Tag Archives: homeopathy

Memory-Withered Opinions

Those of us that are older have had the experience of enthusiastically performing a physical task or sport which we have not done for years.  And to our surprise, we find out that though our minds may remember the actions, we may not have the strength or the coordination that we expected — we were deceived by our old memories and our self-image.  And over the next days we suffer for our false images.  In our imagination we are sometimes still that athlete or that strong kid — but our bodies prove our imagination to be a liar.

In a similar way, many of us have strong, confident opinions based on subjects studied many years ago.  But like the body, the mind atrophies and memory fades.  We learn this when someone asks us to defend our positions on topics we once knew well.  Our opinions may be strong but our detailed memories are disturbingly withered.

This withering is obvious with foreign languages.  I also experience this when writing about various religions on this blog –one of my graduate school concentrations. Likewise here are other series I have started but which required more work than I imagined to finish and thus only come back to them occasionally:

As I write on these topics — inspired by strong, certain opinions — I quickly recognize the atrophy of memory and detailed examples I need to support my opinions. I use to have shelves of books on each topic with plentiful notes in the margins at my fingertips.  But I have given most of them all away over the years and am now dependent on scouring the internet for examples.

When we visit blogs where writers are currently immersed in their area of opinion — be that Christianity or any other issue — we may discover that though we have strong opinions, our  supportive memory on these topics have withered.  What do we do then?

This persistence of opinion even though knowledge withers is a natural, adaptive phenomena.  As with all undesigned functions of mind, they come with pros-and-cons.  Here are some:

Pros

(a) Life moves fast, we often have to learn, make decisions and move one.  Insights often stay true.

(b) Most of us don’t have persistent memories so we must decide while we have the experience.

(c) Knowledge may wither but insights into principles often hold true.

Cons

(a) The data may have changed

(b) At the time of the decision you lacked data

(c) At the time of the decision you had influences that biased your decisions

(d) Your past decision was wrong

Questions for Readers:

  1. Have you experienced this phenomena?  What do you feel about it?  Is it difficult to admit?  Are you patient with others when you recognize that they need time to recollect data to participate helpfully in the discussion?
  2. Which post series would you like to see me persist with even if my data has withered?

Related Post:  Depth & Complexity Deception: How our minds give us false confidence.

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Depth & Complexity Deception

Walking over an open grate is scary for most children and even some adults.  Even though part of the brain understands that the grate is secure, part of the brain is reflexively scared by the vision of depth.

Likewise, swimming in deep water can be more scary than swimming shallow water for similar reasons — even if you can see the bottom.  Part of the brain knows that you won’t “fall” to the deep bottom, but another part reflexively fears a fall.  Depth is reflexively feared and respected and that “depth” can be perceived in terms of both quantity or complexity.

Astrology, Buddhism, Homeopathy, Biblical Studies, and Evolution all share something in common: depth. Volumes of material are written on these subjects. You could fill your walls with impressive book titles on these topics.   These deep walls of information protect your beliefs.  For if someone told you that your beliefs were nonsense, your mind would flash a picture of libraries of counter arguments — not the specific arguments, mind you, but just the image of a deep layers of books. This is one version of depth deception — depth of quantity. It is the illusion that if something you embrace has lots of fellow believers and writers, it must have believable substance.  And depth illusion can also be caused by deep complexity.

Astrology is complicated — it has deep complexity.  Sure, the average astrology fan only occasionally reads superficial daily horoscopes, but enthusiastic believers use complex computer programs to generate sophisticated charts showing the intricate alignment of planet positions and influences. Smart people write these programs. The different perspectives and calculations needed for making an accurate ‘scientific’ reading is mind-bogglingly deep.  This is depth of complexity. It takes lots of time to learn this highly detailed material. In doing all this, the believer’s mind uses such depth in and of itself to support  the believer’s confidence, even if Astrology is complete nonsense.

Believers are usually unaware that depth deception is strengthening their emotional resolve to protect their beliefs. We all do it.

