Complementary Medicine Research: An Alternative to the Reductionist Approach
Dr. David St. George, Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Clinical Epidemiology and Publc Health Medicine, at the Royal Free Hospital, London
In Interview with Roisin Golding B.Ac. MBAcC
First Published in EJOM – The European Journal of Oriental Medicine 1999
R Because acupuncture is based on empirical findings going back thousands of years and because acupuncturists themselves feel that they ‘know’ that acupuncture works, some take the view that research is irrelevant.
D Research is intrinsic to professional development. It should be intra-professional, i.e. internal and self- critical, to develop feed back about how to be better acupuncturists.
R Does that boil down to evidence-based research and wanting to establish that it works?
D It is evidence based but it depends on what you mean by evidence. If you start with an outsider’s agenda you will get limited research and many acupuncturists will feel alienated. That happens when you put alternative medicine into a biomedical framework, all quantitative with little about the subjectivity of either the patient or the therapist. It’s the biomedical straight-jacket that I would object to. We’ve got to start with the phenomenon that acupuncturists think is important. If qi is important then you’ve got to find ways of making the vital forces that complementary therapists say they’re working with visible and explicit. Then one can accept that the phenomenon exists without actually training as a complementary therapist. At the moment there’s no objective evidence for the existence of qi. Medical acupuncturists don’t think it exists, that it’s all about working with neurophysiological pathways, so they make dogmatic assumptions before they start. That negativity really constrains things. But developing internal projects will give people the evidence that it works.
R The BMAS published a study which proved that moxa on BL 67 increases foetal movement. Since there is no known physiological link, within present biomedical frameworks between the little toe and the womb, doesn’t that prove that there are other forces in the body apart from those that the medical establishment recognise e.g. qi? When you talk about making manifest something subtle like qi….maybe one can only see it through it’s effect.
D You may find some people look at it and they say, ” you’re right,” but most aren’t that enlightened. People are constrained by existing theory and dogma. Einstein once flippantly said, “If the facts don’t fit the theory then the facts are wrong.” So people are not looking at the evidence if it doesn’t fit the theory – people are saying that things cannot work except through known neuro-physiological and molecular pathways. The classic example of this is when the church elders wouldn’t look down Gallileo’s telescope at the moons of Jupiter because Jupiter could not have moons, because it was considered a perfect body. The telescope was man made and yet the only way to get knowledge was through divine inspiration.
R Do the medics feel that they’ve examined the body in its entirety, that they’ve seen all there is to see?
D They know they haven’t worked out all the detailed pathways in the brain but they still see it as a bio-mechanical sort of computer. Similarly there’s a lot of the biochemical pathways that haven’t been worked out but that’s because they think they haven’t traced the molecules enough. The paradigm of molecular machinery running us is not questioned. That’s why they think the human genome project, getting all of the DNA mapped will lead to wonderful insights.
There’s no direct evidence of vital forces but we have indirect evidence – in terms of morphology and form. This can be studied mathematically and it implies some sort of hidden forces.
R Magnetic forces that give things shape or what?
D I think there is a level of organisation or forces that is not part of science at the moment. Modern science is based on physics and it talks about the four forces, electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong &weak nuclear forces.
R Can you explain the strong and weak forces?
D They bind the nucleus. Electromagnetism is about the electron and proton, then you’ve got gravity. Then the strong and weak forces, one of which they think is a variation of electromagnetism. So these are the so called four forces that are the basis of physics. There is a fifth force called the force of universal expansion or the big bang, but it’s not considered the same way. The current dogma is that the force of universal expansion, the big bang, is an event fifteen billion years ago. But if you accept that the force of universal expansion is happening all the time, then you have a dynamic expanding / contracting universe. This is none other than what Chinese call yin/ yang. If you bring that into the equation, then it’s aligned with the solar system analysis which I talked about at the (acupuncture research) symposium.
R Solar system analysis?
D The geometry of forms in plants can be related to the geometry of the organisation of the solar system because of this expanding /contracting dynamic process that science has not accepted yet.
R In what way are the geometry of plants and the geometry of planets linked?
D This is my theory: There’s a levity /gravity field produced by the sun . They know there is a pattern in the way the planets are lined up that forms a logarithmic series, sort of like a resonant pattern, and the same thing is going on in earth when plants are growing within the gravitational field. Then, in this theory, an expanding force coming out of the sun which is contracted by gravity. So there’s an expanding force coming out of the plant, every atom, molecule, every material point in the universe is a focus for expanding /contracting forces. And it’s the orchestration of that that is what we call the life force and people in holistic medicine call qi or prana.
R But don’t you think that it will boil down to the discovery of ever smaller nuclear particles, like neutrinos or gravitons which exert these influences?
