The Biases that Shape our Broken Medical System
Real and lasting change can only come about when we become clear about the nature of the biases that have helped create the current dysfunctional state of affairs in modern medicine. The following broadly constructed categories describe some of the most prominent flaws in Western medical philosophy that, in turn, lead to inappropriate and often dangerous strategies in the actual practice of medicine.
Medical science has historically taken a reductionist approach to investigating issues of human health. It breaks the physical body down into its component parts—including a vast universe of microscopic parts that can't be seen by the naked eye—in an attempt to understand the way things work. Much valuable information has been learned in the process.
However, when taken as the only approach, the end result is a fragmented array of body parts, bits and pieces of scientific data, and specialized fields of medicine all of which are increasingly dissociated from one another. Consequently, each medical event in the history of a patient is seen as discrete and unrelated to all other events in that patient’s history. This accounts for the legions of walking wounded who take, for example, one pill for migraines, another for back pain, a third pill for sleeplessness, and another for anxiety.
The system is in desperate need of a more holistic perspective that can put all of the pieces back together again. Fortunately, that is precisely what most holistic practitioners seek to do. Naturopaths, acupuncturists, homeopaths, and many others are busy connecting the dots where conventional medicine has failed to do so. Most holistic practitioners see the big picture that medical science fails to take into account. They are generalists that view human health in its totality. Reductionism alone runs contrary to holism.
Conventional medicine places excessive value upon lab results and the statistical abstractions of research studies while it downplays the reality of patient's first-hand experiences. It relies heavily upon the rational faculty of the mind, which is a left-brain trait that places a premium upon a quantitative approach to human health. While this may be a useful approach when applied to some of the hard physical sciences such as geology or mechanical engineering, it is woefully inadequate when it is the dominant or exclusive approach to healing.
This is the same mindset that dismisses a patient's report of his or her own symptoms and experiences as "merely anecdotal." Objectivity is worshipped and subjectivity has become a bad word—as if to say that one’s own self-assessment is inferior to what the medical literature and lab numbers tell us. Even physicians themselves have become reluctant to voice opinions based upon their clinical experiences if those opinions cannot be backed up by statistical data represented by clinical trials.
The predominantly rational worldview of medicine is a breeding ground for a mentality that, for example, can so casually excuse "X" number of deaths caused by drug "A" as the necessary "risks that come with the benefits." Such a mindset allows medical professionals to actually believe their own rhetoric when they proclaim that it does not constitute “conclusive evidence” when a parent reports that their normal child decompensated into an autistic state within days after having been vaccinated. This overreliance upon rational thinking tends to yield what can most accurately be called rationalizations—like the ones described above. It is an egg headed form of logic that has no grounding in the reality of patients and their actual problems.
One such erroneous rationalization is that one size should fit all. The very foundation of most medical research, therefore, is grounded in the notion that it is possible to develop a synthetic drug that can be applied across the board to many people with the same condition. This tendency to generalize runs contrary to a holistic understanding of the need to individualize treatment for each and every person. All cases of arthritis, so the logic goes, are assumed to be the same and should respond to the same treatment. This fails, however, to take into account the experiential reality that each and every case of illness is unique and while some will respond to one particular therapy, others will benefit from another.
Many green holistic healing methods emphasize a more direct, right brain, experiential orientation to the patient. They employ a qualitative approach that involves intangibles like intuition, feeling, meaning, and subjective assessment. This perspective forms the missing complement to the analytical mode of scientific medicine. Although medical science tends to view this type of approach as unscientific, it is more accurate to say that science refuses to entertain such methods due to its own peculiar prejudices. And as a practical matter, this often has a very real and negative impact upon patient outcomes.
Western medicine's mechanistic bias is another of its notable shortcomings. The human body is seen as an automobile that periodically needs its parts repaired, removed, or replaced. This bias predisposes medical scientists to believe that technological solutions are superior to the innate and natural healing power of Nature and the life force. Mechanistic thinking is responsible for the cause-and-effect mode of perception that tends to dominate conventional medical thought. When a person taking a pharmaceutical prescription for migraines subsequently develops an arthritic knee, the two phenomena are considered to be unrelated because there is no anatomical or logical connection between the two.
Events, therefore, must have a clear and logically explainable connection in order to be taken seriously by medicine. "Coincidences" are easily dismissed as such because they cannot be assigned any logical reason for their existence. A greener perspective, on the other hand, takes it as a given that the migraines and knee pain are almost always related simply by virtue of the fact that they occurred in the same person.
