Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fjordman: A History of Medicine

The third part of Fjordman’s series on the origins of modern medicine has been published at Europe News. Some excerpts are below:

The Chinese medical tradition developed along somewhat different lines, with less emphasis on surgery than in India. At least from Shang Dynasty in the second millennium BC, the earliest documented phase of what would eventually become Chinese civilization, the concept of humors, or elements, appears.

There were five elements, wood, fire, earth, metal and water, but the number five also applied to other objects, planets, colors, flavors, seasons, directions etc. Chinese pharmacology was wedded to the idea of five categories. Red medicine was like fire and was used to treat the heart, which is fiery. The five-element theory applied to cosmology and philosophy as well as to medicine. In Confucian philosophy, Confucius talks about five relationships: Sovereign to subject, parent to child, husband to wife, elder to younger sibling and friend to friend. In the first four categories, the latter owes loyalty and obedience to the former, whereas the relationship between friends should be on equal terms.

Kennedy writes in A Brief History of Disease, Science and Medicine:
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“Since the world was composed of five elements, there were five chief organs, the yin organs: the heart, liver, lung, kidney and spleen. Then there were five auxiliary organs, the yang organs: the large intestine, small intestine, gall bladder, stomach, and bladder. The relationship of these organs between each other was influenced by the relationship of the elements. The kidney, as the organ of water, must be antagonistic to the heart since that was the organ of fire. Each organ had a specific planet and season.. The heart had a relationship with summer. The interplay between yin and yang, concepts going back to the Shang Dynasty, were important as was the role of Tao, the world spirit. The world spirit entered the body with air, through the lungs, and earth, through food taken into the intestines. It moved through a system of arteries and nerves that do not correspond to human anatomy. Note the absence of the brain in the list of important organs. When the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems were discovered in the nineteenth century some speculated that the forces of yin and yang had correlated with these pathways.”

The Chinese were far from unique in not understanding the importance of the human brain, a mistake which was common in cultures from ancient Egypt via Polynesia to medieval Islam. In fact, the seeds of a scientific understanding of the brain can be traced to Europe during the Scientific Revolution. The Englishman Thomas Willis (1621—1675), a doctor and co-founder of the Royal Society of London, with his studies at Oxford in the 1660s is often considered the founder of neurology. In his groundbreaking anatomical works in the sixteenth century based on human dissections, Vesalius did not describe the brain in any great detail. Willis, on the other hand, removed the brain from the cranium and was able to describe it more clearly.

Read the rest at Europe News.


Anonymous said...

Human dissesctions. Bingo, that's the key.

For example, in Japan in the early 1600s (and before and after), dissecting dead humans was something that nobody would have dared to do. For once there was the law (and Edo Period Japan was a military regime) and secondly, and most importantly, dealing with the dead was polluting on a spiritual level. Handling the dead was something only the Eta did (lowest caste in the system, sometimes considered not to be human). No citizen from the ranks of peasants and above would have done that.

Later, after the Meiji Restoration, it took years and years until Japan finally brought forth nurses. The nursing profession as such is relatively young in Japan. Again, dealing with the dead and dying was forbidden by Shinto.

However, there's reports of Japanese doctors during the Edo Period, who read Dutch books (the Dutch had the trade monopoly with Japan) on European medicine. This, too, was forbidden (based on the sankoku policy of the Tokugawa government) and any doctor who dared to do that, risked harsh punishments.

Czechmade said...

In 17th century the Dutch wrote also the first Japanese grammar.

Dissecting the language so to say.

In my indo-european supremacism I have unknowingly humiliated a Japanese professor asking him about the "earliest Jap. grammar". It was Dutch.

Also in this respect the Indians are much closer to us: Panini´s grammar (centuries BC) and South Indian Tolkappiyam grammar (around BC). The Old Indian phonetics became a basis for our linguistic in modern times. The Indians were clearly ahead of us. The Old Indian grammar has also "zero casus" plus 8 casi in our sense (the Old Greek - 5). Clearly their predilection for hypothetical worked well in mathematics as well. Emptiness-zero dominates in various fields of thought. The Buddhists dared to build everything on this concept...and surprizingly ended up in something very akin to christianity. No nihilism whatsoever!

"Dissecting" contradicts the holistic approach to the object examined even in Modern Japan.
Dominant lyrical poetry closely knit with Zen concentration techniques abhorrs any sort of "dissecting" for good reasons.

Dissecting method gave rise to innumerable sciences in the West
with fatal results in such fields as sociology, psychology etc.

Marxism for ex. is a "dissecting method" gone wild. (Functional reassembling of the dissected parts does not work surprizingy.)

We should remember also the haphazard method of experimenting as a complementary method to the "dissecting". It is dissecting reversed. The experiment yields as result something partial although 100 % exact. It becomes a solid basis for further (re)search somehow fully disrespeting and suppressing the concept of the "whole". The results are always fabulous, but our cosmos as such desappears completely from the scene/stage.

It seems other high cultures prefered the concept of "balance" to
our concept of "development".

How to reconcile the two?