D No. I think it comes in from another level because it’s not smaller but that these particles are being aligned by a system of forces which is creating the whole picture, causing the atoms and molecules to line up. But the Western mind is based on atomic materialism which goes back to the ancient Greeks, when the atom was considered an irreducible particle. It tries to reduce everything to little building blocks without seeing the pattern. Current science says that reality is matter, and forces and energy. Whereas others are saying that reality is consciousness and that consciousness, not human but infinite consciousness, creates unconscious forms that gradually become conscious. What we call matter and energy is simply the most limited form of consciousness. So the research that we have to do is concerned with this new paradigm, which some people call the science of consciousness. So it’s quite a heretical theory if you like.
R The nature of consciousness is highly debatable. When you have people like Prof. Ernst saying that “There’s no evidence Yin and Yang exist, ” bizarre since we understand yin and yang are only descriptive and don’t exist separately, it’s unlikely that there’ll be this sort of research.
D It depends on what he means by evidence. I think if he gets trained as a (traditional) acupuncturist to feel qi but still doesn’t feel it, then he might be in a position to say that qi doesn’t exist. Just like the church elders refusing to look down a telescope, what he is saying is that the evidence he wants isn’t there. There are phenomenon that osteopaths and acupuncturists are involved in which is experiential but because of the Cartesian mind/body split, only things that are observable and measurable fits into the realm of science. That’s why complementary medicine is beyond the Pale and why Prof. Ernst is right in what he says, according to the current scientific paradigm. There is an unacknowledged socially constructed belief system within the scientific community. The big bang theory was developed in the 1920’s. Its the fundamental building blocks of the science of four hundred years ago where the limitations have come through.
There are two choices: You allow biomedicine to fund the research and so you remain within the biomedical paradigm but this will reduce the phenomena of alternative med. as add-ons or; you can try and understand the profound healing phenomena. If we do that we may be able to go beyond acupuncture or osteopathy by realising that there are vital forces and through working with them in a different way, channelling that energy, we may get more powerful healing effects. There are stories about ancient Egyptian priests who could heal bones rapidly and people write them off as fantasy. What makes people good acupuncturists or not good acupuncturists? Is it something to do with they’re better at putting the needle in or is it something to do with they are better healers?
R What if it is simply an art, and the good artists are those who can connect up diverse symptoms and come up with one coherent picture of the whole person?
D But I also think that in the West we’re held back because we are trained in a very reductionist superficial way of thinking about health problems. You may have problems existing on the surface as symptoms but there may be very deep psychological conflicts that have affected the body and we don’t have the language to describe it. One of the problems with osteopathy is that they still don’t have the language to describe what they’re feeling . When Still discovered osteopathy in the 19th C. he used language like lymph and blood but I think he was working with vital forces. Some osteopaths are beginning to use terms like bioenergy or electromagnetism.
R Are you specifically talking about cranial osteopaths rather than those using high velocity thrusts?
D Yes, because they are working very subtly, feeling cranial rhythms throughout the whole spinal cord. The debate at the moment is whether these are cerebro-spinal fluid rhythms or simply a summation of all the biorhythms, like heart and blood and respiration, or whether it is something else. The difficulty is that there is no language of the inner. As a culture we are externalised, so when cranial osteopaths talk about feeling sponginess or cranial pressure they’re not talking about the same things as a western doctor who would measure to find if there’s too much pressure on the brain. That ‘s not what C.O. are talking about. They are using metaphor. I think they are working with vital forces or morphogenic forces or qi.
R Do you think that one of the problems is that Western medicine’s knowledge is based on examining corpses, or else information gleaned from somebody under the knife or other tools which instantly disrupts all the normal energetic flows, yet what we’re looking for are very subtle life forces?
D Yes. What they’re studying is artefacts basically. That was one of my big disappointments at medical school. I don’t know what I expected. Because we were like archaeologists looking at structures left over from some process, rather than the process itself and the first contact with people were dead bodies in the anatomy room. It was all about the containers of life rather than life itself. But this is what western medicine thinks is all there is to these physical containers and that subtle forces don’t exist. But what they’ve done is to set up situations that destroy that . A lot of it is about physics being the basis. They’ll set up situations, such a high powered electrical environments, like particle accelerators but if there is some sort of life force it will be banished from there. Yet they think that environment will tell them about the start of life.
R Weren’t they proved right when they were able to reproduce conditions similar to earth’s beginnings and were then able to see the formation of nucleotides, just randomly being created out of basic elements?
