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Sunday, July 1, 2012

The ongoing search for natural truths

We must assert that the medical field is an art based on a science.  That means we use science and adjust it according to the assumed needs of the individual.  As we learn better it is assumed that we will do better.  That has been the existence of the medical industry since the beginning of science during the Renaissance when science began.

How well does the medical industry use science?  The answer until the 1950s was not very well.  Since then, however, the medical industry has blossomed.  To use asthma as an example, this was the decade the inhaler was invented that incrementally improved life for asthmatics.

So are we now therefore at the zenith of our scientific wisdom.  The answer is no.  We are still in a quest for the natural truth.  Prior to expounding this conversation allow for a few definitions compliments of Plinio Prioreschi in his book, "A History of Medicine": (1)

Sense data:  Information that confirms the truth; that confirms reality

Natural truth:  What really occurs in nature.  The reality of the universe.

Reality:  What we know; how we perceive the universe

Scientist:  A person who performs research in a quest to learn natural truths, in search for a perfect correspondence between sense-data and reality and assume there is a natural truth they are striving to discover

Science:  The ongoing quest to discover natural truths. The quest brings us closer and closer to our goal even though we usually are not quite there
Scientific explanation:  How scientists perceive the truth today.  It should be noted here that any accepted scientific explanation is considered a temporary hypothesis ready to be replaced by another that is closer to the truth.

Knowledge:  What we know; wisdom

Many of us are not aware that science comes from the Latin word scire, which means to know.  So the original definition of science is knowledge. Science is wisdom. In its original form science is philosophy.  Our original scientists were philosophers.  Such knowledge was empirical, or learned by observation and experience.

I can give many examples.  One such philosopher was a physician I did extensive research on recently called Dr. Henry Hyde Salter.  He was a physician in the 19th century, an asthmatic, and he wrote a book based on his asthma wisdom.  His book was the best selling asthma book of the second half of the 19th century.

As I read the book I think:  "He made this crap up.  It's poppycock."  Yet it wasn't poppycock in 1850 when the book was written.  The wisdom Salter obtained about asthma was siphoned into his mind through his own experiments and observations.

He was an asthmatic, he took care of asthamatics, he read, he did autopsies, and he learned a lot about asthma.  What he learned was to him the reality, the sense data the he drew from his natural surrounding.  What he learned became the scientific wisdom of his day.  It was the scientific theory of his day.  It was his fact.

During the scientific revolution, as mathematics and geometry came to be seen as instruments capable of explaining the universe, science became knowledge of the physical world, that is of physical reality.

In this way, philosophers turned scientists like Locke, Berkeley and Hume learned that science was more than knowledge to be picked up by empirical means.  They learned science could not be assumed.  They learned science was ideal not real.  Philosophy is real; it's what exists.  Science is ideal: it's what is.

Think about this.  It's easy to see what is real.  It's hard to see what is.  What is, therefore, is the natural truth.  It is this difficulty to see what is, the natural truth, that makes the medical industry real and not ideal.  It holds back knowledge.  The main culprit here is ignorance and dogma (stubbornness).

These philosophers took the position that reality is the position of the mind, it's the real existence that we live in.  What we are in search of is idealism, ideal knowledge, or the natural truth.  It is this that we yearn for in the medical industry.  Yet what we believe, what we know, what we live by, is realism.

What we see, therefore, blinds us.  It makes it difficult to come up with new theories and even to accept new theories as we come up with them.  And it must be noted here that while new scientific theories are written and accepted, they will replace the old theories.  It doesn't mean the old theory is wrong, it just means the old theory is less true.

So, the more willing or capable we are to learn and accept new wisdom, the better our medicine will be; the better doctors and respiratory therapists we will be.  The better off the patient will be.  The less money we will waste on frivolous therapies.

Oblivious to the natural truth, doctors in general continue their work with what they know; with what they believe is the natural truth.  In fact, scientists and doctors in general ignore the philosophical arguments casting doubt on the knowability of the external world, no matter how strong and convincing they are.

Scientists and doctors, in other words, are normal; they are dogmatic.  It is for this reason that medicine is slow to grow.  It is for this reason doctors have a hard time letting go of such theories such as the hypoxic drive theory and that Albuterol cures everything except stupidity.

Of course, this indifference to philosophy on the part of scientists and doctors is not due to intellectual dullness.  Most doctors and scientists we know, or read about, are among the most intelligent people in the world.  They have trouble seeing beyond what is real.  They "assume" what they know is the natural truth.

Yet what we learn today is that what we call science is the ongoing quest for the absolute truth; natural truth.  It is the ongoing process of discovering truths.  The process brings us closer and closer to the goal even if, it is assumed, never quite up to it.

For this reason, any accepted scientific explanation is considered a temporary hypothesis ready to be replaced by another that is closer to the truth.  This, of course, is what we call scientific progress.  It entails that we keep an open mind and are willing to sometimes accept we don't know all.  We must not be arrogant.

  1. Prioreschi, Plinio, "A History of medicine," Volume 1:  Primitive and Ancient Medicine," 1991, Edwin Mellen Press, New York, page XI-XIV

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