This weekend I was sorting through dozens and dozens of my old Japanese Oriental Medicine (OM) texts that I hope to sell to clear up my basement shelves –anyone interested? :-) One of those OM texts was the 傷寒論 (Treatise on Cold Injury), a classic Chinese text. As I flipped through its pages, I reminisced of my OM days and of the many of the controversies between the various schools of OM.
Comparing different cultures, languages, governments, religions and medical philosophies has taught me much about the human mind. By the time I studied Oriental Medicine (OM), I had already left Christianity. So I had one clear model in my head of how people fight over “orthodoxy”. But when I began my Oriental Medical studies, I had no idea that there would be controversy here too. I naively did not expect to find many different, contrary schools of thought. I had instead hoped, in my perennial idealism, to find “true” medicine — real knowledge of the natural wisdom of the body (arrrghhh, that was painful to write, but that was once me). Anyway, I soon found out that OM was as divided as Christendom. What humored me was watching how each school of thought berated the others — I had seen this somewhere — oh, yeah, in Christianity.
Just as lineage is important to many Christians, I found it in OM too. Heck, I saw lineage stressed in all the Japanese and Chinese schools: martial arts, tea ceremony, Ikebana, calligraphy, Buddhism, Shintoism. The mistaken notion of “older is better and wiser” was a common fallacy employed. It struck me as particularly funny in medicine where it would seem that empirical results would be all that mattered. But careful empirical results were not tested in OM. Thus, without measurable verification, a plethora of dogmatic, contrary schools of thought can survive for centuries — both in OM and Christianity or in any of the schools mentioned above.
Controversies in OM include Yin-Yang theory, Five Element Theory, Channel Theory and many more. In addition to controversial theories, controversy over source material is also common. As I browsed the Treatise on Cold Injury I again saw pages discussing the controversy of “correct translation” of the text. For just as in Christianity, since older is better, then a correct translation of an older text [scripture] takes us back closer to the truth. Oh how common are the foibles of all cultures. But when you don’t have empirical testing, lineage and revelation are important life rafts.
Comparative studies are a fantastic way to see behind our assumptions and to begin to understand how humans “think”. But for people who never leave Kansas, this may be hard to imagine.