D Yes. I’m not saying that Western society is wrong, I’m just saying that they have blinkers on. Life works through molecules. Without molecules you don’t have structure. But it’s how we understand what an atom or molecule is. They are a focal point for forces rather than a thing. We still have an image in our mind of billiard balls floating around, separate things, whereas what you have is a constellation of energy, a clustering of phenomena structured by hidden forces. But because they’re not seen and not measured therefore they don’t exist. I have sympathy with people like Prof. Ernst . They are products of their generation and their view of things but also their position of power and authority. First of all they may not see that their view is limited because from their point of view that’s all there is. I am saying the universe is bigger and that there’s more outside the boundaries to their world. They would see that as very arrogant. I think the future lies in allowing complementary therapists to develop their own strengths, taking the best science has to offer. It’s not about convincing people at medical schools
R There’s the very thorny problem of funding. When I spoke to Dr. Halvorsen last week,
D Who’s that?
he’s the press officer for the BMAS (British Medical Acupuncture Society.) His whole argument is that there is no evidence that traditional acupuncture works better than medical acupuncture.
D There’s no evidence the other way around!
R Right, but they have medical acupuncturists in their court and so they might as well use research to support the medical acupuncturist’s point of view. They also argue that patients don’t care about theory or philosophy, they just want to know that their pain will go away and other symptoms will diminish. Therefore there is no point worrying about or exploring the theoretical basis of acupuncture.
D Do you know why? I know a lot of people who say, “get me the evidence that it works first.” What we’re talking about is a threat to them. They’re not necessarily conscious of it but the shutters come down on anything which might fundamentally question their approach and particularly because there is an issue of power, not just science. We’re talking about a medical profession that has power and control today but that power developed long before we had evidence for Western medicine. There is a famous case in the 19th century in the 1855 cholera epidemic when the least mortality was in the London homeopathic hospital but they suppressed that information because they didn’t want to give support to homeopathy because it was considered unscientific. It was unscientific from a theoretical point of view, not from an evidence point of view. It’s all documented in parliament because the metropolitan board of London, who needed the statistics for the fatality rates of cholera victims in the London hospitals, completely ignored the homeopathic hospitals and someone from the house of Lords asked why they had done that. They misrepresented the statistics. If the average mortality rate (of untreated) was 50%, then the best conventional hospitals was 30% , the homeopathic hospital was 16%. In the 1980’s there was the editorial in the BMJ or Lancet called the Flight from Science about homeopathy. It could have been written in the 1850’s. That’s an example of what Einstein said, if the facts don’t fit the theory…. I would say to that guy, (Halvorsen) look at the evidence for stroke and acupuncture. There have been a couple of trials that they don’t have explanations for because endorphins don’t come into it. Can conventional medical acupuncture improve the outcome of stroke, because the only studies done so far have been with traditional acupuncture, and if they can you’ve got to start asking questions about mechanisms because you’re talking about the regeneration of damaged nerves and reprogramming of the brain. How can the brain be reprogrammed to retake control of an arm just by stimulating endorphins? I think that person you were talking to hasn’t looked at all the evidence in the world and has a blinkered view. There is evidence around but this phrase “there’s no evidence” is really people saying “I’ve made up my mind.”
R I suggested to Halvorsen that the selection of points within medical acupuncture will always be informed by traditional acupuncture theory, as with the treatment for malposition of the foetus, because there’s no way in their wildest imagination would they come up with doing BL. 67 for a treatment. But he insisted that there must be a (physiological) reason why that works and that that is what they’re looking for.
D You’ve got measurable phenomena, molecules, and neurological pathways but then you’ve got things that can happen in a way that doesn’t make sense, like in spiritual healing and at some stage these things must come together. When the drug industry looks at herbs they’re looking for molecules, thinking that molecular engineering is the way forward. It will be that way for the next fifty years. But if you talk to pre-clinical scientists, particularly neuro-physiologists, they see that the molecular level can be influenced by the mind – and they don’t even talk about the grey matter, the brain. Andrew Stills, the osteopath, said a hundred years ago that the body has all the pharmaceutical substances it needs. You could have a molecular approach in complementary medicine because you’re working on these deeper mind-body interactions. Some osteopaths say disease is failed healing and that all that’s needed is to bring the person back into a neutral position to allow self-healing. I guess that’s what Chinese medicine is doing. But there is something about the three dimensional geometry of us, beyond the molecular, that connects things which otherwise seem unconnected. A lot of osteopaths think embryonically, to do with the way we were formed in the first twelve weeks of life. There’s quite a physical level of organisation which we have not studied properly because it’s three dimensional. We just don’t have the measurements to connect it all. You can go a long way using systems theory to understand patterning, particularly the way the cerebellum connects the muscular system in a gross way and the way influencing a part could influence another part. I think that behind it all are vital forces acting like a 3 D holographic structure that the physical level conforms to. That’s the leap into the dark, the unknown.
R How well equipped do you think orthodox medics are at dealing with the issue of holism? Because in Chinese medicine there is a very well thought out theory that connects our emotions, psyche and physical selves.
D I think Western medicine is fragmented and split. There are some doctors who are holistic, but that’s because of who they are so their interaction with their patient is holistic.
R But how can it be totally holistic, because although they might like to view the person as a whole person they’re not trained to make those connections?
