Groucho Marx

Blog Archive – January 2006

Click here for translations

“ A human being is a part of a whole, called by us 'universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest...a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in it's beauty. ”
Albert Einstein

“ There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true. ”
Søren Kierkegaard

“ What we are looking for is what is looking. ”
St Francis of Assisi

“ Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity ... and I'm not sure about the universe. ”
Albert Einstein

January 30 2006

The proof of the pudding

Pertinent to mention that most of this month's blog contributions have been made under the influence of another proving!

This one's particular focus at the more philosophical end of its spectrum has to do with the way in which the underlying state gives rise to its outward manifestations, and vice versa in how outer manifestations reflect the nature of the underlying state. It highlights the frequently paradoxical nature of the process – or at least paradoxical to western thought – and the way we tend to get things twisted back-to-front and inside-out.

Cosmic Sphere by Camille Flammarion 1842-1925

It was interesting that in response to January 27th's entry, Carol Willis mentioned the Golden Rule (see the Comments to that entry), and it's right enough that it infuses the moral and ethical standards of most cultures on the planet right down to children's stories such as Charles Kingsley's 1863 classic The Water Babies featuring the redoubtable rulers of the water-babies' kingdom, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. If recognition of the value of such principles is pretty much universal, how is it that we fail so dismally to carry principle through to action?

It lies in the nature of the mirror. The underlying state is not something that can be perceived directly. It's evident only by the manifestations it gives rise to which are like a mirror to its nature. Since our attention is captured by the reflection, rather than its source, we mistake this for the fundamental "reality" and see things back-to-front and inside-out, often entirely oblivious to the fact that there's an underlying state generating these manifestations in the first place. The result of this is that we aim for the ultimates, the manifestations of the underlying state, as goals in and of themselves. Because we perceive them as goals, rather than reflections, we attempt to impose them on ourselves and others rather than focusing on the underlying state that naturally and spontaneously gives rise to them (much as Paracelsus highlights below).

As our self-discipline (or imposed discipline) strengthens and we succeed in acting in ways that are selfless, compassionate, etc, we believe we've achieved our aim. Which indeed we have – we've succeeded in imposing these qualities on ourselves. But the underlying state remains unchanged. It's merely been strait-jacketed into a facsimile of the genuine article, but will continue as it always has to make its nature known in acting out, projection onto "other", or in internal dis-ease, while we, delighted with our successes in overcoming our "base nature" and "doing the right thing", remain ignorant of the fact.

We've made this error with each of the major world religions; the main reason why we're left now with so much profound fragmentation, conflict and empty ritual. We're making the same mistake again with the re-emerging spirituality of the "New Age". Everywhere people are concentrating on the ultimates; trying to be in the eternal now, in universal compassion, etc, etc, learning techniques to impose this discipline or that discipline on themselves in the hopes it will lead to realisation, and ignoring all the reflections in the mirror which tell us what state we're really in.

This isn't to say that practicing such techniques can't help us along the path to the realisation we desire, only that we're very good at fooling ourselves into thinking we've "got it" when we haven't. We want it so bad we ignore all the signs telling us we've still got stuff nailed under the carpet to attend to.

A lot of the stuff under the carpet comes from the basic assumptions we're conditioned with since childhood, passed down from generation to generation, and which are so universal we can't see them for what they are. The doctrine of original sin, for instance, has one helluva lot to answer for. The idea that we're born bad and have to spend the rest of our lives struggling to keep the badness under control accounts for an awful lot of our bad behaviour, not to mention the backlash notion that we're really full of fundamental goodness and anyone pouring cold water on the unending feel-good fest is just being negative. We're born neither bad nor good. W'e're just born: with the potential to destroy or create, to fragment or amalgamate. A potential almost as diverse and limitless as the life-force of which we're an inseparable part, and equally free of value judgement. How we're conditioned to see and value ourselves, how we come to terms with that, and the choices we make as a result, are what determine the "reality" of our lives and the quality of our actions.