A mechanistic view holds that our thoughts, emotions, and consciousness itself are mere by-products of the physical brain with its neurons, synapses, and neurotransmitters. A more enlightened bioenergetic model views the human body, brain, and nervous system as the most complex receiver, transducer, and transmitter of energies in the known universe. Many holistic practices are grounded in the notion of the universe as a vast interconnected sea of particle-waves and energy fields.
Just because the physical senses can only detect a narrow spectrum of visible light and a small band of sound waves does not mean that the comparatively vast remainder of energies along the electromagnetic spectrum do not have an impact upon human health and behavior. A variety of known and unknown energetic influences are continuously affecting the health of individuals, groups, societies and the ecosystem. This vast unexplored field of "invisible" energetic interconnections constitutes a potential goldmine that stands ready for serious scientific inquiry.
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of Western medicine is its inability to come to terms with issues of non-physical reality. It tries to force the multidimensional nature of human health experiences into a strictly materialistic framework. Those who subscribe to this worldview "believe" that the physical is the only reality of relevance, or that even exists. Medicine is so uncomfortable with the non-physical dimension that it artificially excludes it from the medical equation with the justification that it is unscientific and unworthy of investigation—yet another unfounded rationalization.
Most holistic therapeutic modalities accept the energetic, psychic, and spiritual dimensions of human existence as fundamental realities. They do not dismiss them because they cannot be measured by scientific instruments or verified by rationalist standards of proof. The spiritual dimension is an experientially confirmed reality "known" by millions, and "believed" to be the case by many millions more. This constitutes a form of knowing very different from, but equally valuable to, the rationally constructed logic of knowing.
When we indiscriminately combat symptoms without regard for their “intent,” we run the risk of suppression. The body in its wisdom often causes symptoms to recur in spite of our attempts to eradicate them. Each dose of migraine medication, for instance, dulls the pain temporarily until the next one occurs. However, when the migraines fail to recur, that is when we may be in for trouble. There is no free medical lunch. When a symptom or condition is successfully squelched, the bioenergetic source of the original disturbance simply seeks the next best avenue for expression. Thus, the migraines may "mutate," for example, into fatigue, arthritis, or colitis. Furthermore, the consequences of such inappropriate treatment are not limited to physical maladies. The same migraines can just as easily mutate into insomnia, depression, or an anxiety disorder. This is not mere speculation; it is a phenomenon that has been repeatedly observed by thousands of holistic practitioners. The permutations are endless and depend upon each particular case.
When symptoms do mutate, orthodox medicine usually fails to connect the dots. Medicine pursues its ill-advised strategy of symptom suppression largely without realizing what it is doing. The sequelae of suppression are just considered random occurrences that have no connection to the previous history of the patient. When we consider that almost all conventional medical treatments are essentially suppressive, the implications are staggering. Thus, an endless cycle of chronic disease is generated. It is no coincidence, and no wonder then, that we are witnessing such dramatic rises in the incidence of chronic disease, autoimmune disorders, and psychiatric illness.
Treatment focused on symptoms has no larger purpose or conscious goal that leads toward greater health. A “war against disease” mentality views symptoms as the enemy rather than manifestations of the body's innate healing mechanism. Holistic healing is not congruent with such a misreading of the nature and intent of symptoms. True healing recognizes the self-healing capacity of the bioenergetic life force and seeks to work with it rather than against it. Green medicine takes into account the whole person and the connections between symptoms even when they occur in seemingly unrelated parts of the body and even when they are separated by time. Real healing leads to greater health, vitality, maturity, and self-awareness.
The Way Forward
The aforementioned opposing viewpoints do not have to be at odds with each other. An appreciation for the whole is complementary to an understanding of the parts. Empirical observation and rational analysis are most effective when they work together hand in hand. A thorough knowledge of mechanics is necessary to set a bone, plug a leaky vessel, and remove a diseased appendix, just as an understanding of human bioenergetics can lead to the resolution of chronic disease. And even suppression may come in handy in a pinch when faced with life-threatening illness. Once things are stabilized, more enduring methods of genuine healing can then be employed. It should go without saying that body, heart, mind, and soul are inextricable aspects of the one whole. Real green holistic healing utilizes the best of all medical worlds.