Question to Readers:  Have you ever wondered if your book collection itself offers you more support in your beliefs than they deserve?

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Why do you reject Homeopathy?

Sometimes it is OK just to reject something without seeking any deep understanding.  We run into these situations all the time.  Life is too short to spend time examining every suggestion that comes in front of us.

On the other hand, relying on our intuitions to find truth has been shown often to be grossly erroneous.  Ouch, what are we to do?

Homeopathy is practiced by thousands of practitioners and has millions of patients.  Skeptics usually dismiss Homeopathy for very simple reasons (listed by most common to least common):

  • Tribal Doubt:  None of the people you respect think homeopathy is valid.  You trust those in your circle.  Other skeptics think homeopathy is hogwash and so do you.   Besides, you have seen the sort of folks that flock to homeopathy — they flock to a bunch of equally ridiculous notions and aren’t to be trusted.
  • Mechanism Doubt: You can’t imagine how any medicine could work which is diluted beyond hope of having even one molecule of active ingredient.  You haven’t read any of the explanations given by homeopaths to support this crazy notion but you know whatever reason they give has to be ridiculous.
  • Smattering of Science:  You’ve heard of a few studies from what you consider highly reliable sources that claim no evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy and you have no reason to doubt them.
But a few skeptics have taken time to understand the issue:
  • Lots of Science: This is hard.  You would have to be up on the pros and cons of lots of studies.  You may even have read extensively on the subject including sympathetic material and journal articles that claim to show homeopathic effectiveness.  You have thought through all the counter evidence and feel homeopathy is hogwash.

Most probably a given skeptic will have a combinations of these reasons.

Though I think it is fine to reject Homeopathy out of hand and move on.  In these posts, I will endulge the luxury to understand more deeply than simple rejection.  I hope to help interested readers to understand why people practice homeopathy and why millions of patients swear to its effectiveness.  So I am talking to those who are willing to consider not dismissing homeopathy out-of-hand, and instead make an effort to understand why others value it so strongly.   Hopefully I will take you beyond thinking that believers in Homeopathy are just unadulterated idiots — even if you still disagree with them.

Questions to readers:  What level is your sophistication in rejecting homeopathy (if you do)?  What level do you think most skeptics have?  [It should be obvious to readers, that a similar examination of levels-of-rejection approach could also be done for religions, politics, other types of medicine and more.]

See the rest of this series.

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Why I left Homeopathy

I saw lots of patients get better with homeopathy. Rashes disappeared, aches and pains resolved, phobias improved and energy levels went up. I even treated an infertile couple and within 6 months, they conceived their first child which they named after me!

But many patients would just not return after 3 or 4 treatments and I would never know if they improved or not.  And as I reflected on the cures, I saw that they were mostly on those with normally self-limited maladies or with vague symptoms.  From the beginning I was skeptic but my skepticism grew.

After practicing Homeopathy for two years, I decided to test my skepticism. I went through some 200 charts of patients I had managed by myself and did a tally of those with significant improvement, non-impressive improvement and no improvement. I also kept track of the severity of the condition and if I felt it was self-limited or had a large psychological component.

Many of you will be unsurprised to hear that about 30% of my patients showed significant improvement. This is the rate we expect with placebo — and I was not treating patients with serious illnesses like cancer, insulin dependent diabetes, congestive heart failure, parkinson disease or the like.

I used that chart review information to give myself the courage to quit the clinic. “Why courage?”, you may ask: I had invested a lot of myself in homeopathy–a certification program, lots of books, intense study, 2-years of clinical practice,  colleague study groups, debates with lots of folks. But mostly, I liked my mentor a great deal and respected him. He had invested a lot of time to train me and encourage me.  So it was hard to disappoint him. But he was gracious and I left Homeopathy and never returned.

Related Posts:

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My Homeopathy Credentials

To supplement my Homeopathy posts, I am giving this story of my Homeopathy background.

During my seven years in Japan I became a nationally licensed acupuncturist and herbalist.  I  ran my own clinic in Kyoto while simultaneously apprenticing in several other clinics.   During this time I realized I wanted to study Western medicine to supplement my Oriental medicine.  So I moved back the USA and entered Duke University’s Physician Assistant (PA) program. My ambition was to eventually find a group of Physicians to work with and combine the strengths of both “Eastern” and “Western” medicine.

While at Duke, I met an acupuncturist whose husband was a Zen priest.  We became friends and I would go to their house occasionally.  This acupuncturist also used homeopathy in her practice.  Up until then, I had not heard much about Homeopathy and here was a person I respected using it.  Being a very curious and exploratory person I slowly studied Homeopathy on my own even while studying in the PA program.  I would read several books and visit a Homeopathic clinic in the area.

I had planned to move to Seattle, Washington after PA school, so I arranged to have my last two medical rotations in the Seattle area:  one at an Emergency Department and the other at a Homeopathic clinic run by two MDs.  I could not believe Duke allowed me to go on that rotation.

Both the Homeopathy clinic and the ER rotations offered me jobs in Seattle after I graduated and I took both jobs at 30 hours each — I was very happy, I was able to pursue two different paths simultaneously.

The Homeopathy clinic was a two-doc private family practice clinic– husband and wife MDs.  Only homeopathic medicines were used in their clinic — absolutely no Western medicines or herbs. They were homeopathic purists.  No insurances were accepted, and all payments were cash.  Their clinic prospered!

I was hired under the condition that  I would be an apprentice for the first 3 months (not seeing my own patients) and I would have to finish a 180-hour up-coming Homeopathy Credentialing Program (one of three in the country at that time.)

The Certification program met on weekends for 3 months and was great fun.  Lots of bright energetic students — mostly Naturopaths and a few physicians.  We had several lecturers and lots of study.  I was fortunate that during the week days I was also seeing patients so the knowledge stuck more easily.

After those first 3-4 months I was able to see patients on my own but each of my interviews with new patients had to be video recorded and reviewed by the two physicians over lunch so as to criticize my interviewing techniques and to help in the choosing of a remedy (the Homeopathy term for “medications”) for the patient.  The training was intense.  The initial interviews with new patients typically lasted 1 1/2 hours.  Homeopaths in our school of homeopathy really got to know their patients!  I learned more about interviewing patients from my Homeopathy training than I ever have learned or seen in my Allopathic training.

After a year of that training, I now started seeing patients on my own without filming and review.  I now joining a group of local Naturopaths who met every month to discuss cases and do further study in Homeopathy — it was a great study group.  Two years after working at that clinic, I quit.  But that is another post.

See my Index Post:  Confessions of a Homeopath

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Medical Therapy Effectiveness

The chart below is not based on research — but instead, is my intuitive, personal estimates for dialogue purposes.  Nonetheless, I feel that exposing my basic intuitions graphically can makes dialogue easier.  Below the chart I will give a brief explanations for each of my evaluations.

Preliminary Notes:

Placebo Benefit:  Even if a treatment is ineffective, placebo is the know positive effect due to expectation of both the patient and the practitioner.  I have chosen 30% as the basic baseline of this effect placebo — a common choice.  But placebo effect is complex and it is not my purpose to discuss it here — thus, this too could be a large mistake on this chart.

Ignored Harm:  Sham and unnecessary treatment result in harms which I do not  count the following into the “harm” category above.  They are important to consider, of course, but for simplicity, I have left them out of my intuitive calculus.

a) financial harm
b) false-hope harm
c) postponing or avoiding correct treatment with a false treatment

Treatment Summaries:

  • Homeopathy:  It offers hours of personal psychological insights that may give it that potential of 5% over placebo baseline of 30%.  But most homeopathy (OTC) has no psychological treatment.
  • Acupuncture:   I am not sure where research is at present, but it may help for a few conditions.
  • Manipulation Therapy:  helps relieve pain for several conditions.
  • Energy Healers:  Ineffective – only placebo effect
  • Herbal Therapy:   Herbs are drugs, some benefit and some harm.  Most are taken in too little quantity  and for wrong purpose to keep actually.  Some are given badly and cause harm.
  • Faith Healing:    Ineffective — only placebo effect
  • Primary Care Medicine:   Harm is cause by wrong prescriptions, inappropriate prescribing, side effects of meds, and the cure being worse than the treatment — to name a few.
  • General Surgery:  Harm is done when surgery done unnecessarily, anesthesia deaths, inapproriate surgeries, surgical mistakes.