January 30 2006 | | | Permalink

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Smacking

“ Those who merely study and treat the effects of disease are like those who imagine that they can drive away the winter by brushing the snow from the door. It is not the snow that causes winter, but the winter that causes the snow. ”
Paracelsus (Philipus Aurelius Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) 1493-1541

Crying boy

“ Living an ethical life is not a case of adhering to a set of regulations imposed on us from outside, such as the laws of a country. Rather it involves voluntarily embracing a discipline on the basis of a clear recognition of its value. In essence, living a true ethical life is living a life of self-discipline. When the Buddha said that 'we are our own master, we are our own enemy', he was telling us that our destiny lies in our own hands. ”
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

“ Abuse no one and no living thing, For abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.”
Tecumseh (Shawnee)

January 27 2006

Respectfully yours

Came across a vox-pop 'Have Your Say' debate on the BBC News website last weekend discussing the proposals for legislation to ban smacking of children in Britain. The number of responses opposing any such move outweighed those in favour by a considerable margin.

There were two main threads running through the objections. The first was that this shouldn't be a matter for government legislation, and that to criminalise an action of itself without considering motive and circumstances is the wrong thing to do, and is potentially open to considerable abuse. The second was that there was nothing wrong with corporal punishment administered lovingly for the child's benefit to teach them discipline and respect, to which the respondent often added "it never did me any harm". Many opinions laid the blame for the country's present problems with unruly youth on liberal parenting, single-parent families, etc. Many felt smacking was entirely justified and the only means available to prevent children from injuring themselves at ages before reason is an option.

Those against put equally cogent arguments against the barbaric nature of corporal punishment, especially meted out to children, and felt strongly that something needed to be done about it. Several ex-pats wrote in to say that the nation's treatment of children was one of the reasons they no longer live in Britain.

This debate has been going on a long time within the context of Europe-wide legislation and seems nowhere nearer a solution. It inspires strong feelings and a lot of comment – a sure sign of something deep demanding attention. Who's right and who's wrong? Perhaps everyone has a valid point and that by putting them all together we can get an idea of what really needs to be addressed here.

While there's a sense that there are times when a smack can be appropiate (and we make far too big a deal about physical assault without taking into account its mental equivalent), the occasions when there genuinely is no other choice available are likely much rarer than we imagine. Often we smack because it's so ingrained in our society as an appropriate response we don't think beyond it. No matter how loving the parent thinks they're being, the child's understanding and feelings about a situation is often entirely different.

Take for example the case of a child smacked for persisting in trying to play with an electrical socket. Children will often investigate dangerous things because adults have drawn attention to them and infused them with a thrilling quality. Any attempt to dissuade the child simply has the effect of reinforcing the special status of the object so the child is ultimately punished for paying attention to what was being drawn to their attention in the first place. Very young children don't understand abstract concepts and indirect references, so a young child smacked for playing with an electrical socket doesn't learn that the socket is dangerous, since the socket didn't harm him. He learns that his parent or caregiver is dangerous.

Yet smacking seems in some ways the least of our worries. It's just a symptom, and one of many. It's the culture that gives rise to it and perpetuates it that's the seat of the problem, and legislation to ban smacking won't change that one whit. No more than perpetually treating symptoms addresses the cause of a physical illness.

Although by no means unique to Britain, violence and intimidation have been hallmarks of British culture for centuries. It's how the British Empire was built. It's a culture that tends to think it's always in the right and has the god-given right to impose its way of life on other nations that it regards as inferior, which is frequently a high-minded gloss put on basic exploitation. These attitudes also find their expression in our everyday lives amongst ordinary, decent people and loving parents, although perhaps less obviously. Inadvertently we endorse its persistence because accepting that it's "good" for us (with a stiff upper lip) is one of the few ways to come to terms with our own childhood experiences.