D But that is precisely why we have iatrogenic disease in Western medicine. It’s similar to an ecological critique of the environment. To be in a holistic system with a partial view you get a reaction, a rebound . The more we try to destroy insects the more they mutate and become resistant. We’ll never conquer the insect world. We are trying to destroy something that is part and parcel of the earth’s whole environment. But that’s the sort of patriarchal Western machismo, we’ve got to conquer and ethnically cleanse , if you like. The imagery used in medicine is of conquering nature. Because you’re trying to influence something powerfully from one angle so if something else in the system is reacting against that, you’re going to get side effects.
R So with the best will in the world, could a GP or orthodox doctor who fully understands that the person sitting in front of them is a connected whole, is it possible within their framework to diagnosis or treat holistically?
D No because you cannot put holism into reductionism. Western medicine is based on reducing phenomenon to measurable particles and you either say there is nothing else but that or else if there is something else, you’ve got to have a broader framework than Western medicine. As an example, some of the problems people have with knee replacement is because they haven’t looked at the whole leg.
R They really don’t?
D Yes! Because I worked as an orthopaedic house officer for six months and at the time I met someone who called themselves a radical chiropodist from the United States who was into foot posture and he told me to examine the feet of the people who needed knee replacement. And it’s only because of him that I realised that we should be looking at the whole leg, it was the whole limb that caused wear and tear on the knee or hip. If you simply replace the knee or hip, firstly the engineering is not as good as nature yet, secondly, the problem of the part may just be the weakest link in the problem of the whole. Western medical training in the first few years focuses on biochemistry, anatomy, physiology. It is seen in its fragmentation and separate parts. If you develop the eyes to see things as a whole as a western doctor it’s despite what you’ve learnt in medical school. And you’ve got different medical departments at college competing with only a bit of the syllabus so when you’re in biochemistry you’re being taught how to be a mini biochemist or when you’re in physiology, you’re being taught how to be a mini physiologist. Every department tries to exaggerate the importance of their bit. Whatever it looks like on paper, the experience of people going through this is of fragmented bits. There are some who are trying to integrate things. An increasing number of doctors are referring to complementary doctors because they privately recognise the limitations of what they’re doing. That’s why I think that the way forward is a genuine partnership. But what you’re getting with a lot of these umbrella organisations, integrated medicine and so on, is doctors opening up to collaboration with complementary therapists on their terms with them holding the reins. I think that a hundred years from now, what is now conventional medicine will be just a small chapter in something much broader. But the way into that future is through genuine “scientific” enquiry in order to understand what the universe is really about. How does this whole person also end up as a collection of atoms and molecules, what is the relationship between the inner and outer, between the spiritual and material, between the infinite and finite? These questions which science has put aside for three hundred years are returning.
R Many in the medical profession would argue that those questions are for philosophers and not medical scientists.
D They can argue that but look at Western medical epidemiological evidence that social and psychological factors are powerful determinants of ill health. Western doctors would say that major infectious diseases are largely psychosomatic diseases.
R What kind of infections?
D Dr. Weir at Copts Wood, part of the Royal Free, teaches transcendental meditation. There is a cold research laboratory here where they gave people standard doses of cold virus, and there’s a whole bunch of evidence to show that people who are under stress are more susceptible and so many problems are actually psycho-physiological.
R But with that example it has been recognised for a long time that stress stimulating corticosteroid production leads to susceptibility to infections. But you implied earlier that it was a whole range of emotional disorders causing susceptibility.
D But this is the language of Western medicine, so that under the word stress you’ve got a multitude of sins. People used to always think that it was the stressed business man who was susceptible to heart disease, whereas it’s always been the people at the bottom of the social ladder who are more susceptible. Parts of epidemiology, called the general susceptibility to disease theory – that social and psychological stressors affects your susceptibility in general and whichever particular disease you get is to do with what your exposed to and the weaknesses in your own system. It’s your inability to deal with what life throws at you that is related to psycho-neurological pathways which is labelled stress. There are specific bugs and specific actions going on but why is it that your body which has a powerful self healing mechanism, happens to be broken down and you get this particular condition? Animal studies show that they can cope with each mineral deficiency so that they don’t manifest the classical symptoms until they’re stressed in a laboratory.
R Doesn’t that invalidate a lot of animal research? One could say that it is not the toxin, or pathogen that the animals are responding to but stress.
D I think so. It implies that you’re dealing with biological phenomena in a stressed compromised animal. What you’re dealing with is the blinkered reductionist view. They’re not looking at the ground, the context in which they’re doing research but focusing on this narrow thing. Animal research is necessary mostly because drug companies are engineering molecules, which might have come from a herb, in order to make them patentable. So you’re creating a new biological agent and want to shove it into a biological system just to see what it does. It may be that if you manipulate it you get horrendous consequences. Just like GM crops, they don’t know the consequences of these manipulations. There’s a debate in herbal medicine whether there should be animal research. A lot of herbalists are saying we don’t need it because we’re dealing with whole plant preparations that have been around for thousands of years and although we need to understand how they are working, it should be in the whole human system.