Conclusion:

Here are the important points I am trying to illustrate by this graph are:

  • Alternative folks tend to look at harm
  • Orthodox folks so distain alternative medicine, they don’t want anyone to even mention benefit — even if placebo.
  • Orthodox folks lump all alternative medicines into the same category. (this is an orthodoxy hallmark)
  • There is often a trade of risk of harm for benefit (we all choose differently)

If you’ll notice, my points in this post parallel points concerning conversation between religious folks and non-religious folks as seen in my previous post on the harm & benefit of religions.  The deadlock dialogue between camps is similar too.

Question to readers:  Tell me your own intuition of the numbers or what sort of graph you’d draw.  Give me your arguments.  I am ready to change.

Other related posts:

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Confessions of a Homeopath

I am a former Homeopath (Homeopathic medical practitioner – wiki). Below are the posts I have written about Homeopathy itself and about my experiences with Homeopathy.

Much of this blog is about religion, but the same parts of our mind that create our religions, creates our politics, our allegiances, our superstitions and even our pseudo-sciences (and “sciences”).

If you have particular questions let me know in the comments below and perhaps I will try to address them in a future post.

My related posts:

 

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Treat the patient, not the numbers

In Oriental Medicine and in Homeopathy, we would not run any laboratory tests before treating a patient.  Information was solely gathered by physical observation and the interview process.  So detailed and careful were those exams that they put Allopathic Medicine (“Modern Medicine”) to shame.  So, by the time I studied Allopathic Medicine in PA school (22 years ago), I was ready to learn that observing the patient in front of you is often more important than a measurement or lab test.

Below are a few classic examples:

High Blood Pressure

At my first job out of PA school in an ER, providers will still treating high blood pressure reflexively.  If a patient’s blood pressure was high, they popped a few pills into the patient to bring it down to “normal” quickly.  I had learned that such a practice was dangerous but it took me three months to get the ER staff to change their old habits.  If someone has had high blood pressure for a long time, they probably need that pressure to keep both their heart and brain perfused with blood.  We now know that lowering chronic hypertension abruptly can lead to ischemic disasters.

Low Oxygen Levels

Pulse Oximetry is a gentle finger clamp that uses a laser to measure how much oxygen is in your blood.  When these first came out, if someone had low oxygen levels, they reflexively supplemented their oxygen with an oxygen mask.   But ironically, if a pt has acute exacerbation of  Chronic Obstruction Pulmonary Disease (COPD) high levels of uncontrolled oxygen can result in respiratory failure!  For unlike healthy patients whose respiratory reflex is triggered by high CO2 levels, in these patients it is low O2 levels that trigger the response which you can blunt by supplying uncontrolled oxygen – thus ironically killing someone using oxygen.  This problem was later solved with special delivery systems.

High Temperature

The old school ideology was that body temperature needs to be brought down to normal range.  In Japan and China, a person with a fever is made to sweat more — their high temperature is raise further.  The body produces a fever to kill bacteria.  It is true that only some organism are killed or slowed down by high body temperatures and that the response is non-specific, but you should usually give fever a chance to work.  But in the ERs where I first worked, nurses would not give blankets to patients with fevers even if they had the chills in fear of raising their temperature.  And they would always give Tylenol or Motrin for any temperature over 100 deg C.  It took me 1 year to get that practice changed.  I had to print out article after research article and finally present them to the medical group.

Well, those are only a few examples to a principle which I will quote in an up-coming post.

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Related Posts:

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