The fact that Britain is one of the most child-unfriendly nations on the planet speaks volumes about how we value our children. Children instilled with a deep sense of worthlessness grow into adults who can only try to redress that feeling in whatever way they can, often by repeating the same patterns with workmates, subordinates, or with their own partners and children. And most often, without being in the least aware of what it is they're doing.

We learn by example. Children especially so, since they haven't yet learned to swallow the "do as I say not as I do" dictate. The use of violence and intimidation to enforce "discipline" and "respect" only teach that the use of violence and intimidation is an acceptable means of enforcing your opinion on someone else. How does a child learn the meaning of respect if they have little idea what it feels like to have their own thoughts and feelings respected? All that's learned in such a situation is that respect means always having to defer to someone else's opinions or feelings or that of some mythical societal consensus. And those parents that recognise and try to address this within their own homes are then up against an education system and a wider society where more traditional attitudes frequently prevail. Teachers who feel aggrieved at the lack of respect they receive from pupils should perhaps consider that they may be looking in the mirror. If they have no respect for themselves or for the children they teach, then how can they expect the children to reflect anything else back to them?

Genuine respect is something that's earned by being genuinely respectful to others. It's not something that's ours by right simply because of our age or position in society. (Children seem to understand this much better than adults.) As a culture, we are in thrall to our authority figures, either swallowing what they say hook, line and sinker no matter how ridiculous it might be, or busy setting ourselves up as authorities ourselves. We've been long and well drilled in marginalising our own instincts and opinions about situations in deference to the authoritative "expert" viewpoint. Yet we're also ready to tear those same authorities apart at the least crack in the façade as inner resentment over such patent inequality erupts through the thin veneer of civilisation. No wonder that our teenagers are so ready to use violence and intimidation as they struggle with the transition to earning some respect for themselves. They're not the ones to be singled out for being in the wrong – shooting the messengers never solved a problem yet.

To those that say "this didn't happen in the old days!", well indeed. And the reason it didn't happen so much was that the degree of intimidation was generally much greater. In Victorian times, for instance, children were expected to be seen and not heard; their natural exhuberance and inquisitiveness silenced and their spirit squashed. And while subsequent generations have been less totalitarian, many of those attitudes still prevail. Which is why so many adults today accept authority without question and are so susceptible to the fear-mongering tactics of governments promoting an altogether different agenda to the one on their public face.

Personally, I don't blame today's teenagers for their lack of respect for the adult world. It's so lacking in respect, what is there to respect? Liberalism hasn't caused this. It's simply allowed it to come to the surface and be seen for what it is. How can we set any kind of moral example to our kids when the US President and the British Prime Minister – the supposed pillars of our society – invade other countries on the basis of a monstrous lie? And we let them. How can children be expected not to bully their peers when they're being so comprehensively bullied by adults? They're not stupid, today's kids. They see through that one and others like it far more readily than the older generations who have the party line embedded way too far down our throats. Their behaviour is a clear mirror to our society of all the ills we've kept firmly nailed under the carpet for generation upon generation. Complaining about the quality of the nails and demanding that they're strengthened and lengthened isn't the solution. This stuff shouldn't be nailed under the carpet to begin with.

We need to learn to respect each other and value each other as fellow human beings, regardless of age or position or education or origin, and whether we agree with each others' feelings and opinions or not. It's the basic right of every individual to form and express their feelings and opinions, and diversity of opinion and perspective is healthy and leads to greater understanding. If that right is acknowledged from a fundamental state of agreeableness, then there is no need to fight for some superficial facsimile of agreement. Or to seek to impose opinions on others to redress the balance for what's been denied. Or to try to silence feelings and opinions that speak of what lies in shadow. If nothing is repressed or denied, then nothing is condemned to compulsion and acting out. We are free to choose.