R But where would funding come from if it’s not something that’s patentable like a molecule, if it’s something like qi that you can’t patent and sell on?
D It has to come from the government basically or from tax payer’s money, for instance the medical research council. Even though at one level they are sympathetic to complementary therapies, the problem at the moment is that the people who sit on the committees are sitting with a pile of tax payers money. Any uncertainty and they’re going to be hesitant to fund because there could be a lot of quackery. Many people are out for self-aggrandisement and glory in alternative medicine as much as orthodox medicine. There are manipulators. There have been examples of people coming up with wonderful cures for cancer which turn out to be nothing and giving alternative people a bad name. So they can’t just give out willy nilly. So at the moment all you can get is funding for randomised trials or things that fit in to the framework of conventional medicine. There are people with private money, for example Elan Foundation in Exeter, who have poured millions in but because they are unsure where to put their money they get professional advisors who are officially part of the current paradigm.
I think it strange that, for example, a sceptical orthodox doctor is the Prof. of complementary medicine. If you get a Prof. of surgery you get a surgeon and if you get a Prof. of complementary medicine you should get someone who is a leading complementary therapist. One of the first things Prof. Ernst said was that he was sceptical about complementary medicine. I think it’s an insult. It’s like appointing a sceptical professor of psychiatry to be Prof. of surgery to debunk it. Ernst is coming from a very conventional framework and I think the type of research he wants should be further down the track. For now you need more speculative, open-ended qualitative research to explore what’s going on. I mean the trails in Sweden of acupuncture and stroke showed that you can do pragmatic trials and demonstrate outcomes, but that doesn’t change much fundamentally.
R It does seem that one must prove that every point and treatment protocol works before they will explore the theoretical basis.
D But I think it’s also part and parcel of this culture. You reduce things to phenomena that can be published in the library, so that that becomes reality. During ward rounds, the reality is often case notes rather than people and the interaction is consultants via the nurses or junior staff, not with patients. Because Western medicine is very cognitive, very cerebral, they are locked into creating an intellectual abstraction. Now when people go to their GP, the GP sits in front of the computer and the patient is reduced to a side issue, literally sitting to the side. A lot of people have complained about that. It’s the whole of Western society creating what philosophers call the essences, which are abstractions. The existential reality, which is where you would work as an acupuncturist, is a million miles away from that. So they want all the evidence to be in libraries. What Stephen Birch in his sixteen dimensional research wants is that decisions about points etc. are all codified in some library or computer somewhere and so you’ve got evidence based research backing the use of this point for this condition. But that’s impossible.
R It’s impossible in a practical sense, or impossible that it would be useful for practitioners?
D It’s impossible full stop. Two thirds of what goes on in the Royal Free is not evidence based. There aren’t enough trials around. A lot of the drugs that are used are evidence based, but the research is based on very limited populations yet they introduce them on the whole world.
R How limited?
D You have selected cases, defined according to certain criteria – like the ideal case. Quite a few clinical trials may have demonstrated the efficacy of the drug but when that’s released on the world people don’t fit into those boxes. People have got their conditions plus other conditions and you find that the drug is not so efficacious in the real world. The classic example are some of the anti-depressant drugs which were developed on psychiatric patients who were severely depressed, but then they’re released into GP populations, where they’re prescribed by GPS and they make people worse. When psychiatrists are talking about depression they’re talking about something which is quite severe. They often call it biological depression. It’s not the same as what a GP calls depression. They’re talking about reactive depression not endogenous depression. Although I think, I may be speaking out of turn here, that endogenous depression is just reactive depression that has gone on for such a long time that your system has adapted and it’s become very biological. But it’s origins are psycho-emotional to start with.
R Are you familiar with Robert Becker, the American orthopaedic surgeon who has done a lot of research on electromagnetism?
D Those sorts of things, approaching it from an electromagnetic field point of view where he’s been able to grow bones, are the beginning of how things are going to come together.
R He established that because of the crystalline structure of connective tissue it acts as a semiconductor for piezoelectric charges.
D If we start thinking of physical phenomena as electromagnetic fields we’ll go a long way towards understanding some of this stuff, but I think there’s a deeper level and that’s why I did that solar system analysis (at the Acupuncture Research symposium). Some people who are studying morphology say that you’re getting gradients of molecules and electromagnetic field effects but they see all this as determined by the DNA. But, as in the Solar system, if you show that there’s a field phenomena where there’s no interconnecting tissue if you like, it implies that there is some underlying field structure.
R How can the electromagnetic qualities be governed by the DNA?
A I can’t explain it because I don’t think they can. The believe is that the sequential unfolding of DNA, like a computer programme, structures things, and the proteins have other effects, and it’s those structures that set up force fields.
