Medical science has always been opposed to folk wisdom. The profession started by committing genocide against women healers, burning thousands or tens of thousands of them as witches, burning them alive, then confiscating their property. These wise women knew the art of healing and midwifery. They stood directly in the way of the the licensed medical profession, such as it was 400 years ago. Their accusers portrayed the walks they took into the woods to gather their medicinal herbs as consorting with Satan.
Having gone through a post-graduate program in medicine and practiced as a naturopathic physician for decades I know a thing or two about medical science. Early on I had a chance to speak with two world-class physicians, doctors' doctors, who were regularly invited to speak to their colleagues in far-flung places around the globe.
One was Howard Lipow, an international authority on the pulmonary aspects of Cystic Fibrosis. I met him at Oakland Children's Hospital four decades ago when I was still in medical School in Marin. I attended a consultation for my friend's, a classmate's, 18-month-old, who had the disease. At the visit, after examining his patient, Dr. Lipow stated that if the little tyke would get over his lung infection, he would gain ten pounds. I asked, rhetorically, if it took that many calories to fight a lung infection. "No," he answered, "it doesn't." He continued, confessing, "I've seen it happen hundreds of times, but I don't know why. There is an awful lot going on inside the body and we have very little idea what any of it is."
Oakland Children's Hospital
The other medical expert I chanced to meet in a living room in Palm Springs, California, a few years later. I had just started my medical practice. The living room was my in-laws'. The expert was Harold Mazur, my wife's uncle. My wife was also a naturopathic doctor. Uncle Harold had been medical director of Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in L.A. for 27 years. A hospital has a business side and a medical side. Harold was top dog on the medical side. Twenty-seven years is a dynasty.
Finding myself alone on the couch with him for a moment, I suggested, "It seems to me that medicine in the last 25 years has been a two-sided coin." Turning his glance from the cumquat tree, laden with its small orange fruit, outside one of the picture windows, Harold looked my way and encouraged my supposition, "Yes?" Emboldened, I carried on, "In the last 25 years the major advances in medicine have all been due to better technology." Harold agreed without missing a beat and without an itemization.
If I had been asked for an itemization I would have mentioned the ultra-sound machines that allow us to visualize soft tissue (uterus, bladder...) and the MRI that allows us to visualize soft tissue (and everything else) better, Electro Encephalograms, colonoscopies, surgical techniques of all kinds... But the greatest, and least sexy, technological advance, then and still to this day, is instant blood analysis.
A person comes into the ER unconscious. His blood is drawn and analyzed. It used to be that results were slow in coming. Minutes passed before the doctors knew what was wrong and could begin treatment. With the advent of instantaneous blood analysis, the wait time went from five to ten minutes to five to ten seconds. Lives were and are saved, many.
Back there on the couch in the California desert, the swimming pool shimmering like an oasis on the other side of the plate glass, I continued: "The other side of the coin is that in the same 25-year period our actual understanding of disease has progressed very little, you might say, not at all." Again, Dr. Mazur agreed... and not just to be polite.
Forty years have passed since that January day in Palm Springs and nothing has changed. The heights of medicine are still all about better technology (machines and techniques). Our actual understanding of disease is still embarrassingly slight. For example, they are still prescribing anti-inflammatories to treat arthritis, only now, because we know how harmful cortisone is, those are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
But, to be fair, knowledge and understanding are hard to come by. Noam Chomsky talking about the absolute limits of scientific knowledge tells the joke about a man searching for his keys below a street light. Another person comes to help, who, after a minute asks, "Where did you drop them?" The first man answers, "Across the street." "Then why are you looking here?" the second man queries, looking across to the other, dark side of the street. "Because the light is here," sighs the first. Chomsky laments that all the really interesting things about reality are in the dark, beyond our knowledge.
"Following the science" makes it seem like there is one approved course that science is taking. Peter Thiel, who co-founded Paypal and is on the board of Facebook, laments the recent homogenization of scientific inquiry, blaming it for the scientific stagnation he claims has existed since we landed a man on the Moon.
Regarding science, the public tends to believe that basically we have things figured out, that we are just filling in the blanks, like on those old maps with unexplored spaces labeled terra incognito.
When it comes to preventing illness in general and to strengthening our immune system in particular standard medicine doesn't have much of anything to say. That's not what they do. Other medical traditions (Tibetan, Ayurvedic, Chinese, homeopathic, naturopathic...) have a lot to say about keeping well. In whole or in part these alternative systems use different maps, challenging even the placement of continents and their outlines as described by standard medicine.
Recently, standard medicine has conducted some studies and shown that people who get chilled are in fact more likely to catch a cold. "Your Mother Was Right," ran the headlines in the popular press. But there is little interest in studying why this is so, what lowers our resistance. There is no money in prevention. Similarly, with Covid, the big money is being made in vaccines. If we had effective treatments or could boost the strength of our immune systems so the disease was milder, not as dangerous, then we wouldn't need vaccines.
Following the science takes us in a lot of different directions, or it should. Closing off inquiry, as standard medicine did then by burning witches and does now by rejecting non-patentable medicines, is the opposite of science.
Chomsky, following 18th century philosopher David Hume, insists that we will never arrive at the truth of things, because truth is on the dark side of the street and our limited minds only work in the light. I insist that we'd all be better off being humble about what we know and don't know. Despite what those people in lab coats say, your mother was correct all along: don't get chilled. Folk wisdom has it right: eat better, exercise more, don't get so excited, get more rest. Love and laughter are the best medicine.
Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.