The History of Homeopathy
An Excerpt From Challenging Nature, By Lee Silver
Homeopathic medicine, or homeopathy, was the creation of a single person, Samuel Hahnemann, who graduated from a German medical school in 1779 and practiced the “healing arts” until 1843, first in Germany and then in Paris. Early in his career, Hahnemann was rightly disturbed by many European medical practices – including bloodletting with leeches, poison-induced vomiting, and skin blisters induced with acids – that made patients sicker than they had been before treatment. In 1790 (while plying his second trade as a translator of Latin into German), he came across a manuscript by a missionary in Peru describing the remarkable ability of a powder from the bark of cinchona (a species of South American evergreen tree) to cure malaria. Others had attributed the cure simply to the caustic taste of the bark, but Hahnemann knew that more caustic substances did not elicit similar cures, and so this simple explanation was false. Curiosity drove him as it often drove other physician-scientists of his day, to self-experimentation, in this case on the consequences of ingesting cinchona powder. After several days, Hahnemann had an epiphany: he became ill with fever-like symptoms similar to those caused by malaria.
From this similarity between the symptoms evoked by a single disease and its curative agent – which are not nearly as similar as he imagined – Hahnemann came to the conclusion that cures for all kinds of human disease could be obtained from substances that elicited the same set of symptoms in otherwise healthy people. This assertion, which he called the “law of similars,” and the adage “Likes are cured by likes,” became the empirical basis for his newly invented homeopathic (literally “similar-suffering”) practice of medicine. Homeopathy was presented in contrast to what Hahnemann referred to as allopathic treatment – medicines that produced effects opposite to the disease they were meant to cure.
Over the next twenty years, Hahnemann traveled far and wide with his students and family members to evaluate the effects of ingesting plant and animal-derived substances from as many sources as he could find. When a substance produced sensations similar to the symptoms of any known disease, it was added to his list of homeopathic medicines…
…The theoretical underpinnings of homeopathy is that a healthy human being is inhabited by an integrated spirit or vital force. In Hahnemann’s words:
The vital force that animates the healthy body, rules with unbounded sway, and retains all the parts of the organism in admirable, harmonious vital operation… so that our indwelling, reason-gifted mind can freely employ this living, healthy instrument for the higher purpose of our existence.
According to Hahnemann, diseases and ailments (other than those inflicted by physical blows to the body) are not caused by material substances. Rather, “when a person falls ill, it is only this spiritual vital force, everywhere present in his organism, that is primarily deranged by another dynamic influence hostile to his life.” So how does a patient overcome disease? By consuming a positive spiritual medicine that “occupies preisely the seat hitherto occupied by the derangement.” In other words, the demonic element of the vital spirit must be replaced by the angelic element of the natural homeopathic remedy.
Since disease is supposedly spiritual, not material, a cure is best effected when the medicine contains no interference – no material substance – from the original curative agent. The greater the dilution, the stronger the medicinal spirit becomes…
Dr. Lee M. Silver is a professor at Princeton University in the Department of Molecular Biology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He has published over 180 scientific articles in the fields of genetics, evolution, reproduction, embryology, computer modeling, and behavioral science, and other scholarly papers on topics at the interface between biotechnology, law, ethics, and religion. In addition to Challenging Nature, he is author of Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family.
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