Alternative Thinking: The Power of Ancient Wisdom

Saturday’s post got me thinking. Why do you think they call it alternative remedies, medicine, etc?

The short answer being that it is the alternative, obviously, but to what?

Clearly it is the alternative to the rigour of scientific methodology. Science methodology has provided the bedrock for critical reflection of the natural universe in a way that we can establish confidence in our conclusions. This investigation has lead to well-founded ideas building upon one another, like bricks, until we have complex structures that allow us to probe the length and history of the universe right down to identifying a viral infection in the human body.

Why on Earth would one need, let alone even want an alternative to that?

The alternative being free from such critical tools and so equally free from such certainty. Special “medicinal” roots and “organic” vegan diets are claimed to work wonders, as is the power of the selective memory water, aka homeopathy, because some character claims it and medical researchers have suppressed this knowledge for a given reason (if it were money, they would be likely to isolate the active ingredients and package that alone for a profit, so even here the argument falls down).

It is a lot like saying that driving blind is a sensible alternative to regular driving, which is only needlessly regulated and orchestrated for no benefit. That’s rubbish, just as is alternative medicine; appealing to your poorer senses and general curiosity.

We all know it’s nonsense, the worse thing we can do it enable it.

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6 responses to “Alternative Thinking: The Power of Ancient Wisdom

  1. If you get a chance someday, pick up “Wisdom of the Elders” by Peter Knudtson and David Suzuki. I was surprised at some of the ancient wisdom that has been found to be valid.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised. My favourite being the fat from the Amazonian electric eel which is excellent for soothing arthritic pain – it has been of great medicinal value globally (as well as the spin off research). Rather than farming millions of eels, the effective substances have been isolated and reproduced synthetically. We don’t need some naturopath with vials of roots and herbs; if the substance works and is safe, you’ll find it at your local chemist (Aspirin being another classic example). The field is called bio-prospecting.

      My problem is the idea held by the advocates of “alternative” and ancient wisdom who think that this area of knowledge is somehow separate from critical reasoning. If there is truth to it, well science is in the business of trying to improve our understanding of the natural universe. It is the only method that we have that can test the validity such wisdom with any certainty. The hostility towards science and continual claims that science attempts to suppress this ancient knowledge is counter-factual.

      There is no need for an “alternative,” because it is only choosing to ignore critical faculties of reasoning in favour of nice ideas (which may or may not be correct).

  2. Well said. This touches a nerve for me because as you know, I have multiple sclerosis. So I’m very familiar with the onslaught of well-meant advice about ‘alternative’ therapies. If somebody read about it in a magazine it must be true. Nobody told me that when your serious, incurable disease becomes impossible to hide, you’ll need extra energy to keep a polite smile pinned on as you face the ‘alternative’ advice.

    I’m gestating a post for my own blog, about mistletoe, and hence learned that there’s a thriving industry of ‘alternative medicine’ for cancer. Rudolf Steiner had an ‘intuitive’ idea that mistletoe might cure cancer. Now lots of people make money by making ‘remedies’ from this plant and selling them to cancer patients who inject them. Of course many pharmaceuticals were first discovered in plants, so we needn’t jump to anti-mistletoe conclusions, but what clinches it for me is this review of the science http://www.bmj.com/content/333/7582/1282

    • I certainly cannot relate, but am sorry to hear that you’ve had to endure such nonsense. It demonstrates a horrible lapse in understanding of what science is. Those books you find in health food shops say it all; “learn what scientists have hidden / tried to suppress” etc.

      I agree. One of topics I studied as an undergrad was bio-prospecting. A couple of the researchers were interested indigenous medicine to see if any of it could be beneficial. Another was interested in octopus venom from the blue ring again for the same reason – maybe component of it could be useful in cancer treatment.

      It’s not anti-natural, but making sure it works and can be best administered.

      • I mentioned to my consultant neurologist how I keep hearing of miracle cures which are supposed to ‘anger’ people like her. She didn’t even flinch – no doubt used to this. When an actual therapy gets through the long process of development, testing and licencing, she still takes her time to judge the evidence. This is the kind of doctor I trust and I’m blessed to have her in my life.

        As well as being a patient, I’m a biologist and I’ve shared labs with people who were doing early-stage trials of drug candidates for various diseases. So I see this from both ends. Most of the promising drug candidates fail at the first hurdle as you know.

        My partner and I laugh about the miracle cures. Yes! Thank you so much, Mx Wannabehelpful! It never occurred to me to smear donkey dung between my toes before walking widdershins around an ancient oak tree!

      • Oh; that only works under a full moon. Don’t try it at other times, however, as it will lead to excessive hair growth ;-)

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