Ian Stewart, he’s a very conventional mathematician who’s not concerned with the esoteric side of things but what he is saying, in his book Life’s Other Secret, is that there has to be more to life than just DNA. Although it’s the real world of physical forces that DNA might use, it’s the mathematics of this world of forces that structures life. He calls it biomorphometics. I would say that these are real force field systems.
R Is this totally separate from electromagnetic force fields?
D Totally separate but it controls electromagnetism. Part of it is gravity. Gravity has never fully been understood. Einstein talked about a unified field. I think the only way it can be unified is by the addition of this extra levity field.
R Why isn’t this just inherent in or produced by the particles within the atom?
D Because it’s like you’re dealing with bricks, the particles are the bricks, but the bricks don’t form the whole house themselves. What is the equivalent of the architect? Is it God, or is it some morphogenic, three-dimensional field system? And I’d say it’s both. In the 19th Century mathematicians thought mathematics was part of the machinery of the universe. Then they realised that mathematics was a study of abstract thought, that our thought processes determines mathematics. There’s a famous quote by Sir James Jeans earlier in the century, that the universe began to look like a gigantic thought. You’ve got the inner world of imagination and the world of molecules. In yogi philosophy they would say that force field is none other than consciousness. What we call physical forces are none other than the drive and will of consciousness projecting out. But it’s not human consciousness, it’s more detached. Evolution is the unfolding of unlimited consciousness. An atom is like limited consciousness. There is something inherent in an atom, more than what a physicist would talk about. It’s very like an abstract will to interact, to ray out, to interact with the universe and through great unfolding you get that inner consciousness more and more evident. Plant is more evident, but still it’s the consciousness of a plant. But you’re not talking about little human beings, you’re talking about a …
R Directed movement or something?
D Yes. Steiner used to say that plants are like us in a deep state of vegetative unconsciousness. Gradually what you see in evolution is a continuum of unconsciousness becoming conscious.
R But doesn’t the experiment that showed that nucleic acids formed automatically, given the right mixture of gases and high enough levels of radiation, support the argument that it’s all totally random, that there’s no consciousness behind it.
D Yes, but I would say life is everywhere, consciousness is everywhere, but hidden. Life is trying to push through everywhere. As soon as a city starts decaying you get all these plants moving in, there’s this inner will to express on the material plane, and given the right conditions the inner world will organise the material world. But there’s no scientific evidence for that and it comes down to belief. Collectively we have denied this inner level and that’s part of the historical reality of Western scientific materialism as a reaction against medieval scholasticism. It comes down to a choice of belief, not choice of evidence. It’s like one of those face/vase pictures. It’s the same information but you can have two different interpretations. Are you seeing something inner, God’s footprint in the mud, or just a random structure? You can’t see the foot, you can see the footprint. At the moment we have a fairly water-tight scientific system. Anything that fundamentally questions that gets rejected. It comes down to a power thing. Is society going to continue to give power to this biomedical reductionism, or are we going to empower alternative medicine and alternative approaches to see how far they go? I mean how is it that some acupuncturists who also do Tai Qi and the other marshal arts can just touch you and influence you? There are things that Western people could not believe, yet they exist. If we were to try and put them into the biomedical straightjacket we would destroy it. It’s only because people off in little corners are allowed to be very different that these phenomena develop.
R What kind of practical advice can you give to the osteopaths or acupuncturists, given that we would be looking for something like qi and there may not be the technology yet to discover it?
D I think there are two levels of research. One is very pragmatic, like audit. The herbalists have set up a data base where people send in case studies. Rather than trying to prove something, they’re exchanging information in a constructively self-critical environment, in order to be able to monitor their capabilities. It’s easier in centres rather than for people in private practice. You’re talking about good record systems, which don’t have to be computerised but computerised case lists can give diagnosis and simple outcomes which could involve follow-up studies. So there are lots of pragmatic, clinical epidemiology studies, studies of clinical practice. That would also give information to other people about what problems you’re dealing with, and whether it’s effective without actually proving. Out of that you may find that someone seems to be particularly good at a particular condition, so you may want to be more systematic and set up a clinical trial, based on what’s actually going on. A lot of trials in Western medicine are coming from the initial insights from anecdotal evidence. When the National Institute of Medical Herbalists set up regional peer review groups, to start with people brought in their best cases, but as people got more confident they started questioning things about practice, creating a peer review context. And that’s what audit is in the NHS but it automatically exists because you have groups of doctors working together.
R Is holistic practice inherently difficult to research because we’re treating a range of disorders at once rather than focusing on one complaint?