The American Constitution once enshrined a sense of a just and respectful society (before it became so systematically subverted and shredded as to become a mockery of itself). It was patterned on the form of government of Native American confederacies who knew how to live those principles and what it meant to live them. Which is why so many were so comprehensively massacred by the white man who's thinly disguised barbaric nature, suppressed and denied behind the drapes of "civilisation", only equipped him to act out in denial rather than take those principles to heart.

These values are not something that can be imposed, because the very act of imposition is in contravention of them. They can only come from a heart-felt respect for the rights of all, taught by example from the cradle or realised through learning the lessons of experience.

January 27 2006 | | | Permalink

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William Blake's The Ancient of Days, 1794

" Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face. "
Jorge Luis Borges

" We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us. "
Rabindranath Tagore

" A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. "
Albert Einstein

January 10 2006

Solve et coagula

Came across an interesting blog entry from Suzanne Taylor in The Conversation on alchemy, animism and the inner vs. outer manifestation of the spiritual dimension of existence. She quotes a piece which suggests that in psychodynamic terms "the gods, deities and spirits have become our modern day dis-eases, ... the formal cause of our afflictions". Have added this comment to her thread, culled in part from comments I've made elsewhere in this site.

A complex subject to unravel. A few points seem worth making here before going any further.

The first is that any description of reality that’s ever been produced is just that. A description, a map, or a model of it. It’s reality as we perceive it, and has consensual validity only insofar as others agree that it successfully models their experience of it too, or can be persuaded to accept it as such. It’s not reality itself, even though we tend to live our lives for most of the time as if that's the case. That distinction needs to be kept in mind. All too often the map gets mistaken for the territory, or far worse, is given precedence over it. (Most of the unspeakable brutality of which we’re all capable arises from a desire to enforce a particular view of reality on those who don’t share it.)

The second is that an impartial view of the evidence would seem to suggest that reality itself doesn't appear to favour any one view over any other. It cheerfully supports diametrically opposing viewpoints on all sorts of things to do with it, and obligingly offers up proof after proof to their proponents that enables them all to lay claim to validity. Every person alive has a valid view of reality. It may not be a view that’s shared by many others, but that doesn’t render it invalid or “wrong”. “Right” and “wrong” aren’t absolutes carved into the fabric of existence. They’re simply shorthand for “things that me and people who think like me agree with” and “things that me and people who think like me don’t agree with”.

The third is that it's the old story of the popup launcher icon blind men and the elephant. So if we want to discover the whole elephant, any half-way decent attempt to construct a robust model of the nature of existence needs to accommodate as much as possible of that existence. This means encompassing the full range of human experience and knowledge in every field through all times, rather than flitting from one limited subset of it to another, disdainfully dismissing the remainder as somehow irrelevant or inadmissible, or the product of presumed “inferior” minds in past times or technologically unsophisticated cultures. All that’s doing is perpetually moving around to different parts of the elephant with an elephantine measure of arrogance in tow.

So what we’re talking about here in the charting of the decline of animistic and alchemical beliefs is only shifting perceptions, changing models, that have the appearance of being reflected in outer reality. For other societies, such as what remains of First Nation cultural viewpoints on all continents, the perception of the immanence of life still remains. It’s not the world that’s de-spiritualised and de-animated, it’s our perception of it that’s become so. Conceptual exclusion of any aspect of existence will dis-ease us when we encounter evidence of what’s excluded. It doesn’t fit our idea of how things should be. In other words, the mythical gods are not the formal cause of our modern dis-ease. It’s our inability to recognise and integrate the spiritual dimension of existence and include it in our conceptual model of “reality” that is the cause of our dis-ease. In some ways it doesn’t much matter how we model it, because it will only ever be an approximation, an analogy; what matters is that we do.

Then comes the question of how we relate to it – ie. whether it resides “out there” or “in here”. This comes down to what we define as “self” and what we define as “other”. If what we define as “other” is, in fact, an aspect of “self”, then it becomes part of our (Jungian) shadow to be continually reflected back to us from “out there”, possibly bringing a measure of dis-ease in the process. If, as quantum physics (not to mention various mystical traditions) seem to suggest, the entirety of existence is fundamentally correlated and the “individuality” of any part of it is only relative and contingent, then the distinction between “self” and “other” is conditional, not absolute. The realisation of that can release us from dis-ease. "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together" and even "I am He as you are He as you are me and we are all together".

