Medicine and Modern Technology

     After reaching a peak during the Renaissance, classical Greek ideas in medical theory and practice started to die out.  It wasn't a sudden death, but more like a long, slow decline.  But the change was radical and far-reaching until, by the mid-20th century, virtually nothing was left of the vast edifice that had once been Greek Medicine. 
     Several revolutionary developments in science were mainly responsible for the death of Greek Medicine, and resulted in a total demolition and rebuilding of medicine and the science on which it's based from the ground up.  In fact, they would result in a whole new understanding and perception of scientific truth and clinical reality.
     Modern chemistry started to discover and isolate the elements in a test tube.  And they proved to be many more than, and quite different from, the basic four of Greek Medicine.
     The existence of blood, phlegm and plasma, and bile could be verified and proven, but the various subtle, energetic or psychosomatic notions associated with them had to be discarded as primitive fantasies of the ancient mind unless their mechanisms of action could be proven in the laboratory.  And it was highly doubtful that black bile even existed at all.
     But since the classical concepts of humor and temperament provided a simple, elegant and eminently workable model for clinical diagnosis and treatment, they didn't die overnight, but lingered on in the actual practice of medicine until quite recently.  Not until the 19th century do we find a gradual transition from the classical precepts to the new ways of medical theory and practice.
     Natural medicinal substances, mostly of botanical origin, were the mainstay of medical treatment up until the early 20th century.  The wholesale switchover to synthetic pharmaceutical drugs didn't really happen until the advent of antibiotics in the 1930s.


The Nineteenth Century:  A Radical Break with Medicine's Past

     During the 19th century, medicine underwent a radical transformation as the latest discoveries of medical science began to be implemented in its practice as well.  These changes also radically altered the way we look at health and disease.
     The classical way of understanding and classifying diseases was to identify them as specific complexes of certain signs and symptoms.  This classification system was gradually abandoned in favor of models based on measurable disturbances of organ function and pathological lesions in the organs and tissues that were observable under a microscope. 
     Diagnostically, there has been an ongoing shift in emphasis and reliance from qualitative data obtained from direct clinical observation of the patient to quantitative data obtained mostly from lab tests, microscopic analysis of cultures and tissue samples, and sophisticated diagnostic machinery.  Powerful economic interests like the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations have sought to technologize medicine, thus making it a profitable venue for capital investment and development.  The downside of this trend is that medical costs continue to skyrocket up and out of sight.
     The 19th and 20th centuries also saw the infatuation of modern medicine with the germ theory of disease.  Many diseases, from the common cold to cancer, have been blamed on various microbes.  The germ theory has also been a powerful marketing tool for the medical-industrial complex, which is always developing a new pill or vaccination against the latest "bad guy" microbe. 
     While Greek Medicine doesn't deny the existence of these microbes and their involvement in the infectious disease process, it rejects the notion that they are the unique, specific, or original cause of the disease for the following reasons:
     There is always at least one prior predisposing factor, be it a constitutional weakness or an imbalance of humor and/or temperament.
     There's really no such thing as a single agent or cause of disease.  An illness or disease is usually the result of the simultaneous convergence of multiple causative factors.
     If microbes were really the primary causative agents in infectious diseases, then all doctors and healthcare workers coming into contact with them on a daily basis would become ill; this is clearly not the case.
     Exposure to microbes alone is not enough; there must also be some predisposing factor within the individual.
     Allopathy, the dominant conceptual system of modern medicine, tends to view disease as an enemy that attacks us from without.  But Greek Medicine and other holistic healing systems prefer to focus on factors connected with host resistance and immunity, and the metabolic balance and soundness of the organism as the best way to overcome morbidity and disease.
     This internal biological and metabolic environment of the host organism is what many holistic healers call the terrain, or ground.  If some potentially pathogenic microbe finds a morbid or toxic terrain that is hospitable to it, it will grow and thrive; if not, it won't even be able to gain a foothold in the host organism. 
Louis Pasteur     Louis Pasteur, the founder and main proponent of the germ theory of disease, won fame and fortune, and became one of the scientific heroes of modern medicine.  His main scientific rival, Dr. Claude Bernard, whose alternative theory of infectious disease emphasized the terrain and host resistance, was refuted and ridiculed by Pasteur and his colleagues.  Finally, on his deathbed, with no more money to be made and no more honors to be won, Pasteur had his moment of truth, and finally conceded that Bernard was right - that the terrain was everything.
     Greek Medicine also takes issue with the use of harsh, potent synthetic pharmaceutical drugs to treat disease, even the most minor illnesses.  Since these drugs are concentrated, purified, and therefore extreme and unbalanced by nature, they aren't metabolized in a balanced, harmonious fashion by the organism, and create humoral imbalances and negative side effects. 
     So many pharmaceutical drugs also work in a negative fashion, by blocking this or that function, channel or receptor.  Herbs and natural medicines mainly work by strengthening the healthy, righteous functioning of the organism.
     By radically discarding so many classical theories and practices, modern medicine has lostouch with its roots, with any sense of tradition and continuity from its past.  The great traditional medical systems of India, Chana and Greece also had their periods of rapid growth and change.  But the old ways weren't discarded completely; they were usually just modified, expanded or refined.  Galen worked within the Greek medical tradition while introducing improvements; so did Avicenna.
     But with Western medicine, the whole edifice of classical medicine was discarded as being erroneous, primitive and merely misguided superstition.  In the process, "the baby was thrown out with the bathwater", so to speak, and Western medicine lost touch with its traditional holistic healing wisdom.


Pasteur information from: