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Saturday, December 14, 2013

The birth of medicine

The quest for knowledge is philosophy.  Philosophers ask questions and search for answers.  These answers are called theories.  As better wisdom is obtained, better theories are formed.  Thus, it was out of philosophy that medicine was formed, only gradually becoming a profession of its own.

At the onset of the ancient world, at a time when civilizations were formed around 10,000 B.C., there were obviously men who sat around thinking, and these would have been the first philosophers.  Yet it wasn't until around 800 B.C. when philosophy gained any steam, and this occurred in ancient Greece around 400 B.C.

Greek citizens owned slaves who did all the work, and so they were able to spend their time however they wanted.  Those who were curious about the world became the first philosophers.  It was this circumstance that gave rise to the Age of Philosophers in ancient Greece.

Of this time in our history, medical historian Fielding Hudson Garrison, in his 1922 book "An introduction to the history of medicine," said:
Never before, or since, had so many men of genius appeared in the same narrow limits of space and time. (2, page 86)
Meryon said:
He lived at the most remarkable epoch of intellectual development, having as contemporaries the philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Xenophon; the statesman Pericles; the historians Herodotus and Thucydides; the poets Pindar, AEschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and Aristophanes; and last, though not least, the sculptor Phidias. (1 page 22)
Medicine existed before the age of philosophers, although this medicine was mainly based on mythology and religion.  Health and disease were believed to be caused by the gods and cured by the gods. If you were sick you'd pray to the gods for forgiveness for your sins, and you'd make sacrifices to the gods hoping that by feeding him he'd become happy with you and bless you with good health.

If that didn't work you'd see a priest/physician for his recommendation.  You would spend a night in a temple to the god Asclepion, the god of health and healing, and while you were sleeping, the god would give you the cure in your dreams.  You'd tell the priest what you dreamed, and he'd interpret them for the remedy.

Hippocrates, and his fellow physicians at the school of Cos, were the first to help transition medicine away from this, and toward a practical science.  This was the beginning of medicine as we know it.

Now, much of the theories written by Hippocrates, and even by physicians as recently as the 1850s, might be considered spurious by the modern reader.  Regardless, it was viewed as quite rational by these older physicians, and the remedies, if nothing else, provided hope when there otherwise was no hope.

These theories kept medical wisdom alive through ancient Greece, and Rome, and then through the dark ages of medicine when all wisdom was lost.  Yet it would be found, and relearned, and finally was handed down to us.  And, especially since the year 1900, the medical profession has taken a 5,000 year leap through time.

So, while many of my friends say they hate philosophy, they are likewise saying they hate wisdom.  We must understand that it was through philosophy that medicine was born, only to take on an identity of its own over time.

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1 comment:

Should Fish More said...

It's interesting to think about how some of the 'cures' came about, eh? Back in the day....take blood-letting. The barber opens a vein to let you bleed for a minute or so, a common cure 200 years ago and more. Perhaps a CHF patient wandered in, sat down, was bled, and got up. "Wow, I can breath better".

Yeah, scientific method and critical thinking (Kant, et al) changed a lot in how we approached life.

Actually, in my 40 years in the field, in RT departments I've met Hegelians, Existentialists, Anarchists, Marxists and Capitalists. We seem to accept all kinds, which is good.