“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would be such as oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
In a piece on his website under the title “Can we afford to be so superficial?“, Prof George Vithoulkas writes in highly condemnatory terms about a proving of Thiosinamine he’s received from Manchester’s North West College of Homeopathy. The target of his derision is the assertion in the proving documentation that people involved with the proving, but who had not actually taken the remedy themselves, produced symptoms of the remedy.
He writes, “It is unbelievable that in our times due to the new ideas by new teachers people have come to believe such trash.” And goes on to say, “It is really pathetic that somebody managed to persuade quite a few of the poor novices in homeopathy that the symptoms of those with placebo can belong also to the proving of the remedy through a metaphysical medium!”
Yet when we are dealing with a form of medicine which has no properties pertaining to physical substance, when it is – according to Hahnemann himself – immaterial substance, then what we are dealing with is, by definition, a metaphysical medium!
The assertion in the North West College’s proving documentation is a phenomenon that’s repeatedly observed and well documented in provings from Jeremy Sherr onward. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with new teachers beguiling their students, but with solid, replicable and demonstrable evidence, discovered and experienced again and again by students, qualified homeopaths, and homeopathic pharmacists alike who are involved with provings. Such observations require proper investigation, and if that means questioning and reassessing our foundational assumptions in the light of new evidence, then that’s what’s required. That’s the cornerstone of the scientific method after all. The map is not the territory. It’s only a map. And if the map proves deficient, then it needs to be redrawn. This is how Hahnemann discovered homeopathy in the first place.
Vithoulkas’s argument rests on the differentiation between remedy and placebo, viz “In a proving you have the same or similar symptoms of those with verum with those with placebo, the logical conclusion should be that such symptoms do not belong to the remedy but rather to the environmental or circumstantial or to psychological conditions (hysteria, ecstasy, fear, anxiety etc.) but surely not to the remedy!”
Hahnemann’s original provings did not feature placebo controls, so there really is little established precedent for their use in homeopathy. They are a modern transplantation from the biomedical model, based on the assumptions of materialist science and, as is now being found repeatedly, are of marginal – if any – use in homeopathic provings. (See Walach, H, Sherr, J, et al, Homeopathic proving symptoms: result of a local, non-local, or placebo process? A blinded,placebo-controlled pilot study. Homeopathy (2004) 93, 179–185.) Moreover, to base our materia medica on an assumption so recently grafted onto homeopathy seems somewhat inconsistent with Prof Vithoulkas’s avowed classical affiliations.
Prof Vithoulkas’s enormous contributions to homeopathy are not in doubt, but since his language here betrays an emotional, rather than rational, basis for his argument (a well-reasoned and supported argument has no need of words like “trash” and “pathetic”), perhaps we should reflect the question back to the man who posed it and ask “can we afford to be so superficial?” as to put the interests of pursuing scientific principles in homeopathy in second place to one man’s desire for mainstream acceptance?