About Healing ..
An essay exploring philosophical concepts related to health and healing


Within the provision of health care throughout the world today there are vastly differing paradigms at work, although here in Australia it would be fair to say that the prevailing form of health care is based on the western biomedical model. Questions need to be asked as to whether this model of health care is the most appropriate approach to health and healing in Australia and indeed throughout the world for the 1990's. To understand the answers to these questions we need to explore the philosophical basis of some of these prevailing paradigms. What is their approach health and healing? Does the approach focussing on a wellness model or on an illness model? Does it approach health in isolation from other aspects of the person's experience and relationships in life, whether these be social, environmental or cosmic connections? These are some of the questions that need to be asked in this exploration of what constitutes health and healing and which if any of these paradigms will enhance the wellbeing of our people, our society and our world.

As previously stated the concept of `health' differs across various paradigms. The Oxford dictionary defines the following words thus: - Health n. state of being well in body or mind; condition of body: Healthy n. having or conductive to good health: Heal v. restore to health; cure; become sound. Capra (1983) extends the view that "Health is really a multidimensional phenomenon involving interdependent physical, psychological, and social aspects" (p.353). Further on he states "Health, then is an experience of wellbeing resulting from a dynamic balance that involves the physical and psychological aspects of the organism; as well as its interactions with its natural and social environment" (p.354).

To begin this inquiry let us look at our western biomedical model, its basis, its relevance to health and its potential limitations in the 1990's. We could ask the questions `Is it working?' `Can we afford it?' Does it have all the answers?' What is the prevailing philosophy that underpins this biomedical model?

The origins of Western medicine date back to the time of Hippocrates who spoke of "...health being related among environmental influences, ways of life, and the various components of human nature " (Capra, 1883, p.341). Unfortunately the influence of Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes amongst others, forged a mechanistic and a reductionist way of viewing people and the world they inhabited. This view continues to have an impact on today's biomedical model. Capra (1983) discusses this effect in the formation of the biomedical model:

Throughout the history of Western science the development of biology has gone hand in hand with that of medicine. Naturally then, the mechanistic view of life, once firmly established in biology, has also dominated the attitudes of physicians toward health and illness. The influence of the Cartesian paradigm on medical thought resulted in the so-called biomedical model which constitutes the conceptual foundation of modern scientific medicine. The human body is regarded as a machine that can be analysed in terms of its parts; disease is seen as the malfunctioning of biological mechanisms which are studied from the point of view of cellular and molecular biology; the doctor's role is to intervene, either physically or chemically, to correct the malfunctioning of a specific mechanism. (p.118)

Capra (1983) goes on to say:

The biomedical model is firmly grounded in Cartesian thought. Descartes introduced the strict separation of mind and body, along with the idea that the body is a machine that can be understood completely in terms of the arrangement and functioning of parts. A healthy person was like a well-made clock in perfect mechanical condition, a sick person like a clock whose parts were not functioning properly. (p. 138)

One of the major drawbacks or criticisms of the biomedical models is that it does not view health in a holistic context. It has a compartmentalised view in its approach to providing health care. There are specialists for every aspect of a persons's makeup, for example, one would go to a Psychiatrist for emotional problems, a Physician for medical problems, a Gynaecologist for `female problems', ad infinitum. Therefore you can have people who have a range of health problems being treated by a range of Specialists. They can spend much of their lives waiting in the outpatient departments of these specialty units waiting to have their problems solved! The signs and symptoms of ill-health are fitted into `a box labelled with the name of the disease'. Included with the contents of this box is all the associated knowledge on how this disease is to be treated, not unlike a recipe book! This process almost always occurs in isolation from other factors in a person's life. Capra (1983) describes this well when he says:

By concentrating on smaller and smaller fragments of the body, modern medicine often loses sight of the patient as a human being, and by reducing health to mechanical functioning, it is no longer able to deal with the phenomenon of healing. (p.118). 

Often care is narrowly focussed and one-dimensional in its approach, relying on blood tests or X-ray results to define state of health. There is little recognition of any other aspect of `the whole person'; of emotional; social; spiritual or vocational status in life. There is much anecdotal evidence to support the experience of depersonalisation and dehumanisation that occurs within this model of health care.

Obviously not all medical practitioner are uncaring and the biomedical model does provide a valuable role in some instances but the narrow focus and the continuing separation of body and mind inherent in this system of health care does not encourage the natural process of healing and in many cases could be described at best as `bandaid treatment'. This narrow and limited focus that is inherent in this paradigm, and the inflated status that Medical Practitioner have in our society, translate into a dangerous mix of arrogance and ignorance. The biomedical establishment could be said to yield an inordinate amount of power and control at a political level.

This control maintains the status quo and hence limits the options of the general population to the type of health care that is available to them. Other drawbacks to this model of health care is that it is not a preventative model of health and the rapidly spiralling costs of providing this increasingly `high-tech' medicine is becoming prohibitive.

In stark contrast to the western biomedical model is the philosophies from the Eastern Traditions. These traditions that include Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism share a similar world view in their understanding and belief in the overall interconnectedness of all things in the universe. As stated by Capra (1975):

The most important characteristic of the Eastern world view - one could almost say the essence of it - is the awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of basic oneness. All things are seen as interdependent and inseparable parts of this cosmic whole; as different manifestations of the same ultimate reality.(p.116,117)

Accordingly the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic Medicine from India, both of these being influenced by that same Eastern world view of interconnectedness and universality of all things, approach the notions of health in totally different ways from those in western medicine. Both of these would perceive ill-health as a sign of disharmony or a `being out of balance' with the natural laws of life and nature.

In TCM where there is belief in the yin and yang as both opposing yet complementary forces much the same as the Tao is seen to be to be the result of the interplay of opposites. It is believed that a form of vital energy known as ch'i maintains the balance between yin and yang. Wellbeing is the ability to sustain and maintain this dynamic balance and to be able to live in harmony with the natural universe. The TCM approach to healing would be to assist a person to reconnect with their natural healing abilities.

Ayurvedic medicine is based on humeral theories. People are thought be be more influenced by one of three humors, phelm, bile or wind. They have a complex body of knowledge that allows them to assess each particular type and to provide a wide range of diet and lifestyle options, which in the Maharishi Ayurveda involves Transcendental Meditation (TM), to assist a person to find balance in their life. Ayurvedic medicine firmly believes in the notion of universal interconnectedness which they define as the unified field. The focus of their approach is to maintain harmony and balance in a person's life. This is best described by Lonsdorf, Butler and Brown (1993):

Internal harmony is perhaps the most salient feature of all living systems, expressing the intelligent growth and regulation of all aspects of nature, from the blossoming of a rose to the rising of the tides to the movement of the planets. From cell to galaxies, all matter of life is arranged to uphold and express nature's intelligence in a vast universe of balance and cohesion. In this way the organised intelligence of the universe is a collection of many forms or bits of expressed intelligence, all life but all organised in different ways..........In humans, the material essence of nature's intelligence is called DNA ...(p.13)

Ayurvedic believes that what it offers re-awakens the body's intelligence and can actually create changes in the DNA makeup of cells to re-establish health and healing. Lonsdorf et al (1993) state: 

PNI research has demonstrated that our thoughts and emotions change our body more swiftly and effectively than any external medicine, suggesting that healing is a single organised process of thought, feelings, and cells working together, all aspects of health occurring within the body and mind simultaneously (p.49).

What is so intriguing in regard to the ancient Eastern traditions is that their understanding of health is totally influenced by their shared belief in the inherent interconnectedness and the complementarity of all things in our universe. And that their notion of interconnectedness increasingly correlates with what has been found to be true in the field of quantum physics. In discussing these very correlations Capra (1975) writes:

In modern physics, the universe is thus experienced as a dynamic, inseparable whole which always includes the observer in an essential way. In this experience, the traditional concepts of space and time, of isolating objects, and of cause and effect, lose their meaning. Such an experience, however, is very similar to that of the Eastern mystics. (p.70)

He also makes the point that the quantum physics view of the makeup of the universe involves probability waves and that these waves have a mathematical quality to them.

At the subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainty at definite places, but rather shows "tendencies to exist," and atomic events do not occur with certainty at definite times and in definite ways, but rather show "tendencies to occur". In the formalism of quantum theory, these tendencies are expressed as probabilities and are associated with mathematical quantities which take the form of waves.......they are "probability waves," (p,56)

These ideas of Capra's which mention the mathematical quantities that make up probability waves which form the basis of this universe resonate with much of what was stated and extended a little further by Reanney(1991):

Let us look more deeply at the concept of beauty. Many of us, when asked to describe something `beautiful; would nominate a piece of music. There is, I believe, a sound scientific reason for this. there is a far-reaching relationship between music and mathematics which goes back to the time of Pythagoras. Pythagoras showed that the pitch of a musical note depends on the frequency of its vibration; if a node is moved halfway along a vibrating string playing its ground note, the string plays a note an octave higher and so on. Modern physics has adopted a similar `melodic' metaphor in its description of the hidden levels of atomic substructure. Electrons occupy discrete energy levels in atoms. These energy levels can be thought of and described as, vibrations or `standing waves'. The basic structure of matter is musical. p.191). The Death of Forever A New Future for Human Consciousness Darryl Reanney Longman Cheshire 1991 p191

The concept of the make up of the atomic substructure being mathematical or made up of vibrations or `standing waves' opens up a much broader discussion when exploring the various healing paradigms. One could ask, is this important? How does this fit in? What relevance does this have in the overall scheme of things? I would like to look seriously at this aspect of these things in order to show the value of different paradigms to healing, for example, the role of sound and colour and touch as valuable tools in the journey of healing.

Quantum theory has thus demolished the classical concepts of solid objects and of strictly deterministic laws of nature. At the subatomic level, the solid material objects of classical physics dissolve into wavelike patterns of probabilities, and these patterns, ultimately, do not represent probabilities of things, but rather probabilities of interconnections........Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe. p. 56 & 57

Reanney p191

...I believe that consciousness, the source of the aesthetic sense, experiences reality directly. And reality - the hidden structure of the universe - has a harmonic configuration. To put this another way, there is a deep, albeit subtle, relationship between the harmonic structures of some `moving' musical composition and the underlying musical foundation of physics, which consciousness tunes in to.


Said simply, if we want to describe the universe as consciousness `knows' it, we should stop thinking of it as a machine or a system or a process and start thinking of it as a song.

Ellie Large 
© June 1996

Turning Point Science Society and The Rising Culture


Fritjof Capra

The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism


Fritjof Capra

Check out Reference Books for further information

email: info@creativewellness.com.au
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