employ this living, healthy instrument for the higher purpose of our existence.‘
Here an hierarchy becomes clear. Hahnemann feels that first there is ‘material’ body, above that is our mental faculty, the mind. The mind is reason gifted, it can not only ‘sense’ but it can also analyze, interpret and think actively. Above all is a dynamic power that keeps us alive and functional. And there is a reason for us being alive. The reason is that we have to attain our ‘higher purpose of existence’. But what is this higher purpose of existence? And how do we attain it?
Here again many people, who try to understand Organon, become religiously philosophical. They start thinking about God and being one with God. But Organon is a scientific medical text. It can bring out philosophical shades of its writer, but at no point does it reflect an overt inclination to any religious practice or metaphysical explanations. So the question is, what is the higher purpose of our existence?
It is not easy for me answer this one in a straightforward manner. Have you ever wondered why we as human beings are so different from other living creatures? Why we have the ability to analyze our ‘self’? Why we are able to ‘introspect’? I have full faith in the theory of evolution, Darwin and Genetics, yet there are moments when you feel that our biology alone cannot explain the level of our social complexity and personal evolution. Biology and theory of evolution says that each one of us should do everything possible to propagate our genes. That means polygamy and lack of social sexual architecture. Yet, we fall in ‘love’ and often ‘stay’ in love for life. For the sake of our loved ones, we do things that are ‘foolish’ in terms of the theory of evolution and survival. Why do we do all this?
The primary purpose of all life is to ensure that its life form continues, the genes go to the next generation. THIS is the ‘biological purpose of existence’. But that cannot be our sole purpose of existence. We don’t need this level of complexity and evolution to fulfill our biological purpose of existence. There has to be some other purpose too …something that we can call ‘the higher purpose of our existence’.
For me it is that something, which we do in our lifetime, as a contribution to make our societies and ourselves better. Human beings have continuously striven to become ‘better’ human beings. Whatever we decide to attain in our lifetime that can make a positive change to humanity, can become the higher purpose of our existence. I want to see homeopathy as a well established, scientifically accepted and dominant system of medicine in my lifetime. So that becomes my higher purpose of existence. For you, it could be something like becoming a good clinician, doing a particular research work, helping others, or just doing your work well. You don’t need to be a doctor or an engineer to have a higher purpose of existence. Even a sweeper can have a higher purpose of existence – if he realizes it. Unless and until we realize that we have more intelligence then we need for fulfilling our biological purpose and put it to some good use …we are no different from any animal. We come, we feed ourselves, we mate, produce offspring and die. I hope you don’t want this to be your life summary. If not, then try to be a better human being every day and contribute to your society in a positive manner.