Blasphemy? Consider this. Jung perceived that archetypes relegated to shadow are ones that are unconsciously acted out. The Judaeo-Christian foundations of our society have so comprehensively severed any aspect of divinity from “self” that it becomes hopelessly inevitable that we will unconsciously act out in a god-like way. This brings our arrogance, our superiority, our conviction that our view is “right”, and tendency to imagine we have some god-given right to impose those views on every other culture on the planet into sharp relief. Cultures who recognise the spark of divinity inherent in every lifeform don’t need to act out in this way, which pretty much consigns them to being stamped out by the likes of us. As a culture we in the industrialised nations of the west have been, and continue to be, guilty of crimes against other lifeforms that make Hitler look like a pussy cat and our illusions of moral superiority quite dreadful distortions. Yet contrary to expectations, transcending the somewhat illusory nature of the distinction between “self” and “other” and accepting our divine attributes brings about a deep humility. It no longer becomes necessary to act out.

How “real” is any of this? Perhaps it’s like Borges said (below).

January 10 2006 | | | Permalink

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Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986

“ Let us admit what all idealists admit – the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done – let us search for unrealities that confirm that nature. I believe we shall find them in the antinomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno ... 'The greatest wizard (Novalis writes memorably) would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of accepting his own phantasmagorias as autonomous apparitions. Wouldn't that be our case.' I surmise it is so. We (that indivisible divinity that operates in us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it as enduring, mysterious, visible, omnipresent in space and stable in time; but we have consented to tenuous and eternal intervals of illogicalness in its architecture that we might know it is false. ”
Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions

Gremlins Wee folk

January 05 2006

Daft days

After writing the previous entry, this lovely quote from Borges (left) came to mind. It was also very timely in view of a few "tenuous and eternal intervals of illogicalness" in the architecture of our reality that were making themselves felt, and the fact that it all coincided with what in Scotland used to be called the "Daft Days" around Christmas and New Year when the established order would traditionally be turned on its head for a succession of riotous celebrations.

My daughter has been "losing" some things in her room, some of which turned up again today. All of us have been through the third degree as she was convinced it had to be one of us, but nobody goes into her room because we've simply no reason to, and nobody had.

Just how many of us, I wonder, have seemingly misplaced items we were convinced we left in a certain place, only to find them turning up somewhere else in the vicinity some time later when it's quite impossible for them to have done so by any "ordinary" means? A generation ago country people would have just smiled and muttered something about the "wee folk", but these days we're inclined to put it down to personal mental aberrations, or family members playing tricks and telling lies about it, etc. But sometimes none of those explanations quite fit. Of course it would be nice and comforting if there were a simple and obvious explanation, but sometimes there isn't.

When I moved house just over a year ago, I spent a few days going back to our old house to clean up for the new owners. One afternoon I was finishing up for the day when I noticed the mud and shoe-rubber marks on the wall by the front door where the shoe rack had been. I decided to clean that off before I left and fetched the scouring cream from the bathroom, squeezed some out onto a damp sponge, and made pretty quick work of it. I wiped off the wall, washed out the sponge and cloth, left the scouring cream by the kitchen sink, and left. The next day I came back to carry on. The scouring cream was just where I left it by the sink. Except it wasn't scouring cream. It was washing-up liquid. Same brand, same container, very similar label, but washing-up liquid – clear translucent washing-up liquid, not white creamy scouring cream. Also a broom I'd left in the hall wasn't there any more. My first thought was that my ex-partner had been in, though his post was still there which seemed a bit strange if he had. I phoned him. He hadn't been near the place. Nobody else had a key.