D I think that there’s a middle ground. Everyone approaches things from a generalisation, that’s your starting point. You’re not saying the whole explanation for what has happened to a particular patient is captured in the data or the measurements. Some measurements are just subjective, people feeling better or not. You’re not trying to reduce things to always treating similar cases and shoved into a sausage factory mentality and therefore you should have used that acupuncture point rather than that one. It’s more to do with refining your discrimination in day to day practice. That’s what goes on in audit anyway. Because the reality with Western medicine is that people are different too. When you look into some of the evidence based medicine, even in some of the clear cut areas, there are always exceptions and deviations. Evidence based medicine is a theoretical ideal. Even clinicians would argue that they draw upon the evidence but they may decide to go against it.
So you can review what you’ve been doing in the last month yourself or with groups of practitioners, or it can be national. With herbs you’re talking about their attributes, and how are they are being used. I don’t know how easy it is for acupuncturists to have that approach. Would you be looking at points or energy diagnosis? I have just had a discussion with George Lewith about his trial for stroke with acupuncture in Southampton, and they’ve picked ten points that they reckon all of Chinese medicine is based on. Actually, I think there are about twelve points and you’re allowed a certain variation. He and a TCM practitioner who’s doing the acupuncture got £140,000 to reproduce the Swedish trial. Rather than have it as an open ended TCM approach the acupuncturist chooses 9 points out of the 12. I can see already that when that’s published it will create a furore, because if it’s not as big an effect as the Swedish study people will say it’s because it’s a truncated version of Chinese Medicine. On the other hand if it is a big effect, I don’t know. He said he and his friend toured China and they decided that the whole of Chinese medicine in the treatment of stroke can be distilled down to these 10 points.
(for your interest, according to Lewith’s directive, “acupuncture treatment will consist of dry needling to 3 out of 4 points on the upper limb chosen from LI4, LI10, SJ5, LI15, with G.BL.20; & 4 out of the foll. 5 on the lower limb: G.BL43, G.BL39, G.BL34, G.BL30, ST.36. This will allow for individualised treatment.”)
This is basically a Western medical imperialistic approach. But I see these as the skirmishes of conflict between an old patriarchal age and something new. It may take another 20 or 30 years but eventually the current constraints on complementary medicine will not be as powerful as people think. The thing that’s driving complementary medicine is people paying with their own check books basically. It’s grass roots and democratic.
R What about the complaint that complementary research is not based on double blinded control studies?
D Double blind studies are never done on surgery and never done in psychiatry because there’s a principle in scientific research that you must not distort the phenomena that you are trying to study. If the subjectivity of the patient and therapist is part of therapy you can’t rule it out. Double blind trials can only be done on drugs. It’s a misunderstanding that you can separate the specific effects from the non-specific effects, as if you can split them. I don’t think you can. A lot of it is down to the personality of the therapist as well as the patient. It’s a complex real world phenomena and if you start separating out the points or is it the person using those points, I think you’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. You can do what Hugh Mac Phearson is doing in York, pragmatic trials, or those in Sweden, called black box trials. You randomly allocate people to two groups and let those groups do what they want. You don’t try to understand what’s going on, you just look at outcome. In the Swedish trial they randomly allocated half the groups to acupuncture, using an average of ten points, based on a Chinese diagnosis. They also used electroacupuncture. The other to conventional treatment and daily physio, the other had conventional treatment, physio, plus acupuncture.
R Did they also use scalp acupuncture?
D I don’t know. It was really what that practitioner did. And the outcome was not just that that group recovered faster, but more went home at the end of the year, and it saved the Swedish government money because they have to pay for nursing homes. So every indicator was positive.
R Was that a large trial?
D No, it was one practitioner and about 100 patients and it showed significant differences. But what you now need to do, and this is what Southampton are doing , is to get other centres to reproduce it. But I’m worried that Southampton may not want to. Having the choice of 10 out of twelve points is constraining
R What’s his reasoning behind this constraint?
D Because Lewith’s a reductionist. Western medicine is such powerful brainwashing that people don’t realise how much that they are reducing phenomena to a handful of ideas. The Western mind finds it difficult to deal with complex and uncontrollable phenomena. Other cultures can but the Western mentality has a very patriarchal, brutal desire for the detached intellect to control and master things that are evil or foreign, as opposed to being part and parcel of a complex world that you’re trying to influence and channel. In fact a lot of time you’re being controlled by other influences. So I think the Chinese philosophy and Western philosophy don’t quite fit. And Lewith’s putting it to Western philosophy.
The second is more esoteric research, speculative, within closed doors. It’s the osteopaths saying we want to do research which helps us understand what we’re really doing, because we don’t have the language. Because we’re intuitive, “my hands become part of the patient. I learn as the patient heals themselves through me.” In the acupuncture world it would be about trying to understand qi. Would there be more for us to learn or do we just accept acupuncture as it is now? But it can only be done by people who are steeped in the tradition and the understanding already. I believe that some of this will eventually be measurable and my contribution would be to find ways of electrically/physiologically measuring the phenomenon that the osteopaths are working with. A lot of people have tried in acupuncture but haven’t succeeded but I think they have got the wrong mentality. They’re using the wrong measurement. It’s still electromagnetism but they’ve been looking at strength of signals rather than frequency and pattern. We’re trying to do a whole lot of electrophysiological measurements using a computer to see if the phenomena the osteopaths are describing can show up in EM energy.
