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Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Pythagorean Theory of Opposites

In order to be good at something you have to have seen its opposite. To put this into the perspective of the respiratory therapist, in order to have empathy for those suffering from asthma you must have had asthma.  Or better, in order to appreciate normal breathing you must have suffered an asthma attack.

I base this theory on the Ancient Pythagorean Theory of Opposites as created by the Ancient Greek Philosopher Heraclitus.  He believed the world was not static but dynamic.  He was one of the first philosophers, or people who stated that there was more to the world than that 'it was just created by the gods.'

He believed in the unity of the world, and he believed the essential element of change was fire.  Where fire is involved, great changes occur.  Fire in the body causes sickness just like fire in a home destroys the home.  He thus believed fire created air, water and earth.

He believed everything came along due to tension and strife, which can be produced by fire.  A good example is war, which is one of the major causes of change.  He believed that all things are moved by an innate force, and from opposite tensions results harmony.

It was by this that he developed the theory of opposites. He believed everything had an opposite, and when these two opposites were in harmony you had peace. He believed that all things are moved by an innate force, and from opposite tensions results harmony.

Thus, it is in opposites, he believed, that we become aware of things. By seeing the sick we appreciate health. That by seeing the dead we appreciate life. That by sleeping we appreciate being awake. That by seeing evil we learn to enjoy goodness. By living in poverty we appreciate money. By seeing bad people we learn to enjoy good people. By having a disease we learn to appreciate health. By being hungry we learn to appreciate plenty of food.

When changes occur to one or the other opposite, then this is where your conflict occurs. For example, when both hot and cold are balanced in the body, the body remains healthy. Yet when the heat of your body is increased, you become sick. The same can be said of dry and moist, sweet and bitter, and rest and weary.

It was this same theory that was adapted by the Hippocratic writers when they wrote the Hippocratic Corpus. They used this theory of opposites to describe how disease is created, and how such imbalances can cause the four humours to become imbalanced, and this results in sickness. This, in turn, was the beginning (of sorts) of the humoural theory theory of disease that wasn't phased out until half way through the 19th century A.D.

While much of the original theory has been proven false, I believe there is still a small part of the theory that continues to be valid and always will. Thus, I believe that in order to understand something you have to understand it's opposite.

In order to feel something you have to feel it's opposite. In order to feel good you have to have felt bad. In order to be happy you have to have felt sad. In order to enjoy your sanity you have to at one point felt depressed and recovered. In order to enjoy health you have to have been ill.

It doesn't have to be a major exposure either. For example, you don't have to get cancer to appreciate the person with cancer, all you have met someone who suffered, or read about the condition.

We could take this deeper too.  In order to understand how bronchodilators work you have to have delivered the medicine yourself, or have taken it.  Lack of such exposure, thus, results in ignorance.

In order to know if an ABG is needed you have to draw them yourself.  There was actually a study on this a few years back.  At one hospital doctors were ordering ABGs on nearly all respiratory patients.  Yet one day the institution decided to have the doctors draw their own ABGs, and the number of ABGs ordered was decreased by 75 percent.

It's an interesting theory, and it goes back to around 500 B.C.


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