I searched the house all over (pretty easy: it was empty) and no scouring cream came to light. For a brief moment I doubted my sanity and wondered if I could possibly have used washing up liquid on the wall (even though I wouldn't have dreamed of doing so because it wouldn't have removed those rubber marks, and even though I'd known it was scouring cream from squeezing it out on the sponge), but running a finger over the wall I found scouring cream residue that I hadn't completely wiped away.

The next day I brought some more scouring cream from my new house along with some other cleaning materials in a bucket and left it in the kitchen while I cleaned up elsewhere. When I came back into the room about an hour later it had disappeared, though this time it wasn't replaced by anything. The dustpan and brush that I'd left on the kitchen floor had also vanished. I looked all around the area I'd left it, but nothing. By this time I was quite incredulous and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I walked into the centre of the house and called out to whatever mischief-makers were within earshot could I please have my dustpan and brush, broom and scouring cream back.

I went off to do something else then came back into the kitchen. There was the dustpan and brush, just where I'd left it before. I went out into the hall and there was the broom, just where it had been 2 days earlier. No scouring cream. But later, when I went back to my new house, there was the scouring cream under the bathroom sink where it belonged. The washing-up liquid never changed back into scouring cream though. I still have it. Just in case one day ...

The way all this happened left me no option but to conclude (short of diagnosing myself barking mad, which you're at liberty to do of course!) that "reality" is not quite what we take it to be.

There'd been other instances while we lived in that house, like the time we'd all gone out with the children and their grandparents on a chilly April day to a local indoor adventure playground and my coat had gone missing from the pile by our table. When we got home it was hanging up on its usual peg. Going out on a chilly April day in Scotland without a coat is not an option. It's just something I'd never do. Ever. And I knew I'd taken it off and put it in the pile with everyone else's. But on that occasion, since nobody else could remember whether I'd been wearing it or not, there didn't seem any choice but to succumb to the logic implied by the coat on the peg.

It seemed like all the shenanigans with the cleaning materials happened just as we were leaving to tell me that I hadn't been mistaken after all. And since talking about it to other people, it's amazing how many have come out with similar incidences, equally or even more improbable and unexplainable. Whether it's mischievous "gremlins" or wee folk, or cracks in reality's façade, who knows? All I know is that all is not as it seems. And I do like its sense of humour.

(For more thoughts on Borges' assertions, see the essay Holed in One.)

January 05 2006 | | | Permalink

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Dr Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). Image W Howard

Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of Homeopathy

“ The highest ideal of cure is rapid, gentle and permanent restoration of health, or removal and annihilation of disease in its whole extent, in the shortest, most reliable, and most harmless way, on easily comprehensible principles. ”
Samuel Hahnemann, Organon of Medicine, 1842

“ The poets did well to conjoin music and medicine, because the office of medicine is but to tune the curious harp of man's body. ”
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

“ Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it. ”
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

January 03 2006

Curative amnEASYa

A while back I was talking to a colleague who was expressing frustration and incomprehension at how it is that even people who've had some of her best and most successful homeopathic prescriptions still go running back to their MDs/GPs next time something's amiss, and only come back to her after a series of prescriptions have failed to address the problem and it's become more intractable in the process. It's probably something that most homeopaths have experienced at one point or another, at least in countries where the biomedical model predominates, and it does seem a bit puzzling.

After all, the best prescriptions fulfill all Hahnemann's criteria (left) for cure which, by general standards, are pretty stringent. Surely something so comprehensively effective would impress even the most hardened sceptic and be enough to elevate homeopathy into the position of first choice when it next became necessary to seek medical attention, as well as providing just the sort of data evidence-based medicine requires? Not so in every case, it seems. So what's happening here?

It's something I'd thought about off and on until I had first hand experience just before Christmas which threw a spotlight on the issue.