R Would that have to be done in a room that’s shielded from background EM forces, because that has a huge influence on outcome?
D It depends on how you do it. If you are using two electrodes and you take one away from the other, which is the ways EEGs work, you’re getting the external influence to both electrodes. If you take one signal away from the other it cancels it out and you’re left with the major signal, so there are ways around that. Which is why we’ve got to work with scientists and scientific equipment so you don’t get constrained by the theories. You’re dealing with very subtle levels. Valerie Hunt, an American neurophysiologist, has done it in a different context. She used to work with NASA. She tried to see what happens when people go through altered states of consciousness, through dance or trance states. A lot of cultures do that, get themselves into a state of frenzy and altered consciousness. She attached equipment and broadcast the signals, instead of across space, just to the other side of the room. She got a clairvoyant who claimed she could see colours and auras, and she got it all down on the same tape. She looked at the muscle signals and at the same time recorded the description of what the clairvoyant was saying. “I’m seeing a red flare coming out of the left arm now,..” or whatever. She looked at electromyographs, these big signals of muscle activity, (diagram) and this is the ‘background noise’ which most people have ignored. She looked at that background and surmised that that might be the nervous signal coming out. But she did a ( varying???) analysis which is a standard frequency analysis, and found that whenever the woman said the aura was red there was always a certain frequency and a different one when it was blue. But the frequency was in the sound spectrum, even though the woman was seeing colour. The frequency was 150 – 500 cycles per sec (Hz) which is in the sound wave.
R A synaesthetic psychic?
D Yeah. She was suggesting that the person was picking up these waves but can only use the senses that we’ve got and somehow in translation she was seeing the sound. But that’s the first time I’ve seen something like that published. You could say that’s nothing, but anyway, that’s what we’ve decided to base our study on, something like that. The problem is that osteopaths are dealing with very low frequencies, like 8 cycles a minute, like breathing. A lot of electrophysiological measurements are based on finding things about the cortex, whereas osteopaths are working off the brainstem and lower down and it’s very difficult to get measurements, but we’re going to start as soon as we can.
In Great Ormond street a couple of osteopaths were able to contain an epileptic state and the doctors had to sign a secrecy clause. The child is 7 or 8. The osteopaths had been working with her for four years. Because she is so severe she gets transferred to St. George’s hospital and it so happened that there was an EEG machine and technician linked up. The osteopaths were treating her, and the EEG technician showed what the cortex looks like when you treat her compared to what it looks like when drugs are being used to contain the epilepsy. When drugs are being used the brain still fires its spikes, but you don’t get the generalised seizure. But somehow the osteopaths were having the equivalent effect, although they were containing it, it still shows the spikes. When one is diagnosing epilepsy when they’re not in a state of epileptica, you find one area of the brain with spikes, and that is the focal point, but in Grand mal seizure that spiky electricity goes right across. The other time was more complex because she was so severe, drugged up to the eyeballs, completely unconscious. The Osteopaths, in their language, were trying to find where she sits. I think what they’re feeling for is the person’s consciousness, like a field where, in the body, they would withdraw. They found she was in a complete vegetative state and they found her in the fourth ventricle or whatever and they were trying to draw her out because the osteopaths said they need something there to work with. Towards the end of this treatment a spark of life started coming. What the EEG showed was quite a disorganised chaotic cerebral cortex. But towards the end it starts to gets more organised, and you can do a frequency analysis. It suggested that what was happening was that her consciousness was coming out and starting to organise the brain a lot more and this showed up on the EEG. But these are anecdotal things, us stumbling in the dark. We want to see if some of the phenomena that the therapist and patients are subjectively feeling can be related to EM measurements, because from my point of view that allows a model to be built up. And the model is consciousness pervading the body like a force, like akasha in yogic medicine, the soundless sound. It’s like sound but it’s actually space/time vibrating and it’s the frequency of vibration that creates the structure. When you get force fields vibrating in form you get resonate patterns. So there’s this soundless sound, a complex patterning, and that is creating a lot of the structures that the molecules are lining up with. But it’s extremely complex and what we think is science is simple compared to this inner science because we’re talking about complexities which we’ll never fully understand. We’ll understand just enough to work with because at the end of the day we’re still talking about human beings as the most sensitive and the best instrument for healing. Doing EM measurements and using computer analysis acts as a mirror or window into what people are feeling, to help enhance the teaching of that and to intensify it but at the end of the day we’re still left with the most sensitive instruments, which are us. We’re not, like Western science, going to end up with technology that takes over.