democritis, atomist, atomist philosophy, early medical philosophy, anti-vitalism

Several readers have told me they want more information about our purpose and mission statement.

I’m just going to touch on this briefly, and because I feel strongly about this I’ll be writing more about this later.

This site is about bone loss of osteoporosis and osteopenia, and my approach to these conditions is completely related to our larger purpose and mission – teaching a ‘vitalistic’ philosophy of health and healing.

There are only a couple of major philosophies about health and life, one being vitalism; the other being known as ‘atomism‘.

There has been an ongoing battle between the two philosophies for several thousand years.

As far as we can tell, the first person to create a theory of healing based on the body’s natural powers was Hippocrates, back around 400 BC.

Hippocrates called these natural adaptive powers the ‘physis’, from which we get our word ‘physician’. He described the ‘physis’ as a ‘healing power’ or a ‘self-adjusting power’ within the body.

Hippocrates wrote “Though untaught and uninstructed, it does what is proper to preserve a perfect equilibrium… to re-establish order and harmony.” ; and, “It is nature that finds the way.”

Another philosopher, Democritus, proposed a philosophy whose main point was that nature is nothing more than tiny particles that get combined and then recombined in all manner and variety of ways. He argued that everything in the universe could be explained simply, by referring to these particles – this “atoms” – and to the forces that cause them to join and combine.

Democritus wrote that “What atoms and their forces cannot explain, simply cannot be explained at all.” He could not envision a ‘healing power’ inside these particles.

democritis, vitalist, vitalism, vitalistic philosophy, natural healing, atomist, atomist philosophy
Democritus - Developed early 'Atomist' Philosophy

Democritus held the view that atoms are ‘something’, and the void between them is ‘nothing’, then there can be no mysterious healing force in the ‘nothing’ because it is empty and void. (“…because in the void there is by nature no perceptible substrate, whereas the atoms, which combine to form all things, have a nature derived of every perceptible quality.”)

[Democritus, from Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians 8.6]

The old guys sat around drinking wine out of lead pitchers and arguing about things they could not prove, and the one who spoke the loudest and didn’t have to go to jail and drink hemlock, won.

These very early discussions and arguments about our existence put us on a path that took a wrong turn in the 18th century, and brought us to where we are today.

Again, these two opinions became known as

  • Vitalism favoring a natural, unseen healing power; and
  • Atomism opposing the idea of any healing power.

The debate continued and has been mentioned throughout history.

The basic question is this: Does the body have innate adaptive powers and recuperative powers that are sufficient to protect it from disease?

Vitalists say Yes; atomists say No.

Regarding my comments about government collusion with medicine, and the ‘force of law’ regarding medical choices or lack of them:

That statement comes from this ongoing debate, and a decision made by one man in the early days of the United States, and his decision was based on the old philosophers we spoke of above.

Dr. Benjamin Rush was a medical doctor in colonial America, and he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Dr. Rush agreed, essentially, that “a certain self-acting power does exist in the organism, but it is subject to ordinary physical and chemical laws, and in any case it is not strong enough to withstand the onslaughts of disease.” This is based on his ‘scientific’ background in ‘atomism’.

Dr. Rush contributed to the wrong-headed ideas of the time, and sadly, these ideas were incorporated into laws that now are used to enforce the will of the doctor over that of the patient.

For example, Dr. Rush wrongly believed that mental diseases were caused by irritation of the blood vessels in the brain. His treatment methods included bleeding, purging, and mercury. There was no scientific basis for these treatments, just unscientific belief.

But these treatments were the accepted standard of the time, and if these treatments were not provided, a medical doctor could be sanctioned by his peers.

Dr. Rush invented a tranquilizer chair (pictured) and a gyrator for psychiatric patients. The tranquilizer chair is interesting, in that he clearly believed the physician was, or should be in control of the patient.

Of particular interest, regarding how he perceived the role of the physician, Dr. Rush said “Although physicians are in speculation the servants, yet in practice they are the ‘masters of nature’.”

“Instead of waiting for the slow operations of nature to eliminate a supposed morbid matter from the body, art [of medicine] should take the business [of healing] out of her hands.”

Since that time, medicine has pushed nature out of the way, and tried to take the business of healing for their own.

Interestingly, the early ‘atomists’ got part of it right, according to Einstein; and Einstein figured out what they missed, the ‘humanistic’ part that makes us bigger than the pile of atoms of which our bodies are made.

There is more to us than atoms.

Einstein said “Everything is determined by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust – we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”

Other great scientists have reached similar conclusions: there is more to us than meets the eye, more than can be measured.

I Believe This:

The Breath of Life is blown into us by something that we cannot measure, and Life leaves us when the body is no longer able to support Life. That part of Life is unknown and unknowable, and it is the stuff of natural healing, it is the stuff of whatever name you have for God. Science does not have, and cannot have all the answers.

My opinion is this: Prevention is better than cure, and in fact once a disease is well-established there may be no cure; that is, a point of no return may be reached where no cure is possible whether by nature or science. However, even though we can’t expect them or create them, we need to leave room for miracles.

‘Life’ is The Nature of Nature

Prevention of disease and normal function of the body is part of that nature.  This expression of this nature, of optimum life and health, requires and includes the basic vitalistic things of life such as good plain unadulterated food, clear water, and exercise. And love.

“Cure” as defined by medicine should be the practice of fixing things after they break. Medicine should be largely restricted to the emergency room, or to the ICU (intensive care unit). Medicine clearly shines in its role of stopping the bleeding, stabilizing sudden unexpected situations such as a heart attack, intense allergic reaction, casting fractures, and replacing joints.

In fact, medicine should be the first-responder for conditions that are “emergent” or “urgent”. Once the situation has stabilized, the medics should get out of the way and let the natural providers in to provide the long-term support that medicine doesn’t have and cannot provide.

In the movies, on occasion we’ll see the doctor leave the operating room and say “It’s in the hands of God, now.” One might consider this as arrogant, and I think it is, but at least there is some acknowledgement of the greater truth, that we are more than the stuff of atoms.

Medicine has developed some very good answers to certain problems. But, based on medicine’s lack of experience and training in ‘all things natural’, medicine certainly does not have all the answers, and their philosophy prevents them from thinking about health conditions in a way that will lead them to the answers.

At this point it could take 200 years for medicine to find real balance, and there is almost no balance today, nor any real acceptance of different viewpoints.

Even if there is a desire for a medical doctor to be receptive to other types of physicians, they face legal problems if they work too closely with or refer to another type of health care provider. In fact, medical doctors are at risk of losing their license if they practice outside the bounds of currently accepted medical frameworks and paradigms, and the people who make those decisions are the same ones who hold the power to revoke a license to practice.

That’s why we need the support and teamwork of the other physicians, the low-tech, high-touch healers.

Chiropractors, naturopathic physicians, homeopathic physicians, massage therapists, hypnotherapists, herbalists, nutritionists, and so many others who work with the un-measurable Stuff of Life, instead of trying to become its master.

Dr. Martin McIntosh DC