I started to come down with a succession of symptoms which told me a major cold was on its way. I get one every 2-3 years and this one felt like it was shaping up to fairly monstrous proportions. First there was the cold sore, then the loss of energy and vague nausea, then the sinus headaches with that peculiar pregnant sensation in the sinuses which warns you that in a few hours' time you're going to be drowning in exceedingly large quantities of catarrh. Usually I somehow manage to forget to treat myself, but on this occasion the prospect of being floored by a bad cold in the run-up to Christmas with all the school plays, carol services, choir concerts, shopping, etc, etc, was enough to get me out of bed (where I was trying unsuccessfully to sleep off the sinus headache) and onto the computer to run my symptoms through the remedy-selection process. The remedy was blazingly obvious – just as well since I could barely see straight, let alone think. I took a single Phosphorus 200C, crawled back into bed, and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up a few hours later, the headache had gone and so had the pregnant sinuses. I made myself a hot drink and got an early night. By the next morning I was back to normal and even the remnants of the cold sore had disappeared. My state had completely changed and I just got up and on with my life as if nothing had happened. It took me a full 12 hours to get round to thinking about how I'd been feeling the previous day, at which point I was marvelling at my lucky escape, and another few hours after that to finally remember that I'd taken a remedy for it!

Clang! The penny dropped. If even a homeopathic practioner had been capable of forgetting that she'd taken a remedy and experienced the highest ideal of cure, what hope was there for those whose lives don't involve living and working with homeopathy on a daily basis? It had all been just too easy. My state had changed. There was nothing that remained to remind me of the previous state I'd been in and therefore it simply didn't impinge in any way on my consciousness.

Then thinking back to other times when I'd managed to get it together to find a remedy for myself in similar acute situations, I realised there had been a fair few such occasions. There was the time when I'd been very much under the weather and had dreamed of meeting an old and respected figure from homeopathic history who told me to take Rhus toxicodendron! I was highly sceptical (even though describing my state as "under the weather" should have rung peals of bells had I been in any state to think), but when I looked up my symptoms, it was the indicated remedy. It worked brilliantly.

So why, with all this good and powerful experience under my belt (not to mention the number of times I've witnessed it in action in others) doesn't it instantly occur to me to treat myself homeopathically whenever I fall ill? Perhaps it has something to do with Michel de Montaigne's assertion (left), and with the fact that under stress we tend to revert to knee-jerk conditioned behaviour rather than a plan of action derived from an intelligent assessment of past remedial strategies. For those who's conditioned reaction is to go consult their GP/MD, then that's what they do.

This "curative amnesia" also seems to be reflected in the number of patients who never return for follow-up consultations after first coming to a homeopath. When I first started in practice, I used to think all the non-returners were my dismal failures, but many of them subsequently came back months, sometimes years later to report that they simply got better and forgot all about their return visits. (This is something that no doubt a lot of homeopaths will recognise.) After realising this, I took to making it plain to people that they didn't need to worry about coming back if they got better, but that it would be very nice to know they'd got better. It hasn't made an ounce of difference. Once consciousness of the state disappears, it disappears.

Experiencing it for myself first hand like this brought to mind J T Kent's (a well-known 19th/early 20th century homeopath) comment about symptoms being essentially something that impinge on our awareness (unfortunately I can't lay my hands on chapter and verse right now). Also brought to mind an article I'd recently read which threw into sharp relief just how little of our existence and behaviour is governed by our rational intellect (see the article Unscientific Attachment for another angle on this):

"Burgeoning understanding of our unconscious has deeply personal and also fascinating medical implications. The realization that our actions may not be the pristine results of our high-level reasoning can shake our faith in the strength of such cherished values as free will, a capacity to choose, and a sense of responsibility over those choices. [...] According to cognitive neuroscientists, we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depends on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness."

Just 5%. Leaving 95% not only unexplained but unregistered. So much for our precious intellect. In this context, the much-vaunted aims of evidence-based medicine do start to look a little less glowingly straightforward than they might first appear.

January 03 2006 | | | Permalink

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smeddum.net – Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard