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বৃহস্পতিবার, ৩১ ডিসেম্বর, ২০১৫

Philosophy on Viral Force (collection)

A Close Look at Naturopathy

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Naturopathy, sometimes referred to as "natural medicine," is a largely pseudoscientific approach said to "assist nature" [1], "support the body's own innate capacity to achieve optimal health" [2], and "facilitate the body's inherent healing mechanisms." [3] Naturopaths assert that diseases are the body's effort to purify itself, and that cures result from increasing the patient's "vital force." They claim to stimulate the body's natural healing processes by ridding it of waste products and "toxins." At first glance, this approach may appear sensible. However, a close look will show that naturopathy's philosophy is simplistic and that its practices are riddled with quackery [4].
The notion of a "vital force" or "life force"—a nonmaterial force that transcends the laws of chemistry and physics—originated in ancient times. Historians call it the doctrine of vitalism. No scientific evidence supports this doctrine, but a huge body of knowledge, including the entire discipline of organic chemistry, refutes it. Vitalistic practitioners maintain that diseases should be treated by "stimulating the body's ability to heal itself" rather than by "treating symptoms." Homeopaths, for example, claim that illness is due to a disturbance of the body's "vital force," which they can correct with special remedies, while many acupuncturists claim that disease is due to imbalance in the flow of "life energy" (chi or Qi), which they can balance by twirling needles in the skin. Many chiropractors claim to assist the body's "Innate Intelligence" by adjusting the patient's spine. Naturopaths speak of "Vis Medicatrix Naturae." Ayurvedic physicians refer to "prana." And so on. The "energies" postulated by vitalists cannot be measured by scientific methods.
According to a comprehensive report presented to the United States Congress in 1970 by the now-defunct National Association of Naturopathic Physicians (NANP):
Naturopathy . . . is the technique of treatment of human disease which emphasizes assisting nature. It can embrace minor surgery and the use of nature's agencies, forces, processes, and products, introducing them to the human body by any means that will produce health-yielding results.
Naturopathy is based upon the tendency of the body to maintain a balance and to heal itself. The purpose of naturopathic medicine is to further this process by using natural remedies . . . as distinct from "orthodox" medicine (allopathy and osteopathy), which seeks to combat disease by using remedies which are chosen to destroy the causative agent or which produce effects different from those produced by the disease treated. . . .
Naturopathy places priority upon these conditions as the bases for ill health: (1) lowered vitality; (2) abnormal composition of blood and lymph; (3) maladjustment of muscles, ligaments, bones, and neurotropic disturbances; (4) accumulation of waste matter and poison in the system; (5) germs, bacteria, and parasites which invade the body and flourish because of toxic states which may provide optimum conditions for their flourishing; and (6) consideration of hereditary influences, and (7) psychological disturbances.
In applying naturopathic principles to healing, the practitioner may administer one or more specified physiological, mechanical, nutritional, manual, phytotherapeutic, or animal devices or substances. The practitioner's end aim is to remove obstacles to the body's normal functioning, applying natural forces to restore its recuperative facilities. Only those preparations and doses which act in harmony with the body economy are utilized, to alter perverse functions, cleanse the body of its catabolic wastes, and promote its anabolic processes [1].
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) has stated that "naturopathic medicine has its own unique body of knowledge, evolved and refined for centuries" and is "effective in treating all health problems, whether acute or chronic." [5] According to a 1989 AANP brochure:
The main difference [between naturopathic and conventional medicine] is in philosophic approach. Naturopathic physicians treat patients by restoring overall health rather than suppressing a few key symptoms. Naturopathic physicians are more concerned with finding the underlying cause of a condition and applying treatments that work in alliance with the natural healing mechanisms of the body rather than against them. Naturopathic treatments result less frequently in adverse side effects, or in the chronic conditions that inevitably arise when the cause of disease is left untreated." [6]
Naturopaths offer treatment at their offices. A few operate spas where patients may reside for several weeks. Their offerings include fasting, "natural food" diets, vitamins, herbs, tissue minerals, homeopathic remedies, cell salts, manipulation, massage, exercise, colonic enemas, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, natural childbirth, minor surgery, and applications of water, heat, cold, air, sunlight, and electricity. Radiation may be used for diagnosis, but not for treatment. Many of these methods are said to "detoxify" the body. Some states permit naturopaths to prescribe various drugs that are listed in a formulary maintained or authorized by their licensing board.

What's Wrong with the Above Picture?

Scientific research has identified measurable, causative factors and specific methods of preventing and/or treating hundreds of health problems. Naturopaths have done little more than create glib generalities. The above theories are simplistic and/or clash with science-based knowledge of body physiology and pathology. For example:
  • "Balance," "vitality," and "harmony with the body" are vitalistic concepts. Like "optimal health" or "supporting" of the body, these concepts are vague and cannot be objectively measured or scientifically tested.
  • Naturopaths pretend that precise medical treatment is less important than "maintaining body balance."
  • Whether infectious disease occurs depends on the degree of exposure to an infectious organism, the virulence of the organism, and the body's ability to resist. A person does not need to be "toxic" or "imbalanced" in order to catch a cold.
  • Some diseases are an inevitable result of genetic make-up. Others have little to do with hereditary factors.
  • The general concept of treating disease by "strengthening the immune system" is unsubstantiated and clashes with the fact that in some conditions, such as allergies or autoimmune diseases, the immune system is overreactive.
  • Naturopathy's claim that "natural methods" can treat cancer by strengthening the immune system is unsubstantiated, and the notion that cancer represents a failure of the immune system is simplistic [7]. In the late 1950s, it was hypothesized that the immune system guards against cancer cells in ways similar to its protection against infectious organisms. However, subsequent research has demonstrated that relationships between cancers and the immune system are highly complex and that successful tumors develop "tolerance" mechanisms that enable them to invade the body without activating immune responses that would destroy them. The rapidly developing science of cancer immunotherapy is aimed at detecting and defeating these mechanisms. One way might be to mobilize T- cells to attack and destroy cancers, but this will not be simple to do [8]. Merely increasing the number of such cells won't work. Thus the odds that any dietary measure, herb, or other "alternative" approach will solve the problem of cancer by increasing immune surveillance should be regarded as zero.
Naturopaths assert that their "natural" methods, when properly used, rarely have adverse effects because they do not interfere with the individual's inherent healing abilities. This claim is nonsense. Any medication (drug or herb) potent enough to produce a therapeutic effect is potent enough to cause adverse effects. Drugs should not be used (and would not merit FDA approval) unless the probable benefit is significantly greater than the probable risk. Moreover, medically used drugs rarely "interfere with the healing processes." The claim that scientific medical care "merely eliminates or suppresses symptoms" is both absurd and pernicious.
Most of the things naturopaths do have not been scientifically substantiated; and some—such as homeopathy—clearly are worthless. In many cases, naturopaths combine sensible dietary advice (based on medically proven strategies) with senseless recommendations for products.

A Brief History

Modern-day naturopathy can be traced to the concepts of Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), Benedict Lust (1872-1945), Henry Lindlahr (1853-1925), Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955), and John H. Tilden, M.D. (1851-1940). Father Kneipp, a German priest, opened a "water cure" center after becoming convinced that he and a fellow student had cured themselves of tuberculosis by bathing in the Danube River. Kneipp also developed herbal methods using whole plants. Lust, also German, was treated by Kneipp and in 1892 was commissioned to establish Kneipp's practices in the United States. In 1895, he opened the Kneipp Water-Cure Institute in New York City and began forming Kneipp Societies whose members had been using Kneipp's methods or other "drugless therapies." Subsequently, he acquired degrees in osteopathy, chiropractic, homeopathic medicine, and eclectic medicine [9].
In 1901, Lust organized a national convention and chaired a committee that endorsed the use of massage, herbs, homeopathy, spinal manipulation, and various types of occult healing. In 1902, he purchased the rights to the term "naturopathy" from John H. Scheel, another Kneipp disciple, who had coined it in 1895. That same year, he began referring to himself as a naturopath, opened the American Institute of Naturopathy, and replaced the Kneipp Societies with a national naturopathic organization. Lindlahr further systematized naturopathy and opened a sanitarium and a school in a Chicago suburb. Macfadden popularized exercise and fasting. Tilden contributed notions about "auto-intoxication" (said to be caused by fecal matter remaining too long in the intestines) and "toxemia" (alleged to be "the basic cause of all diseases"). [10]
Naturopathy's grandiose claims attracted the sharp pen of Morris Fishbein, M.D., who edited the Journal of the American Medical Association and spearheaded the AMA's antiquackery campaign for several decades. He noted:
Whereas most cults embrace a single conception as to the cause and healing of disease, naturopathy embraces everything in nature. . . .
The real naturopaths were, of course, such healers as Father Kneipp . . . and others who advocated natural living and healed by use of sunlight, baths, fresh air, and cold water, but there is little money to be made by these methods. Hence the modern naturopath embraces every form of healing that offers opportunity for exploitation. [11]
The practices Fishbein debunked included:
  • Aeropathy: baking the patient in a hot oven
  • Alereos system: spinal manipulation plus heat and mechanical vibration
  • Astral healing: diagnosis and advice based on reading the patient's horoscope
  • Autohemic therapy: giving a solution made by modifying and "potentizing" a few drops of the patient's blood
  • Autotherapy: treating infections with potions made from the patient's infected tissues or excretions
  • Biodynamochromic diagnosis and therapy: administering colored lights while thumping on the patient's abdomen
  • Bloodwashing with herbs
  • Chromopathy: healing with colored lights
  • Electrotherapy with various devices
  • Geotherapy: treating disease with little pads of earth
  • Irido-diagnosis: diagnosis based on eye markings—now called iridology
  • Pathiatry: self-administration of spinal adjustment, massage, and traction
  • Porotherapy: treatment applied through the pores of the skin to the nerves said to the control internal organs
  • Practo-therapy, a fancy term for intestinal irrigation
  • Sanatology, based on the notion that acidosis and toxicosis are the two basic causes of all disease
  • Somapathy: spinal adjustment followed by applications of cold or extreme heat
  • Tropo-therapy with special nutritional foods
  • Vit-O-Pathy, a combination of 36 other systems
  • Zodiac therapy, combining astrology and herbs
  • Zonotherapy (now called reflexology): pressing on various parts of the body to heal disease in designated body "zones." [11]
Most of these methods disappeared along with their creators, but some (or their offshoots) are still used today.
The total number of naturopathic practitioners in the United States is unknown but includes chiropractors and acupuncturists who practice naturopathy. The AANP was founded in 1985 and is closely allied with the 4-year naturopathic colleges. Its membership is said to be limited to individuals who are eligible for licensing in states that issue licenses. Its online directory contains about 1300 names. The American Naturopathic Medical Association (ANMA), founded in 1981, claims to represent about 2,000 members worldwide. Although some have recognized credentials in other health disciplines, others merely have an "ND" degree obtained through a nonaccredited correspondence school. The Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians (HANP), which requires a recognized professional degree and additional homeopathic training, lists about 50 members in the United States and Canada.
The AANP published the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine six times between 1990 and 1996. The issues ran from about 80 to 100 pages. The third issue was devoted to "Non-Standard HIV/ARC/AIDS Management." The fifth, which attacked immunization, contained papers suggesting that vaccines may be a factor in causing cancer and that homeopathic prophylaxis using nosodes would be effective and safer than standard vaccines. (Nosodes are homeopathic products made from pathological organs or tissues: causative agents such as bacteria, fungi, ova, parasites, virus particles and yeast; disease products; or excretions. There is no scientific evidence that nosodes are effective, and the FDA has ordered several manufactures to stop making preventive claims for them. The sixth issue of the journal promoted the use of "natural" products for cancer and contained an absurd article claiming that measuring the electrical resistance of the skin may be a useful way to diagnose the early stages of cancer and AIDS.
In December 2009, the AANP, partnered with publisher Karolyn A. Gazella, began producing the online Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, which is published monthly.


A 1927 AMA study listed 12 naturopathic schools with fewer than 200 students among them [12]. During the 1920s and 1930s, about half the states passed laws under which naturopaths and/or "drugless healers" could practice. However, as modern medicine developed, many of these laws were repealed and all but a few mail-order schools ceased operations. The doctor of naturopathy (N.D.) degree was still available at several chiropractic colleges, but by 1957, the last of these colleges stopped issuing it. The candidiasis hypersensitivity" and includes Crook's three-page questionnaire for determining the probability that "yeast-connected problems are present." The questionnaire does not have the slightest validity.
  The chapter on angina gives a glowing recommendation for chelation therapy, which the scientific community regards as worthless.
  The chapter on "cellulite" falsely claims that a gotu kola extract has "demonstrated impressive results."
In The Complete Book of Juicing, Murray recommends juices for treating scores of ailments. He also advises everyone to use supplements because "even the most dedicated health advocate . . . cannot possibly meet the tremendous nutritional requirements for optimum health through diet alone." [27] These ideas lack scientific validity.
In another book, Murray claims that juicing is valuable because fresh juice provides the body with "live" enzymes [28]. This idea is absurd. The enzymes in plants help regulate the metabolic function of plants. When ingested, they do not act as enzymes within the human body, because they are digested rather than absorbed intact into the body [29].
Pizzorno and Murray have claimed that "in most instances, the naturopathic alternative offers significant benefits over standard medical practices." That statement is preposterous. For the few illnesses where their encyclopedia acknowledges that medical treatment is essential (because otherwise the patient may die), they propose naturopathic treatment in addition. In many passages, they describe prevailing medical practices inaccurately.

A Revealing Anecdote

Pizzorno's book Total Wellness: Improve Your Health By Understanding Your Body's Healing Systems contains a chapter titled "Strengthen Your Immune System," in which the following anecdote is used to illustrate how naturopaths regard "immune suppression" as an underlying cause of disease:
Several years ago I began to develop large warts on several of my fingers. Warts are an interesting phenomenon; they tend to grow or recede according to how well the immune system is functioning. Although I treated them several times with thuja oil (a standard naturopathic treatment for warts), they had not responded very well. I was perplexed because I was living a pretty healthful lifestyle and using a therapy I'd used successfully for a lot of patients.
Then I visited the dentist. As I've only had one cavity, I hadn't been to the dentist for several years. Surprisingly, X-rays revealed an abscess in that one tooth—the filling had not been sealed properly. A week of antibiotics cleared the infection, and within three months all my warts were gone. Even though I had had no other symptoms, the abscess was continually draining my immune system. [30]
Any sensible preventive dental-care program should include visits every 6-12 months for professional cleaning (to remove gumline calculus to prevent gum disease), a check for early signs of tooth decay (cavities), and occasional x-ray examination to look for hidden problems. How come Pizzorno—despite all his talk about prevention—does not believe he should have dental check-ups like the rest of us? What does it mean that he permitted large warts to develop on his fingers without seeking medical treatment? (You can decide this for yourself.)
Did fixing the abscess actually lead to the disappearance of the warts? I doubt that this has been scientifically studied. However, it is well known that most common warts disappear spontaneously within two years or can be effectively removed with simple, nonscarring medical treatment [31].

Another Revealing Glimpse

The AANP claims that "naturopathic physicians are not opposed to invasive and suppressive measures when these methods are necessary [and] make referrals for such treatment when appropriate." [6] I doubt that the majority of naturopaths fit this description. Many naturopaths espouse nutrition and lifestyle measures that coincide with current medical recommendations. However, this advice is often accompanied by nonstandard advice that is irrational. Although naturopaths claim to emphasize prevention, most oppose or are overly critical of immunization. The AANP presents an overly negative view of immunization [32].
Several years ago, as part of a child-custody evaluation, I examined records from nine naturopaths who had treated a child whose mother was antagonistic to medical care and was briefly enrolled as a naturopathy student. The child was not properly immunized and did not see a medical doctor until she developed insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus shortly before her eighth birthday. Although episodes of "chest congestion," "chronic cough," "vaginitis," "urinary burning" and "asthma" were noted in the records, there were no indications that these problems had been adequately diagnosed or appropriately treated. (One episode of "chest congestion," for example, was treated with homeopathic remedies.) Three of the practitioners used a Vegatest device to diagnose "allergies" to sugar and many other foods and had recommended severe dietary restrictions, even though the child had not reacted adversely to any of the foods. (The Vegatest is quack device that merely measures the amount of moisture on the skin and how hard the practitioner presses a probe against the patient's fingers or toes.) Another practitioner recommended chelation therapy after diagnosing "heavy metal poisoning" with a hair analysis. The recommended treatments for both actual and nonexistent conditions included regimens of up to 35 pills a day, including some supplements in potentially toxic doses. The only medical referral took place after the child developed severe signs of diabetes. Although the nine naturopaths do not constitute a random sample, their unscientific practices were consistent with typical naturopathic writings.

Scandal in Arizona

In May 2001, the Arizona Naturopathic Physicians Board of Medical Examiners fired its executive director, John L. Brewer, D.C., following allegations that he shredded documents, copied exams, and misrepresented his credentials. According to a report in the Arizona Republic, a board member had discovered that Brewer did not receive a naturopathic degree from a college in Los Angeles as he had claimed on his license application [33].
In June 2000, the Arizona Auditor General had severely criticized the board's performance. The most serious deficiencies involved the naturopathic licensing examination, which had not been validated to ensure that it tests what naturopaths would need to practice safely. Even worse, the board consistently "adjusted" scores upward so that everyone taking the exam since 1998 passed it. With the February 1999 exam, for example:
  • Although none of the 18 applicants scored the necessary 75%, all scores were adjusted upward.
  • The board gave full credit for about one-sixth that were "too difficult."
  • Since 9 out of 18 applicants were still too low, additional "adjustments" were made.
  • One applicant got full credit for 90 incorrect answers on part 2 of the 3-part test.
The Auditor General's report also noted that complaints to the board had not received adequate attention and that record-keeping and overall management had been inadequate [34].

The Bottom Line

In 1968, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) recommended against Medicare coverage of naturopathy. HEW's report concluded:
Naturopathic theory and practice are not based upon the body of basic knowledge related to health, disease, and health care which has been widely accepted by the scientific community. Moreover, irrespective of its theory, the scope and quality of naturopathic education do not prepare the practitioner to make an adequate diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment. [35]
Although some aspects of naturopathic education have improved in recent years, I believe this conclusion is still valid. I believe that the average naturopath is a muddlehead who combines commonsense health and nutrition measures and rational use of a few herbs with a huge variety of unscientific practices and anti-medical double-talk.


  1. National Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Outline for study of services for practitioners performing health services in independent practice. Portland OR: NANP, Sept 10, 1970. In Social Security Amendments of 1970. Hearings before the Committee on Finance, United States Senate, Ninety First Congress, Second Session, on H.R. 17550. September 14, 15, 16, 17, and 23, 1970. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970, pp 734-754.
  2. Introduction to Level 2: The Natural Foods Education Program, Lesson 1. Seattle, WA: Bastyr College, 1990.
  3. Turner RN. Naturopathic Medicine: Treating the Whole Person. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Thorsons Publishers Limited, 1984, 1990.
  4. Beyerstein BL, Downie S. Naturopathy: A critical analysis. Naturowatch Web site, May 14, 2004.
  5. Naturopathic medicine: What it is . . . What it can do for you. Undated flyer, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Seattle, Washington, circa 1990.
  6. Twenty questions about naturopathic medicine. Flyer, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Seattle, Washington, 1989.
  7. Green S. Barrett S. Can any "alternative" cancer treatment strengthen the immune system? Quackwatch web site, Jan 21, 2008.
  8. Pardell DM. Immunology and Cancer. In Abeloff MD and others, (editors). Clinical Oncology, Third Edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier / Churchill Livingstone, 2004, pp 113-138.
  9. Cody, G. History of naturopathic medicine. In Pizzorno JE Jr, Murray MT, editors. A Textbook of Natural Medicine. Seattle, 1985-1996, John Bastyr College Publications.
  10. Tilden JH. Appendicitis: The Etiology, Hygienic and Dietetic Treatment. Denver: self-published, 1909.
  11. Fishbein M. Naturopathy and its professors. Fads and Fallacies in Healing. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1932, pp 117-139.
  12. Baer HA. The potential rejuvenation of American naturopathy as a consequence of the holistic health movement. Medical Anthropology 13:369-383, 1992.
  13. Staff Analysis of the Petition for Continued Recognition Submitted by Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. U.S. Department of Education, December 1999.
  14. Transcript of the National Advisory Committee for Institutional Quality and Integrity, Dec 6, 1999.
  15. Barrett S. Naturopathic accreditation agency loses federal recognition. Quackwatch, Feb 9, 2002.
  16. Verify the credentials of a naturopathic physician., accessed Nov 13, 2013.
  17. Garcia JA. Naturopathic Physicians, 1998 Sunset Review. Colorado City, CO: Office of Policy and Research, Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, Oct 15, 1998.
  18. Pizzorno JE Jr, Murray MT, editors. A Textbook of Natural Medicine. Seattle, 1985-1996, John Bastyr College Publications.
  19. Pizzorno JE Jr, Murray MT, editors. Textbook of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition. London, Churchill Livingstone, 1999.
  20. Pizzorno JE Jr, Murray MT, editors. Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd Edition. St. Louis, Churchill Livingstone, 2006.
  21. Pizzorno JE Jr, Murray MT, editors. Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th Edition. St. Louis, Churchill Livingstone, 2012.
  22. Murray MT, Pizzorno JE. . Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Rocklin CA, Prima Publishing & Communications, 1990.
  23. Murray MT, Pizzorno JE. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition. Rocklin CA, Prima Publishing & Communications, 1998.
  24. Murray MT, Pizzorno JE. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Edition. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2012.
  25. Relman A. Textbook of Natural Medicine. Book review, Jan 9, 2001.
  26. Barrett S. How the urine toxic metals test is used to defraud patients. Quackwatch, April 19, 2013.
  27. Murray MT. The Complete Book of Juicing. Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 1992.
  28. Korditch JT with Murray MT. The Juice Advantage. Seattle, WA: Trillium Health Products, 1992.
  29. Barrett S. "Enzyme deficiency." Quackwatch, March 11, 2003.
  30. Pizzorno JW Jr. Total Wellness: Improve Your Health By Understanding Your Body's Healing Systems. Rocklin CA, 1996, Prima Publishing & Communications.
  31. Berkow R, editor. Merck Manual, 16th Edition. Rahway, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 1992.
  32. Barrett S. Comments on the AANP position on childhood vaccinations. Quackwatch, Dec 29, 2001.
  33. Fehr-Snyder K. Naturopathic board director on leave. Arizona Republic, May 11, 2001. Naturopathic Board votes to votes to fire chief: Allegations tied to credentials, paper shredding. Arizona Republic, May 12, 2001.
  34. Davenport DK. Performance Audit: Arizona Naturopathic Physicians Board of Medical Examiners. Report No. 00-9, June 2000.
  35. Cohen W. Naturopathy. In Independent Practitioners under Medicare: A Report to Congress. Washington, D.C, 1968, US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, pp 126-145.

Reader Protest

I am a student of naturopathic medicine, and upon perusing your web site felt the need to comment to you. I am furious and at the same time saddened, if that is possible; how dare you write articles titled "Ayurvedic Mumbo-Jumbo" and "Aromatherapy, Making Dollars out of Scents"? Why do you need to be so incredibly flippant and dismissing, what are you afraid of? It is you who are unfairly misleading the public. You critique/critisize and dismiss medicicinal practices (ayurvedic, CTM, herbalism),from countries that are thousands of years old, seducing the general public with stats, tests and the scientific method. What you are forgetting to mention to people is that Allopathic (western) medicine is less than 400 years old, a mere infant in the life cycle of medicine and healing. Allopathic medicine is responsible for countless numbers of deaths due to poor diagnosis, deadly drug interactions, using human beings as guinea pigs for new and improved drugs (only to find years later the damage many of these drugs have caused) and the 'instant fix', band-aid approach to healing.
I look forward to reading ALL of the articles on this site, I am sure that doing this will further my faith in Alternative Medicine. You see, alternative medicine is not interested in insulting western medicine in order to further its healing practices; to be fair to all, why don't you include articles on the many dangers and deaths of modern medicine? I think it would round out this site nicely.

Issues in Homeopathic Philosophy - Basic vocabulary: Vital force

This is one in a series of articles that will introduce the fundamental concepts of homeopathic philosophy: the vital force, disease, remedy, and the law of similars; and discuss some analogies or metaphors for understanding the relationship between them.
Physicians and other thinkers from earliest times have been faced with the problem of explaining life. What is life? What distinguishes the living from the non-living? What is the difference between my sister and the book on the shelf? Until the latter half of the 19th century (1860 - 1900), the most common and widely accepted explanation was vitalism. Vitalism says that there is a vital energy or life force that animates all living organisms. It says that if the vital energy leaves the body, then there is death. Life requires both the body and the vital force.
     Vitalism was dealt a serious and long-lasting blow by Darwin's general theory of evolution. He published this theory in 1859, about 17 years after Hahnemann's death. Darwin's theory offered a different explanation of life. It says that life arose by the accidental mixing of chemicals in the primordial soup billions of years ago. His theory is widely used today to explain life as the mechanical result of chemical interactions. In other words, it does not require this mysterious vital force to explain why living things move around and have self-consciousness. This explanation of life is called materialism.
     Materialism is classified as a metaphysics by philosophers. This means there is little or no evidence to support the belief. There is currently a very contentious, interesting argument going on within the scientific community about whether or not the post-Darwinistic general theory of evolution is a "fact." Although the evolutionists like to tar everyone who does not believe as they do with the brush of "creationism," this in fact hides a very deep and, to date, unvanquished problem: the evidence in support of the general theory of evolution is the exception, not the rule.
     Vitalism is also considered a metaphysics, another explanation of life based on belief, not fact. I am of the opinion that there is more evidence for vitalism than for the general theory of evolution because the vital force can, to some degree, be experienced directly. This does not necessarily qualify the experience as "fact" according to the orthodox scientists, but it is empirical.
     In Hahnemann's time there was little dispute as to whether or not vitalism was "factual" or not. It was as factual as any other theory. Nowadays the dominant explanation of life is materialism, and it states, as a fact, that vitalism is not factual. These two theories are inconsistent. One cannot be both a materialist and a vitalist.
     This has created immense problems for the vitalists, because the materialists decided that since nothing that is immeasurable has existence, then there is no way to use the concept of the vital force to explain anything. The decision that the vital force does not exist is made as part of the metaphysical belief in materialism. The mechanisms for deciding whether something is a fact were designed as though the vital force did not exist. Therefore, it is very difficult for those mechanisms to accommodate measurements relating to the vital force. When experiments are done today that show the efficacy of immaterial diluted and potentized substances, such as are used in homeopathy every day, the explanations are all couched in materialist terms. In the world of orthodox science, the vital force simply does not exist.
     Not all homeopaths believe in the vital force, and, indeed, such a belief is not necessary to practice homeopathy successfully. This is one of the beauties of homeopathy—it works no matter what you believe. However, most homeopaths today use the vital force to explain what they observe, so it is important to have a basic understanding of what they are referring to.
Hahnemann's description
Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy (1755--1843), described the vital force in health in aphorisms 9 and 10 of the Organon (6th edition).
     ¤9: In the healthy condition of man, the spiritual vital force (autocracy), the dynamis that animates the material body (organism), rules with unbounded sway, and retains all the parts of the organism in admirable, harmonious, vital operation, as regards both sensations and functions, so that our indwelling, reason-gifted mind can freely employ this living, healthy instrument for the higher purpose of our existence.
     ¤10: The material organism, without the vital force, is capable of no sensation, no function, no self-preservation*, it derives all sensation and performs all the functions of life solely by means of the immaterial being (the vital principle) which animates the material organism in health and in disease.
     *It is dead, and only subject to the power of the external physical world; it decays, and is again resolved into its chemical constituents.
     There is a lot being said in these two aphorisms, but the following generalizations can be made. The vital force is the immaterial energy that regulates, regenerates and reproduces the organism, all according to the characteristic form of the species.
     In other words, if blood chemistry gets out-of-balance because of something eaten, then the vital force guides it towards the norm for a human being, not a frog. In the embryonic stage, it makes sure the lungs are human lungs as limited by our inheritance. It guides the maturation of the female out of the reproductive stage, and so on. It makes sure the purpose of being human can be fulfilled.
Experiencing the vital force
That describes the vital force in words, but what is it in reality, how is it known directly? The Chinese also base their system of medicine on this energy, which they call chi (sometimes spelled ki). They have been studying it for thousands of years and have developed certain techniques for becoming aware of, accumulating, and controlling the vital force for health purposes. Hahnemann also recognized that the vital force can be directly experienced. He reveals this in aphorisms 288 and 289, in which he discusses what he calls mesmerism.
     The vital force exists both in the body and in the atmosphere. To feel the vital force is simple, for most people. Simply open your hands and hold them about an inch apart. You should feel something going on—a prickly feeling, or warmth, or other sensation that feels like energy. If you slowly move your hands away from each other you can often feel something like elasticity between your hands, a mild feeling of resistance to moving them apart. Try not to let them touch. You may have other sensations, of balls of energy around your hands, or other ways your experience is being told to your mind. The energy should get stronger the longer you do this in a relaxed way.
     This is not the end of the story, though, for the vital force has both the gross manifestations that can be felt with the hands, and it has very subtle manifestations that are in the nature of thoughts. It is energy that exists in a wide spectrum of frequencies. However, none of these frequencies can be measured by the mechanical instruments of man. That is what Hahnemann means when he says they are immaterial. At the lower level of the energy felt in the hands, the vital force can be manipulated by electromagnetic energies, by the food we eat, by what we think, and by many other things.
     However, the important point to remember is that this does not mean the vital force is a physical force like electromagnetism. It is not. For this very reason, it cannot be expected to follow all the laws of what is known as nature. The natural laws we are familiar with govern the substances that can be measured by contemporary science, for these laws are themselves based on the measurements. If something, such as the vital force, cannot be measured, then the explanations based on measurements cannot apply to it. As homeopaths, we learn about a different type of measurement; we learn to accept as valid our experiences with immaterial substances, like homeopathic remedies. Because we accept as valid a different kind of evidence—our experience—we can talk seriously and with some confidence about the immaterial vital force.
     Does that mean there is a generally accepted explanation for what it is? No. In pre-Darwinian times, before 1859, it was commonly thought that the life force ultimately originated in the divinity. A little reflection on what it means if Darwin's general theory of evolution is incorrect can be an eye-opening experience. Regardless of the fact that many people are not sure where the vital force comes from, nor sure of all of its powers and manifestations, this does not stop them from acknowledging its existence and importance in understanding and explaining life.
     As homeopaths we are ultimately interested in assisting others and ourselves to stay healthy by using homeopathic remedies. Our specialty is not surgery, chiropractic, acupuncture, or other techniques. Our province is certain lifestyle advice and the use of diluted, potentized remedies to remove disease. In the process of learning how to use the remedies and studying the history, philosophy, and techniques of homeopathy, it is natural to question what exactly is the relationship between the vital force, the disease, and the remedy.
     In a future article, we will look at the concepts of disease and remedy in the Organon, and set the stage for an examination of the law of similars and the different ways it has been understood.
About the author:
John Lunstroth is a lawyer and student of homeopathy in Houston, Texas. He is a member of the board of directors of the Texas Society of Homeopathy and can be reached at
Vitalism and Vital Force in Life Sciences – The Demise and
Life of a Scientific Conception
Gunnar Stollberg, Bielefeld Institute for Global Society Studies1
There is no clear shape of vitalism. The term itself has not been used before the 19th century.
At that time, its history was traced back to Aristotle, and older and newer forms became
differentiated. Looking from a today’s perspective, vitalism can be defined as a theory of life
in the life sciences (natural philosophy, natural sciences, and medicine) that debates life in
relation – not necessarily in opposition – to physics and physicalism, which reduces all life
activities to physical phenomena. Vitalism developed in three phases:2 The first one is
covered by Georg Ernst Stahl’s (1660 – 1734) animism. The second one is the conception of a
vital force (life force), dating from the 1770s to the 1840s. In the third one life was
conceptualised as an organising power. Though the protagonist of this last phase, the German
biologist and philosopher Hans Driesch (1867 – 1941) traced his conception back to
Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804), he discussed his vitalism as a new one, opposing the
conception of a vital force as well as physicalist conceptions. Vitalism demised in the first
decade of the 20th century, when physicalism gained its victory in biology, medicine and other
life sciences during the course of the 19th century. Meanwhile the latter forms the basic
conception even in the philosophy of mind.3 Thus, vitalism is a knowledge rejected by
mainstream life sciences. Nevertheless we can still find it today. This is literally true for
homoeopathy, where Hahnemann’s (1755 – 1843) conception of a vital force has been
modified just slightly. But also the conception of self-organisation (autopoiesis), which is
prominent in biological and sociological systems theory, got theoretical connections to
vitalism. There is a life of vitalism after its demise one century ago.
Many vitalist conceptions used Aristotelian categories of development and life. Thus I am
going to outline these categories, before sketching the phases of vitalism. In his Metaphysics
Aristotle (384 - 322) made a difference between dynamis (Latin potentia) and energeia (or
entelecheia; Latin actus). Dynamis meant a matter that was prone to be formed, entelecheia
the moulding principle. This dichotomy could be adapted to many natural and social
phenomena. In On the Origin of Animals Aristotle treated the question, how the parts of the
1 Most of the research work for this article I could do during my fellowship at the Hanse Institute for Advanced
Study at Delmenhorst.
2 I am following Mocek (1998), who differentiated three varieties of vitalism: Aristotle saw entelecheia as a
forming power. For the German physician Georg Ernst Stahl the anima brought matter to life, while Hans
Driesch, the last vitalist biologist and philosopher, saw entelecheia as an organising power.
3 Cf. Newen/ Vogeley 2000.
embryo come into being. The heart is the first visible part; the liver develops later on. But
does the latter develop from the first? Here the difference of dynamis and entelecheia
becomes important: The heart and the liver develop from the female semen or matter, but are
shaped by the male semen. The latter is the entelecheia, which moulds the matter according to
its dynamis. Regarding the human beings, Aristotle wrote in On the Soul that the soul is the
first entelecheia of a natural body, which is a living body by its dynamis. Aristotle called life
and its principle soul (psyche). He differentiated it into a soul of plant and nourishment
(psyche threptike), a soul of animal and perception (psyche aisthetike), and a soul of man and
reason (psyche noetike).
By the end of 19th century, Hans Driesch used the term entelecheia to construct a theory,
which opposed the explanation of life by physics and chemistry. Driesch called this theory
teleological or – since 1899 – vitalist (cf. Mocek 1998: 36). He named Aristotle’s conception
of life a ‘mere vitalism’ (1905: 19).
In this paper, I will firstly sketch vitalism in life sciences during the 18th (I) and 19th centuries
(II). Then I will outline the transformations of vitalism in 20th century (III), and finally give an
outlook to the heirs of vitalist thought today (IV).
I. Georg Ernst Stahl performed a Pietist medical instauratio scientiae. His reunion of faith and
(natural) science was directed against the Cartesian tradition. Descartes (1596 – 1650) had
aimed at proving that he could exist without his body. He used to differentiate between a
bodily and a merely mental or spiritual ego. But when radicalising his argumentation, he drew
a clear distinction between his mind, the res cogitans, and his body, the res extensa (cf.
Kemmerling 2003). Many authors followed Descartes in his radical position, though he
himself admitted that his bodily existence might belong to his essence:
‘But may it happen that the thing, which I suppose to be nothing, because I do not know it, in
reality do not differ that which I know? I do not know, but I do not discuss about that in the
moment (… ).’ (Oeuvres, vol. VII: 27)4
But the Cartesian tradition made a clear difference between body and soul. Stahl discussed
with Leibniz (1646 – 1716), Boerhaave (1668 – 1738) and others. Leibniz allocated the
connection between material and non-material spheres in his monads (cf. Geyer-Kordesch
2000: 209). Boerhaave clearly divided body and soul. He nevertheless admitted a connection
4 Original text: ’Fortassis vero contingit, ut haec ipsa, quae suppono nihil esse, quia mihi sunt ignota, tamen in
rei veritate non differant ab eo me quem novi? Nescio, de hac re jam non disputo(…).’
between both of them, which he could not explain (cf. Toellner 1991: 229). Stahl for his part
called the living body ‘an organism, and not a mechanism’.
‘Every movement in the human body follows a certain purpose. All vital, animalist and
rational processes are caused by their finest harmony and their unsolvable connection with a
special force. You rightly conclude that it is the soul, which all produces these movements
(processes) directly. They may be well ordered or not, have vital or animalist characters, they
may preserve the body or destroy it, be correctly guided or not’ (translated from Rothschuh
1978: 294).
This quotation remembers to the Aristotelic tradition of the three souls. But Stahl’s
conception was a Christian one, nevertheless:
‘(… ) When speaking about the creation of the things, that man was made from the living soul,
is it possible not to see in this passage of the Genesis that the human soul was really infused
into the body, and can we give it another meaning when we keep the literal sense of these
words?’ (translated from Geyer-Kordesch 2000 : 172)5
This is Stahl’s famous animism: God realises himself as an active principle, as life. He gave
man a vivid soul, which lives in the body. This soul may be regarded as threefold, like
Aristotle did; it makes the body alive. From this base Stahl develops a conception of an
organised dynamic of matter in living bodies. He criticises Aristotle’s atomism. From the
thesis that the body is assembled from very small parts, results the conclusion that the body
consists of these small parts, only. In De mixti et vivi corporis vera diversitate (1707) Stahl
differentiates between the material structure of the body – which consists of small corpuscles,
indeed -, and its ‘aggregated state’, which can only be understood in its living order. The
bodily matter is heterogeneous. It remains functional only in its vivid aggregation. When the
body dies, the matter dissolves into its chemical parts and decomposes. The mixture of matter
in the body does not directly result from its environment, but emerges primarily in its own
context. The living things reproduce themselves in their own forms. They take food from their
environment, but change it into matter naturally belonging to the body. These processes are
guided by the soul. Stahl writes in his Theoria medica vera (1712):
‘Man has been made for the living soul (… ), namely for that, that it lives: certainly this
expression fits to this acceptance, that the soul, which gives life, has been created as a whole,
namely which makes the act of life, and conserves the body, and produces in the body and by
the body bodily affections and affections of the divine wisdom (… ). (quoted from Geyer-
Kordesch 2000: 172)6
5 Original text: ‘(…) en parlant de la création des êtres, que l’homme fut fait en âme vivante, est-il possible de ne
pas voir dans ce passage de Genèse que l’âme humaine fut réellement infusée dans le corps, et pourrait-on lui
donner une autre signification en se tenant au sens littéral de ces mots ?’
6 Original text: Factus est homo in animam viventem (…) nempe in id, propterea, ut viva sit: certe non abludit
expressio a tali acceptione, quod holo factus sit Anima Vivifica, nempe quae actum vitae, corporis
Thus, man is equated to the vivid soul. The soul gives him life, it is life itself, and it develops
a vivid activity in the body. In opposition to the Descartes – Boerhaave – tradition, which
stresses the mechanical base of body and life, Stahl’s position may be called vitalism, because
he opposes the thesis that the living body can be reduced to physical corpuscles and their
relations or functions. For Stahl, life cannot be explained by the physical parts forming the
body, but a living principle is supposed to add life to the matter, to make organisms alive. So
Stahl’s animism may rightly be called a form of vitalism, after this term had emerged.
II. The conception of a vital force (or a life force, a vital spirit) developed from the contrast
between Stahl and Boerhaave. François Sauvages de Lacroix (1706 – 1767) brought Stahl’s
animism to Montpellier. One of his successors, Paul-Joseph Barthez (1734 – 1806),
introduced a principium vitale into medical theory in 1772. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland
(1762 – 1836), then a physician to the Weimar court, wrote about a vital force in the 1790s.
These developments started on the background of Brownianism. The Scottish physician John
Brown (1735 – 1788) defined life as excitability in 1780. In his Elementa medicinae he
differentiated life from non-life by its excitability: environmental or internal excitants
produced activity and excitement in the body. Every living being got a certain amount of
excitement. Brown postulated a normality of excitement in the middle between asthenia and
sthenia.7 The character of the excitability was neither defined as material nor as vital; like
Newton’s (1643 – 1727) gravity it could be described, but not be defined. The same is true for
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s (1752 – 1840) vires vitales (vital forces). The physiologist
Blumenbach later became well known for his division of mankind into five races. In the
1780s, he propagated contractibility, irritability and sensibility together with the vita propria
(the life of the parts of the body) as vital forces, whose character could not be defined. A
further vital force is the nisus formativus, a natural effort to build forms.
The conception of a life force was introduced into medicine in the 1770s. Before resuming the
well-known works of Barthez, Hufeland, and Reil I will sketch that of Friedrich Casimir
Medicus (1736 – 1808), who was the first (or one of the first) to use the term. Medicus was
trained as physician and became a botanist, who created a botanical garden at Mannheim in
1766. In 1774, he gave a lecture Von der Lebenskraft (On the vital force) at the Mannheim
conservatorium exerceat, et in corpore, per corpus, affectiones corporeas, actiones divinae sapientiae circa
affectiones corporeas, agat, agitet, sectetur, recolat, aestimet, et inter haec versetur’.
7 Sthenic diseases result from an excessive amount of stimuli, asthenic ones from an amount too small. Brown
aimed at measuring the excitability on a scale between 80 and 0.
Academy of Sciences. He started from the question, how the soul could influence the human
body, how voluntary movements could come into being (1774: 7). Medicus outlined two main
views on this question: Stahl, Sauvages et al. took the soul to cause all movements, while
Boerhaave, Albrecht von Haller (1708 - 1777), Friedrich Hoffmann (1660 – 1742) et al.
clearly differentiated between the nature of the soul and the body. All bodily movements
resulted from physical causes. Medicus went over to non-voluntary movements, and raised
the objection against Stahl that the main properties of the soul were thinking and wanting,
while things which had not been wanted or which the soul had no conscience of, could not be
its actions. This was true for digestion, secretion, for producing blood, for heartbeats, the
circulation of blood etc. These performances of animal life could not be actions of the human
soul. Medicus looked for opinions common to the Boerhaave and the Stahl currents. For
Boerhaave, the liquid of the nerves was a secretion of the marrow cortex of the brain. He
called it spirit of life, and the actions of the soul were performed by it. Haller introduced the
irritability and declared it to be an innate force. Stahl and his followers postulated a nonmaterial
matter to move the matter and bring life into it. A secret force (vis occulta)
performed the non-voluntary movements of the body. Now Medicus outlined his own thesis:
‘These causes made me to follow up my own opinion, and to suppose a simple substance in
addition to the organised matter and the soul; a substance that the creator gave to all organic
bodies as a force bringing life into them. This force is in the vegetable and in the animal
kingdoms the only force giving life to the organised matter. It is present in the man, too,
where it causes all animal, or as other authors express it, all mechanic life. But man has a
reasonable soul in addition to this organised matter and to this simple substance, the vital
force; a soul that thinks and wants within him. Thus I think the man to consist of two simple
substances, a soul and a vital force, and of a third one, of the organised matter.’ (Medicus
1774: 13)8
Medicus finally offers three differences between the vital force and the soul: the vital force
performs its adequate actions ‘1) without any fatigue, 2) without further development of its
forces, and 3) without any conscience of its actions’ (1774: 20)9. And where is the vital force
situated? In plants, its place is the marrow; in animals and men, it is the brain and the spinal
cord (ibid. 24).
8 Original text: ‚Diese Gründe haben mich bewogen, einer eigenen Meinung zu folgen, und außer der
organisierten Materie und der Seele noch eine einfache Substanz anzunehmen, die der Schöpfer allen
organischen Körpern als die belebende Kraft mitgetheilet hat. Diese belebende Kraft ist in dem Pflanzenreiche
und in dem Thierreiche das einzige, was die organisirte Materie belebet; in dem Menschen ist sie ebenfalls
gegenwärtig, und die Triebfeder des thierischen, oder wie andere wollen, des mechanischen Lebens. Aber außer
dieser organisirten Materie und außer der einfachen Substanz, der Lebenkraft (sic!), hat der Mensch noch eine
vernünftige Seele, die in ihm denket und will: folglich würde der Mensch, nach meiner Meinung, aus zweien
einfachen Substanzen, einer Seele und einer Lebenskraft, und aus der drittern, aus der organisirten Materie
What does this overview of Medicus’s book add to our findings about vitalism? Firstly,
Medicus aims at mediating between Boerhaave’s physicalism and Stahl’s animism. He does
not want to simply further Stahl’s theses. Secondly, his differentiation between the soul and
the vital force reminds of Aristotle’s threefold differentiation of the soul.10 Thirdly, Medicus
reduced the soul to spiritual effects, while the Aristotelian tradition and Stahl had treated
corporeal effects as outcomes of the soul.
Medicus wrote in an intellectual environment, which produced similar conceptions in many
ways. Gravitation, magnetism, and electricity were invisible forces much debated at that time,
in medicine and in other sciences. Barthez11 postulated a third principium agens besides the
soul and the body, the principium vitale hominis or the principe de vie.12 He left open,
whether it existed independently from the single body, but there was a harmonie préétablie
between this principle and the bodily organisation. The principle got a system of forces: the
forces radicales determinate the degree of vitality. Forces agissantes activate the single
organs. They can be divided into:
1. motor forces, e.g. muscular and tonic forces;
2. sensitive forces, which respond to irritations;
3. forces of the blood, which produce the blood or make it coagulate;
4. forces of heat, which heat the body and keep its temperature;
5. forces of pulsation, which drive the blood from the heart to the ends of the vessels
Barthez’ conception of the vital principle as a third entity besides body and soul resembles to
Medicus’s. His differentiation of its forces looks for connection to the dynamics of irritation,
which was propagated by Haller, Brown and others, but also to Stahl (Barthez’s tonic forces
and Stahl’s motus tonicus). Today, some of these phenomena are explained in mechanical,
others in cybernetic terms. But at about 1800 the vital force became established in medicine
as a term of its own, which got many varieties. For Hufeland it was a basic cause of life.13 He
abstained from defining it is a matter of its own or as a property of matter. It produces life,
maintains and renews it, cures diseases, and even inflames the forces of mind and soul. It got
active and resting forms (e.g. the seed). Death is the loss of vital force, which can be divided
1. a force maintaining life;
9 Original text: ‘1) daß sie ohne Ermüdung; 2) ohne fernere Entwickelung ihrer Kräfte; und 3) ohne alles
Bewußtsein die ihr angemessenen Handlungen verrichte’.
10 But Aristotle just shortly reflected about respiration, the movement and the soul (On the Soul I, 2).
11 I follow Rothschuh 1978: 323ff.
12 De principio vitali hominis (1772). Nouveaux éléments des la science de l’homme (1778).
13 I follow Rothschuh 1978: 332ff..
2. a plastic force, which produces the organism and regenerates it in diseases like
3. a force of the blood, which produces the foetus and maintains the life of the parts of
the body;
4. by the vital force the organism can perceive irritations in all its parts;
5. the force of the nerves enables the function of the nerves and of the brain;
6. by the affection of the nervous force he soul can have effects on the body;
7. the senses got a special irritability for light or sound, the heart for the blood, the liver
for the bile etc.
Hufeland defines life as the freely effective state of the vital force. ‘Vital force is just potency;
life itself is action’:14 here the Aristotelian tradition becomes obvious. The other
differentiations resemble to Barthez’s ones. Both of them abstain from fixing the character of
the vital force respectively the vital principle, which forms a third entity besides body and
soul. Both the authors look for connections with conceptions of irritability, and they define
several forms of the vital force.
Unlike Barthez and Hufeland, Johann Christian Reil (1758 – 1813), a professor of medicine at
Halle/ Saale, debated the character of the vital force.15 Reil firstly denied the existence of a
life force independent from matter:
‘We seek the ground of animal appearances in a suprasensible substrat, in a soul, in a
universal world spirit, in a life force, which we think of as something incorporeal, and in that
way we are restricted in our investigations or else are led into error’ (Reil 1796: 4, quoted
from Le Roy 1985: 113).
Reil secondly stressed the role of organisation in the animate realm: ‘To the formation of the
substance of animate beings we have given a specific name organization on account of its
excellent perfectness. Organ and organization is thus formation and structure of animate
bodies …’ Now Reil defines force in general, and lists five types of force:
‘The relation of the phenomena to the properties of matter through which they are generated I
name force (… ). The word
1. Physical force indicates: the most general manifestations of matter and its relation to
more general properties that we meet both in inanimate and animate nature.
2. Vital force indicates the relation of more individualized phenomena to a special kind
of matter which we encounter only in living nature (… ) Besides we cannot offer any
genetic definition of this force as long as chemistry has not made known to us more
exactly the elements of organic matter (… ) we never meet in nature a simple matter
which has life, but find it always only in the known combination with visible
substances, because life expresses itself through so very different phenomena (… )
through alteration of the visible matter, or by addition of different substances,
electricity, heat, oxygen, opium, etc. we can now raise, now lower the vital force.
3. Vegetative force and its product plant life (… )
14 Die Kunst, das menschliche Leben zu verlängern, Wien/ Prag 1797, translated from Neumann (in: Engelhardt/
Hartmann 1991) I: 353.
15 Von der Lebenskraft (On the vital force), 1796.
4. Animal force (… )
5. Finally remains the faculty of reasoning which is peculiar only to man.
(… ) The forces of the human body are thus properties of its matter, and its special forces
are results of its specific matter (quoted from Teich 1992: 441 f.)
Reil ‘sought to define the place of the organic body in the physical world through chemistry’
(cf. Le Roy 1985: 131). Thus he conceptualised the vital force as emerging from the matter.
He did not oppose it to physicalism. What is the difference between Barthez’s and Hufeland’s
forms of vital force on the one side, and Reil’s on the other? The former two aimed at
different manifestations of this force, while Reil aimed at its character common to other
‘forces’. While all three of them differ between vegetative and spiritual forces, Reil does not
come back to Aristotle’s relation of potency and actuality of life, but differentiates between
various natural forces. Life he defines as an organisation of animate bodies, and thus takes
some steps into the direction vitalism should take since the 1860s.
Hufeland held many controversies with contemporary physicians, but his conception of a vital
force was not a subject of them. This is the case also for Hufeland’s dispute with Samuel
Hahnemann, who conceptualised homoeopathy. His Organon der Heilkunst was first
published in 1810.16 With Hufeland he argued since the 1790s. Does his conception of a vital
force differ from Hufeland’s? Hahnemann wrote:
§ 9 In the state of health the spirit-like vital force (dynamis) animating the material human
organism reigns in supreme sovereignty. It maintains the sensations and activities of all the
parts of the living organism in a harmony that obliges wonderment. The reasoning spirit who
inhabits the organism can thus freely use this health living instrument to reach the lofty goal
of human existence.
§ 10 Without the vital force the material organism is unable to feel, or act, or maintain itself
(… ) Without the vital force the body dies; and then, delivered exclusively to the forces of the
outer material world, it decomposes, reverting to its chemical constituents.
§ 11 When man falls ill it is at first only this self-sustaining spirit-like vital force (vital
principle) everywhere present in the organism which is untuned by the dynamic influence of
the hostile disease agent.’ (Hahnemann 1989: 14ff.)
So Hahnemann contents himself with one side of Aristotle’s contrast of dynamis and
entelecheia. And he is clearly engaged with one side in the controversy between physicalism
and vitalism. Hahnemann’s vital force differentiates the living body from the dead one, which
just consists of its chemical components.
§ 11a ‘(… ) the dynamic force with which pathogenetic influences act on healthy individuals
and the dynamic force with which medicines act upon the vital principle to restore health are
nothing but a contagion devoid of any material or mechanical aspect. A magnet powerfully
16 As Organon der rationellen Heilkunst. Hahnemann published five editions and made further corrections up to
attracts a piece of iron or steel near it in a similar way (… ). The invisible force of the magnet
does not need any mechanical (… ) means (… ). We have here a dynamic phenomenon (… ).
The influence of medicines upon our organism is exerted dynamically (… ), without the
transmission of the slightest particle of the material medicinal substance.’ (Hahnemann 1989:
Unlike Hufeland, Hahnemann does not aim at a description of the vital force in different
regions of the body etc. Unlike Reil, he characterises it as a spirit-like, non-material force.
Unlike Medicus, Hahnemann does not want to reconcile physicalism and vitalism or animism.
His point of view is clearly that of anti-physicalism, and he stresses the non-material aspects
of homoeopathic drugs. The comparison with the forces of magnetism was modern in his
times, when Franz Anton Mesmer’s (1734 – 1815) curing by ‘animal magnetism’ was a
popular way of curing. But in contrast to Mesmer, Hahnemann stresses the non-material
character of magnetism.17 Hahnemann’s vitalism is firmly anti-materialist.
In 19th century, the quarrel between physicalism and vitalism was continued in the field of
morphology. Some paragraphs of the Critique of Judgement (1989/ 1790) by Immanuel Kant
regulated much of the debate. Here I cannot give a detailed overview (cf. Driesch 1905: 62-
81; Lenoir 1982: 17ff.; Mocek 1998: 52ff.; Krohn/ Küppers 1990; 1992). Kant aimed - in
contrast to Aristotle - at differentiating teleology between natural sciences and ethics. The last
part of his Critique of Judgement is dedicated to the Critique of Teleological Judgement. Kant
propagated a difference between nature and freedom. Judgement he defined as the ability to
acknowledge the particular being included in the general. The experience of nature required a
principle of expediency, which was attached to human experience, and not to nature. But
Kant’s reflections on natural expedience reached beyond the original question. Descartes had
assumed god to be the general cause of movement, and Newton had presumed a supernatural
force to extend gravitation all over the world (cf. Krohn/ Küppers 1992: 33, 36). In contrast,
Kant took nature to be run by a dynamic equilibrium, while life was governed by three forces
on three levels: the biogenesis by a vital force, the ontogenesis by a drive to formation, and
the phylogenesis by a developmental force. Sentences like ‘(… ) a thing exists as a physical
end if it is (… ) both cause and effect of itself’ (Kant 1989/ 1790: II, 18) firstly can be taken as
an early and almost complete argument of self-organisation (cf. Krohn/ Küppers 1992: 45);
secondly they kept their influence on morphological discussions for several decades to come
(cf. Mocek 1998: 74ff). Many natural philosophers like Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire (1805 –
1861), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), and Richard Owen (1804 – 1892) tried to
find one basic plan of animal morphology, which went through many metamorphoses.18 New
conceptions of morphology, represented by Wilhelm His (1831 – 1903), Wilhelm Roux (1850
– 1924), and Hans Driesch (1867 – 1941) emerged since the 1860s. I will return to this point
later on.
The conception of a vital force was part of the morphological discussions of the early 19th
century. I already mentioned Blumenbach’s nisus formativus (1789). In his embryology, the
zoologist and anatomist Karl-Ernst von Baer (1792 – 1876) regarded the vital force ‘as
expressed in a certain order and relationship among materially related parts’. (… ) On the
other hand, in his discussion of the mammalian ovum von Baer on occasion employed a
notion of Lebenskraft that was constitutive and directive’ (Lenoir 1982: 159f.). In contrast,
the romantic philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling (1775 – 1854) in 1799 declared the
vital force to be a product of a bad reason (cf. Rothschuh 1978: 392):
‘The essence of life does not at all consist is a force, but in a free interplay of forces, which is
continued by some external influence’ (translated from Mocek 1998: 57).19
The Leipzig physiologist and philosopher Hermann Lotze (1817 – 1882) strongly criticised
the conception of a vital force in 1842. He opposed the physical conception of a force to the
physiologist one of a vital force:
‘In physics, every force is considered to imply certain masses (… ). It is considered to be the
cause of the phenomenon by dint of which a thing causes something. But the definition of
force as a cause at once produces the error that either force becomes identified with a matter
(… ) or that causes are perceived as strange existing beings (… ) (1842: XIXf.). Rather we
conceive the body as a system of (… ) physical masses. The course of living phenomena
comes from the proportionate single physical forces (… ). Vital force we do not assign to this
system as the cause of its existence, (… ) but as the capability to produce a certain amount of
outward achievement, which has to be explained by the relative counteraction in the body.
(… ) If we follow teleological inductions (… ), we shall be able to have a clear look into the
complete organisation of this organic mechanism’ (XLVIIf.).20
17 Mesmer talked about a magnetic fluidum, and even the Prussian commission, which should evaluate his
acitivities in 1816, explained the phenomena by a physical agent (cf. Juette 1996: 108). By the way, Hufeland
took part in this commission.
18 Mocek (1998) called this morphological paradigm comparative.
19 Original text: ‚Das Wesen des Lebens besteht überhaupt nicht in einer Kraft, sondern in einem freien Spiel von
Kräften, das durch irgend einen äußeren Einfluß kontinuierlich unterhalten wird.’
20 Original text: ‚In der Physik wird jede Kraft bestimmten Massen inhärirend gedacht (...) Daher ist sie dort
überall als der Grund der Erscheinung behandelt, vermöge dessen ein Ding etwas wirkt. Diese Definition aber,
welche die Kraft als Ursache bezeichnet, bringt sogleich den Irrthum herbei, dass entweder die Kraft mit irgend
einem Stoffe identificiert wird, (...) oder dass Kräfte als eigenthümliche seiende Wesen betrachtet werden. (...)
Wir sehen vielmehr den Körper an als ein System (...) physikalischer Massen, aus deren proportionalen
physikalischen Einzelkräften (...). Lebenskraft theilen wir diesem System nicht als den Grund (...) seiner Existenz
zu, (...) sondern nur als eine Fähigkeit zu einer bestimmten Größe der Leistung nach außen, welche selbst aus
den Verhöltnissen der Gegenwirkungen im Körper erklärt werden muß. (...) folgen wir jedoch teleologischen
In the same year, the chemist Justus von Liebig (1803 – 1873) offered a physicalist
explanation of the vital force:
‘In the ovum, in the seed of plants, we recognize a remarkable activity, a cause of the increase
in mass (… ), a force in the condition of the rest. By the means of external conditions, through
fertilization, (… ) the condition of static equilibrium of this force is removed. In going over
into motion it expresses itself in a series of structures, which are quite different from
geometrical forms of the sort we find in crystallizing minerals even thought they are
sometimes enclosed by straight lines. This force is called Lebenskraft (vital force).’21
Liebig did not oppose the existence of a vital force. But he conceived it as depending from
quantitative relations:
‘The quantity of oxygen that has been assimilated by the organ is equivalent to the quantity of
Lebenskraft lost, and in the same measure an equal portion of the matter is expelled from the
organ in the form of an oxygen compound.’ (quoted from Lenoir 1982: 166)
Lenoir (1982: 166) comments upon this quotation:
‘For Liebig the Lebenskraft was a kind of potential energy connected with the organization
and arrangement of material parts but capable of assuming certain concrete material forms of
expression in the structure of the organism itself.’
So in the very same year of 1842 we can observe two different physicalist positions towards
the concept of a vital force. The philosopher Lotze strongly opposed it, while the chemist
Liebig used it in a physicalist manner. In 1848, the physicist Emil Heinrich du Bois-Reymond
(1818 – 1896) pointed to the existence of expediency also in inanimate nature. He expressed
his hope to have expelled thereby the vital force from one of its entrenchments (cf. Botsch
1997: 299). New conceptions of physical force, the general physicalist victory in sciences,
and Darwin’s evolution theory led to the demise of the vital force. In 1890, Meyers
Konversations-Lexikon stated that this conception had lost its vitality in favour of mechanist
explanations of life (4th ed., vol. 10).
In 1904, the natural philosopher J. Reinke differentiated between an old and a new vitalism.22
The old one he characterised by the conception of a vital force; the new one, which he also
called finalism, was about ‘the immanent forces, which build the organism itself’ (translated
from Reinke 1904: 589).23
Morphology became a new field of vitalist thought, and this way led to conceptions of selforganisation,
indeed. Wilhelm His, professor of anatomy at Leipzig university, researched
Inductionen (...), so werden wir allerdings einen deutlichen Blick in die Gesammteinrichtung dieses organischen
Mechanismus thun können.’
21 Liebig 1842: Die organische Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Physiologie and Pathologie. Quoted from
Lenoir 1982: 163.
22 See Driesch 1905 for the same division.
about ‘the self-shaping of organic form from the conditions of development and from the
movements of growing of the germ’.24 His results were: ‘The shaping of the form follows the
growth shaping the embryological material’ (cf. Mocek 1998: 120). Roux, professor at Halle/
Saale, called his research ‘mechanics of development’ (Entwicklungsmechanik). It was about
self-differentiation, e.g. of the egg,25 about functional adaptation as a self-organisational
action etc. Hans Driesch, a biologist who changed over to philosophy, discussed the fact that
damaged parts of animals (e.g. the intestinal of marine animals) could reconstruct the full part
by themselves. He reformulated the problem in philosophical terms: ‘that and how order can
reconstruct itself from disturbed order’ (Driesch 1895, translated from Mocek 1998: 315).26
This ability called Driesch ‘prospective potency’, and regarding this potency he spoke of selfregulation
and of vitalism:
‘If we look at the kinds of formative stimuli we know, we cannot find a sufficient cause for
the reconstruction of the intestine of the larvae cut up, which consists of three members, in its
correct proportions. This reconstruction in its correct proportions rather refers to an event that
it not mechanical by principle, but rather specifically vital’ (Driesch 1899; translated from
Mocek 315).27
Driesch looked for terms describing his thoughts.28 The prospective potency to produce the
whole parts he also named after the Aristotelian term entelecheia. He talked about four forms
of causality: the mechanical causality, which is directed towards the sequence of singular
states; the causality forming things, that one forming changes, and finally the causality
forming whole entities by entelechy. Looking from a today’s perspective, Mocek (1998:
403ff.) stresses that Driesch has reached a state of the argument, which could be continued by
systems theory. Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901 - 1972) and today Gerhard Roth produced
partly new views, but certainly a new terminology for the problems Driesch had discussed
before. Driesch’s holistic causality could be replaced by systems causality.
What can I resume about vitalism at the end of 19th century? In the first decade of the 18th
century the physician Stahl had developed a conception of the anima vivifica, the life-
23 Original text: ‚die immanenten Kräfte der Selbstbildung des Organismus’.
24 His: Untersuchungen über die erste Anlage des Wirbelthierleibes. Die erste Entwickelung des Hühnchens im
Ei (Studies about the first structure of the body of vertebrates. The first development of the chicken in the egg).
Leipzig 1868; cf. Mocek 1998: 109f.
25 In 1892; cf. Mocek 1998: 235.
26 Original text: ‚dass und wie sich aus gestörter Ordnung Ordnung wiederherzustellen vermag’.
27 Original text: ‚In dem hier geschilderten Geschehen lässt sich für die proportional-richtige Dreigliederung
des Darmes der zerschnittenen Larven ein zureichender Grund unter den von uns gekannten formativen
Reizarten nicht ausfindig machen; jene proportional-richtige Gliederung weist vielmehr auf eine
Geschehensartprinzipiell-nicht-maschineller specifisch-vitaler Art hin.’
28 Weber (1999) discusses Driesch’s argumentation from a logical perspective. He criticizes Driesch for a
‘metaphysical postulate’ that cannot be proven by empirical facts. – Dix (1968) had argued in favour of a
‘vitalistic principle’ explaining the ‘drive toward the maximum benefit’ in theoretical thoughts.
producing soul. In the 1770s, Barthez and Medicus split Stahl’s soul into the (modern mental)
soul and a principle of organic life. This triangle of body, soul, and life force resembled to
Aristotle’s three souls. The conception of a life force became prominent. In medicine,
Hufeland at about 1800 reshaped the vital force using Aristotle’s dyad of a potency (the life
force) and an act (the life). Reil defined life as the organisation of animate bodies.
Hahnemann stressed the non-material character of the vital force. In philosophy, Kant
differentiated between a self-organised equilibrium in inorganic nature, and a triad of forces
producing life. Schelling saw life as resulting from a free play of various forces. By the 1840s,
the physiologist and philosopher Lotze criticised the biodynamical conceptions propagating
physicalist explanations of life. He opposed any vital force. But the chemist Liebig, a leader
of the physicalists, used this term in a physicalist sense. Nevertheless, the manifold and vague
term vanished at that time, and a new stage of vitalist thought started since the 1860s.
Morphologists like His, Roux, and Driesch did research work in the field of self-organising
causality forming whole biological entities. For this causality Driesch used Aristotle’s term
entelecheia, and for his morphological theory he took up the term vitalism.
III. The conception of a vital force had been developed in Germany and in France by the last
quarter of the 18th century. In Germany, it demised by the second half of the 19th. In France,
the catholic philosopher Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) revitalised the vital force as élan vital
in 1907.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) had radicalised Kant’s
individual approach to cognition. He took the universe as a result of personal imagination.
Intention was an experience of personal identity; a blind impulse to exist, which could never
be satisfied.29 Bergson adopted this conception in his evolution theory.30 He interpreted reality
from the unity of life. The basic power of this life, the élan vital, wrestled with matter, and
thus always produced new creatures. This perpetual évolution créatrice resisted against the
tendency towards solidification or petrification, which would finally result in matter. The
character of this movement as a whole could not be analysed like nature, but be perceived by
philosophical intuition, by the spiritual energy of man, because it had got spiritual qualities.31
Bergson grasped evolution in its tension between virtuality and actuality. In this he resembles
to Aristotle’s conception of dynamis and entelecheia. On the other hand he resembles to
29 Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The world as intention and imagination), 1819.
30 Cf. L’évolution créatrice, 1907.
31 In 1866 the astronomer and popular scientist Camille Flammarion (1842 – 1925) had argued in a similar way
regarding the human intelligence créatrice: In Dieu dans la nature (God in nature). Cf. Reinke 1904 : 600.
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, because man is the cause of all this development. The élan
vital only succeeds in the descendence of man (cf. Deleuze 1989: 133). The matter forms part
of its creation. It is a tool of imagination, of freedom; a mechanism, which triumphs over
determinism of nature (cf. Deleuze 1989: 135). The élan vital is the moving principle of
evolution (cf. Meyer 1964: 49f.). Evolution is neither a prestabilised harmony (Leibniz), nor
is it blind (cf. Jankélévitch 1959: 138).
In the paragraph especially dedicated to the élan vital, which he also calls élan original de la
vie (Bergson 1962: 88), Bergson discussed the limitations of both the mechanist and the
finalist approach.32 He stressed upon the organisation as a fabrication. For an example he took
the eye as an organ of seeing. From this example he concluded that
- life is a tendency to act or raw matter,
- life is contingent, it got more than only one possible actions (1962: 97).
Thus, we return to a point we had left with Reil: what is life? Roux had named his research
‘mechanics of development’. The physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887 – 1961) was engaged in
quantum mechanics, before he asked about life. In 1925/26 he had published a new theory of
matter, the wave mechanics, which competed the matrix mechanics developed by Werner
Heisenberg (1901 – 1976) at the same time.33 Ten years later Schrödinger propagated
(together with the geneticist Timoféev-Ressovsky and the physicist Zimmer, 1935) the theory
that every gene was to be looked at as a macromolecule. Another ten years later (1944/46), in
‘What is life?’ he reflected about the contrast between physics and biology. The first one sees
order to be created from disorder (statistical mechanism). The second one sees order to be
created from order (dynamic mechanism). But Schrödinger reconciled the contrasting devices
by a theory of Max Planck: dynamic laws, which pertain to physical phenomena, can explain
statistical laws, which pertain to biological phenomena. Thus for the physicist Schrödinger
life was shaped by an indirect form of physical laws. This position resembles to the Lotze –
Liebig – line I have sketched above.
IV. But Driesch’s morphology, which he had called vitalism, did not simply demise in the
first half of the 20th century. It was indirectly taken up the theory of self-construction
32 For finalism, see my remarks on Reinke, above.
33 Later on, Schrödinger offered mathematical evidence for the equivalence of his approach and Heisenberg’s.
For the observer exists the phenomenon, that microphysical objects (they consist of one or several elementary
parts) can be described as waves or as corpuscles.
(autopoiesis) in the 1980s. The Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela
looked at the development of living systems trying to bring together mechanicism and the
Darwinian perspective on biological diversity. I am sorry for the long quotation following; but
here Maturana and Varela construct a historical genesis of their efforts, which is important for
our historical overview:
‘In the search for an understanding of autonomy classic thought, dominated by Aristotle,
created vitalism by endowing living systems with a non-material purposeful driving
component that attained expression through the realization of their forms. After Aristotle (...)
the history of biology records many theories, which attempt (...) to encompass all the
phenomenology of living systems under some peculiar organizing force. However, the more
biologists looked for the explicit formulation of one or other of these special organizing
forces, the more they were disappointed. (...) mechanicism gradually gained the biological
world (...). Darwinian thought (...) has shifted (...) the emphasis in the evaluation of the
biological phenomenology from the individual to the species (...). Today the two streams of
thought represented by the physicochemical and the evolutionary explanations, are braided
together (...). The ever present question is: ‘What is common to all living systems that we
qualify them as living’; if not a vital force, it not an organizing principle of some kind, what
then?’ (Maturana & Varela 1980: 74f.)
For our context it is important to realise that Maturana and Varela identify vitalism with the
conception of a vital force. In biology, this conception had demised by mid 19th century,
indeed. They are also correct in stressing the paradigm shift from the individual to the species.
But they ignore the tradition in morphological thought I sketched above, a tradition reaching
from Blumenbach, Reil, and Kant at about 1800 to His, Roux and Driesch towards the end of
19th century; these authors had conceptualised nature and life as organisation and selforganisation.
Their tradition becomes evident when we look at Maturana’s and Varela’s
conception of living machines:
‘An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes
of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components
which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize
the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as
a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the
topological domain of its realization as such a network’ (Maturana & Varela 1980: 78f.).
Driesch’s question about the echinus cut up I quoted above is similar to this modern
conception of a living machine. Here I cannot go into details like the difference between
Bertalanffy’s open and Maturana’s closed systems. Maturana’s autopoietic conception has
widely been accepted not only in modern biology, but also in social sciences. Basing on
Talcott Parsons’s (1901 – 1979) theory of a society being composed not by action or by men,
but by a number of subsystems controlled by logics of their own, Niklas Luhmann (1927 –
1998) introduced the autopoiesis of these social systems (1984). He clearly divided the non16
autopoietic physical systems from biological, psychological and social systems. The latter
ones, like economy, politics, families, sports etc. and the society as a whole consist of
communications (or of mutual expectations) and operate in a principally autonomous
manner.34 They emerge by evolution, and they reproduce themselves in an autopoietic way.
Systems theory looks at evolution, organisation and autopoiesis. In these points it comes close
to the morphological conception, which Driesch had called vitalist. There are at least two
other modern philosophical conceptions, which take up other aspects of vitalist tradition:
Hans Jonas’s living body as the centre of ontology, and Robert Spaemann’s and Reinhard
Löw’s renaissance of teleology.35
Hans Jonas (1903 – 1993) became well known for his Imperative of Responsibility (1979).
Modern technology has challenged the survival of mankind. Thus the new categorical
imperative will be: ‘Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence
of genuine human life’ (Engl. version 1984, foreword). These theses made a deep impact on
the German Green party. In Organism and Freedom (1973), Jonas, who had been a pupil of
Martin Heidegger, put the living body into the centre of a new ontology. The history of
human thought may be conceptualised as a panvitalism in early stages of mankind. The
Renaissance put panmechanism in its place. But his living body refers man to a third position:
‘The body lives and can die, has a world and forms part of it, can be felt and feel itself. Its
outward form is organism and causality, its inner form is being a self and finality – This body
is the memento of the still unsolved question of ontology: what is being? And it must be the
canon of future attempts to solve this question, which go beyond particular abstractions, and
get closer to the hidden cause of their unity by striving for an integral monism on a higher
stage.’ (translated from Jonas 1973: 33)36
This position takes up German philosophical thought in anthropology.37 Because it debates
mechanicism and vitalism, and puts life into a crucial point of ontological thought, it can be
regarded as a form of vitalism.
34 Luhmann (1984: 298 fn.13) criticized Maturana for not differentiating social from living systems.
35 Some dictionaries claim also Jacob von Uexküll (1864 – 1944) and Viktor von Weizsäcker for vitalist
positions. But Uexküll stresses upon the subjective cognition of the world; he does not comment on vitalism.
And Weizsäcker called Driesch’s vitalism ‘a naïve false solution’: ‘I did not aim at overwhelming mechanicism,
but to frame it by a higher conception of nature’ (cf. Henkelmann 1986: 46).
36 Original text: ‘Der lebendige und sterbenkönnende, welt-habende und selber als Stück zur Welt gehörige,
fühlbare und fühlende Körper, dessen äußere Form Organismus und Kausalität, und dessen innere Form
Selbstsein und Finalität ist – er ist das Memento der immer noch ungelösten Frage der Ontologie, was das Sein
ist, und muß der Kanon kommender Lösungsversuche sein, die sich über die partikularen Abstraktionen hinaus
dem verborgenen Grunde ihrer Eigenheit annähern und also jenseits der Alternativen einen integralen
Monismus auf höherer Stufe wieder anstreben müssen.’
37 Scheler’s ‚The position of man in cosmos’ and Plessner’s (1892 – 1985) ‘The states of the organic and the
man’ have both been published in 1928. In ‘Philosophical Anthropology’ (1970) Plessner meditated about the
difference of the living body (in German Leib) and the dead one (in German Körper). Man has and is a Leib.
In 1981, the German philosophers Robert Spaemann and Reinhard Löw pled for a renaissance
of teleology. Their history of teleological and anti-teleogical thought from Platon and
Aristotle via Descartes, Leibniz, Kant and the German idealism to its destruction by Nietzsche
and Darwin leads into an anti-criticism: causal explanation, system and information, matter
etc., and especially consciousness, morality and just life cannot be conceptualised without
teleological terms.
‘(… ) the great, complete program of evolution, which should put an end to teleology forever
and on all levels, is surrounded by a teleological horizon, which also covers its physicist
terminology’ (translated from Spaemann & Löw 1991: 260)
This is especially true for life:
‘Understanding of life can just go the other way round: the only certain criterion for life is our
own performance of life (… )’ (1991: 255) 38
In this point Spaemann and Löw meet Jonas’s thinking about the living body.
Besides systems theory and philosophical anthropology there is a third modern form of
vitalism. This is the homoeopathic holding to Hahnemann’s conception of a vital force. I have
characterised Hahnemann’s conception as differing from most of his contemporaries
(Medicus, Reil, Mesmer) by stressing the non-material essence of the vital force. While
Hahnemann was an anti-physicalist theorist, modern homoeopathic theory tries to become
compatible with natural sciences.
George Vithoulkas (born in 1932), a Greek homoeopath, prominently has shaped modern
homoeopathic theory. He took up the conception of a vital force, but he modernised the
Hahnemann tradition. The vital force he took as a mechanism of defence against illness. From
Hahnemann’s conception Vithoulkas quoted rather shortly (1986: 71ff.), going over to a long
quotation from James Tyler Kent (1849 – 1916), a famous American homoeopath. In his
Lectures on Homoeopathic Philosophy (1900) Kent called energy a strong substance talented
with intelligence. He differentiated between a realm of thoughts and a realm of material
substance. The latter is governed by clearness and harmony. But we are ‘able to understand
the intimate and deep nature of existence’ (74). The principles of homoeopathy belong to this
realm of thoughts, of causes. Men exists on three levels, on the bodily, the emotional, and the
spiritual level. Vithoulkas now changes over from Kent to the modern theory of
38 Original text: ‘(… ) daß das große, vollständige Evolutionsprogramm, welches der Teleologie für immer und
auf jeder Ebene den Garaus machen sollte, bis in seine physikalische Begrifflichkeit von einem teleologischen
Horizont umschlossen ist (...)’ – ‚Verständnis des Lebens kann nur den umgekehrten Weg gehen: das einzig
sichere Kriterium für Leben ist unser Selbstvollzug des Lebens (...)’
electromechanical fields.39 The field of an organism is connected with changes on the bodily
level. This true for both the other levels, too.40 Vithoulkas summarises:
‘There is a spirit-like vital force, which enlivens and penetrates all levels of human organism.
It expresses itself (… ) as a mechanism of defence. As its primary instrument appears the
biological - electro dynamical field, as discovered by modern biology.’ (translated from p. 80)
Vithoulkas developed a vitalist conception of his own. Every body got a frequency of its own.
Homoeopathic drugs operate by the interaction (resonance) of their electromagnetic field with
that of the body. This process can be strengthened by potentialising the drugs (114).
Vitalism is not a homogenous concept. Its unity was constructed as late as by the end of 19th
century. In the 1710s, Stahl conceptualised life as the realisation of God in the human soul.
He reshaped Aristotle’s term by making the soul the principle of life. In the 1770s, Stahl’s
animism and partly Boerhaave’s physicalism were transformed into a medical conception,
which divided Aristotle’s threefold principle of life/ soul into a bodily vital force and a mental
soul. Some authors opposed this vital force to matter (Hahnemann); others saw the first to
emerge from the latter (Reil). A third group (Blumenbach, Hufeland) rejected to define the
character of the life force.
The vital force became part of morphological discussions in physiology. Though it was
compatible with physicalism (Liebig), it vanished from the stage since the 1840s. Physicalism
and evolution theory administered its euthanasia. Morphology took up the term vitalism by
the end of 19th century. The conception of biological self-organisation had been formulated at
about 1800. By 1900 it was re-formulated and called a new stage of vitalism (Driesch).
The first decades of the 20th century saw conceptions of life (Bergson), which followed on
Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer. Others took up the contrast between physical and biological
explanations (Schrödinger). In the 1980s, an autopoietic conception of life emerged, which
claimed physicalism and Darwinism as its ancestors (Maturana/ Varela). Opposing the
tradition of a vital force, it ignores similarities to morphological vitalism (Kant; Driesch).
39 The theory of an electromechanical field has first been described by James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s. Hertz
proofed the existence of such waves experimentally in 1887. Fields became a prominent metaphor in physics.
The conception was transferred to psychology by Max Wertheimer in his explanation of selective viewing. W.
Köhler took it up when developing the thesis of an isomorphy of the fields of perception and physical nature.
Though Vithoulkas’s thesis comes close to this isomorphy, he does not mention the psychological field theory.
Rather he refers to biological fields, quoting from S. Burr, The Fields of Life, New York 1972. Field theory had
been prominent in molecular biology in the 1930s (cf. Haraway 1976: 154ff.). But Burr’s conception seems to be
allocated in the margins of modern biology.
40 Vithoulkas indicates the changed strength of fields from persons suffering from schizophrenia and alcoholism.
Besides this autopoietic concept, today we got two other resumptions of vitalism: the
(German) philosophical anthropology (Plessner, Merleau-Ponty, Jonas) and the homoeopathic
tradition (Vithoulkas).
The conception of a life force demised by the 1840s, though it was partly compatible with
physicalism. The latter became the dominant paradigm, and it constructed a myth of victory
by refutation. In 1890, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (4th ed., vol. 10) praised Lotze to have
refuted life force, which had been the core of vitalism, in 1842 (vol. 17). In 1990, Brockhaus’
Enzyklopädie (19th ed., vol. 13) dated back the first refutation of life force to 1828, when the
chemist Friedrich Wöhler (1800 – 1882) produced the organic urea by a combination of the
inorganic cyanic acid with ammonia. This myth has been unmasked since 1944 (cf. Teich
1992: 451f.): Wöhler and his contemporaries had not seen the preparation of urea as a
refutation of vitalism.
Vitalism has not been refuted by empirical research. Has it been repressed by powerful
coalitions of science and politics? I do not think so. The conception of a vital force was
abandoned by scientists in the 1840s or later. At that time the perspective changed from
individual life to that of the species, and mechanics became the leading discipline governing
industry. The morphological ‘new’ vitalism did not take up the doctrine of a vital force. On its
part, it became ignored by modern autopoietic theory. This ignorance may be due to the
splitting of knowledge according to nations and disciplines. But this forms a problem of its
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physiologische Pathologie, ed. Rudolph Wagner. Vol. 1. Braunschweig: Vieweg
Luhmann, Niklas. 1984. Soziale Systeme. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Maturana, Humberto & Varela, Francisco. 1980. Autopoesis and Cognition. Dordrecht: Reidel.
Medicus, Friedrich Casimir. 1774. Von der Lebenskraft. Mannheim: Hof - und akademische Buchdruckerei.
Meyer, François. 1964. La pensée de Bergson. Paris : Bordas
Mocek, Reinhard. 1998. Die werdende Form. Eine Geschichte der Kausalen Morphologie. Marburg: Basilisken.
Neumann, Josef. N. 1991. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, pp. 339-359 in Klassiker der Medizin eds. D. v.
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Prof. Dr. Gunnar Stollberg, Faculty of Sociology, University of Bielefeld, Postbox 100 310, D – 33501
Phone (0521) 106 4618, fax (0521) 106 6020.

by Peter Morrell
"..beware of the opinion of men of science. Hahnemann has given us principles, which we can study and advance upon. It is law which governs the world and not matters of opinion or hypothesis." [Lectures, p.18]

This essay attempts first, to identify and disentangle the central themes of Kent's philosophy of homeopathy; second, to place these themes into a more modern context and comment upon them; third, to defend Kent against those modern homeopaths who adopt an essentially allopathic view of the miasm theory, contending that miasms are little more than bacteria and that the vital force is a totally redundant concept in homeopathy, no longer applicable and which can be dispensed with.
We can summarise the three central questions that Kent repeatedly addresses in all his writings. Firstly, what force powers the organism? Secondly, what is disease cause? Thirdly, what is a potentised remedy? As we shall see, though his ideas weave this way and that, his philosophy always returns to these central themes and attempts to bring all three points together within the same circle. He always places them all in a spiritual framework or schema. Repeatedly, he returns to these three fundamental aspects of homeopathy, and he never tires of explaining and defending them. These issues have not gone away, they are still with us. They are still central and dominant aspects of homeopathy. Nor have they been resolved or integrated into modern ideas of physiology. Kent provides one possible model, one all-embracing and consistent model to explain them all. It may not suit everyone, but it is still a sound and interesting model.
This essay does not address any aspect of Kent's technique. It merely considers his ideas. The practical application of his philosophy and its effectiveness, or otherwise, must comprise an entirely separate subject of study. Nor do we address Kent's third theme: the nature of potentised remedies.

Homeopathy is always changing and new ideas are being introduced today which would have appeared unthinkable a generation ago. C'est la vie. Recently, I was asked to comment upon the ideas of Sarkar, Choudhury, Kanjilal and Dimitriadis, who see the miasms as little more than bacteria and infectious agents. Some examples of this essentially allopathic view are as follows:
"Whatever the dictionary meaning of the term 'miasm' may be, Hahnemann clearly specified the meaning as "parasites", "germs", "viruses" and "minute living bodies", etc. in different chapters in his epoch making books "Chronic Diseases" and "Lesser Writings"." Elsewhere Choudhury says..."It is evident that Hahnemann's miasms are nothing but bacteria and other micro-organisms according to modern terminology." [Choudhury, pp.5-8]
"True natural Chronic Diseases are those which owe their origin to a chronic parasitic miasm or germ" i.e. a parasitic micro-organism in our terms…" [Tyler, p.2]
"Thus we come to the inevitable conclusion that psora is not a predisposition to disease (as many still assert) but the diseased condition itself..." [Sarkar, pp.507]
"Thus miasm has never meant a disease or predisposition to disease; however, a miasmatic disease can produce an increased susceptibility to other disease producing stimuli."[Dimitriadis, pp.15-16]
"Hahnemann repeatedly speaks of the psora disease as being acquired through infection with the miasm. His whole model revolves around the infectious nature of external disease producing stimuli, and their effects on the human organism. He never suggests that (internal) psora, the disease is hereditary."[Dimitriadis, p.41]
"... the child born of parents who have suffered psora (or any other disease) will be influenced in some way, even if it were only behaviourally, since the child will be affected by the parent's behaviour, circumstance, habits (all of which will be modified by their state of health or disease) etc., especially during its early development." [Dimitriadis, p.43]
When I first read these views I was puzzled how anyone could regard them as a sound account of the Miasm theory. I thus set about looking at this subject again and trying to trace my own views on this topic, and where I had obtained them. I disagree pretty fundamentally with the view expounded above about miasms. I do not believe it is a sound account of this matter at all, but a bowdlerised, allopathic version: a fake, an impostor.
I started out as an avowed Kentian and have always been a vitalist in my beliefs about biology. In more recent years, I have expounded against Kent as a dogmatist and a person opposed to change and experiment. I still stand against that aspect of him. However, I have recently been able to see more of his positive side once again. His religious views have never offended me, and though I do not agree with them, it is clear that he spent a lot of time thinking deeply on matters homeopathic and formed many conceptual bridges connecting his religious views with his homeopathic views.
The Lectures, which he published in 1900, and his Aphorisms both stand as living testament to that deep thinking he did. It is still a very rich source of ideas for modern homeopaths, and it is doubtful if anyone has truly digested them, sorted them out, or placed them into any kind of modern conceptuality. They also desperately need integrating into some kind of more modern framework and placing into the right context with modern ideas about physiology. Thus, I have started a process of re-examining this aspect of homeopathy.
'Homeopathic medical science views the facts of the universe…from a vitalistic…standpoint…which regards all things and forces, including life and mind, as substantial entities…' [Close, p.88]
Having very thoroughly absorbed the fundamental ideas of homeopathy, Kent then re-framed them, both in relation to the medicine of his day, and against his own personal religious beliefs. Thus, what we find in Kent, are parts of the 5th Organon viewed through a religious lens, and also viewed against a background of the main issues of medicine c.1900. Yet surprisingly, none of the issues he addresses have been resolved, and thus what is interesting about Kent is that much that he says is still highly relevant and exceptionally profound - philosophically and physiologically.

Vital Force
'The vital force is that which sleeps in the mineral, dreams in the plant, awakens in the animal and becomes fully conscious in Man.' [Anon]
While Kent can seem to be way off-mark in certain respects, possibly due to his religion, but he is also very often 'spot-on' about the precise and fundamental nature of what a miasm must intrinsically be in the organism. In addition, maybe his religion led him to where he ended up. His strong religious beliefs had clearly forced him into a certain position where he was duty-bound to think more deeply of all aspects of homeopathy and to try to build conceptual bridges between it and Swedenborg. That in essence is what his Lectures are. They stem from that bridge-building process, and very profound thinking. He uses the one [Swedenborg] to inform, enhance, deepen and fertilise his understanding of the other [homeopathy].
Like Hahnemann before him, Kent was clearly first and foremost a vitalist:
That which we call disease, is but a change in the Vital Force expressed by the totality of the symptoms.
We do not take disease through our bodies but through the Vital Force; likewise with a true cure.
He loved the concept of the vital force; it fitted his hand perfectly like a warm and comfortable glove. He adored this concept with an unparalleled and touching devotion. For Kent, it was the great secret, the very touchstone, which enabled him to make sense of the whole of homeopathy, and without which he would probably have seen little sense in it. For him, the vital force drew tightly together all the main threads of the subject. The potentised remedy, spirituality, disease causation and the action of the remedy. Thus, these threads which form the very warp and weft of Kentism [and indeed, of homeopathy itself], are founded upon and rooted in the concept of the vital force. It is one of his most oft-repeated themes and runs like a red line through all his writings and was apparently his homeopathic map and compass. Whenever he is unsure, confused or in doubt, he goes back to the vital force to seek help and guidance for a new direction. He does it repeatedly.
Kent thus has very clear ideas on what the vital force is and what its functions, properties, powers and qualities are too:
"The Vital Force dominates, rules and co-ordinates the human body.
The Vital Force holds all in harmony, keeps everything in order when in health; just as Electricity in its own natural state is a bond of order.
"There is no cell in man that does not have its will and understanding, its soul-stuff, limbus or simple Substance."
We must remember that Vital Force is Simple Substance, and that which cures must be Simple Substance.
''All matter is capable of reduction to its radiant or primitive form.
Simple Substance is continuously endowed with intelligence from first to last, mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms.
We do not take disease through our bodies but through the Vital Force; likewise with a true cure.
The real holding together of the things in this world is by Simple Substance.
The Simple Substance is the means of identification in nature. The mineral, the oak, the wheat, are all identified by their Primitive Substance, and exist, only, because of their Primitive Substance, which makes them what they are.
This Primitive Substance abides in everything that forms, grows, feeds, or has individuality, or identity, it is that which intimates an exterior form similar to its own existence. That causes the Aconite plant to be Aconite, and nothing else to the end of the world.
What things can we predicate of the Simple Substance? It cannot be found by Chemistry, nor seen with the eye, nor felt with the fingers. It must have a medium of operation, in order that it may become manifest to the Sensations.
Weight cannot be predicated of the Simple Substance, neither time, nor space.
No power known to man exists in the concrete substance, but all power exists in the Primitive Substance.
The Primitive Substance, or Radiant form of matter is just as much matter as matter in its aggregate form.
Everywhere this Simple Substance is a bond of order. 'The Vital Force like Electricity, is a bond of order. It builds in accordance with its necessities because of that which was prior to it.
It is unthinkable to speak of Motion or Force without a simple, primitive substance. Force, or action of a nothing is unthinkable.
It is insubstantial, immaterial, it cannot be seen, touched or weighed, but it is that force which powers the organism and maintains its integrity and healthy functioning in the face of continuous change and the forces of disorder.
'…the vital body is the vehicle that builds, maintains and repairs the physical body…' [Miles, 1992, p.26]
'Throughout life the vital body builds and restores the dense form, counteracting the abuse to which the dense body is subject. Without this the dense body would quickly fall into decay. During sleep…the vital vehicle or part of it remains, restoring the physical body ready for the next day's activity.' [Miles, 1992, p.143]
It is manifestly present and active in the living organism but quite absent from the corpse.
All motion, harmony and order are due to Simple Substance. It not only operates all things, but is the cause of operation of all substances that are material. The very Sounds of the forest have harmony and cooperation.
Primitive substance abides in everything that forms, grows, feeds or has Individuality or identity, It is that which ultimates an exterior form suitable to its own existence; what causes the Aconite plant to he Aconite and nothing else to the end of the world.
There is no cell or tissue so small that it does not keep its soul and life force within it.
It is from this primitive Substance that man is created, his intellect made, his life formed.
In this quote, Kent clearly suggests a transcendence of the vital force even over the dynamic structures of the organism and thus presumably over genetic mechanisms too. This is also of interest as Kent elsewhere refers to homeopathic cures of Diabetes, Cancer and Haemophilia, what are all-but universally regarded as genetic, or semi-genetic disorders. He also declares a form of vital force universally present in and powering all living things. The vital force makes sense of disease causation and Kent uses it to make sense of miasms and physiology too. It was his most often-used weapon to defend homeopathy against the encroaching ideas of allopathy.
Dynamic wrongs are corrected from the Interior by dynamic agencies.
Man cannot be made sick or be cured except by some substance as ethereal in quality as the Vital Force.
An inflamed liver is not the disease. The liver is not the cause of itself. It is under the control of the Vital Force and it becomes what the Vital Force makes of it.
There is nothing in the world, which does not exist by something prior to itself. With the grossest materialistic ideas, man can demonstrate this.
Here he responds to the materialist diktat of 1900 medicine by denying their ideas and by reasserting homeopathic dogma regarding the vital force.
The Idea that an organ like the liver, which is under the control of the Vital Force, is able to set up a disease itself and thereby make the patient sick is preposterous.
I feel in these quotations great sense, great beauty and a serene spiritual form of majesty. That is the sensation I had upon first reading them twenty years ago. Kent was talking from the heart, from his deep sense of direct realisation, as well as from conviction and understanding; a conviction and understanding borne from many years of useful practice and deep reflection upon the central themes of the Organon.

Disease Cause & Subtle Physiology
'Hahnemann…refers all the phenomena of health and disease…under two names: 'the dynamis' and 'the life force'. This is Hahnemann's greatest discovery, and the absolute bedrock of his system.' [Close, p.32]
Like Hahnemann before him, Kent avers that the organism is controlled by a subtle Dynamis, or vital force, or simple substance, what today is often called the 'matrix', defence mechanism, or bio-electric field, and what was in ancient times called the 'Vis medicatrix naturae', or healing power of nature. It probably also links to the meridians of acupuncture, the polygraph lie detector and Kirlian photography.
'In its original form acupuncture was based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. According to these, the workings of the human body are controlled by a vital force or energy called "Qi" (pronounced "chee"), which circulates between the organs along channels called meridians…Qi energy must flow in the correct strength and quality through each of these meridians and organs for health to be maintained.' [Vickers & Zollman, pp.973-976]
As a vitalist, I agree wholeheartedly with this concept. Thus miasms, as agents of disease cause, must be resident within the vital force itself, a part of its subtle being [what I have called 'a mist in the being' and what Ploog calls 'invisible stigmata'] and thus on this basis I fail to see how it can be truly regarded as a physical entity or as infectious agents, like bacteria and viruses.
'The vital body may suffer damage much like the physical. It is weakened by chronic disease and by drug suppression which it holds like a shadow in its structure…it is the vital body and its link with the physical, via the nervous system, that determines the health of the immune system. It is through direct contact with the nervous system that the vital body acts on the physical. The dynamic substance of the homeopathic remedy is absorbed into the nervous system, usually sub-lingually.' [Miles, 1992, p.28]
Kent had much to say about bacteria, which sheds a flood of light on our current understanding, and it relates to miasms too. Kent had so much to say on this subject because at that time it was being greeted by allopaths as the saviour of medicine: the Germ Theory of Disease. It was regarded as THE realm of disease causation. Because Kent was a thoroughgoing vitalist, he vehemently rejected the Germ Theory and castigated all those who adhered to it. He rejected this materialistic notion of disease causation as a thinly veiled direct assault on his own religious beliefs and upon the fundamental conceptual fabric of homeopathy. Thus, he regarded it as a vile and deceptive evil, which had the potential to trick homeopaths into becoming allopaths.
The following quotes from Kent's 'New Remedies, Clinical Cases, Aphorisms and Precepts' convey very clearly his rather disparaging view of the alleged importance of bacteria in medicine:
"The tendency for the human mind to run after the visible, that can be felt with the fingers, leads one to adopt foolish theories like the Bacteria doctrine and the molecular theory. [p.649]
"Most doctors have gone crazy over the vicious Microbe as being the cause of disease, and think the little fellows are exceedingly dangerous. As a matter of fact they are scavengers. Shortly after death, a prick with a scalpel is a serious matter, but when the cadaver has become green and is filled with bacteria, it is comparatively harmless. [p.663]
"The microbe is not the cause of disease. We should not be carried away by these idle allopathic dreams and vain imaginations, but should correct the Vital Force. [p.663]
"It is not from external things that man becomes sick, not from bacteria nor environment, but from causes within himself.
"Save the life of the patient first and don't worry about the bacteria. They are senseless things. [p.663]
"The Bacterium is an innocent feller, and if he carries disease he carries the Simple Substance which causes disease, just as an elephant would." [p.663]
There is a state of insanity in the Sciences of the present day. They put all laws aside, in order to accept, for instance, the Molecular theory, because they want something that in its aggregate will be large enough to be felt with the fingers. [p.643]
Here again we see Kent taking up and responding to the ideas prevalent in 1900 medicine and dismissing such materialist ideas of disease causation as nonsensical, when viewed through the lens of his profound knowledge of homeopathic principles.
Every body has its atmosphere, just as the earth has its atmosphere. It is not the Smallpox crust that is so dangerous; it is the Aura, which emanates from it.
The microscopist has failed to show that there is no Vital Force, no Simple Substance, no Dynamis in drugs seen, and how can we expect him to foretell when the substance cannot be seen?
It is not from external things that man becomes sick, not from bacteria nor environment, but from causes within himself.
When a microscopist can examine a grain of wheat, and tell whether it will grow if planted in favorable soil, he may be of use to Homoeopathy. When he can examine a smallpox crust and tell whether it is still contagious, or whether its power has been destroyed by heat, then he may be of use. When he can examine the Aconite root and tell how it will affect man, we can do away with provings, but we have to enter by a different door.
Whenever a man settles all things by his eyes, and fingers, pseudo-science and theories, he reasons from lasts to firsts; in other words, from himself, and is insane.
Here again we see the important implication being underscored by Kent time and again that 'disease cause' is internal not external, and is invested in the vital force itself, not in external or infectious agents like 'germs'.
That which we call disease, is but a change in the Vital Force expressed by the totality of the symptoms.
We do not take disease through our bodies but through the Vital Force; likewise with a true cure.
Disease is clearly and emphatically portrayed as a derangement in the vital force itself [and true cure as a correction of the vital force] and even external causes are portrayed merely as 'exciting causes' that trigger already internal predispositions [miasms].
So long as man relies upon the senses to settle what is scientific and what is not, and does not use his understanding, so long will he be in confusion, and sciences will oppose each other.
The finest visible objects are but the results of things still finer, so that the causes rest within.
Every feature what can be seen, that can be observed with the aid of the finest instrument is but the result of disease; but the cause of disease is a million times more subtle than these and cannot be seen by the human eye.
Here he again returns to his favourite theme, a clear advocation of a subtle and ethereal 'realm of disease causation' which is internal, inherent to the vital force and the organism, and which lies just behind the physical. It is always noumenal, and never physical in character. How could this realm be reached by anything other than a potentised remedy? And the higher the potency, the deeper it reaches into this realm of disease causation?
Higher means interior in quality.
The lower potency corresponds to a series of outer degrees, less fine and less interior than the higher.
The physician who thinks in quantities only has such a crude mind that he cannot realize the true homeopathy.
If we have material ideas of disease we will have material ideas of the means of cure.
The rational mind can go far beyond the idea of a molecule.
The physician is not called upon to cure the results of disease, but the disease itself; all pathological changes must be regarded as the results of disease since all disease is dynamic.
The above quotes illustrate very firmly the way in which Kent responded to the ideas of the medicine of his day, dismissing and reframing them all in the light of his deeper understanding of homeopathy; and his repeated rejection of the physical and material in favour of the subtle and ethereal.
'Hahnemann at first apparently had the distinction between power and force pretty clearly in mind in his use, in the Organon, of the two terms: 'dynamis', the life power, the substance, the thing itself, objectively considered; and 'life-force', the action of the power; but he failed to maintain the distinction uniformly in his subsequent use of the words.' [Close, p.34]
In modern terms, there seems to be some evidence that the vital force might be congruent with the 'unconscious mind', and which in turn controls, via the brainstem [medulla], the autonomic nervous system, and thus all the subconscious processes of the organism. This is my conception of what the vital force is.
"The Simple Substance is again dominated by still another higher substance which is the Soul."
"This Primitive Substance abides in everything that grows, or has individuality or identity. It is the vice-regent of the Soul.
It is also of interest that Kent calls the vital force the 'vice-regent of the soul'. This is a very interesting point and illustrates very clearly that he was regarding it as a mental entity, a conceptual abstraction or mind rather than anything remotely physical.
'Samuel Hahnemann spoke of the 'vital force' and how it exerted power and influence over the physical body…the homeopathic remedy appears to act directly on this vital force, which ultimately brings about changes in the physical body…it is the manifestation of life energy, and without it the physical vehicle has no animation or sensation. It is the vehicle of disease and disorder, expressing them through the physical body by means of morbid disease symptoms.' [Miles, 1992, p.25]
If the vital force is the vice-regent of the soul, as Kent suggests, then it follows that it is a kind of soul or mind, and has a grip on the body's functioning through the DNA, RNA, and a battery of enzymes, to control the cellular processes. Moreover, all these processes cease at the point of death:
"It is the imperfect machine that causes death. The vital force is of the Soul and cannot be destroyed or weakened. It can be disordered but it is all there.
When you have discovered that this Life Force resides in a simple substance you see at once that death is not an entity. The body has no life of its own and therefore it cannot die.
Therefore, there is no death, but we do observe and perceive that there is a separation, of one that is alive from another that never was alive; a disjunction of that which lives from that which never lived.
It stands between mind and matter and is clearly an 'immaterial entity'. It can thus be regarded as the 'director of metabolism' and is what I termed the "invisible finger" which moves the molecules of all life processes:
"The doctrine of the Vital Force is not admitted by the teachers of physiology, yet without the vital force, without simple substance, without the internal as well as the external, there can be no cause and no relation between cause and effect."

"Hahnemann talked of this pandemia (psora) and it was easy for me to accept. Then I read Kent and I could not share his religious point of view, the miasms as the first sin." [Christoph Ploog, 1999]
Once again, and in modern parlance, we can say that the vital force is in control of the processes of cell division, of embryo development, detoxification, cellular regeneration, organ formation, tissue maintenance and all bodily processes, which are directed through hormones and enzymes. I think this very vividly conveys how we can use these concepts of Kent to get right to the heart of this matter and place them into a modern context. In addition, of course, it reveals the essentially vitalistic nature of homeopathy. Nowadays, arguments even break out about Hahnemann and whether he was a vitalist. However, here we can clearly see that he must have had some vitalist leanings to have even conceived of a vital force or Dynamis in the first place. This suggests that he preferred vitalistic ideas to physical ones.
For example, I agree with him that the miasm is an invisible force retained by the organism [like a hidden stain] from the original [and infectious] disease, but subtly capable of diverting the vital force's control of the chemical machinery of the organism. This seems to me to be the crux of the matter. The miasms thus disturb the pure or smooth functioning of the vital force. They impede its smooth action or control and this leads to symptoms of disease.
Thus, the miasms can be seen as an "unwanted accessory" [or negative component] of the vital force [what Miles so aptly calls a 'shadow'], which deviates or inhibits or restricts its pure control [over the organism] and hence creates disease symptoms where there should be none. In addition, it follows that only potentised remedies can delete these 'engrams' we call miasms from the vital force and thus restore to pure function the vital force and its control of the organism. We might therefore even see miasms as negative 'racial memories' or archetypes. Only potentised remedies are "raised to the same degree of subtlety" as that of the vital force itself. Kent himself says exactly this:
Man cannot be made sick or be cured except by some substance as ethereal in quality as the Vital Force.
"Low potencies can cure acute diseases because acute diseases act upon the outermost degree of the Simple Substance and the body. In chronic disease the trouble is deeper seated, and the degrees are finer, hence the remedy must be reduced to finer or higher degrees so as to be similar to The degrees of chronic disease.
We potentise our medicines so as to render them simple enough to directly influence the Vital Force itself, to he drawn in, so to speak by its influx.
Higher means interior in quality.
When the third potency cures there is something higher in it. No substance permeates the Vital Force when it is coarse enough to be seen.
The lower potency corresponds to a series of outer degrees, less fine and less interior than the higher."
That which we call disease, is but a change in the Vital Force expressed by the totality of the symptoms.
We do not take disease through our bodies but through the Vital Force; likewise with a true cure.
Most certainly it was his religion that led Dr Kent, 'bull by nose', in the direction of these ideas, and without which he might never have dreamed of his hierarchies and octaves. We certainly have Swedenborg to thank for that. It also follows that only certain remedies can do the deleting spoken of above. These are the miasmic remedies and certain nosodes. No other remedies are apparently capable of doing this.
I would happily walk even further down this road with Dr Kent in also saying that the miasms can therefore be seen as mental or archetypal rather than physical. They are disorders of the vital force, not of the cells and tissues per se. That seems to me to be the crux of this matter. How can they be material entities or infectious agents, when it is the vital force that controls all the cellular processes and is the 'director of metabolism'? Thus, stated plainly, if you believe in vital force then you must accept the immaterial nature of the miasms. The one comes in with the other; they form inter-connected parts of the same territory.
Bacteria and viruses can still be accepted as real disease causes, but more subordinate to the subtle internal 'real causes'.. More as external stimuli, that switch on or trigger the internal acute miasms.
"This is something hidden in the mist of mankind...I indeed think we have invisibly carried stigmata that resulted from the chronic miasms and I think too that we get a miasmatic touch from our parents, I don't think that your 'fog in the being' and the bacteria theory exclude each other." [Christoph Ploog, 1999]
Well, it does seem difficult to be a materialist AND a vitalist at the same sitting! The key point here seems to be 'invisibly carried stigmata' and also 'an hereditary aspect in the miasms'. I agree. Yet, they seem to stand on the very borderline of what is truly physical and cellular and what is abstract and conceptual i.e. residing within the vital force or matrix? Personally, I prefer to regard them NOT as physical entities but as essentially mental/vital – as part of the matrix. The child is touched by the miasm of the parents, as said above.
What is still left unanswered at this point is why the two venereal and one skin disease should be the causes of the three miasms. In other words, what is it about these particular diseases, which makes them able to imprint themselves so deeply and powerfully upon the vital force and its mode of functioning? And thus generate such deep-seated and insidious miasms. What is it then about the VF which caused it to suffer a 'collapse of power' sufficient for the formation of these miasms? They clearly represent a loss of control on the part of the VF. This is quite clearly also a question that troubled Dr Kent, and, after thinking it over deeply, he opted for the moral and religious answer typical of his times:
"You cannot divorce medicine and theology. Man exists all the way down from his innermost spiritual to his outermost natural" [p.641]
"A man who cannot believe in God cannot become a homeopath." [p.671]
'The body became corrupt because man's interior will became corrupt.' [ibid., p.681]
'Man...becomes disposed to sickness by doing evil, through thinking wrong...' [ibid., p.664]
'Psora is the evolution of the state of man's will, the ultimates of sin.' [ibid., p.654]
'This outgrowth, which has come upon man from living a life of evil willing, is Psora.' [ibid., p.654]
'Thinking, willing and doing are the 3 things in life from which finally proceed the chronic miasms.' [ibid., p.654]
'..had Psora never been established as a miasm upon the human race...susceptibility to acute diseases would have been is the foundation of all sickness.' [Lectures, p.126]
' a state of susceptibility to disease from willing evils.' [ibid., p.135]
'The human race today walking the face of the earth, is but little better than a moral leper. Such is the state of the human mind at the present day. To put it another way everyone is Psoric.' [ibid., p.135]
'Psora...would not exist in a perfectly healthy race.' [ibid., p.133]
'As long as man continued to think that which was true and held that which was good to the neighbour, that which was uprightness and justice, so long man remained free from disease, because that was the state in which he was created.' [ibid., p.134]
'The internal state of man is prior to that which surrounds him; therefore, the environment is not the cause...' [ibid., p.136]
'Diseases correspond to man's affections, and the diseases upon the human race today are but the outward expression of man's hates his neighbour, he is willing to violate every commandment; such is the state of man today. This state is represented in man's diseases.' [ibid., p.136]
'The Itch is looked upon as a disgraceful affair; so is everything that has a similar correspondence; because the Itch in itself has a correspondence with adultery...' [ibid., p.137]
'How long can this thing go on before the human race is swept from the earth with the results of the suppression of Psora?' [ibid., pp.137-8]
'Psora is the beginning of all physical the underlying cause and is the primitive or primary disorder of the human race.' [ibid., p.126]
'...for it goes to the very primitive wrong of the human race, the very first sickness of the human race that is the spiritual sickness...which in turn laid the foundation for other diseases. [ibid., p.126]
Thus, man is what he wills. As his love is, so is his life. When man thinks about the neighbor, he wills one of two things, he wills good to his neighbor or the opposite.
The Soul, which is the most interior of man, cannot be affected by drugs. This can only be affected by man's own will.
This outgrowth, which has come upon man from living a life of evil willing, is Psora, is the life of Psora. [Aphorisms, p.654]
Now in proportion as a man falsifies truth or mixes or perverts truth; in proportion as he mixes willing well with willing evil, so does he adulterate his interiors until that state is present.
When Psora had become a complete, ultimation of causes, it became contagious.
It is a law that if man does not think from firsts to lasts, he becomes disposed to sickness by doing evil through thinking wrong. This state precedes susceptibility." [Aphorisms]
Unfamiliar, perhaps, and old-fashioned as these ideas now sound, I think it is wrong to dismiss them too lightly. Rather than dismiss them outright as dogmas, it is perhaps preferable in fact to keep them in mind as a possible model of explanation. The fact remains that no-one can with certainty state why these particular diseases were so important and affective to the vital force.
An interesting question has always been whether other infectious diseases do not also create chronic miasms. Modern writers have contended that Tuberculosis and Cancer have a similar power to create new miasms. In which case it might be the scourge-like nature of all these diseases that has led them to create miasms. Maybe it is an aspect of their great vigour, their powerfulness and their persistence.
'The next step consisted in [Hahnemann] collecting into a class all the phenomena known to be due to those ancient, widespread and malignant scourges of mankind, the venereal diseases.' [Close, p.90]
In which case one imagines that Plague and Leprosy in ancient times, must also have been deep, miasmatic disorders. Similarly Elephantiasis. In addition, in this century, possibly Influenza too. Cholera and Typhus [1800s], Diphtheria [1930s] and Tonsillitis [1950s] might also be regarded as suitable candidates for miasm status. Maybe it is the sheer life-threatening power of such diseases to overwhelm the vital force that leads them to attain their status as miasms? Leprosy would clearly stand close to Psora, while Influenza and Plague seem closer to Tuberculosis - though all four are fundamentally Psoric conditions. Thus, Psora clearly still forms the basis for all other miasms, as Kent says.
I still return to my basic Kentian notion that a miasm, though originally derived from an actual infectious disease, is essentially a derangement of the life force, a component of the living entity which controls the organism and moves molecules in the biochemical processes.
'…Hahnemann invariably uses the term, vital principle instead of vital force, even speaking in one place of 'the force of the vital principle', thus making it clear that he holds…that life is a substantial, objective entity, a primary originating power or principle and not a mere condition or mode of motion. From this conception arises the dynamical theory of disease…that disease is always primarily a morbid dynamical or functional disturbance of the vital principle; and upon which is reared the entire edifice of therapeutic medication, governed by the Similia principle…' [Close, p.88]
It is thus immaterial and spiritual in character, like the vital force. Could not a miasm be some kind of zeitgeist which the whole race absorbs at the time of the epidemic, regardless of actual infection or not? Thus it might be seen as an episode in human evolution resulting from pandemics passing through in different historical epochs. If the miasms are essentially more mental than physical, then Kent is right in one important respect, that they represent a point of interface between homeopathy and psychotherapy. Then the question arises how they can be removed by psychotherapy as well as by potentised remedies?
That which we call disease is but a change in the Vital Force expressed by the totality of the symptoms.
We do not take disease through our bodies but through the Vital Force; likewise with a true cure.
The miasm is also very often distanced in time from that original infection and also usually passed down to descendants. In a certain sense, therefore, it is abstracted from physicality and must therefore be fundamentally mental in structure and form. Well, some people regard it as genetic. I also return to my idea that it is an 'innate predisposition' and a vestige of an ancient disease which has imprinted itself very powerfully and deeply upon the 'matrix', and left a stain [like a bruise or deep hurt, an engram] which is carried forward not in the cells and tissues [or genetically] but through that part of the matrix which is passed down the cellular line to progeny.
Kent also argues here that ONLY through the vital force do we become sick and become cured. To modern eyes, this is a very curious point, as it completely ignores material factors in health like poisons, radiation, physical injury, heat, bacteria and viruses, and overtly genetic factors, which most certainly do have a health impact. To some degree they damage the physical fabric of the organism and thus cause symptoms. But to a strict vitalist, like Kent, they cannot be allowed as true causes and must carry with them a subtle, ethereal cause as well, which impacts directly upon the subtle vital force and hence elicits disease symptoms. Most modern clinicians would find such an idea perversely unacceptable, provocatively vitalist and manifesting an unnecessarily anti-materialist position.
'The vital body may suffer damage much like the physical. It is weakened by chronic disease and by drug suppression which it holds like a shadow in its structure…' [Miles, 1992, p.28, my emphasis]
Thus, in this important sense, a miasm has to be regarded as a part of the fabric of the vital force itself, pure and simple.
To deny that the miasms are dyscrasias or predispositions towards certain types of patterned disease states seems to deny the theory in its entirety. We only have to consider the characteristics of the three miasms themselves that run down in families. Sycosis people are pale, cachetic, marasmic, waxy, with a strong tendency [= predisposition] towards mucus and pus problems, cystitis, warts, infertility and asthma, worse for damp weather. Syphilitic families quite clearly manifest examples of alcoholism, blindness, deafness, insanity, bone and brain disorders, cleft palate, necrotic and destructive, etc. Psoric families tend to manifest allergies, circulation disorders, haemorrhoids, and skin complaints, functional disorders of every description. To deny that these observations constitute innate predispositions to certain predictable patterned disease states derived from vestiges of ancient family illnesses seems to completely demolish the theory itself and all the countless observations Hahnemann himself had meticulously compiled, and which led him to formulate the theory of Chronic Diseases in the first place.
'The next step consisted in collecting into a class all the phenomena known to be due to those ancient, widespread and malignant scourges of mankind, the venereal diseases.' [Close, p.90]
If we accept, and the evidence seems overwhelmingly strong, that the organism is controlled by a vital force, then the miasms must be seen as derangements in it; they are blockages, taints or stains which are carried invisibly within it as part and parcel of it. They drain its energy and impede its smooth action, and hence generate symptoms of disease.
'…that disease is always primarily a morbid dynamical or functional disturbance of the vital principle; and upon which is reared the entire edifice of therapeutic medication, governed by the Similia principle…' [Close, p.88]
Thus Kent conceived the important viewpoint that a perfectly clean and healthy person is a person completely cured of their miasms; mentally and physically pure and free; a spiritual being who is no longer susceptible to disease because they have had erased within them the root causes of disease which the miasms are. In this sense, Kent also conceived that the miasms are the foundation of all sickness and all possible sickness.
"There are two worlds, the world of thought, of immaterial substance, and the world of matter or material substance.[p.648, also in Lectures, p.69, p.75 and p.85-6]
"There is an innermost to everything that is, or else the outermost could not be [Aphorisms, p.645].
All disease causes are in Simple Substance. We must enter the realm of causes in order to see the nature of disease.
We potentize so as to render the remedy simple enough to be drawn in by influx by the Vital Force.
The dynamic plane is more interior or above the nutritive plane; it presides over it and commands it. This is the plane of provings.
There are degrees of fineness of the Vital Force. We may think of internal man as possessing infinite degrees and of external man as possessing finite degrees.
The interior man is superior to the external man. Through this outer instrument everything is reflected or rather conducted.
The external man is but an outward expression of the internal, so the results of disease (i.e. symptoms) are but the outward expression of the internal sickness.
Arsenic, for example is capable of identification from its outermost to its innermost. In the external form the degrees are limited. When it has passed to simple substance, the Radiant form of matter, it has infinite degrees. To express the degrees from the Outermost to the Innermost, we might say a grain of Silica is the Outermost; the Innermost is The Creator.
One who thinks from the material, thinks disease is drawn in from without, but it is drawn out from within.
And we can also point to Kent's wonderful assertions about 'the realm of causation' and the 'internal man' which again amplify this idea that miasms and vital force are united and dwell together in 'mystical union' within a spiritual realm of causality which sits just behind the physical and which touches it only through the hierarchies of biochemical processes.
'The administration of the homeopathic remedy stimulates the vital force to perform its work, on itself and its physical counterpart…here is revealed the true nature of the potentised homeopathic remedy – it is itself vital not physical…vital, or etheric, and by its very nature acts directly on the vital body. The energy of the remedy…is unleashed on the vital force and this is transmitted to its physical vehicle.' [Miles, 1992, p.27]
Thus, my point of the vital force being the finger that moves the molecules fits hand-in-glove with Kent's ideas.
Adopting a more modern chemical basis, we can say that the defence mechanism or vital force, can be identified a little more 'physically' than in Kent's day as the immune system, composed of antibodies, phagocytes, immunoglobulins, recognition molecules and lymphatic cells. But if Kent himself were alive today he would still dismiss even this as still not nebulous enough by half! He would still assert a finer more ultimate level of causation residing in a non-physical vital force, along these lines:
"The outer world is the world of results. The inner world (of causes) is not discoverable by the senses but by the understanding. [p. 657]
The Outermost has all within into the infinite in degree.
'Radiant substances have degrees within degrees, in series too numerous for the finite mind to grasp.
The signs are visible, yet the inner Essence is invisible.
In this way, therefore, Kent would still re-affirm the fundamentally numinous, ethereal and invisible nature of the three central components of homeopathy: vital force, disease cause and potentised remedies.
'The energy of the homeopathic remedy is made available for the vital body via the nervous system, and by return the vital force acts upon the physical body, using the nervous system as a means of transmission.' [Miles, 1992, p.28]
Each in their way therefore, are metaphysical and cannot be discerned in the physical realm even with the most powerful microscope we could conceive of.
The finest visible objects are but the results of things still finer, so that the causes rest within.
And as soon as we talk of the immune system, we link up with another subject Kent was keen to expound upon at length: susceptibility. But that can wait for another time.

[All quotations in the text are to Kent’s Aphorisms, unless otherwise stated]
Allen, J. H., 1910, The Chronic Miasms- Psora, Pseudo-Psora And Sycosis [In 2 Parts]
Assilem, M., 1991, Folliculinum: Mist Or Miasm?, The Homeopath, Vol. 11/1, p.5
Banerjea, S.K, 1991, Miasmatic Diagnosis
Choudhury, H., 1988, Indications of Miasm, 1st Edition, 1988, B. Jain
Close, Stuart, 1924, The Genius of Homeopathy, Lectures and Essays On Homeopathic Philosophy, Indian Reprint (1988) Ed., B. Jain Publishers, N. Delhi
Cohen, H, 1997, Medorrhinum, Miasms And Morality In Homoeopathy, The Homeopath, Vol. 65, Jan 1997, pp.698-703
Cook, S., 1997, Mercurius, The Syphilitic Miasm And Spiritual Awakening, The Homeopath, Vol. 66, p.755
Danciger, Elizabeth, 1993, Letter re Vital Force, The Homeopath, 50, pp.92-4
Dimitriadis, G., 1992, The Theory of Chronic Diseases According to Hahnemann, Hahnemann Institute of Homoeopathy, Sydney.
Green, Julia M, 1982, Development Of Miasms In Family Groups, The Homeopath 3/1, 1982
Grimmer, A H, 1995, Miasms And Remedies, Homeopathic Heritage 20, pp.415-16
Haehl, Richard, 1922, Samuel Hahnemann, His Life and Work, Vol. 1
Hahnemann, Samuel, 1828, The Chronic Diseases, Jain reprint
Hahnemann, Samuel, The Mode and Propagation of Asiatic Cholera
Jain Pub, c.1970, Chronic Diseases And The Theory Of Miasms, Jain, New Delhi
Kanjilal, J. N., 1977, Writings on Homoeopathy, Dr. Abinash Ch. Das Publishers, Calcutta, Vol. 2.
Kent, James T, New Remedies, Clinical Cases, Aphorisms and Precepts
Kent, James T, 1900, Lectures on Homoeopathic Philosophy
Miles, Martin, 1992, Homeopathy and Human Evolution, Winter Press, London
Miles, Martin, 1995, Homoeopathy In The 21st Century, Prometheus Unbound 2:1, Autumn 1995, pp.35-37
Morrell, Peter, 1983, On The Nature Of Life, The Homoeopath 3:3, London
Morrell, Peter, 1984, Homoeopathic Health Revolution, The Homoeopath 4:3, London
Morrell, Peter, 1987, Psorinum, The Homoeopath, 6:4, London
Morrell, Peter, 1998, From Cooper Club to Flower Essences, Homeopathy Online #6, August 1998
Norland, Misha, 1991, The Roots of Suffering: Buddhism and the Miasms, The Homoeopath 11:3, Sept. 1991, pp.77-82
Ortega, P.S., 1983, Chronic Miasms, BHJ 72:1, [Jan 1983, pp.8-19]
Paterson, J, & E.M Paterson, 1935, The Chronic Miasms In Prescribing [1935],
Ploog, Chistoph, 1999, Email to P Morrell re Miasms, Dec 1999
Sarkar, B.K., 1968, Essays on Homoeopathy, Hapco, Calcutta.
Seror, Robert, 1999, Kent’s Aphorisms Online, <>
Shemmer, Yair, 1993, Vital Force: A View To The Future, The Homoeopath 13:2, June 1993, pp.66-70
Singh, S P, & J G Roy, 1996, Hahnemann's Miasm, Homeopathic Heritage 21, pp.465-72
Speight, P., 1948, A Comparison Of The Chronic Miasms, C. W. Daniel Co, Saffron Walden, UK
Twentyman, L. R., 1952, Miasms And Archetypes, BHJ, 41:4, pp.130-139
Tyler, M. L., c.1940, Hahnemann's Conception of Chronic Disease as Caused by Parasitic Micro-Organisms, B. Jain Publishers, N. Delhi.
Vickers, Andrew and Zollman, Catherine, 1999, ABC of Complementary Medicine: Acupuncture, BMJ 1999; 319:973-976, 9 October 1999
Whitney, Jerome, 1995, The Source Of The Miasms, The Homeopath 57, April 1995, p.398

man Metaphysical Energy

There is a spiritual science explanation for the energy found in the human nervous system. This nerve force energy behaves in ways similar to electric energy in the body but it is not the same.

Mind is the Source of Energy
Fundamental Energy

Fundamental energy in the atmosphere transforming into life force or vital force.Our sources of wisdom explain that the ultimate source of energy is Mind. Mind condenses to become the essence of all energy, fundamental energy, and this exists throughout the Universe.

In the atmosphere of planets fundamental energy transforms; some takes a form that is easily absorbed by living things. This, transformed fundamental energy, has been called life force or vital force; in the East they call it prana energy or chi energy.

Life Force / Vital Force becomes
Nerve Force

Our sources of wisdom explain that, life force / vital force from the atmosphere is absorbed into the human body. When inside the human body they call this energy nerve force. Nerve force energy is the real source of all bio-nervous energy in living things and is used for:
  • Every nerve impulse and muscle movement.
  • Workings the bodily senses.
  • Conscious and unconscious thinking and will power.
  • Feelings and emotions.
  • Spiritual abilities.
Some life force / vital force is absorbed via the fresh food and water we consume but, most is absorbed by the breathing mechanism.

Human Energy Systems - Physical and Non-physical

Life force or vital force energy in the human body.It is possible to get more life force / vital force energy into the human nervous system. You can absorb more and distribute more, and it can be stored within special areas of the nervous system and brain.

Our sources of wisdom explain that human beings have other, non physical, bodies. In particular, there is a subtle body or astral body and this has its own energy systems.

When more life force / vital force is absorbed into the nervous system more is also available to the non-physical, energy systems.

Life Force / Vital Force is not Electricity

When life force / vital force is absorbed into the body it becomes nerve force, and this has some properties similar to electricity:
  • Human body energy systems with nerve force energy.Flows rapidly throughout the nervous system and brain.
  • Creates an energy field around the body, human magnetism.
  • It's energy can be transmitted to other people.
  • Can be transformed and transmitted a long distance away.
But nerve force also has other properties:
  • Some psychic people can see or feel life force and nerve force.
  • Using the mind it is possible to control it.
  • Life force and nerve force can be transferred to another person.
  • In special ways it links to spiritual development.

Metaphysics and Human Energy,
in brief...

  • Mind is the source of fundamental energy.
  • Fundamental energy is the essence of all energy know to science and the essence of all matter in the Universe.
  • In the atmosphere fundamental energy transforms into life force energy; also known as vital force, prana energy, chi energy.
  • Life force prana energy is absorbed into the body energy systems and is the essence of life, here it is called nerve force.
  • With your mind it is possible to control life force and nerve force.

Energy (esotericism)

This article is about spiritual energy. For other uses, see Energy (disambiguation).
"Subtle energy" redirects here. For the mystical concept of psychospiritual bodies overlaying the physical body, see Subtle body.
The term energy is used by writers and practitioners of various esoteric forms of spirituality and alternative medicine to refer to a variety of phenomena.[citation needed] There is no scientific evidence for the existence of such energy.[1] Therapies that purport to use, modify, or manipulate unknown energies are thus among the most contentious of all complementary and alternative medicines. Claims related to energy therapies are most often anecdotal, rather than being based on repeatable empirical evidence.[1][2][3]
Concepts such as "life force", "physiological gradient", and "élan vital" emerged from within the spiritualist movement and later inspired thinkers in the modern New Age movement.[4][page needed]
The field of "energy medicine" purports to manipulate this energy, but there is no credible evidence to support this.[1]
As biologists studied embryology and developmental biology, particularly before the discovery of genes, a variety of organisational forces were posited to account for their observations. With the work of Hans Driesch (1867-1941), however, the importance of "energy fields" began to wane and the proposed forces became more mind-like.[5][page needed]
Modern research science has all but abandoned the attempt to associate additional energetic properties with life.[6] Despite this, spiritual writers and thinkers have maintained ideas about energy and continue to promote them either as useful allegories or as fact.[7]


Main article: Ectoplasm (paranormal)
Early psychical researchers who studied mediumship and spiritualism speculated that an unidentified fluid termed the "psychode", "psychic force" or "eteneic force" existed within the human body and was capable of being released to influence matter.[8][9] The idea of ectoplasm was merged into the theory of ectenic force by some early psychical researchers who were seeking a physical explanation for reports of psychokinesis in séances.[10]
The existence of ectoplasm was initially hypothesized by Count Agenor de Gasparin to explain the phenomena of table turning and tapping during séances. Ectenic force was named by de Gasparin's colleague M. Thury, a professor of Natural History at the Academy of Geneva. Between them, de Gasparin and Thury conducted a number of experiments in ectenic force, and claimed some success. Their work was not independently verified.[11][page needed][12][page needed]

Negative energy

The idea that some kind of "negative energy" is responsible for creating or attracting ghosts or demons appears in contemporary paranormal culture and beliefs as exemplified in the TV shows Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters.[13]


Main article: Qi
The concept of "qi" (energy) appears throughout traditional East Asian culture, such as in the art of feng shui, in Chinese martial arts, and in spiritual tracts.[citation needed] Qi philosophy also includes the notion of "negative qi", typically understood as introducing negative moods like outright fear or more moderate expressions like social anxiety or awkwardness.[14] Deflecting this negative qi through geomancy is a preoccupation in feng shui.[15] The traditional explanation of acupuncture states that it works by manipulating the circulation of qi through a network of meridians.[16][ISBN missing]


Vitalism is a discredited scientific hypothesis that "living organisms are fundamentally different from non-living entities because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than are inanimate things".[1] a Where vitalism explicitly invokes a vital principle, that element is often referred to as the "vital spark", "energy" or "élan vital", which some equate with the soul.
Although rejected by modern science,[2] vitalism has a long history in medical philosophies: most traditional healing practices posited that disease results from some imbalance in vital forces. In the Western tradition founded by Hippocrates, these vital forces were associated with the four temperaments and humours; Eastern traditions posited an imbalance or blocking of qi or prana.


Louis Pasteur argued that only life could catalyse fermentation. (Painting by A. Edelfeldt in 1885.)
The notion that bodily functions are due to a vitalistic principle existing in all living creatures has roots going back at least to ancient Egypt.[3] In Greek philosophy, the Milesian school proposed natural explanations deduced from materialism and mechanism. However, by the time of Lucretius, this account was supplemented, (for example, by the clinamen of Epicurus), and in stoic physics, the pneuma assumed the role of logos. Galen believed the lungs draw pneuma from the air, which the blood communicates throughout the body.[4]
Plato's world of eternal and unchanging Forms, imperfectly represented in matter by a divine Artisan, contrasts sharply with the various mechanistic Weltanschauungen, of which atomism was, by the fourth century at least, the most prominent... This debate was to persist throughout the ancient world. Atomistic mechanism got a shot in the arm from Epicurus... while the Stoics adopted a divine teleology... The choice seems simple: either show how a structured, regular world could arise out of undirected processes, or inject intelligence into the system.[5]
— R. J. Hankinson, Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought (1997)


In Europe, medieval physics was influenced by the idea of pneuma, helping to shape later aether theories. In the 17th century, modern science responded to Newton's action at a distance and the mechanism of Cartesian dualism with vitalist theories: that whereas the chemical transformations undergone by non-living substances are reversible, so-called "organic" matter is permanently altered by chemical transformations (such as cooking). Jöns Jakob Berzelius, one of the early 19th century fathers of modern chemistry, argued that a regulative force must exist within living matter to maintain its functions.[6]
Vitalist chemists predicted that organic materials could not be synthesized from inorganic components, but Friedrich Wöhler synthesised urea from inorganic components in 1828.[7] However, contemporary accounts do not support the common belief that vitalism died when Wöhler made urea. This Wöhler Myth, as historian Peter Ramberg called it, originated from a popular history of chemistry published in 1931, which, "ignoring all pretense of historical accuracy, turned Wöhler into a crusader who made attempt after attempt to synthesize a natural product that would refute vitalism and lift the veil of ignorance, until 'one afternoon the miracle happened'".[8][9][10] Further discoveries continued to obviate the need for a special "vital force".
Vitalism has long been regarded in the scientific community as a corrupting pseudoscientific influence.[11] Vitalism today is no longer philosophically and scientifically viable, and is sometimes used as a pejorative epithet.[12] Ernst Mayr, co-founder of the modern evolutionary synthesis and a critic of vitalism, wrote:
It would be ahistorical to ridicule vitalists. When one reads the writings of one of the leading vitalists like Driesch one is forced to agree with him that many of the basic problems of biology simply cannot be solved by a philosophy as that of Descartes, in which the organism is simply considered a machine... The logic of the critique of the vitalists was impeccable.[13]
Vitalism has become so disreputable a belief in the last fifty years that no biologist alive today would want to be classified as a vitalist. Still, the remnants of vitalist thinking can be found in the work of Alistair Hardy, Sewall Wright, and Charles Birch, who seem to believe in some sort of nonmaterial principle in organisms.[14]
Louis Pasteur, shortly after his famous rebuttal of spontaneous generation, performed several experiments that he felt supported vitalism. According to Bechtel, Pasteur "fitted fermentation into a more general programme describing special reactions that only occur in living organisms. These are irreducibly vital phenomena." In 1858, Pasteur showed that fermentation only occurs when living cells are present and, that fermentation only occurs in the absence of oxygen; he was thus led to describe fermentation as "life without air". Rejecting the claims of Berzelius, Liebig, Traube and others that fermentation resulted from chemical agents or catalysts within cells, he concluded that fermentation was a "vital action".[15]
Other vitalists included English anatomist Francis Glisson (1597–1677) and the Italian doctor Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694).[16] Caspar Friedrich Wolff (1733–1794) is considered to be the father of epigenetic descriptive embryology, that is, he marks the point when embryonic development began to be described in terms of the proliferation of cells rather than the incarnation of a preformed soul. In his Theoria Generationis (1759), he endeavored to explain the emergence of the organism by the actions of a "vis essentialis", an organizing, formative force, and declared "All believers in epigenesis are Vitalists." Carl Reichenbach later developed the theory of Odic force, a form of life-energy that permeates living things.
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach established epigenesis as the model of thought in the life sciences in 1781 with his publication of Über den Bildungstrieb und das Zeugungsgeschäfte. Blumenbach cut up freshwater polyps and established that the removed parts would regenerate. He inferred the presence of a "formative drive" (Bildungstrieb) in living matter. But he pointed out that this name, "like names applied to every other kind of vital power, of itself, explains nothing: it serves merely to designate a peculiar power formed by the combination of the mechanical principle with that which is susceptible of modification". In the early 18th century, the physicians Marie François Xavier Bichat and John Hunter recognized a "living principle" in addition to mechanics.[16]
Between 1833 and 1844, Johannes Peter Müller wrote a book on physiology called Handbuch der Physiologie, which became the leading textbook in the field for much of the nineteenth century. The book showed Müller's commitments to vitalism; he questioned why organic matter differs from inorganic, then proceeded to chemical analyses of the blood and lymph. He describes in detail the circulatory, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, nervous, and sensory systems in a wide variety of animals but explains that the presence of a soul makes each organism an indivisible whole. He also claimed the behavior of light and sound waves showed that living organisms possessed a life-energy for which physical laws could never fully account.[17]
Hans Driesch (1867–1941) interpreted his experiments as showing that life is not run by physicochemical laws.[18] His main argument was that when one cuts up an embryo after its first division or two, each part grows into a complete adult. Driesch's reputation as an experimental biologist deteriorated as a result of his vitalistic theories.[18]
Other vitalists included Johannes Reinke and Oscar Hertwig. Reinke used the word neovitalism to describe his work, he claimed that it would be eventually verified through experimentation and wanted an improvement over the other vitalistic theories. The work of Reinke was an influence for Carl Jung.[19]
John Scott Haldane adopted an anti-mechanist approach to biology and an idealist philosophy early on in his career. Haldane saw his work as a vindication of his belief that teleology was an essential concept in biology. His views became widely known with his first book Mechanism, life and personality in 1913.[20] Haldane borrowed arguments from the vitalists to use against mechanism; however, he was not a vitalist. Haldane treated the organism as fundamental to biology: "we perceive the organism as a self-regulating entity", "every effort to analyze it into components that can be reduced to a mechanical explanation violates this central experience".[20] The work of Haldane was an influence on organicism.
Haldane also stated that a purely mechanist interpretation can not account for the characteristics of life. Haldane wrote a number of books in which he attempted to show the invalidity of both vitalism and mechanist approaches to science. Haldane explained:
We must find a different theoretical basis of biology, based on the observation that all the phenomena concerned tend towards being so coordinated that they express what is normal for an adult organism.
— [21]
By 1931, "Biologists have almost unanimously abandoned vitalism as an acknowledged belief."[21]

Relationship to emergentism

Some aspects of contemporary science make reference to emergent processes; those in which the properties of a system cannot be fully described in terms of the properties of the constituents.[22][23] This may be because the properties of the constituents are not fully understood, or because the interactions between the individual constituents are also important for the behavior of the system.
Whether emergent system properties should be grouped with traditional vitalist concepts is a matter of semantic controversy.[24] According to Emmeche et al. (1997):
On the one hand, many scientists and philosophers regard emergence as having only a pseudo-scientific status. On the other hand, new developments in physics, biology, psychology, and cross-disciplinary fields such as cognitive science, artificial life, and the study of non-linear dynamical systems have focused strongly on the high level 'collective behaviour' of complex systems, which is often said to be truly emergent, and the term is increasingly used to characterize such systems.
— [25]
Emmeche et al. (1998) state that "there is a very important difference between the vitalists and the emergentists: the vitalist's creative forces were relevant only in organic substances, not in inorganic matter. Emergence hence is creation of new properties regardless of the substance involved." "The assumption of an extra-physical vitalis (vital force, entelechy, élan vital, etc.), as formulated in most forms (old or new) of vitalism, is usually without any genuine explanatory power. It has served altogether too often as an intellectual tranquilizer or verbal sedative—stifling scientific inquiry rather than encouraging it to proceed in new directions."[26]


A popular vitalist theory of the 18th century was "animal magnetism," in the theories of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815). However, the use of the (conventional) English term animal magnetism to translate Mesmer's magnétisme animal can be misleading for three reasons:
  • Mesmer chose his term to clearly distinguish his variant of magnetic force from those referred to, at that time, as mineral magnetism, cosmic magnetism and planetary magnetism.
  • Mesmer felt that this particular force/power only resided in the bodies of humans and animals.
  • Mesmer chose the word "animal," for its root meaning (from Latin animus = "breath") specifically to identify his force/power as a quality that belonged to all creatures with breath; viz., the animate beings: humans and animals.
Mesmer's ideas became so influential that King Louis XVI of France appointed two commissions to investigate mesmerism; one was led by Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the other, led by Benjamin Franklin, included Bailly and Lavoisier. The commissioners learned about Mesmeric theory, and saw its patients fall into fits and trances. In Franklin's garden, a patient was led to each of five trees, one of which had been "mesmerized"; he hugged each in turn to receive the "vital fluid," but fainted at the foot of a 'wrong' one. At Lavoisier's house, four normal cups of water were held before a "sensitive" woman; the fourth produced convulsions, but she calmly swallowed the mesmerized contents of a fifth, believing it to be plain water. The commissioners concluded that "the fluid without imagination is powerless, whereas imagination without the fluid can produce the effects of the fluid."[27]

Alternative medicine

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) classifies CAM therapies into five categories or domains:[28]
  • alternative medical systems, or complete systems of therapy and practice;
  • mind-body interventions, or techniques designed to facilitate the mind's effect on bodily functions and symptoms;
  • biologically based systems, including herbalism;
  • manipulative and body-based methods, such as chiropractic and massage therapy; and
  • energy therapy.
The therapies that continue to be most intimately associated with vitalism are bioenergetic medicines, in the category of energy therapies. This field may be further divided into bioelectromagnetic medicines (BEM) and biofield therapies (BT). Compared with bioenergetic medicines, biofield therapies have a stronger identity with vitalism. Examples of biofield therapies include therapeutic touch, Reiki, external qi, chakra healing and SHEN therapy.[29] Biofield therapies are medical treatments in which the "subtle energy" field of a patient is manipulated by a biofield practitioner. The subtle energy is held to exist beyond the electromagnetic (EM) energy that is produced by the heart and brain. Beverly Rubik describes the biofield as a "complex, dynamic, extremely weak EM field within and around the human body...."[29]
The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, promoted an immaterial, vitalistic view of disease: "...they are solely spirit-like (dynamic) derangements of the spirit-like power (the vital principle) that animates the human body." As practised by some homeopaths today, homeopathy simply rests on the premise of treating sick persons with extremely diluted agents that – in undiluted doses – are deemed to produce similar symptoms in a healthy individual. Nevertheless, it remains equally true that the view of disease as a dynamic disturbance of the immaterial and dynamic vital force is taught in many homeopathic colleges and constitutes a fundamental principle for many contemporary practising homeopaths.


Vitalism has sometimes been criticized as begging the question by inventing a name. Molière had famously parodied this fallacy in Le Malade imaginaire, where a quack "answers" the question of "Why does opium cause sleep?" with "Because of its soporific power."[30] Thomas Henry Huxley compared vitalism to stating that water is the way it is because of its "aquosity".[31] His grandson Julian Huxley in 1926 compared "vital force" or élan vital to explaining a railroad locomotive's operation by its élan locomotif ("locomotive force").
Another criticism is that vitalists have failed to rule out mechanistic explanations. This is rather obvious in retrospect for organic chemistry and developmental biology, but this criticism goes back at least a century. In 1912, Jacques Loeb published a landmark work, The Mechanistic Conception of Life. He described experiments on how a sea urchin could have a pin for its father, as Bertrand Russell put it (Religion and Science). He also offered this challenge:
"... we must either succeed in producing living matter artificially, or we must find the reasons why this is impossible." (pp. 5–6)
He also addressed vitalism more explicitly:
"It is, therefore, unwarranted to continue the statement that in addition to the acceleration of oxidations the beginning of individual life is determined by the entrance of a metaphysical "life principle" into the egg; and that death is determined, aside from the cessation of oxidations, by the departure of this "principle" from the body. In the case of the evaporation of water we are satisfied with the explanation given by the kinetic theory of gases and do not demand that to repeat a well-known jest of Huxley the disappearance of the "aquosity" be also taken into consideration." (pp. 14–15)
Bechtel and Richardson[15] state that today vitalism "is often viewed as unfalsifiable, and therefore a pernicious metaphysical doctrine." For many scientists, "vitalist" theories were unsatisfactory "holding positions" on the pathway to mechanistic understanding. In 1967, Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, stated "And so to those of you who may be vitalists I would make this prophecy: what everyone believed yesterday, and you believe today, only cranks will believe tomorrow."[32]
While many vitalistic theories have in fact been falsified, notably Mesmerism, the pseudoscientific retention of untested and untestable theories continues to this day. Alan Sokal published an analysis of the wide acceptance among professional nurses of "scientific theories" of spiritual healing. (Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?).[33] Use of a technique called therapeutic touch was especially reviewed by Sokal, who concluded, "nearly all the pseudoscientific systems to be examined in this essay are based philosophically on vitalism" and added that "Mainstream science has rejected vitalism since at least the 1930s, for a plethora of good reasons that have only become stronger with time."[33]
Joseph C. Keating, Jr., PhD,[34] discusses vitalism's past and present roles in chiropractic and calls vitalism "a form of bio-theology." He further explains that:
"Vitalism is that rejected tradition in biology which proposes that life is sustained and explained by an unmeasurable, intelligent force or energy. The supposed effects of vitalism are the manifestations of life itself, which in turn are the basis for inferring the concept in the first place. This circular reasoning offers pseudo-explanation, and may deceive us into believing we have explained some aspect of biology when in fact we have only labeled our ignorance. 'Explaining an unknown (life) with an unknowable (Innate),' suggests philosopher Joseph Donahue, D.C., 'is absurd'."[35]
Keating views vitalism as incompatible with scientific thinking:
"Chiropractors are not unique in recognizing a tendency and capacity for self-repair and auto-regulation of human physiology. But we surely stick out like a sore thumb among professions which claim to be scientifically based by our unrelenting commitment to vitalism. So long as we propound the 'One cause, one cure' rhetoric of Innate, we should expect to be met by ridicule from the wider health science community. Chiropractors can't have it both ways. Our theories cannot be both dogmatically held vitalistic constructs and be scientific at the same time. The purposiveness, consciousness and rigidity of the Palmers' Innate should be rejected."[35]
Keating also mentions Skinner's viewpoint:
"Vitalism has many faces and has sprung up in many areas of scientific inquiry. Psychologist B.F. Skinner, for example, pointed out the irrationality of attributing behavior to mental states and traits. Such 'mental way stations,' he argued, amount to excess theoretical baggage which fails to advance cause-and-effect explanations by substituting an unfathomable psychology of 'mind'."[35]
According to Williams,[36] "today, vitalism is one of the ideas that form the basis for many pseudoscientific health systems that claim that illnesses are caused by a disturbance or imbalance of the body's vital force." "Vitalists claim to be scientific, but in fact they reject the scientific method with its basic postulates of cause and effect and of provability. They often regard subjective experience to be more valid than objective material reality."
Victor Stenger[37] states that the term "bioenergetics" "is applied in biochemistry to refer to the readily measurable exchanges of energy within organisms, and between organisms and the environment, which occur by normal physical and chemical processes. This is not, however, what the new vitalists have in mind. They imagine the bioenergetic field as a holistic living force that goes beyond reductionist physics and chemistry."[38]
Such a field is sometimes explained as electromagnetic(EM), though some advocates also make confused appeals to quantum physics.[29] Joanne Stefanatos states that "The principles of energy medicine originate in quantum physics."[39] Stenger[38] offers several explanations as to why this line of reasoning may be misplaced. He explains that energy exists in discrete packets called quanta. Energy fields are composed of their component parts and so only exist when quanta are present. Therefore energy fields are not holistic, but are rather a system of discrete parts that must obey the laws of physics. This also means that energy fields are not instantaneous. These facts of quantum physics place limitations on the infinite, continuous field that is used by some theorists to describe so-called "human energy fields".[40] Stenger continues, explaining that the effects of EM forces have been measured by physicists as accurately as one part in a billion and there is yet to be any evidence that living organisms emit a unique field.[38]
Vitalistic thinking has also been identified in the naive biological theories of children: "Recent experimental results show that a majority of preschoolers tend to choose vitalistic explanations as most plausible. Vitalism, together with other forms of intermediate causality, constitute unique causal devices for naive biology as a core domain of thought."[41]


Vitality refers to one's life, life force, health, youth, or ability to live or exist. The word vitality is derived from the Latin word vita [1], which means life.


Outside of its own existence or source, life is only recognized through some form of expression or dynamic. A living organism experiences its own life from the internal dynamics of its own being, something not observable from outside - in the absence of an expression or dynamic.
Can there be vitality (life) with no expression or dynamic (internal or external)? By this definition the answer would need to be : "No."


According to Jain philosophy, there are ten vitalities or life-principles:[1]-
  • The five senses
    • Touch
    • Taste
    • Smell
    • Sight
    • Hearing
  • Energy,
  • Respiration
  • Life-duration
  • The organ of speech
  • The mind
The table below summaries the vitalities, living beings posses in accordance to their senses.[2]
Number of vitalities
Sense organ of touch, strength of body or energy, respiration, and life-duration
The sense of taste and the organ of speech in addition to the former four
Addition of the sense of smell
Addition of the sense of sight
Addition of the sense of hearing (Without Mind)
With Mind
According to major Jain text, Tattvarthsutra: "The severance of vitalities out of passion is injury".[2]

Jane Bennett (political theorist)

Jane Bennett (born July 31, 1957)[1] is an American professor at the Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University School of Arts and Sciences. She is also the editor of the academic journal Political Theory.[2]
Bennett's work considers ontological ideas about the relationship between humans and 'things', what she calls "vital materialism",
"What counts as the material of vital materialism? Is it only human labour and the socio-economic entities made by men using raw materials? Or is materiality more potent than that? How can political theory do a better job of recognizing the active participation of nonhuman forces in every event and every stabilization? Is there a form of theory that can acknowledge a certain ‘thing-power’, that is, the irreducibility of objects to the human meanings or agendas they also embody?"[3]
In her book, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things,[4] Bennett's argument is that, "Edibles, commodities, storms, and metals act as quasi agents, with their own trajectories, potentialities and tendencies."[5]
Public lectures she has given include "Impersonal Sympathy", a talk theorizing 'sympathy' in which she considered the alchemist-physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) and Walt Whitman's collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass.[6] In 2015 Bennett delivered the annual Neal A. Maxwell Lecture in Political Theory and Contemporary Politics at the University of Utah entitled “Walt Whitman and the Soft Voice of Sympathy.”

The Difference Between Life and Death: Vital Force/Chi

Copyright 2015 by Joseph Ben Hil-Meyer Research, Inc.
By Bruce Berkowsky, N.M.D., M.H., H.M.C.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as an educational tool; a means of assisting individuals in making choices with reference to their health. It is not meant to replace the services of a health-care professional when needed.
What is Vital Force or Chi?
"Aliveness" derives from the presence of high-vibratory, vital energy within an organism. This energy, or natural force, which fills the universe is referred to in traditional naturopathy and homeopathy as vital force and in Chinese medicine as chi. Hence, I have coined the term vital chi (e.g., Dr. Berkowsky's Vital Chi Skin-Brushing System).
In this article, while the Chinese concept of chi is far more complexly elaborated than the Western concept of vital force (the fundamental essence of the two concepts are quite similar), I use the terms vital force and chi interchangeably.
Chi is the fundamental energy which sustains life and is present in the vibratory, biological processes of every cell. Chi has its own movement and activates the movement of things other than itself.
All physical and mental activities are manifestations of vital force, which vary in accordance with the structure and function of the different tissues. Vital force is not synonymous with the metabolically generated energy derived from the oxidation of glucose and fatty acids. Rather, it is the force that animates the metabolic processes which ultimately yield caloric energy. Vital force/chi differentiates life from death.
When alive, every part of the body is supported by vital force. The body is self-regulating and continuously adjusting to subtle changes, and shifts in both the external environment and its own internal environment. Vital force is elastic and adaptable, thus, it modulates its flow and other dynamics in accordance with the body's regulatory needs. A corpse can be thought of as a body without vital force. To maintain health, there should neither be an excess nor a deficiency of vital force, either of which leads to illness.
According to Chinese medicine, chi circulates through channels, or meridians, throughout the body. The major channels often follow the cardiovascular circulatory routes with a network of progressively finer tributary branches permeating and supplying chi to all the cells of the body. There are 12 major symmetrical, bilaterally paired meridians (i.e., 12 on the left and an identical set of 12 on the right), 6 of which run along the arms and body, and 6 which run along the legs and body.
Each of the 12 pairs of meridians is associated with a specific organ or function. Energy moves along these channels in a complete cycle every 24-hours, transferring from pathway to pathway via connecting points. Thus, the meridians act as a means by which all the organs are linked together into an integrated entity. It is this cyclic and perpetual flow of chi throughout the body that is required to keep it healthy and strong.
How the Body Acquires Vital Force/Chi
In Chinese medicine, it is thought that chi is absorbed continuously into the body via breathing and intermittently via separation from the physical matrix of food. As all living organisms are enlivened by chi, all the plants and animals which serve as food sources harbor chi within their tissues. The digestive process separates this chi from the food's substance, thus recycling it for utilization by the body that has ingested the food.
According to Chinese medicine, the spleen-pancreas is the digestive organ responsible for separating food-derived chi from its material matrix (referred to simply as the spleen in traditional Chinese medicine). Before the advent of modern anatomical knowledge, Chinese medicine considered the spleen and pancreas to be components of the same organ.
Thus, the lungs (which draw chi with each in-breath) and the spleen-pancreas (which extracts chi from ingested food) act synergistically to supply the organism with the continuous supply of vital force required to sustain its existence. Ultimately, there is a confluence of these two streams of chi, and it is the resultant integrated chi that flows through the acupuncture channels. This highlights the crucial nature of full breathing and efficient digestion in the maintenance of robust health.
The state of the channels is a crucial determining factor regarding health and disease. Once assimilated in the body, chi is distributed amongst the various organ acupuncture meridians such as the kidney meridian, liver meridian, etc., delivering chi to the organ that is serviced by its dedicated meridian. Thus, deficient or obstructed chi encourages organ dysfunction as well as blood stagnation (chi moves the blood), which, in turn, induces cellular nutrient and oxygen deficit, and autotoxemia: a build-up of toxins in the body that surpasses its threshold of tolerance.
The Origin of Vital Force
The idea of a vital force that animates the body extends back to antiquity. Ancient Egyptian religion referred to vital essence which separates the living from the dead as the ka. The Kabbalah discusses nefesh, or animal soul, which encompasses the sense of both life and breath. In ancient Greece, the physical body was thought to be animated by the psyche, which the sixth-century BCE philosopher Anaximenes equated with breath. In the Vedantic teachings of India, vital force is referred to as prana. Isaac Newton in his work Principia described a "subtle spirit," whose "vibration" courses along nerves to the brain and muscles initiating movement. Twelfth century Arab philosopher and physician Averroes taught that vital force is present as a subtle substance in the cosmos and, via breathing, it is absorbed into the body and then transformed within the heart into animating life force.
In Esoteric Healing, Alice Bailey (1880-1949), a noted theosophist who had a decade's long collaboration with a Tibetan teacher, writes that the purpose of vital force " to vitalize and energize the physical body and thus integrate it into the energy body of the Earth and of the solar system. It is a web of energy streams, of lines of force and of light. It constitutes part of the vast network of energies which underlies all forms whether great or small (microcosmic or macrocosmic). Along these lines of energy the cosmic forces flow, as the blood flows through the veins and arteries. This constant, individual–human, planetary and solar–circulation of life-forces within all forms is the basis of all manifested life, and the expression of the essential non-separateness of all life."
Accordingly, every living organism is an integral part of the chi of the Earth itself and of the cosmos beyond. This idea that the vital force utilized by living organisms on Earth derives from interstellar space is widely held. Anthroposophical medicine recognizes three higher, non-material forces which sustain the existence of human life. The one that is most congruent with the concept of chi or vital force is referred to as the astral body.
It is a scientific fact that the human body and the physical structures of all other living organisms are made of elements that derive from stardust. When a star has exhausted its supply of hydrogen, it can die via a violent explosion called a nova. Such a stellar explosion causes a large cloud of dust and gases to be propelled into space.
Astronomer Carl Sagan in his 1980's PBS series Cosmos related: "We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff."
Sagan is referring to the fact that the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, were created in previous generations of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. Humans and all other living organisms as well as most of the rest of the matter on this planet contain these elements.
The light projected by stars is a product of the energy released by nuclear fusion reactions at their cores. These are the very same nuclear fusion reactions which created chemical elements on Earth such as carbon or iron that serve as the chemical building blocks of plants, animals, rocks, etc. In fact, every element in the periodic table of chemistry, with the exception of hydrogen (which derives from Big Bang dust rather than stardust), are essentially components of stardust. Thus, aside from the hydrogen atoms in our bodies, the rest of the mineral composition of our physical structure derives from stardust.
Unlike stardust, a material substance, vital force is matter-less, and so considered by most modern medical practitioners to be an antiquated delusion. However, it seems reasonable that if the material substance of our bodies is largely constructed from stardust, then the vital force which elevates the body from the inanimate mineral kingdom into the animate realm of living organisms would originate in the same region.
Modern Medicine's Lack of Acknowledgement of Vital Force
A simple scientific experiment can be done to prove the existence of vital force. Weigh a human being shortly before death and then immediately after death, and no difference in weight will be observed. This suggests that the absence of a matter-less force, not some quantifiable substance, is what differentiates a corpse from a living body.
Modern medicine has chosen to ignore the role vital force plays in health and disease. The thrust of modern medicine in the treatment of disease stems largely from its view of the individual as separate from the natural universe and the supply of chi it provides. Certainly, the need for oxygen, water, food and light are accepted, but unfortunately they are only given one-dimensional acknowledgement.
As discussed above, air and food are the organism's two primary sources of chi. Fresh air, the source of both oxygen and chi is all-important for proper healing. Unfortunately, modern hospital windows are most often kept closed, forcing already debilitated patients to sustain their flickering life-flame with recycled air filled with the poisons and swarming microbes exhaled by the sick and dying. Renowned 19th century physician James C. Jackson, M.D. in his book How to Nurse the Sick, instructed: "Be sure, then, that in treating any invalid, whether suffering from an acute or chronic disease, you see that the room occupied has plenty of pure air, and that the person has opportunities to bathe in it...It is so refreshing, so recuperative, so calculated to restore the body to healthful conditions, and so easily obtained, as to leave those who forbear to use it for the benefit of the sick without justification."
Hospital food is nearly as lifeless as the plastic tray upon which it's served. (This is an oft-repeated joke, even by the medical staff.) Sleep and rest, essential for the reconstitution of the body's reserves of vital force, are commonly interrupted to draw blood or to administer medication. The patient is even sometimes aroused from a deep sleep to receive a scheduled sleeping pill. Natural sleep and rest are crucial elements of healing in relation to any acute or chronic disorder and should only be interrupted if the patient has soiled the bedding.
Innate Intellect of the Organism: The Inner Physician
A crucial concept from traditional naturopathy is that the functioning of all the physiological processes within the body is guided by an innate intellect. This innate intellect is not associated with the rational intellect that guides our mental lives but rather an organic knowing with which every cell of the body is imbued.
This innate intellect is what the body's "inner physician" uses to direct the body's self-healing efforts. Accordingly, the role of a doctor in the treatment of disease is to make the requisite fundamental elements of health available to the "inner physician." The inner physician then determines how to utilize these elements to best advantage, via the body's in-built healing mechanisms, to restore the organism to a state of health. In this reference, Emmet Densmore, M.D. in How Nature Cures (1892) "...disease is but the expression and result of a disturbance of the conditions natural to life. The only useful office of the physician is to restore those conditions."
This differs radically from the modern medical view of the role of the doctor. In this reference, there is no acknowledgment of the organism's innate intellect. Instead, disease is viewed as evidence of the body having lost its way and incapable of charting its own course back to wellness. In this scenario, the external intellect of the doctor is required because the body is essentially a flesh and blood machine devoid of the sophisticated programming required for effective self-repair. The modern physician does not acknowledge the existence of the "inner physician." Instead, the medical doctor feels certain that his or her intelligence is superior to the body's innate intelligence.
This, of course, is one of the fundamental flaws in the practice of modern medicine. The conceit that the finite intelligence of rational consciousness is superior to one that derives from the infinite depths of the cosmos and the spiritual world contributes mightily to the depersonalization, egregiously limited standardization and proneness to clinical error associated with modern medical practice.
Vital Force/Chi is Composed of Both Force and Intellect
While many people are aware of the concept of chi, it is most often perceived as being an impersonal force – a type of cosmic electricity that vitalizes the body much in the same way that a flow of electrons along copper wires powers electric lights and appliances. However, chi is more than cosmic electricity, it is actually a form of cosmic intellect.
The teaching of Plotinus, the great 3rd century Greek philosopher, can help us understand this concept. Plotinus referred to God as "the One" (although he sometimes used the term "God" as well). Accordingly, the One is beyond space, time, form and conception and thus is essentially ineffable.
The first emanation from the One is spirit, a supernal light that contains all the archetypal forms that underlie all being and material manifestations within the realm of existence. Accordingly, spirit, endowed by the One with its own power is the direct facilitator of creation. Importantly, Plotinus uses two terms synonymously: spirit and Intellect. Implicit in this correlation is the idea that spirit is an all-pervading, intelligent energy and that the cosmos were produced, and are sustained, by the infinite creative power of this energy.
Intellect, in this context, differs from the cognitive functions, reasoning and conceptions associated with human mental activities. Human intellect derives from Intellect/Spirit, but represents only a minute fraction of its potential. There are after all, many forms of intelligence, including rational intellect, pre-logical instinct, empathic understanding and the knowing generated via interpersonal relation.
George Gershwin, arguably the greatest composer in American history, was actually scorned by many of the music critics of his day because he was largely self-taught and had never attended a prestigious conservatory. Nevertheless, Gershwin was both master composer and master pianist. Gershwin once revealed something of his learning process (referenced by Nicholas Delbanco in The Art Of Youth): "I went to concerts and listened not only with my ears but with my nerves, my mind and my heart. I listened so earnestly that I became saturated with the music. Then I went home and listened in memory. I sat at the piano and repeated the motifs."
All the diverse forms of intellect are grounded within the matrix of this higher Intellect. Thus, the intellect required by a bird when building a nest, or by Albert Einstein while developing his theory of relativity regarding space and time emerged from this common ground.
Plotinus viewed spirit and Intellect as one and the same; he considered this cosmic intellect to be perfectly intelligent since all the archetypal forms of creation are inseparable from its essence. In turn, Plotinus referred to this essence of Intellect as "simply knowing."
Plotinus writes in his master work the Enneads (quoted in the excellent Return To The One by Brian Hines): "For Intellect has of itself an intimate perception of its power -- that it has power to produce material reality...And because spirit's substance is a part of what belongs to the One and comes from the One, it is strengthened by the One and made perfect by and from material existence."
The Book of Genesis similarly infers the role of intellect in the process of creation. For instance, Genesis 1:1-3 relates (from The Living Torah, translation and commentary by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan): "In the beginning God created heaven and earth. The earth was without form and empty, with darkness on the face of the depths, but God's spirit moved on the water's surface. God said, 'There shall be light,' and light came into existence."
The inference here is that God's spirit/Intellect engineered all the phenomena of the material world. It should be understood that when God's speech initiated the first appearance of light in the material world, the divine inspiration regarding the idea of light (i.e., Intellect), expression of that idea (i.e., "God said"), and actualization of that idea ("and light came into existence") all occurred simultaneously and were all one and the same. What the Torah is communicating here is that the universe was created via divine Intellect, is eternally imbued with it, and the universe's ongoing evolvement is invariably directed by it.
Mirroring this, vital force contains the idea of sustaining life. This idea is expressed by its movement and dynamic energy and then actualized (once its journey through the cosmos concludes) with its absorption into the internal milieu of a living organism.
Intellect, Innate Intellect and the Inner Physician
This brings us full circle back to the traditional naturopathic concepts of innate intellect and the "Inner Physician." Given all that is discussed above, it is reasonable to propose that the body's innate intellect consists of internalized chi. Furthermore, the "inner physician" is the Intellect component of chi acting in collaboration with the intellectual powers inherent to each human being's soul.
Plotinus held that soul, the second emanation from the One, emerges from spirit/Intellect. In a sense, spirit has a tangential relationship with Carl Jung's concept of the collective unconscious and soul with individuated consciousness.
Similarly, before chi is internalized via breathing or food ingestion, it still belongs entirely to the sea of chi that permeates the cosmos. Being moldable and adaptable, once vital force/chi enters the body's inner environs, it undergoes a type of individuation wherein it shapes its essence in accordance with the specific parameters of the unique body/soul complex it flows through.
Therefore, stipulating that the organism's innate intellect and its associated inner physician must be optimally operational in order to sustain a state of health, it can be confidently stated that that factors that interfere with the uptake and utilization of vital force are among the primary causative factors of disease. The intellect carried by vital force is required to continuously refresh and resupply the organism's innate intellect. Lacking the necessary quotient of vital force, innate intellect becomes attenuated and disorganized. Pursuant to this, the "knowing" of the inner physician becomes uncertain and it loses the capacity to direct the organism's native powers of resistance and recovery.
Suggestions for Building and Maintaining Vital Force/Chi
In traditional naturopathy and classical Chinese medicine, much of the practitioner's focus is directed toward the preservation and building of vital force. A discussion of the options in this reference would fill a very large textbook. So today this article will make a few important suggestions:

1) Aspire to provide the fundamental elements of life and health to the body on a daily basis. Human life is dependent upon the presence of certain fundamental conditions: proper diet; pure water; fresh air; sunlight; adequate exercise, warmth, rest and sleep; emotional harmony; proper posture.
As a human being, you have an inherent relationship with these fundamental elements–disease is an outgrowth of a deficiency or excess of one or more of them. Restoration of health in the ill person is accomplished through the same means of sustaining life and preserving health in the well person. Each of the fundamental elements of life and health listed above are essential to the absorption and circulation of vital force.

2) Diet: A central dietary principle of my Natural Health Science System is: Eat a diet dominated by fresh, whole, high water-content foods. A high water-content diet consists predominantly of fresh fruits and vegetables with smaller amounts of a choice of whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, brown eggs, fowl and fish. Ideally, every meal should emphasize water-rich foods.
Fresh fruits and vegetables (eaten at separate meals) are alkalizing and rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and organic water. When possible, use organically grown (and thus non-genetically modified) fruits and vegetables which, having been grown without pesticides, are more nutritious and do not contribute synthetic chemicals to the body's toxic load.
The body is two-thirds water, and our "fluid organization" must be constantly nurtured and replenished. It is important to bear in mind that vital force must be absorbed into the body's fluid organization (i.e., blood, lymph and extracellular fluids) in order to act efficiently within the body. When chi bypasses the fluid organization and engages directly with tissue, it gives rise to spasm and pain. We can refer to this circumstance as "reckless chi."
Also, the alkalizing effect of a diet dominated by fresh fruits and vegetable is crucial to maintaining the alkaline pH and purity of the blood. It should be borne in mind that according to Chinese medicine, chi moves the blood and, in turn, blood nourishes chi. Therefore, if the blood is insufficiently alkaline or otherwise impure, it cannot effectively nourish chi.

3) Dr. Berkowsky's Vital Chi Skin-Brushing System: The Skin and Vital Chi Flow
Being an essential matrix for the chi channels, the skin is a crucial medium for chi movement. The places at which the various channels and vessels reach the skin surface are the "acupoints" used in acupuncture and acupressure. Chi-flow can be accessed through these points, which are usually located in tissue depressions and differ in "feel" and electrical resistance from surrounding tissue.
Zhao Jin-Xiang, who developed the internal exercise system known as Soaring Crane Chi Kung, writes: "Every point is an orifice similar to the visible ones such as the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The opening of a point is identical to the establishment of a connection between the body and the environment. The spent and diseased chi will be expelled from the body through this connection, while the healthy chi needed by the body will be taken in."
My Vital Chi Skin-Brushing System is so named because one of its primary features is that it is designed to strengthen the chi-circulation throughout the body. This helps explain why one of the initial effects people report experiencing after a Vital Chi Skin-Brushing System session is increased stamina and vitality. The practice of Vital Chi Skin-Brushing on a daily, or every-other-day, basis provides powerful support for vital force/chi.
To learn more about this system click on the following link: Vital Chi Skin-Brushing

4) Alternate Warm and Cool Shower: Students and clients have reported that the Alternate Warm and Cool Shower forms a particularly powerful synergy with Vital Chi Skin-Brushing.
While this shower therapy has been used to treat specific health conditions, it has also served well as a general chi tonic procedure. Of all the various hydrotherapies, this "unequal periods" Alternate Warm and Cool Shower (with the emphasis on the former) is one I suggest most commonly as an overall tonic treatment. It's an invigorating procedure which vitalizes chi, circulatory, endocrine, immune, lymphatic, nerve and skin functions.
As noted above, according to the Chinese, chi moves the blood and, in turn, blood nourishes chi. Therefore the circulatory tonic effects of this shower procedure will also indirectly enhance the integrity of the body's chi flow.
The Alternate Warm and Cool Shower (preceded by your Vital Chi Skin-Brushing routine) employed three to four times weekly has proven to be wonderfully restorative.
For more details about the Alternate Warm and Cool Shower, click on the following link. Alternate Warm and Cool Shower

5) Essential Oils:
Many of you are probably aware that deep psycho-spiritual work with essential oils is one of the main focuses of my work. Essential oils can also be used to help support the integrity of chi within the body.
The olfactory nerves: nerves related to the sense of smell are directly connected to cerebral centers, including the hypothalamus: a crucial portion of the brain stem. The hypothalamus, along with portions of the cerebral cortex, comprise a complex called the limbic system, which can modify the way a person acts because it functions to produce emotional feelings, such as fear, anger, pleasure and sorrow. In this way, the limbic system guides the person into appropriate behavioral responses to daily survival challenges.
Too, the hypothalamus plays a pivotal role in maintaining physiological homeostasis and by serving as the link between the nervous and endocrine (hormonal) systems. Essential oils also contain hormone precursors and other very active biochemical components which can be used to positively influence various systems of the body.
Some of the essential oils to consider in this reference include: bitter orange, carrot seed, cedarwood, Douglas-fir, elemi, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, lemon, lemon grass, palo santo, pine, rosemary, spikenard and thyme.
One of my personally formulated blends called Fragrant Chi is specifically designed to support the flow and vibrancy of chi.
To use either the individual essential oils or Fragrant Chi, you may want to consider the following particularly invigorating method:
Follow-Up Lemon Juice/Essential Oil Rub: This is best performed after Vital Chi Skin-Brushing and the alternate warm and cool shower. Do not dry completely. The skin must be moist for this procedure.
Squeeze the juice of ½ of a large lemon or 1 small lemon (preferably organically grown) into a small cup. Add to the juice: 4 to 5 drops of one or more of the oils listed above–whether using one or more oils, the total amount of oil should not exceed 5-drops to avoid potential skin-irritation – or 3 to 4 drops of Fragrant Chi. Next, stir with your finger or plastic spoon. Now, using bare hands, rub the mixture into moist skin until completely absorbed. This is a wonderfully invigorating experience.

6) Keep Your Feet Warm
Chronically cold feet are not just a minor annoyance, but rather, an indication of sluggish, imbalanced blood circulation and the vital force deficiency and/or stagnation which set the stage for disease. If the flow of blood to the feet is abnormal, it's likely that circulation to all extremities, including the head, is affected. This, in part, explains why people who suffer from cold feet also commonly manifest poor concentration, eye problems, headaches, nervousness, anxiety and insomnia. And because this causes an ongoing imbalance of blood supply to all the body's tissues, there may be other troubling symptoms such as poor digestion, heart palpitations and lowered resistance to infection.
An even distribution of blood and normal flow-rate are required for good health and for the resolution of disease. Therefore, cold feet—a symptom of over-all circulatory problems and chi deficiency—should not be dismissed as a minor discomfort.
To learn more about the consequences of chronically cold feet and specific exercises and other therapeutic measures to address this problem, see my Dangers of Cold Feet booklet.

7) Daily Airbath
An airbath involves exposure of the undressed body to the currents of moving air. Though deceptively simple, it's actually helps restore vitality and balanced nerve activity. I have recommended the airbath to young mothers for their babies as a daily relaxant measure; it's also beneficial for those (of any age) who are hyperactive.
Benjamin Franklin was notably fond of taking airbaths, especially during his workday, claiming it enabled him to "think more clearly." In The Practice of Nature-Cure, a great early 20th century naturopath Henry Lindlahr, M.D. writes: "Who would think of keeping plants or animals covered up, away from the air and light? We know they would wither and waste away before long...Civilized human beings have for ages hidden their bodies most carefully from sun and air, which are so necessary to their well-being...the human skin has become so enervated that often it has lost the power to perform freely and efficiently...Undoubtedly, this has much to do with the prevalence of various types of ill health." His son, Victor Lindlahr, M.D., is also a noted physician; he remarks in The Natural Way To Health: "The action of the skin can be stimulated by three simple procedures: sunbaths, water applications and airbaths. And, strangely enough, the most imposing results are obtained by the simplest of all—the airbath."
Air is to humans what water is to fish. It's not enough to breathe-in air through the nostrils while wholly neglecting the skin's breathing function. Like the lungs, the skin takes-in oxygen and throws-off carbon dioxide. Hiding the body under synthetic and/or heavy, tight-fitting clothing seals-off the skin from the life-stimulating influence of air. Since the skin is the primary organ involved in the regulation of blood-flow through the capillaries, some scientists feel it does as much work toward the proper circulation of blood as does the heart. The skin capillaries have approximately 800-times the combined cross-section area of the aorta, the largest artery in the body.
To learn more about the airbath, click on the following link: Airbath Article

8) Rest and Sleep
Adequate rest and sleep are absolutely essential for the maintenance of a robust flow of vital force within the body. Sleep affords the body's chi reserves the opportunity to be reconstituted each day. Also, much of the body's detoxification efforts take place at night while the body is in sleep mode. The accrual of toxins in the body beyond the body's threshold of tolerance is referred to as autotoxemia. When the body is in an autotoxemic state, the blood, lymph and extracellular fluids are less pure and much more vital force is required to effect physiological activities in face of the resistance offered by stored toxins.
Rest is a conservative measure, in that it conserves vital force expenditure. Ideally, one's daily routine should always feature rest periods (e.g., a nap, sitting in the park during lunch hour, etc.). This not only conserves vital force but also allows it regularly scheduled periods to reorganize between stress challenges.
Adequate rest and sleep help sustain a pattern of activity/rest rhythmicity in one's life. There is a very close relationship between rhythmicity and the flow of chi. To read more about the importance of rhythmicity in one's life, click on the following link. Health vs. Disease: A Matter of Rhythm

9) Exercise Coordinated with Breathing
One of the central characteristics of vital force/chi is movement. It is this movement that enables the movement and other kinetic physiological actions of the body. Thus, exercise attracts and supports the flow of chi and sedentary behavior offers resistance to it.
As discussed above, breathing is one of the two pathways by which chi enters the body. Modern human beings, especially urban dwellers, because of sedentary behavior, emotional stress and air pollution, among other factors, tend to breathe shallowly, using only a portion of the surface area of the lungs.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. It plays a major role in breathing, as its downward contraction increases the volume of the chest, thus allowing for inflation of the lungs. Obesity tends to restrict the full motion of the diaphragm and this further inhibits the expansion of the lungs.
Breathing is the body's most essential function. Without the continuous intake of vital force and meeting of air and blood, life would end immediately. We can live without food for weeks, without water for several days, but without oxygen, survival is limited to only a few minutes.
My Flow, Motion and Power Exercise Workout, which derives from my many years of eclectic training in both Western and Eastern exercise disciplines, integrates movement, flexibility and breathing in equal measure. Importantly, all the exercise movements are coordinated with breathing. Thus, the system strengthens vital force both through movement and breathing. The complete system is very extensive but the basic routine described in this fully illustrated booklet powerfully demonstrates its fundamental dynamics.
To learn more about this booklet click on the following link: Flow, Motion and Power Exercise Workout

Written by Dr. Bruce Berkowsky, N.M.D., M.H., H.M.C.
Dr. Berkowsky, a registered naturopath, master herbalist and classical homeopath—is President of Joseph Ben Hil-Meyer Research, Inc. He is the founder/teacher of both Spiritual PhytoEssencing and the Natural Health Science System which he designed following many years of research and clinical practice, and includes herbology, nutrition, homeopathy, aromatherapy, exercise, traditional nature-cure as well as East/West healing arts/bodywork. Dr. Berkowsky teaches in-depth seminars/teleseminars/workshops to health-care professionals and spiritually aware individuals.
Disclaimer: This publication is intended as an educational tool, and not as a prescription. Seek the advice of your health-care provider before discontinuing any medication and/or trying any new remedy or technique.
Homeopathy is a system of medicine based on energy. It assumes, that if a patient shows symptoms of disease, these symptoms are not just a materially perceivable disease, but the expression of the disturbed “Vital Force”, the mysterious force – the energy of life, that makes the small but important difference between a dead and a living body. In order to cure, the Homeopathic belief is, one has to cure the vital force and not, like modern medicine states, just the symptoms. In this text, I am going to show why only this homeopathic principle can be the true way to cure and how the vital force works.
The Energy
To understand what the energy of life – the vital force – is, one should reflect on the world, the universe and its laws for a moment: The planets in our solar system circle the sun, directed by the influence of its energy. The moon circles the earth, influencing with its energy the creatures and oceans. If this energy wouldn’t be in balance all the time, it is easy to see, that soon, the universe would end up in chaos. There is order in the universe. Everything is in balance. There is a constant interaction of energies, forces, action and reaction. There is no coincidence; every effect proceeds from a cause. There are natural laws like the laws of gravity, magnetism and static. They are all based on certain kinds of energy. So are sound and light, to mention just a few.
It therefore seems reasonable, to assume, that life itself should be based on natural laws too …Laws of energy that govern our life.
But what is it that makes life? What is the difference between a dead body and a living person? Is it the Vital Force?
The Vital Force
One further important natural law is the law of reciprocal action (*3 / page 10), that says: all changes in nature are the result of reciprocal action (action and reaction). But there is mediate and immediate action: In a living organism, bodies and forces act immediately, whereas a machine – acts by an external impulse. A machine can’t supply itself with what it needs to run, or repair itself, nor would it feel the need for these things. There is no external source that animates the human body; therefore it has to be animated by an internal force. The “vital force”, like Hahnemann once called it.
But Does Vital Force really exist?
Now this all sounds very theoretical, but is there any proof that the vital force really exists?. 40 years ago, the Kirlians, a Russian husband and wife team, both scientists, were asking similar questions and developed a machine, which would be able to make actual photographs of the electro-dynamic energy of anything – animate or inanimate. (*2 page 64). They started out making photographs of the energy field of leaves and later of human bodies and body parts, known today as “Kirlian photography”. Later they even were able to not just take static pictures but actually record this energy in motion. Unfortunately for us, this did not bring the proof for this energy being the vital force of the living body, as the Kirlians also discovered that there is an energy field in every “dead” material, as well, though not as distinctive.
Some time later, however, Semyon Kirlian experienced a phenomenon that was even more interesting (*2, page 69): He was working on 2 different leaves, trying to make pictures of their energy pattern, which usually looks even and beautiful, but on the second of the leaves, this energy pattern seemed to be terrible disturbed and uneven. What he didn’t know at this point, was that this leaf came from a contaminated plant that was to die soon. Some time later, while calibrating his equipment, using his own hand in the machine, he experienced the same problem again. His energy field seemed to be disturbed and he just could not calibrate the machine, so the picture would be even. His wife however was, and shortly after, Kirlian fell sick with an acute ailment. He realized he had seen the change in his electro dynamic field prior to his disease. The Kirlians then made photographs of persons in poor mental and / or physical health and discovered that these photos always reflect changes in the energy field in diameter, color and regularity. Also they did photographs of withered leaves, and found out, as the leaves died, the self-emission decreased correspondingly and a finger of a human body, dead for several days, exhibits no distinctive self-emission.
These remarkable discoveries now show, there is such a thing as energy in a living body, that does not exist in this form in a dead one. Like everything in the universe life itself is dependent on energy and on action and reaction. With decreasing life-energy, life itself dies. We therefore can hypothesize that the vital force is synonymous with the electro-dynamic field of the body and – therefore conforms to known principles of physics (*2 page 85).
The Balance
Homeopathy recognizes life in a trinity: the body, mind and spirit and these forces react in sympathy and are interdependent (*1 page 35). As Kirlian proved, in healthy condition, the vital force retains this trinity in harmony. If however, the vital force is disturbed, this trinity gets out of balance. Sooner or later, Disease will be the consequence – symptoms develop. Standard medicine (allopathy) so far sees disease just as a material change in tissue and hardly recognizes this trinity. Standard medicine admits that there is a connection of emotional stress to certain organs in the body, however, it does not recognize the existence of vital force and therefore just treats symptoms, whereas homeopathic medicine realizes that it is the vital force that is disturbed and responsible for the symptoms in the patient and therefore is what needs to be treated. “In” We now know that there is a vital force and that it is this vital force that, once disturbed, brings the organism out of balance. We further realize, that allopathy by not treating the cause (the disturbed vital force) but the outside reflection of the inner disturbance, can’t cure at all. We now have to find out what actually causes the disturbance and how it can be brought back into balance.
The Concept of Resonance
Matter and energy interchange in the electro-dynamic field. This field is measurable in terms of waveforms, composed of frequency, wavelength and amplitude.” (*2 page 85). This is a given fact by laws of physics.
Now if everything in the universe vibrates at its own frequency. (*2 page 78), this also means the vital force, the electro-dynamic field of a living body, has to vibrate at its own frequency too. Important to know is, that though every substance vibrates at its own frequency, the vibration will increase when stimulated by a similar frequency. Vithoulkas brought a good example for this phenomenon (*2 page 78). If one strikes a high C tuning fork across the room from another one, this other one will start vibrating in resonance to the first one. Now if one strikes a high C tuning fork across the room from a middle C tuning fork, the second one will still start vibrating too, but with lower amplitude. This shows that vibration even from a distance has an effect but the similar vibration is the more harmonious and stronger.
But what does that mean for homeopathy and for the vital force? The vital force is electro-dynamic energy, as we know. Therefore, it has its own frequency of vibration, though much more complex as the vibration of a nonhomogenous substance. Because it affects all levels of the being at once and it has to respond on all influences of the environment and surroundings, it has to be able to change from moment to moment in frequency, regularity and amplitude as well.
That’s what we call the “Concept of Resonance“. The vital force has to respond and adjust on every stimulus it is exposed to. To most minor stimuli we are exposed to in daily life, the vital force can respond and adjust easily and unnoticably. If however, the stimulus’ strength is stronger than the vital force itself, it is forced to adjust in such a way, that the consequences are now perceivable by the trinity of body, mind and spirit. Depending on the adaptation of the vital force, more noticeable in body, mind or spirit. This phenomenon Vithoulkas calls the “Defense Mechanism”, because if the vital force wouldn’t adjust to these stimuli (these foreign vibration frequencies), the order in the body would soon get out of balance and inevitably, the body would die. What modern medicine calls incubation time, Vithoulkas says, is nothing but the time period from when the stimulus, that is stronger than the vital force, occurs until the moment the resonance (responding and adjusting) will be perceivable in form of symptoms on either or all planes of the body (physical, mental or emotional). This might take between hours in “influenza”, weeks in diseases like “gonorrhea” and months in the case of “cancer”. I put these diseases into quotation marks, as we already know, there is no such disease as influenza, etc.: there is only one disease, which takes on different forms, depending on the constitution of the individual (its vital force) and how weakening the stimulus of the vital force is.
Knowing what actually causes disease or in other words disturbance of the vital force, the most important question arises: How can a patient be restored to health?
Bringing back into Balance – The Cure
Allopathy usually treats a patient with another stimulus. The patient is given some medicine. The medicine, as we already know, can and will only act in the patient in one way: it will stimulate the vital force in a way that causes it to change it’s defense mechanism so the symptoms disappear. We also know that energy can only vibrate in harmony if the energies are very similar, which is rarely the case in allopathic drugs; therefore, by giving a further stimulus, the vital force has to adjust once more. The course it has taken to defend itself is interrupted. A new stimulus occurs, the vital force has to cope with one more influence- the drug, which will weaken the vital force even further. The defense mechanism is suppressed. Allopathic medicine is not energetic but most times highly toxic. That’s why homeopathy uses energetic medicine: How else could the electro-magnetic field, the vital force, be brought back into balance (cured), since it is energetic itself?
If the defense mechanism is weakened by suppression, the susceptibility of the sick person to more serious diseases increase. George Vithoulkas arranged diseases (corresponding to Herings law) from a fictive level A upward, getting more serious with every higher level. The principle of resonance, he says, renders the susceptibility to influence just one level at a time. (*2 page 82)
This means, that if a patient, that was susceptible to a disease of level B, got sick and now gets treated with suppressive medicine, his resonance frequency changes and he will become susceptible for diseases of level C. By suffering from disease of this level (C), he will not suffer from or get diseases of level B anymore, even if he is exposed to stimuli of disease of level B.
The reason that a person seems to be immune to the disease of a certain level, can have two different reasons: either is he too sick, in this case, his vibration rate corresponds on deeper levels of resonance, or he is too healthy, then his vibration rate corresponds to a lower level. Again – to change the susceptibility of a person it needs a new stimulus!
This explains, says Vithoulkas, why psychotic persons rarely get acute diseases. They are too sick! The same phenomenon was recognized by Hahnemann in his Organon. Constantine Hering once formulated for the first time: The law of the direction of symptoms: From above downwards. – From within outwards. – From a more important organ to a less important one – In the reverse order of their appearance. Therefore we can assume that the levels of susceptibility for influences decrease with symptoms disappearing exactly this way.
The conclusions therefore can only be:
  • The vital energy exists, and it is the one and only that rules the function of the body.
  • It is based, as well as everything in this universe just on natural laws and on energy.
  • The concept of resonance clearly shows that every stimulus has an affect on the vital force and it either can adjust or respond to it without remarkable symptoms or with remarkable symptoms – depending on whether the stimulus is stronger or weaker than the vital force itself.
  • Since the vital force can be assumed to be the electro-magnetic field, based on energy, there is only one way to strengthen it, one real way for cure: this is by energetic medicine.
  • Any other influence will just suppress the defense mechanism, the vital force, and will increase the susceptibility for influences even more.
  • The reason allopathic treatment sometimes accidentally “cures” is because certain medicines are actually “similar” to the disease they treat in the way that Ritalin, for example (also known as “speed”), is similar to Hyperactivity Disorder.
1 – Herbert A. Roberts – The principles and art of Cure by Homeopathy
2 – George Vithoulkas – The Science of Homeopathy
3 – Stuart Close – The Genius of Homeopathy
Note: There are some good Kirlian pictures of homeopathic remedies in several potencies here: With every higher potency, one can see how the energy field changes and gets brighter and clearer.
“all changes in nature are the result of reciprocal action”
The above statement is unscientific. there is no law of “reciprocal action.” There is a 3rd law of Newton that may sound like that, but it is an abstract (mathematical) expression which only relates to mechanical motions of large bodies that exist in Cartesian space, i.e. a scientific idealization. If only people were not trying to ‘explain” homeopathy by unscientific “laws” homeopathy would be much better accepted.
“There is no external source that animates the human body; therefore it has to be animated by an internal force.” Why do you think we need oxygen to breathe? Because our cells produce thermal energy when the food particles are BURNED in oxygen. Do you believe Hahnemann knew about electromagnetic energy and he thought some of it was “Vital”? There are no unknown types of EM energies. They are well-known and exist on a spectrum. EM energy is not immaterial, but Hahnemann taks about immaterial entity which was improperly translated into “Vital Force”, but he also talks about Operating Principle, which is a much better concept and is indeed intangable.
  1. Vital Force-Generation and Utilisation
  2. Lectures on Organon of Medicine – Vital Force in Cure – Understanding Aphorism 16 to 18
  3. When you explain homeopathy to people for the first time, do you mention “The Vital Force”?
  4. Musings (and the Muse) on the Vital Force
  5. Homeopathy and Biophotonics (II) The ‘Vital Force’: Explanatory Contributions Of The “Biological Lasers’ Theory – 2
  6. Lectures on Organon of Medicine – Vital Force in Health Understanding Aphorism Nine & Ten
  7. Lectures on Organon of Medicine – Vital Force in Disease – Understanding Aphorism 11to 15
  8. Homeopathy and Biophotonics (II) The ‘Vital Force’: Explanatory Contributions Of The “Biological Lasers’ Theory

Is Homeopathy "New Science" or "New Age"?

Mahlon W. Wagner, Ph.D.
Homeopathy has existed for about 200 years, yet reports in the media have suggested that homeopathy is the medicine of the future. Today, homeopathy is found in almost every country. In Europe, 40% of French physicians use homeopathy; 40% of Dutch, 37% of British, and 20% of German physicians use homeopathy [1]. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of people take homeopathic remedies each year. Indeed, homeopathy seems to be becoming more popular.

Background History

Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, developed homeopathy in about 1796. He was dissatisfied with the conventional medicine of his time. The accepted medical remedies at that time were often dangerous for the patient. There was a joke that more people died of medical treatment than from the disease itself.
Hahnemann laid out two principles of his homeopathy. First, he said that "like cures like" (Similia similibus curentur). This meant that a substance that produces certain symptoms in a healthy person can be used to cure similar symptoms in a sick person.
Second, Hahnemann asserted that smaller and smaller doses of the remedy would be even more effective. (In a way, perhaps this was a good idea because some of Hahnemann's remedies were poisonous.) So Hahnemann used more and more extreme dilutions of the remedies. In a process he named "potentization," Hahnemann would take an original natural substance and often dilute it 1-to-99 (called "C1"). A second dilution of 1-to-99 would be called "C2." Between each dilution, the remedy must be vigorously shaken. This shaking, or succussion, supposedly released the healing energy of the remedy. This healing energy has never been adequately defined nor measured.
Hahnemann found C30 dilutions to be quite effective. For Hahnemann, these very high dilutions presented no problem. He did not believe in atoms, and he thought that matter could be divided endlessly. Today we know that any dilution greater than C12 is unlikely to contain even one single molecule of the remedy. Sometimes Hahnemann diluted a substance 1-to-9 (called "D1"). In this case any dilution of D24 or greater would also not likely contain any molecules of the remedy.

Remedies Used

Homeopathy claims to use only "natural" substances. This is an attempt to contrast itself with conventional medicine. For example, homeopathic remedies include raw bovine testicles, crushed honey bees (Apis mellifica), Belladonna (deadly nightshade), cadmium, sulfur, poison nut (Nux vomica), hemlock (Conium), silica (Silicea), monkshood (Aconite), salt (Natrium mur), mountain daisy (Arnica), venom of the Bushmaster snake (Lachesis), arsenic (Arsenicum album), Spanish fly (Cantharis), rattlesnake venom (Crotalus horridus), Ipecac (Ipecacuahna), dog milk (Lac canidum), poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron), and more. Some of these substances are quite harmless, but others can be toxic (especially at D4 and lower dilutions).
How did Hahnemann know that a remedy was appropriate for a particular disease (actually for a particular symptom)? Hahnemann and his students tested remedies on themselves. They would eat various plant, animal, and mineral substances and carefully observe what symptoms occurred. This is called "proving." These reactions (or symptoms) were collected together into a book Materia Medica. For example, one of the symptoms of Pulsatilla (windflower) is "An unpleasant message makes him deeply sad and depressed after 20 hours." During provings, the people knew which substance they were taking. This is a problem because one might anticipate a certain reaction or exaggerate some symptom.
Today, in modern science, we try to prevent this bias by not letting the person know what he or she is taking -- a "test-blind" procedure. When evaluating symptoms, it is also important that the researcher does not know which remedy is being tested (a double-blind procedure) because the researcher can also be biased.
One recent German study [2] did compare a remedy (Belladonna C30) to a placebo. Those who received the placebo reported even more symptoms than those who received the remedy. The symptoms reported included minor aches and pains in various parts of the body. Did the patient mistakenly assume that a normal ache or pain must be related to the remedy? It is possible that the ache or pain was the result of a confounding factor such as not enough sleep.
As we can see, homeopathy is not concerned with the disease. It concentrates on the symptoms reported by the patient. Homeopathy then matches these symptoms to those symptoms that a remedy causes in a healthy person. By contrast, scientific bio-medicine uses symptoms to identify the disease and then treats the disease itself.


There are two points of view about homeopathy that are in conflict. One viewpoint says that homeopathy should not attempt to meet the rigorous requirements of scientific medicine. It is sufficient that there have been millions of satisfied patients during the last 200 years. Science is not relevant anyway because it rejects the concept of the energy of the "vital force" which is essential to homeopathy. This vital force is identical to the concept of vitalism -- a primitive concept used to explain health and disease. And, besides, scientific medicine is unfairly prejudiced and biased against homeopathy. Dana Ullman [3], a leading spokesman for American homeopathy, says that personal experience is much more convincing than any experiments. The emphasis on experience shows that most people simply do not understand that good science, based upon experiments, is essential to the development of knowledge.
The second viewpoint is that scientific research is necessary if homeopathy is to be accepted by medicine and society. In the past 15 years many experimental studies have been done to examine homeopathic remedies. Two reviews of homeopathy are perhaps the best known.
J. Kleinjen, P. Knipschild, and G. ter Riet[4] examined 107 controlled clinical trials of homeopathy. They concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to support the claims of homeopathy. C. Hill and F. Doyon [5] examined 40 other clinical studies. They also concluded that there was no acceptable evidence that homeopathy is effective. Since the above reviews were written, four more research studies have appeared.
In 1992 the homeopathic treatment of plantar warts (on the feet) was examined [6]. The homeopathic treatment was no more effective than a placebo.
A report in May 1994 examined the homeopathic treatment of diarrhea in children who lived in Nicaragua [7]. On Day 3 of treatment the homeopathic group had one less unformed stool than the control group (3.1 Vs 2.1; p <.05). However, critics [8] pointed out that not only were the sickest children excluded, but there were no significant differences on Days 1, 2, 4, or 5. This suggests that the conclusion was not valid. Further, there was no assurance that the homeopathic remedy was not adulterated (contaminated). Finally, standard remedies which halt diarrhea were not used for comparison purposes.
In November 1994 a research report examined the effects of homeopathic remedies in children with upper respiratory infections (such as a cold) [9]. Eighty-four children received the placebo, and 86 received individualized homeopathic remedies. The researchers concluded that the remedies produced no improvement in symptoms or in the infections.
In December 1994 a fourth study examined homeopathic treatment of allergic asthma in Scotland [10]. The 13 patients who received the homeopathic remedy reported feeling better and breathing easier than the 15 patients who received the placebo. Then the researchers combined these data with several earlier experiments. They concluded that, in general, homeopathy is not a placebo and that homeopathy is reproducible.
However, there were too few patients for significant analysis. Second, personal reports of feeling better are not reliable. If a patient feels better, is that proof of recovering from the ailment? There are many diseases in which the patient feels good but is actually quite sick. What is needed are several proper physiological measurements of improvement. Third, it is inappropriate to combine this small study with previous studies of a different disorder.
The latest study from Norway [11] examined relief from the pain of tooth extraction/oral surgery by homeopathic remedies or placebos. Fourteen of the 24 subjects were students of homeopathy, and 2 of the 5 authors were homeopaths. It is safe to say that motivation was high to have homeopathy succeed. However, no positive evidence was found favoring homeopathy, either in relief of pain or inflammation of tissue.
The reader may ask why so much attention has been given to the scientific research when supporters of homeopathy reject the relevance of clinical trials to establish its validity. But the same people also claim that the 1991 review, and the Nicaragua and the Scotland studies are proof that homeopathy does indeed work. It is important to realize that all of the research that seems to support homeopathy is seriously flawed. The only conclusion that is justified at this time is that research has not conclusively shown that homeopathic remedies are effective.

Homeopathic Pleading

What answer can be given to someone who says he took a remedy and it worked? Most people do not realize that in time most conditions will get better even if nothing is done. As the saying goes, "A cold will get better in 14 long days without treatment, but will get better in only two short weeks with medication." A wise medical doctor will say not to worry, that medication won't help much. (By the way, has anyone ever heard of a homeopath telling a patient that they need not worry and that the sickness will go away by itself?) When someone says the homeopathic remedy cured them, we can ask: "Would one have been cured just as quickly if nothing had been done?"
Another factor to consider is the "placebo effect." This means that if people "believe" that they are being properly treated, they will perceive themselves getting better faster. Recent research shows that up to 70% of medical/surgical patients will report good results from techniques that we know today are ineffective [12]. (At the time of the treatment, both the patient and the physician were convinced that the treatment was effective.)
Since 1842, homeopaths have argued that the placebo argument is irrelevant because children and animals are helped by homeopathic remedies. But children and animals respond to suggestion when researchers and often the parents and pet owners are aware that a remedy has been given.
Supporters also claim that there are no risks from homeopathic treatment. They say that the ultra dilute remedies are safer and cheaper than most prescription drugs. First, it has been shown that several homeopathic remedies for asthma actually were contaminated with large amounts of artificial steroids. Second, some remedies do contain measurable amounts of the critical substance. If a patient takes 4 tablets daily of mercury (D4), he would receive a potentially toxic dose. And a dose of D6 cadmium exceeds the safe limits. Finally, a D6 or less dose of Aristolochia contains significant amounts of this cancer-causing herb. Therefore, we cannot easily and quickly claim that homeopathic remedies are always safe.
There is an additional risk of seeking homeopathic treatment. If someone is ill and requires immediate medical treatment, any delay could have serious consequences. This is the risk that is present with all alternative medical care.
Advocates of homeopathy often assert that using dilute remedies is similar to vaccinations. After all, vaccinations also use very dilute substances. Once again, homeopathy is trying to obtain respectability by showing that conventional medicine uses similar procedures. This is misleading for several reasons. First, vaccinations are used to prevent disease. Once one is sick and has symptoms, a vaccination will not help. The homeopathic remedy is given only after one is already sick. Vaccinations use similar or identical weakened microorganisms, but homeopathy is concerned with similar symptoms of illness. And last, many homeopathic remedies use D24 or C12 dilutions where none of the substance remains. Vaccinations on the other hand must contain a measurable amount of the microorganism or its protein.

Strange Bedfellows

Sometimes we can learn much about a topic by examining who or what it associates with. In the first 100 years, homeopathy was closely associated with many pseudosciences including Mesmerism and phrenology. In the United States, many early homeopaths were members of the mystical cult of Swedenborgianism.
Unfortunately, this has not changed today. Especially in the United States, chiropractic (spinal manipulation therapy) and applied kinesiology use homeopathic remedies. Many homeopaths use iridology, reflexology, dowsing, and electrodiagnosis. None of these methods has scientific validity. In America, if you want to learn more about homeopathy, the best place to go is to any New Age bookstore or meeting place.
Another connection of homeopathy with the New Age movement is found in the emphasis upon some mystical energy (called the "vital force") which, though unquantifiable, supposedly permeates the universe and is responsible for healing. Fritjof Capra and Deepak Chopra claim that the mysteries of quantum physics support this "healing energy" concept. But Victor Stenger [13] has shown that all of modern physics (including quantum physics) remains materialistic and reductionistic and offers no support for the mysterious energy supposedly present in potentized homeopathic remedies at dilutions of C12 or greater.

Is Homeopathy Quackery?

In the United States, we have a motto: "If it walks like a duck, and looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, then it probably is a duck." To what extent does homeopathy look like quackery and sound like quackery?
One clear link that homeopathy has to quackery is its supporters' use of faulty logic. The first example is known as the "test of time" argument -- the fact that homeopathy has existed for a long time shows that it is valid. But longevity does not guarantee validity. Astrology, numerology, and dowsing have been around for a long time, but they are clear examples of pseudoscience. Longevity of an idea is never a good substitute for rigorous science.
The second argument is that many people have tried homeopathic remedies and are all satisfied, so homeopathy must be legitimate. Along the same lines, we are told that the following famous and important people all supported homeopathy: The British royal family, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Mark Twain, O. J. Simpson, Yehudi Menuhin, Angela Lansbury, and Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science). The Chinese have a saying that if a thousand people say something foolish, it is still foolish. Also a majority vote is no substitute for good science. In addition, we usually hear only about the successes, but the failures are conveniently forgotten or ignored.
A third argument is the "non sequitur." Typically, the crackpot says: "They laughed at Galileo, and he was right. Today they laugh at me; therefore I must be right." (Actually Galileo was not laughed at. Rather he was persecuted because he was devoid of a proper Christian faith to accept the correct dogma.) Homeopaths say that throughout history many great geniuses have rebelled against the prevailing wisdom; many of these were ultimately recognized as correct. Paracelsus, William Harvey, Louis Pasteur, and Joseph Lister were vindicated by history. Therefore, it is argued, Samuel Hahnemann and homeopathy also will ultimately be recognized as correct. But this argument forgets that many more who claimed to be geniuses were correctly rejected.
In the spirit of fair-mindedness, one may be tempted to give homeopathy the benefit of the doubt and simply conclude "not yet proven." However, what then are we to do when many lay practitioners report that merely writing the name of the remedy on a piece of paper, and putting this on the body of the patient results in a "cure." Even two respected national spokesmen were unwilling to reject these reports, and one of them suggested that quantum physics may ultimately explain these healings as well as those reported by patients who are given the remedy over the phone.
We must conclude that homeopathy certainly sounds like quackery.

Homeopathy in the United States

Before 1920, homeopathy was extremely popular in the United States. There were many homeopathic hospitals and medical colleges. But then conventional medicine established more rigorous standards for training students. In addition, pharmacology and the discovery of many useful drugs happened at the same time. Today in the United States, only about 500 of more than 600,000 physicians use homeopathic remedies.
However, many scientists are concerned because the popularity of homeopathy is increasing. Today almost anyone can buy homeopathic remedies without a prescription. This is because in 1938 a homeopath who also was a powerful politician (Royal Copeland, MD) was able to have a law passed that made homeopathic remedies exempt from all drug regulation. So homeopathic remedies do not have to be proved effective, as all other drugs must be. In addition, many unlicensed and untrained people can give homeopathic remedies to anyone who asks for them. Both German and French homeopathic companies recognize the large potential American market for their remedies. Sales of remedies are growing by 30% a year, and most remedies are sold in New Age and related natural health-food stores. Therefore, there is no control over the quality of homeopathic treatment received by patients; nor is there control over the quality or purity of the remedies.

Why Do People Accept Homeopathy?

Perhaps there are really two different questions here. The first question relates to the New Age in general. The second question relates to many alternative medicines as well as homeopathy.
Why do people read their horoscopes? Why do people believe in good luck and bad luck? Why do people ask a dowser for help? Why do people visit fortune-tellers? People who do these things want to know about the future, to avoid uncertainty, and to take control of their lives. For many people the uncertainty in life is unbearable. These people want explanations that they can understand. Modern science has become so complex that many people turn away in frustration. It is unfortunate that most people throughout the world do not understand what science is and what science does. For example, how many people can explain why it is warmer in the summer than in the winter? (Only 2 of 23 recent Harvard graduates could mention the tilt of the earth's axis[14].) Or how many people understand the basic ideas of biological evolution? A survey by the National Science Foundation in May 1966 reported that 48% of American adults believe that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and only 47% knew that it takes one year for the earth to go around the sun. This scientific illiteracy, due in part to the shortcomings in our education systems, makes it easy for pseudoscience and superstition to succeed.
Why do people turn to homeopathy and other "alternative" medicines? Many people are dissatisfied with conventional medicine. They distrust physicians who may prescribe expensive drugs or painful surgery. Often physicians can find nothing wrong with the patient. Or else they tell the patient that time alone will cure the ailment. And, of course, physicians often cannot spend much time talking with the patient because they have too many patients to see that day. If the physician finds nothing wrong, this may offend the patient because it suggests that the cause is psychosomatic. The patient who wants to be cured and to be cured immediately is upset when the physician says that time alone will cure the problem. The patient may also be unhappy if the physician doesn't give some medication.
An initial visit to a homeopath can often take more than one hour. Patients are encouraged to talk about all of their cares, concerns, and pains. Patients may be asked whether they like oranges or apples; what kinds of music they enjoy; whether they sleep on their back or on their side.
Later the homeopath tells a patient that because he is a unique individual, the remedy will also be individualized for that patient alone. Thus, homeopathy is seductive to both the patient and the physician. The patient and physician become partners in fighting the illness. The homeopath is seen as a concerned and sympathetic health-care giver.


It must be concluded that by every objective, rational, and medical standard, homeopathy has failed to establish its scientific credibility. Homeopathy has not cast off the many characteristics of pseudoscience and quackery. How can conventional medicine, science, and patients respond to this challenge?
The problem of scientific illiteracy must be acknowledged. For example, if people understood the influence of suggestion and the placebo effect more clearly, homeopathy's attraction might diminish.
Intelligent people can encourage others to think more critically. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. A miracle means a violation of the laws of nature. A miracle cure probably is not a miracle at all. If something seems too amazing to be true, it probably isn't true. We must demand that the claims of diagnosis and cure be supported with good evidence. To paraphrase another American motto: "The only thing necessary for quackery to succeed is for intelligent people to do nothing."


  1. Fisher P, Ward A. Complementary medicine in Europe. BMJ. 1994; 309: 107-111.
  2. Wallach H. Does a highly diluted homeopathic drug act as a placebo in health volunteers? Experimental study of Belladonna 30C in double-blind crossover design -- a pilot study. J Psychosom Res. 1993; 37(8): 851-860.
  3. Ullman D. Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century. rev. ed. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books; 1991.
  4. Kleinjen J, Knipschild P, ter Reit G. Clinical trials of homeopathy. BMJ. 1991; 302: 316-323.
  5. Hill C, Doyon F. Review of randomized trials of homeopathy. Rev Epidem et Sante Publ. 1990; 38: 139-147.
  6. Labrecque M, Audet D, Latulippe LG, Drouin J. Homeopathic treatment of planter warts. Can Med Assoc J. 1992; 146 (10): 1749-1753.
  7. Jacobs J, Jimenez LM, Gloyd SS, Gale JL, Crothers D. Treatment of acute childhood diarrhea with homeopathic remedies: a randomized clinical trial in Nicaragua. Pediatrics. 1994; 93(5): 719-725.
  8. Sampson W, London W. Analysis of homeopathic treatment of childhood diarrhea. Pediatrics. 1995; 96(5): 961-964.
  9. de Lange de Klerk ESM, Blommers J, Kuik DJ, Bezemer PD, Feenstra L. Effect of homeopathic medicines on daily burden of symptoms in children with recurrent upper respiratory tract infections. BMJ. 1994; 309: 1329-1332.
  10. Reilly D, Taylor MA, Beattie NGM, et al. Is evidence for homeopathy reproducible? Lancet. 1994; 344: 1601-1606.
  11. Lkken P, Straumsheim PA, Tveiten D, Skjelbred P, Borchgrevink CF. Effect of homeopathy on pain and otherevents after acute trauma: placebo controlled trial with bilateral oral surgery. BMJ. 1995; 310: 1439-1442.
  12. Roberts AH, Kewman DG, Mercier L, and Hovell M. The power of nonspecific effects in healing: implications for psychological and biological treatments. Clin Psychol Rev. 1993; 13: 375-391.
  13. Stenger VJ. The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books; 1995.
  14. Hanzen RM, Trefil J. Quick! what's a quark? NY Times. January 13, 1991; sec. 6, 24-26.


Homeopathy  is a system of alternative medicine created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann based on his doctrine of like cures like (similia similibus curentur), a claim that a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people.[1] Homeopathy is a pseudoscience – a belief that is incorrectly presented as scientific. Homeopathic preparations are not effective for treating any condition;[2][3][4][5] large-scale studies have found homeopathy to be no more effective than a placebo, suggesting that any positive feelings that follow treatment are only due to the placebo effect and normal recovery from illness.[6][7][8]
Hahnemann believed the underlying causes of disease were phenomena that he termed miasms, and that homeopathic preparations addressed these. The preparations are manufactured using a process of homeopathic dilution, in which a chosen substance is repeatedly diluted in alcohol or distilled water, each time with the containing vessel being bashed against an elastic material, (commonly a leather-bound book).[9] Dilution typically continues well past the point where no molecules of the original substance remain.[10] Homeopaths select homeopathics[11] by consulting reference books known as repertories, and by considering the totality of the patient's symptoms, personal traits, physical and psychological state, and life history.[12]
Homeopathy is not a plausible system of treatment, as its dogmas about how drugs, illness, the human body, liquids and solutions operate are contradicted by a wide range of discoveries across biology, psychology, physics and chemistry made in the two centuries since its invention.[7][13][14][15][16] Although some clinical trials produce positive results,[17][18] multiple systematic reviews have indicated that this is because of chance, flawed research methods, and reporting bias. Continued homeopathic practice, despite the evidence that it does not work, has been criticized as unethical because it discourages the use of effective treatments,[19] with the World Health Organisation warning against using homeopathy to try to treat severe diseases such as HIV and malaria.[20] The continued practice of homeopathy, despite a lack of evidence of efficacy,[6][7][21] has led to it being characterized within the scientific and medical communities as nonsense,[22] quackery,[4][23][24] and a sham.[25]
Assessments by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the British National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Swiss Federal Health Office have each concluded that homeopathy is ineffective, recommending against the practice receiving any further funding.[26][27]

Historical context

Homeopaths claim that Hippocrates may have originated homeopathy around 400 BC, when he prescribed a small dose of mandrake root to treat mania, knowing it produces mania in much larger doses.[28] In the 16th century, the pioneer of pharmacology Paracelsus declared that small doses of "what makes a man ill also cures him".[29] Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843) gave homeopathy its name and expanded its principles in the late 18th century.
In the late 18th and 19th centuries, mainstream medicine used methods like bloodletting and purging, and administered complex mixtures, such as Venice treacle, which was made from 64 substances including opium, myrrh, and viper's flesh.[30] These treatments often worsened symptoms and sometimes proved fatal.[31][32] Hahnemann rejected these practices – which had been extolled for centuries[33] – as irrational and inadvisable;[34] instead, he advocated the use of single drugs at lower doses and promoted an immaterial, vitalistic view of how living organisms function, believing that diseases have spiritual, as well as physical causes.[35]

Hahnemann's concept

See also: Samuel Hahnemann
Samuel Hahnemann Monument, Washington D.C. with "Similia Similibus Curentur" - Like cures Like.
The term "homeopathy" was coined by Hahnemann and first appeared in print in 1807.[36]
Hahnemann conceived of homeopathy while translating a medical treatise by the Scottish physician and chemist William Cullen into German. Being skeptical of Cullen's theory concerning cinchona's use for curing malaria, Hahnemann ingested some bark specifically to investigate what would happen. He experienced fever, shivering and joint pain: symptoms similar to those of malaria itself. From this, Hahnemann came to believe that all effective drugs produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to those of the diseases that they treat, in accord with the "law of similars" that had been proposed by ancient physicians.[37] An account of the effects of eating cinchona bark noted by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and published in 1861, failed to reproduce the symptoms Hahnemann reported.[38]:128 Hahnemann's law of similars is a postulate rather than a scientific law.[39] This led to the name "homeopathy", which comes from the Greek: ὅμοιος hómoios, "-like" and πάθος páthos, "suffering")
Subsequent scientific work shows that cinchona cures malaria because it contains quinine, which kills the Plasmodium falciparum parasite that causes the disease; the mechanism of action is unrelated to Hahnemann's ideas.[40]


Hahnemann began to test what effects substances produced in humans, a procedure that would later become known as "homeopathic proving". These tests required subjects to test the effects of ingesting substances by clearly recording all of their symptoms as well as the ancillary conditions under which they appeared.[41] He published a collection of provings in 1805, and a second collection of 65 preparations appeared in his book, Materia Medica Pura, in 1810.[42]
Because Hahnemann believed that large doses of drugs that caused similar symptoms would only aggravate illness, he advocated extreme dilutions of the substances; he devised a technique for making dilutions that he believed would preserve a substance's therapeutic properties while removing its harmful effects.[10] Hahnemann believed that this process aroused and enhanced "the spirit-like medicinal powers of the crude substances".[43] He gathered and published a complete overview of his new medical system in his 1810 book, The Organon of the Healing Art, whose 6th edition, published in 1921, is still used by homeopaths today.[44]

Miasms and disease

A homeopathic preparation made from marsh tea: the "15C" dilution shown here means the original solution was diluted to 1/1030 of its original strength. Given that there are many orders of magnitude fewer than 1030 molecules in the small sample, the likelihood that it contains even one molecule of the original herb is extremely low.
In The Organon of the Healing Art, Hahnemann introduced the concept of "miasms" as "infectious principles" underlying chronic disease.[45] Hahnemann associated each miasm with specific diseases, and thought that initial exposure to miasms causes local symptoms, such as skin or venereal diseases. If, however, these symptoms were suppressed by medication, the cause went deeper and began to manifest itself as diseases of the internal organs.[46] Homeopathy maintains that treating diseases by directly alleviating their symptoms, as is sometimes done in conventional medicine, is ineffective because all "disease can generally be traced to some latent, deep-seated, underlying chronic, or inherited tendency".[47] The underlying imputed miasm still remains, and deep-seated ailments can be corrected only by removing the deeper disturbance of the vital force.[48]
Hahnemann’s hypotheses for the direct or remote cause of all chronic diseases (miasms) originally presented only three, psora (the itch), syphilis (venereal disease) or sycosis (fig-wart disease).[49] Of these three the most important was psora (Greek for "itch"), described as being related to any itching diseases of the skin, supposed to be derived from suppressed scabies, and claimed to be the foundation of many further disease conditions. Hahnemann believed psora to be the cause of such diseases as epilepsy, cancer, jaundice, deafness, and cataracts.[50] Since Hahnemann's time, other miasms have been proposed, some replacing one or more of psora's proposed functions, including tuberculosis and cancer miasms.[46]
The law of susceptibility implies that a negative state of mind can attract hypothetical disease entities called "miasms" to invade the body and produce symptoms of diseases.[51] Hahnemann rejected the notion of a disease as a separate thing or invading entity, and insisted it was always part of the "living whole".[52] Hahnemann coined the expression "allopathic medicine", which was used to pejoratively refer to traditional Western medicine.[53]
Hahnemann's miasm theory remains disputed and controversial within homeopathy even in modern times. The theory of miasms has been criticized as an explanation developed by Hahnemann to preserve the system of homeopathy in the face of treatment failures, and for being inadequate to cover the many hundreds of sorts of diseases, as well as for failing to explain disease predispositions, as well as genetics, environmental factors, and the unique disease history of each patient.[54]:148–9

19th century: rise to popularity and early criticism

Homeopathy achieved its greatest popularity in the 19th century. It was introduced to the United States in 1825 by Hans Birch Gram, a student of Hahnemann.[55] The first homeopathic school in the US opened in 1835, and in 1844, the first US national medical association, the American Institute of Homeopathy, was established and throughout the 19th century, dozens of homeopathic institutions appeared in Europe and the United States.[56] By 1900, there were 22 homeopathic colleges and 15,000 practitioners in the United States.[57] Because medical practice of the time relied on ineffective and often dangerous treatments, patients of homeopaths often had better outcomes than those of the doctors of the time.[58] Homeopathic preparations, even if ineffective, would almost surely cause no harm, making the users of homeopathic preparations less likely to be killed by the treatment that was supposed to be helping them.[44] The relative success of homeopathy in the 19th century may have led to the abandonment of the ineffective and harmful treatments of bloodletting and purging and to have begun the move towards more effective, science-based medicine.[32] One reason for the growing popularity of homeopathy was its apparent success in treating people suffering from infectious disease epidemics.[59] During 19th century epidemics of diseases such as cholera, death rates in homeopathic hospitals were often lower than in conventional hospitals, where the treatments used at the time were often harmful and did little or nothing to combat the diseases.[60]
From its inception, however, homeopathy was criticized by mainstream science. Sir John Forbes, physician to Queen Victoria, said in 1843 that the extremely small doses of homeopathy were regularly derided as useless, "an outrage to human reason".[61] James Young Simpson said in 1853 of the highly diluted drugs: "No poison, however strong or powerful, the billionth or decillionth of which would in the least degree affect a man or harm a fly."[62] 19th-century American physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was also a vocal critic of homeopathy and published an essay in 1842 entitled Homœopathy and Its Kindred Delusions.[38] The members of the French Homeopathic Society observed in 1867 that some leading homeopathists of Europe not only were abandoning the practice of administering infinitesimal doses but were also no longer defending it.[63] The last school in the US exclusively teaching homeopathy closed in 1920.[44]

Revival in the 20th century

According to Paul Ulrich Unschuld, the Nazi regime in Germany were fascinated by homeopathy, and spent large sums of money on researching its mechanisms, but without gaining a positive result. Unschuld further argues that homeopathy never subsequently took root in the United States, but remained more deeply established in European thinking.[64]
In the United States the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (sponsored by Royal Copeland, a Senator from New York and homeopathic physician) recognized homeopathic preparations as drugs. In the 1950s, there were only 75 pure homeopaths practicing in the U.S.[65] However, by the mid to late 1970s, homeopathy made a significant comeback and sales of some homeopathic companies increased tenfold.[66] Some homeopaths give credit for the revival to Greek homeopath George Vithoulkas, who performed a "great deal of research to update the scenarios and refine the theories and practice of homeopathy" beginning in the 1970s,[67][68] but Ernst and Singh consider it to be linked to the rise of the New Age movement.[33] Whichever is correct, mainstream pharmacy chains recognized the business potential of selling homeopathic preparations.[69] The Food and Drug Administration held a hearing April 20 and 21, 2015 requesting public comment on regulation of homeopathic drugs.[70] The FDA cited the growth of sales of over the counter homeopathic medicines, $2.7 billion as of 2007, many labeled as "natural, safe, and effective."[71]
Bruce Hood has argued that the increased popularity of homeopathy in recent times may be due to the comparatively long consultations practitioners are willing to give their patients, and to an irrational preference for "natural" products which people think are the basis of homeopathic preparations.[72]

Preparations and treatment

Homeopathic preparations are referred to as "homeopathics"[11] or "remedies". Practitioners rely on two types of reference when prescribing: materia medica and repertories. A homeopathic materia medica is a collection of "drug pictures", organised alphabetically. These entries describe the symptom patterns associated with individual preparations. A homeopathic repertory is an index of disease symptoms that lists preparations associated with specific symptoms. In both cases different compilers may dispute particular inclusions.[73] The first symptomatic homeopathic materia medica was arranged by Hahnemann. The first homeopathic repertory was Georg Jahr's Symptomenkodex, published in German in 1835, and translated into English as the Repertory to the more Characteristic Symptoms of Materia Medica by Constantine Hering in 1838. This version was less focused on disease categories and would be the forerunner to later works by James Tyler Kent.[74][75] Repertories, in particular, may be very large.
Homeopathy uses animal, plant, mineral, and synthetic substances in its preparations, generally referring to them using Latin or faux-Latin names. Examples include arsenicum album (arsenic oxide), natrum muriaticum (sodium chloride or table salt), Lachesis muta (the venom of the bushmaster snake), opium, and thyroidinum (thyroid hormone).
Some homeopaths use so-called "nosodes" (from the Greek nosos, disease) made from diseased or pathological products such as fecal, urinary, and respiratory discharges, blood, and tissue.[74] Conversely, preparations made from "healthy" specimens are called "sarcodes".
Some modern homeopaths use preparations they call "imponderables" because they do not originate from a substance but some other phenomenon presumed to have been "captured" by alcohol or lactose. Examples include X-rays[76] and sunlight.[77]
Other minority practices include paper preparations, where the substance and dilution are written on pieces of paper and either pinned to the patients' clothing, put in their pockets, or placed under glasses of water that are then given to the patients, and the use of radionics to manufacture preparations. Such practices have been strongly criticised by classical homeopaths as unfounded, speculative, and verging upon magic and superstition.[78][79]


Hahnemann found that undiluted doses caused reactions, sometimes dangerous ones, so specified that preparations be given at the lowest possible dose. He found that this reduced potency as well as side-effects, but formed the view that vigorous shaking and striking on an elastic surface - a process he termed Schütteln, translated as succussion - nullified this.[80] A common explanation for his settling on this process is said to be that he found preparations subjected to agitation in transit, such as in saddle bags or in a carriage, were more "potent".[54]:16 Hahnemann had a saddle-maker construct a special wooden striking board covered in leather on one side and stuffed with horsehair.[81]:31 Insoluble solids, such as granite, diamond, and platinum, are diluted by grinding them with lactose ("trituration").[54]:23
The process of dilution and succussion is termed "dynamisation" or "potentisation" by homeopaths.[9][82] In industrial manufacture this may be done by machine.
Serial dilution is achieved by taking an amount of the mixture and adding solvent, but the "Korsakovian" method may also be used, whereby the vessel in which the preparations are manufactured is emptied, refilled with solvent, and the volume of fluid adhering to the walls of the vessel is deemed sufficient for the new batch.[54]:270 The Korsakovian method is sometimes referred to as K on the label of a homeopathic preparation, e.g. 200CK is a 200C preparation made using the Korsakovian method[83][84]
Fluxion and radionics methods of preparation do not require succussion.[54]:171 There are differences of opinion on the number and force of strikes, and some practitioners dispute the need for succussion at all while others reject the Korsakovian and other non-classical preparations. There are no laboratory assays and the importance and techniques for succussion cannot be determined with any certainty from the literature.[54]:67–69


Main article: Homeopathic dilutions
Three main logarithmic potency scales are in regular use in homeopathy. Hahnemann created the "centesimal" or "C scale", diluting a substance by a factor of 100 at each stage. The centesimal scale was favored by Hahnemann for most of his life.
A 2C dilution requires a substance to be diluted to one part in 100, and then some of that diluted solution diluted by a further factor of 100.
This works out to one part of the original substance in 10,000 parts of the solution.[85] A 6C dilution repeats this process six times, ending up with the original substance diluted by a factor of 100−6=10−12 (one part in one trillion or 1/1,000,000,000,000). Higher dilutions follow the same pattern.
In homeopathy, a solution that is more dilute is described as having a higher "potency", and more dilute substances are considered by homeopaths to be stronger and deeper-acting.[86] The end product is often so diluted as to be indistinguishable from the diluent (pure water, sugar or alcohol).[10][87][88] There is also a decimal potency scale (notated as "X" or "D") in which the preparation is diluted by a factor of 10 at each stage.[89]
Hahnemann advocated 30C dilutions for most purposes (that is, dilution by a factor of 1060).[9] Hahnemann regularly used potencies up to 300C but opined that "there must be a limit to the matter, it cannot go on indefinitely"[41]:322
In Hahnemann's time, it was reasonable to assume the preparations could be diluted indefinitely, as the concept of the atom or molecule as the smallest possible unit of a chemical substance was just beginning to be recognized.
The greatest dilution reasonably likely to contain even one molecule of the original substance is 12C.[90]
Critics and advocates of homeopathy alike commonly attempt to illustrate the dilutions involved in homeopathy with analogies.[91] Hahnemann is reported to have joked that a suitable procedure to deal with an epidemic would be to empty a bottle of poison into Lake Geneva, if it could be succussed 60 times.[92][93] Another example given by a critic of homeopathy states that a 12C solution is equivalent to a "pinch of salt in both the North and South Atlantic Oceans",[92][93] which is approximately correct.[94] One-third of a drop of some original substance diluted into all the water on earth would produce a preparation with a concentration of about 13C.[91][95][96] A popular homeopathic treatment for the flu is a 200C dilution of duck liver, marketed under the name Oscillococcinum. As there are only about 1080 atoms in the entire observable universe, a dilution of one molecule in the observable universe would be about 40C. Oscillococcinum would thus require 10320 more universes to simply have one molecule in the final substance.[97] The high dilutions characteristically used are often considered to be the most controversial and implausible aspect of homeopathy.[98]
Not all homeopaths advocate high dilutions. Preparations at concentrations below 4X are considered an important part of homeopathic heritage.[99] Many of the early homeopaths were originally doctors and generally used lower dilutions such as "3X" or "6X", rarely going beyond "12X". The split between lower and higher dilutions followed ideological lines. Those favoring low dilutions stressed pathology and a stronger link to conventional medicine, while those favoring high dilutions emphasised vital force, miasms and a spiritual interpretation of disease.[100][101] Some products with such relatively lower dilutions continue to be sold, but like their counterparts, they have not been conclusively demonstrated to have any effect beyond that of a placebo.[102][103]


A homeopathic "proving" is the method by which the profile of a homeopathic preparation is determined.[104]
At first Hahnemann used undiluted doses for provings, but he later advocated provings with preparations at a 30C dilution,[9] and most modern provings are carried out using ultradilute preparations in which it is highly unlikely that any of the original molecules remain.[105] During the proving process, Hahnemann administered preparations to healthy volunteers, and the resulting symptoms were compiled by observers into a "drug picture".
The volunteers were observed for months at a time and made to keep extensive journals detailing all of their symptoms at specific times throughout the day. They were forbidden from consuming coffee, tea, spices, or wine for the duration of the experiment; playing chess was also prohibited because Hahnemann considered it to be "too exciting", though they were allowed to drink beer and encouraged to exercise in moderation.[106]
After the experiments were over, Hahnemann made the volunteers take an oath swearing that what they reported in their journals was the truth, at which time he would interrogate them extensively concerning their symptoms.
Provings are claimed to have been important in the development of the clinical trial, due to their early use of simple control groups, systematic and quantitative procedures, and some of the first application of statistics in medicine.[107] The lengthy records of self-experimentation by homeopaths have occasionally proven useful in the development of modern drugs: For example, evidence that nitroglycerin might be useful as a treatment for angina was discovered by looking through homeopathic provings, though homeopaths themselves never used it for that purpose at that time.[108] The first recorded provings were published by Hahnemann in his 1796 Essay on a New Principle.[109] His Fragmenta de Viribus (1805)[110] contained the results of 27 provings, and his 1810 Materia Medica Pura contained 65.[111] For James Tyler Kent's 1905 Lectures on Homoeopathic Materia Medica, 217 preparations underwent provings and newer substances are continually added to contemporary versions.
Though the proving process has superficial similarities with clinical trials, it is fundamentally different in that the process is subjective, not blinded, and modern provings are unlikely to use pharmacologically active levels of the substance under proving.[112] As early as 1842, Holmes noted the provings were impossibly vague, and the purported effect was not repeatable among different subjects.[38]
See also: Nocebo

Homeopathic consultation

Homeopaths generally begin with detailed examinations of their patients' histories, including questions regarding their physical, mental and emotional states, their life circumstances and any physical or emotional illnesses. The homeopath then attempts to translate this information into a complex formula of mental and physical symptoms, including likes, dislikes, innate predispositions and even body type.[113]
From these symptoms, the homeopath chooses how to treat the patient using materia medica and repertories. In classical homeopathy, the practitioner attempts to match a single preparation to the totality of symptoms (the simlilum), while "clinical homeopathy" involves combinations of preparations based on the various symptoms of an illness.[67]

Pills and active ingredients

Homeopathic pills are made from an inert substance (often sugars, typically lactose), upon which a drop of liquid homeopathic preparation is placed and allowed to evaporate.[114][115]
The process of homeopathic dilution results in no objectively detectable active ingredient in most cases, but some preparations (e.g. calendula and arnica creams) do contain pharmacologically active doses. One product, Zicam Cold Remedy, which was marketed as an "unapproved homeopathic" product,[116] contains two ingredients that are only "slightly" diluted: zinc acetate (2X = 1/100 dilution) and zinc gluconate (1X = 1/10 dilution),[116] which means both are present in a biologically active concentration strong enough to have caused some people to lose their sense of smell,[117] a condition termed anosmia. Zicam also listed several normal homeopathic potencies as "inactive ingredients", including galphimia glauca,[118] histamine dihydrochloride (homeopathic name, histaminum hydrochloricum),[119] luffa operculata,[120] and sulfur.

Related and minority treatments and practices


Isopathy is a therapy derived from homeopathy invented by Johann Joseph Wilhelm Lux in the 1830s. Isopathy differs from homeopathy in general in that the preparations, known as "nosodes", are made up either from things that cause the disease or from products of the disease, such as pus.[74][121] Many so-called "homeopathic vaccines" are a form of isopathy.[122]

Flower preparations

Flower preparations can be produced by placing flowers in water and exposing them to sunlight. The most famous of these are the Bach flower remedies, which were developed by the physician and homeopath Edward Bach. Although the proponents of these preparations share homeopathy's vitalist world-view and the preparations are claimed to act through the same hypothetical "vital force" as homeopathy, the method of preparation is different. Bach flower preparations are manufactured allegedly "gentler" ways such as placing flowers in bowls of sunlit water, and the preparations are not succussed.[123] There is no convincing scientific or clinical evidence for flower preparations being effective.[124]

Veterinary use

The idea of using homeopathy as a treatment for other animals, termed "veterinary homeopathy", dates back to the inception of homeopathy; Hahnemann himself wrote and spoke of the use of homeopathy in animals other than humans.[125] The FDA has not approved homeopathic products as veterinary medicine in the U.S. In the UK, veterinary surgeons who use homeopathy may belong to the Faculty of Homeopathy and/or to the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons. Animals may be treated only by qualified veterinary surgeons in the UK and some other countries. Internationally, the body that supports and represents homeopathic veterinarians is the International Association for Veterinary Homeopathy.
The use of homeopathy in veterinary medicine is controversial; the little existing research on the subject is not of a high enough scientific standard to provide reliable data on efficacy.[126][127] Other studies have also found that giving animals placebos can play active roles in influencing pet owners to believe in the effectiveness of the treatment when none exists.[126] The British Veterinary Association's position statement on alternative medicines says that it "cannot endorse" homeopathy,[128] and the Australian Veterinary Association includes it on its list of "ineffective therapies".[129]
The UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DeFRA) has adopted a robust position against use of "alternative" pet preparations including homeopathy.[130]


Main article: Electrohomeopathy
Electrohomeopathy is a treatment devised by Count Cesare Mattei (1809–1896), who proposed that different "colors" of electricity could be used to treat cancer. Popular in the late nineteenth century, electrohomeopathy has been described as "utter idiocy".[131]


The use of homeopathy as a preventive for serious infectious diseases is especially controversial,[132] in the context of ill-founded public alarm over the safety of vaccines stoked by the anti-vaccination movement.[133] Promotion of homeopathic alternatives to vaccines has been characterised as dangerous, inappropriate and irresponsible.[134][135] In December 2014, Australian homeopathy supplier Homeopathy Plus! were found to have acted deceptively in promoting homeopathic alternatives to vaccines.[136]

Evidence and efficacy

The low concentration of homeopathic preparations, which often lack even a single molecule of the diluted substance,[114] has been the basis of questions about the effects of the preparations since the 19th century. Modern advocates of homeopathy have proposed a concept of "water memory", according to which water "remembers" the substances mixed in it, and transmits the effect of those substances when consumed. This concept is inconsistent with the current understanding of matter, and water memory has never been demonstrated to have any detectable effect, biological or otherwise.[137][138] Pharmacological research has found instead that stronger effects of an active ingredient come from higher, not lower doses.
James Randi and the 10:23 campaign groups have highlighted the lack of active ingredients in most homeopathic products by taking large 'overdoses'.[139] None of the hundreds of demonstrators in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US were injured and "no one was cured of anything, either".[139][140]
Outside of the alternative medicine community, scientists have long considered homeopathy a sham[25] or a pseudoscience,[2][3][4][5] and the mainstream medical community regards it as quackery.[4] There is an overall absence of sound statistical evidence of therapeutic efficacy, which is consistent with the lack of any biologically plausible pharmacological agent or mechanism.[6]
Abstract concepts within theoretical physics have been invoked to suggest explanations of how or why preparations might work, including quantum entanglement,[141] quantum nonlocality,[142] the theory of relativity and chaos theory. Contrariwise, quantum superposition has been invoked to explain why homeopathy does not work in the presence of double-blind trials.[143] However, the explanations are offered by nonspecialists within the field, and often include speculations that are incorrect in their application of the concepts and not supported by actual experiments.[54]:255–6 Several of the key concepts of homeopathy conflict with fundamental concepts of physics and chemistry.[144] The use of quantum entanglement to explain homeopathy's purported effects is "patent nonsense", as entanglement is a delicate state which rarely lasts longer than a fraction of a second.[145] While entanglement may result in certain aspects of individual subatomic particles acquiring linked quantum states, this does not mean the particles will mirror or duplicate each other, nor cause health-improving transformations.[145]


The proposed mechanisms for homeopathy are precluded from having any effect by the laws of physics and physical chemistry.[16] The extreme dilutions used in homeopathic preparations usually leave none of the original substance in the final product.
A number of speculative mechanisms have been advanced to counter this, the most widely discussed being water memory, though this is now considered erroneous since short-range order in water only persists for about 1 picosecond.[146][147][148] No evidence of stable clusters of water molecules was found when homeopathic preparations were studied using nuclear magnetic resonance,[149] and many other physical experiments in homeopathy have been found to be of low methodological quality, which precludes any meaningful conclusion.[150] Existence of a pharmacological effect in the absence of any true active ingredient is inconsistent with the law of mass action and the observed dose-response relationships characteristic of therapeutic drugs[151] (whereas placebo effects are non-specific and unrelated to pharmacological activity[152]).
Homeopaths contend that their methods produces a therapeutically active preparation, selectively including only the intended substance, though critics note that any water will have been in contact with millions of different substances throughout its history, and homeopaths have not been able to account for a reason why only the selected homeopathic substance would be a special case in their process.[3] For comparison, ISO 3696: 1987 defines a standard for water used in laboratory analysis; this allows for a contaminant level of ten parts per billion, 4C in homeopathic notation. This water may not be kept in glass as contaminants will leach out into the water.[153]
Practitioners of homeopathy hold that higher dilutions ― described as being of higher potency ― produce stronger medicinal effects. This idea is also inconsistent with observed dose-response relationships, where effects are dependent on the concentration of the active ingredient in the body.[151] This dose-response relationship has been confirmed in myriad experiments on organisms as diverse as nematodes,[154] rats,[155] and humans.[156] Some homeopaths contend that the phenomenon of hormesis may support the idea of dilution increasing potency,[157][158] but the dose-response relationship outside the zone of hormesis declines with dilution as normal, and nonlinear pharmacological effects do not provide any credible support for homeopathy.[159]
Physicist Robert L. Park, former executive director of the American Physical Society, is quoted as saying,
"since the least amount of a substance in a solution is one molecule, a 30C solution would have to have at least one molecule of the original substance dissolved in a minimum of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 [or 1060] molecules of water. This would require a container more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth."[160]
Park is also quoted as saying that, "to expect to get even one molecule of the 'medicinal' substance allegedly present in 30X pills, it would be necessary to take some two billion of them, which would total about a thousand tons of lactose plus whatever impurities the lactose contained".[160]
The laws of chemistry state that there is a limit to the dilution that can be made without losing the original substance altogether.[114] This limit, which is related to Avogadro's number, is roughly equal to homeopathic dilutions of 12C or 24X (1 part in 1024).[91][160][161]
Scientific tests run by both the BBC's Horizon and ABC's 20/20 programs were unable to differentiate homeopathic dilutions from water, even when using tests suggested by homeopaths themselves.[162][163]


Old bottle of Hepar sulph made from calcium sulfide
No individual preparation has been unambiguously shown by research to be different from placebo.[6] The methodological quality of the primary research was generally low, with such problems as weaknesses in study design and reporting, small sample size, and selection bias. Since better quality trials have become available, the evidence for efficacy of homeopathy preparations has diminished; the highest-quality trials indicate that the preparations themselves exert no intrinsic effect.[18][54]:206[164] A review conducted in 2010 of all the pertinent studies of "best evidence" produced by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that "the most reliable evidence – that produced by Cochrane reviews – fails to demonstrate that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo."[165]

Government level reviews

Government-level reviews have been conducted in recent years by Switzerland (2005), the United Kingdom (2009) and Australia (2015).
The Swiss programme for the evaluation of complementary medicine (PEK) resulted in the peer-reviewed Shang publication (see Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of efficacy) and a controversial competing analysis[166] by homeopaths and advocates led by Gudrun Bornhöft and Peter Matthiessen, which has been presented as a Swiss government report by homeopathy proponents, a claim that has been repudiated by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.[167] The Swiss Government terminated reimbursement, though it was subsequently reinstated after a political campaign and referendum for a further six year trial period.[168]
The United Kingdom's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee sought written evidence and submissions from concerned parties[169][170] and, following a review of all submissions, concluded that there was no compelling evidence of effect other than placebo and recommended that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should not allow homeopathic product labels to make medical claims, that homeopathic products should no longer be licensed by the MHRA, as they are not medicines, and that further clinical trials of homeopathy could not be justified.[15] They recommended that funding of homeopathic hospitals should not continue, and NHS doctors should not refer patients to homeopaths.[171] The Secretary of State for Health deferred to local NHS on funding homeopathy, in the name of patient choice.[172] By February 2011 only one third of primary care trusts still funded homeopathy.[173] By 2012, no British universities offered homeopathy courses.[174]
The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council completed a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of homeopathic preparations in 2015, in which it concluded that "there were no health conditions for which there was reliable evidence that homeopathy was effective. No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment."[175]

Publication bias and other methodological issues

The fact that individual randomized controlled trials have given positive results is not in contradiction with an overall lack of statistical evidence of efficacy. A small proportion of randomized controlled trials inevitably provide false-positive outcomes due to the play of chance: a "statistically significant" positive outcome is commonly adjudicated when the probability of it being due to chance rather than a real effect is no more than 5%―a level at which about 1 in 20 tests can be expected to show a positive result in the absence of any therapeutic effect.[176] Furthermore, trials of low methodological quality (i.e. ones which have been inappropriately designed, conducted or reported) are prone to give misleading results. In a systematic review of the methodological quality of randomized trials in three branches of alternative medicine, Linde et al. highlighted major weaknesses in the homeopathy sector, including poor randomization.[177] A separate 2001 systematic review that assessed the quality of clinical trials of homeopathy found that such trials were generally of lower quality than trials of conventional medicine.[178]
A related issue is publication bias: researchers are more likely to submit trials that report a positive finding for publication, and journals prefer to publish positive results.[179][180][181][182] Publication bias has been particularly marked in alternative medicine journals, where few of the published articles (just 5% during the year 2000) tend to report null results.[183] Regarding the way in which homeopathy is represented in the medical literature, a systematic review found signs of bias in the publications of clinical trials (towards negative representation in mainstream medical journals, and vice versa in alternative medicine journals), but not in reviews.[18]
Positive results are much more likely to be false if the prior probability of the claim under test is low.[182]

Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of efficacy

Both meta-analyses, which statistically combine the results of several randomized controlled trials, and other systematic reviews of the literature are essential tools to summarize evidence of therapeutic efficacy.[184] Early systematic reviews and meta-analyses of trials evaluating the efficacy of homeopathic preparations in comparison with placebo more often tended to generate positive results, but appeared unconvincing overall.[185] In particular, reports of three large meta-analyses warned readers that firm conclusions could not be reached, largely due to methodological flaws in the primary studies and the difficulty in controlling for publication bias.[17][21][186] The positive finding of one of the most prominent of the early meta-analyses, published in The Lancet in 1997 by Linde et al.,[186] was later reframed by the same research team, who wrote:
The evidence of bias [in the primary studies] weakens the findings of our original meta-analysis. Since we completed our literature search in 1995, a considerable number of new homeopathy trials have been published. The fact that a number of the new high-quality trials ... have negative results, and a recent update of our review for the most "original" subtype of homeopathy (classical or individualized homeopathy), seem to confirm the finding that more rigorous trials have less-promising results. It seems, therefore, likely that our meta-analysis at least overestimated the effects of homeopathic treatments.[164]
Subsequent work by John Ioannidis and others has shown that for treatments with no prior plausibility, the chances of a positive result being a false positive are much higher, and that any result not consistent with the null hypothesis should be assumed to be a false positive.[182][187]
In 2002, a systematic review of the available systematic reviews confirmed that higher-quality trials tended to have less positive results, and found no convincing evidence that any homeopathic preparation exerts clinical effects different from placebo.[6]
In 2005, The Lancet medical journal published a meta-analysis of 110 placebo-controlled homeopathy trials and 110 matched medical trials based upon the Swiss government's Program for Evaluating Complementary Medicine, or PEK. The study concluded that its findings were "compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homeopathy are placebo effects".[7] This was accompanied by an editorial pronouncing "The end of homoeopathy",[188] which was denounced by the homeopath Peter Fisher.[189]
Other meta-analyses include homeopathic treatments to reduce cancer therapy side-effects following radiotherapy and chemotherapy,[190] allergic rhinitis,[191] attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and childhood diarrhea, adenoid vegetation, asthma, upper respiratory tract infection in children,[192] insomnia,[193] fibromyalgia,[194] psychiatric conditions[195] and Cochrane Library reviews of homeopathic treatments for asthma,[196] dementia,[197] attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder,[198] induction of labor,[199] and irritable bowel syndrome.[200] Other reviews covered osteoarthritis,[201] migraines[202] delayed-onset muscle soreness,[67] or eczema[203] and other dermatological conditions.[204]
The results of these reviews are generally negative or only weakly positive, and reviewers consistently report the poor quality of trials. The finding of Linde et. al. that more rigorous studies produce less positive results is supported in several and contradicted by none.
Some clinical trials have tested individualized homeopathy, and there have been reviews of this, specifically. A 1998 review[205] found 32 trials that met their inclusion criteria, 19 of which were placebo-controlled and provided enough data for meta-analysis. These 19 studies showed a pooled odds ratio of 1.17 to 2.23 in favor of individualized homeopathy over the placebo, but no difference was seen when the analysis was restricted to the methodologically best trials. The authors concluded that "the results of the available randomized trials suggest that individualized homeopathy has an effect over placebo. The evidence, however, is not convincing because of methodological shortcomings and inconsistencies." Jay Shelton, author of a book on homeopathy, has stated that the claim assumes without evidence that classical, individualized homeopathy works better than nonclassical variations.[54]:209 A systematic review and meta-analysis of trials of individualised homeopathy published in December 2014 concluded that individualised homeopathy may have small effects, but that caution was needed in interpreting the results because of study quality issues - no study included was assessed as being at low risk of bias.[206]

Statements by major medical organisations

Health organisations such as the UK's National Health Service,[207] the American Medical Association,[208] the FASEB,[148] and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia,[209] have issued statements of their conclusion that there is "no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition".[207] In 2009, World Health Organization official Mario Raviglione cricitized the use of homeopathy to treat tuberculosis; similarly, another WHO spokesperson argued there was no evidence homeopathy would be an effective treatment for diarrhea.[210]
The American College of Medical Toxicology and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology recommend that no one use homeopathic treatment for disease or as a preventive health measure.[211] These organizations report that no evidence exists that homeopathic treatment is effective, but that there is evidence that using these treatments produces harm and can bring indirect health risks by delaying conventional treatment.[211]

Explanations of perceived effects

Science offers a variety of explanations for how homeopathy may appear to cure diseases or alleviate symptoms even though the preparations themselves are inert:[54]:155–167
  • The placebo effect ― the intensive consultation process and expectations for the homeopathic preparations may cause the effect.
  • Therapeutic effect of the consultation ― the care, concern, and reassurance a patient experiences when opening up to a compassionate caregiver can have a positive effect on the patient's well-being.[212]
  • Unassisted natural healing ― time and the body's ability to heal without assistance can eliminate many diseases of their own accord.
  • Unrecognized treatments ― an unrelated food, exercise, environmental agent, or treatment for a different ailment, may have occurred.
  • Regression toward the mean ― since many diseases or conditions are cyclical, symptoms vary over time and patients tend to seek care when discomfort is greatest; they may feel better anyway but because of the timing of the visit to the homeopath they attribute improvement to the preparation taken.
  • Non-homeopathic treatment ― patients may also receive standard medical care at the same time as homeopathic treatment, and the former is responsible for improvement.
  • Cessation of unpleasant treatment ― often homeopaths recommend patients stop getting medical treatment such as surgery or drugs, which can cause unpleasant side-effects; improvements are attributed to homeopathy when the actual cause is the cessation of the treatment causing side-effects in the first place, but the underlying disease remains untreated and still dangerous to the patient.

Purported effects in other biological systems

Old homeopathic belladonna preparation.
While some articles have suggested that homeopathic solutions of high dilution can have statistically significant effects on organic processes including the growth of grain,[213] histamine release by leukocytes,[214] and enzyme reactions, such evidence is disputed since attempts to replicate them have failed.[215][216][217][218][219][220] A 2007 systematic review of high-dilution experiments found that none of the experiments with positive results could be reproduced by all investigators.[221]
In 1987, French immunologist Jacques Benveniste submitted a paper to the journal Nature while working at INSERM. The paper purported to have discovered that basophils, a type of white blood cell, released histamine when exposed to a homeopathic dilution of anti-immunoglobulin E antibody. The journal editors, skeptical of the results, requested that the study be replicated in a separate laboratory. Upon replication in four separate laboratories the study was published. Still sceptical of the findings, Nature assembled an independent investigative team to determine the accuracy of the research, consisting of Nature editor and physicist Sir John Maddox, American scientific fraud investigator and chemist Walter Stewart, and sceptic James Randi. After investigating the findings and methodology of the experiment, the team found that the experiments were "statistically ill-controlled", "interpretation has been clouded by the exclusion of measurements in conflict with the claim", and concluded, "We believe that experimental data have been uncritically assessed and their imperfections inadequately reported."[138][222][223] James Randi stated that he doubted that there had been any conscious fraud, but that the researchers had allowed "wishful thinking" to influence their interpretation of the data.[222]
In 2001 and 2004, Madeleine Ennis published a number of studies which reported that homeopathic dilutions of histamine exerted an effect on the activity of basophils.[224][225] In response to the first of these studies, Horizon aired a program in which British scientists attempted to replicate Ennis' results; they were unable to do so.[226]

Ethics and safety

The provision of homeopathic preparations has been described as unethical.[19] Michael Baum, Professor Emeritus of Surgery and visiting Professor of Medical Humanities at University College London (UCL), has described homoeopathy as a "cruel deception".[227]
Edzard Ernst, the first Professor of Complementary Medicine in the United Kingdom and a former homeopathic practitioner,[228][229][230] has expressed his concerns about pharmacists who violate their ethical code by failing to provide customers with "necessary and relevant information" about the true nature of the homeopathic products they advertise and sell:
"My plea is simply for honesty. Let people buy what they want, but tell them the truth about what they are buying. These treatments are biologically implausible and the clinical tests have shown they don't do anything at all in human beings. The argument that this information is not relevant or important for customers is quite simply ridiculous."[231]
Patients who choose to use homeopathy rather than evidence-based medicine risk missing timely diagnosis and effective treatment of serious conditions such as cancer.[192][232]
In 2013 the UK Advertising Standards Authority concluded that the Society of Homeopaths were targeting vulnerable ill people and discouraging the use of essential medical treatment while making misleading claims of efficacy for homeopathic products.[233]

Adverse reactions

Some homeopathic preparations involve poisons such as Belladonna, arsenic, and poison ivy which are highly diluted in the homeopathic preparation. Only in rare cases are the original ingredients present at detectable levels. This may be due to improper preparation or intentional low dilution. Serious adverse effects such as seizures and death have been reported or associated with some homeopathic preparations.[234][235] Instances of arsenic poisoning have occurred after use of arsenic-containing homeopathic preparations.[236] Zicam Cold remedy Nasal Gel, which contains 2X (1:100) zinc gluconate, reportedly caused a small percentage of users to lose their sense of smell;[237] 340 cases were settled out of court in 2006 for 12 million U.S. dollars.[238] In 2009, the FDA advised consumers to stop using three discontinued cold remedy Zicam products because it could cause permanent damage to users' sense of smell.[239] Zicam was launched without a New Drug Application (NDA) under a provision in the FDA's Compliance Policy Guide called "Conditions Under Which Homeopathic Drugs May be Marketed" (CPG 7132.15), but the FDA warned Matrixx Initiatives, its manufacture, via a Warning Letter that this policy does not apply when there is a health risk to consumers.[240]
A 2000 review reported that homeopathic preparations are "unlikely to provoke severe adverse reactions".[241] In 2012, a systematic review evaluating evidence of homeopathy's possible adverse effects concluded that "homeopathy has the potential to harm patients and consumers in both direct and indirect ways".[234] One of the reviewers, Edzard Ernst, supplemented the article on his blog, writing: "I have said it often and I say it again: if used as an alternative to an effective cure, even the most 'harmless' treatment can become life-threatening."[242]

Lack of efficacy

The lack of convincing scientific evidence supporting its efficacy[243] and its use of preparations without active ingredients have led to characterizations as pseudoscience and quackery,[244][245][246][247] or, in the words of a 1998 medical review, "placebo therapy at best and quackery at worst".[248] The Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, has stated that homeopathic preparations are "rubbish" and do not serve as anything more than placebos.[249] Jack Killen, acting deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, says homeopathy "goes beyond current understanding of chemistry and physics". He adds: "There is, to my knowledge, no condition for which homeopathy has been proven to be an effective treatment."[243] Ben Goldacre says that homeopaths who misrepresent scientific evidence to a scientifically illiterate public, have "...walled themselves off from academic medicine, and critique has been all too often met with avoidance rather than argument".[183] Homeopaths often prefer to ignore meta-analyses in favour of cherry picked positive results, such as by promoting a particular observational study (one which Goldacre describes as "little more than a customer-satisfaction survey") as if it were more informative than a series of randomized controlled trials.[183]
Referring specifically to homeopathy, the British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has stated:
In our view, the systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclusively demonstrate that homeopathic products perform no better than placebos. The Government shares our interpretation of the evidence.[8]
In the Committee's view, homeopathy is a placebo treatment and the Government should have a policy on prescribing placebos. The Government is reluctant to address the appropriateness and ethics of prescribing placebos to patients, which usually relies on some degree of patient deception. Prescribing of placebos is not consistent with informed patient choice - which the Government claims is very important - as it means patients do not have all the information needed to make choice meaningful.
Beyond ethical issues and the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship, prescribing pure placebos is bad medicine. Their effect is unreliable and unpredictable and cannot form the sole basis of any treatment on the NHS.[15]
Homeopathy is a controversial topic in complementary medicine research. A number of the key concepts of homeopathy are not consistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics. For example, it is not possible to explain in scientific terms how a preparation containing little or no active ingredient can have any effect. This, in turn, creates major challenges to rigorous clinical investigation of homeopathic preparations. For example, one cannot confirm that an extremely dilute preparation contains what is listed on the label, or develop objective measures that show effects of extremely dilute preparations in the human body.[250]
Ben Goldacre noted that in the early days of homeopathy, when medicine was dogmatic and frequently worse than doing nothing, homeopathy at least failed to make matters worse:
During the 19th-century cholera epidemic, death rates at the London Homeopathic Hospital were three times lower than at the Middlesex Hospital. Homeopathic sugar pills won't do anything against cholera, of course, but the reason for homeopathy's success in this epidemic is even more interesting than the placebo effect: at the time, nobody could treat cholera. So, while hideous medical treatments such as blood-letting were actively harmful, the homeopaths' treatments at least did nothing either way.[251]

In lieu of standard medical treatment

On clinical grounds, patients who choose to use homeopathy in preference to normal medicine risk missing timely diagnosis and effective treatment, thereby worsening the outcomes of serious conditions.[192][232][252][253] Critics of homeopathy have cited individual cases of patients of homeopathy failing to receive proper treatment for diseases that could have been easily diagnosed and managed with conventional medicine and who have died as a result[254][255] and the "marketing practice" of criticizing and downplaying the effectiveness of mainstream medicine.[183][255] Homeopaths claim that use of conventional medicines will "push the disease deeper" and cause more serious conditions, a process referred to as "suppression".[256] Some homeopaths (particularly those who are non-physicians) advise their patients against immunisation.[252][257][258] Some homeopaths suggest that vaccines be replaced with homeopathic "nosodes", created from biological materials such as pus, diseased tissue, bacilli from sputum or (in the case of "bowel nosodes") feces.[259] While Hahnemann was opposed to such preparations, modern homeopaths often use them although there is no evidence to indicate they have any beneficial effects.[260][261] Cases of homeopaths advising against the use of anti-malarial drugs have been identified.[253][262][263] This puts visitors to the tropics who take this advice in severe danger, since homeopathic preparations are completely ineffective against the malaria parasite.[253][262][263][264] Also, in one case in 2004, a homeopath instructed one of her patients to stop taking conventional medication for a heart condition, advising her on 22 June 2004 to "Stop ALL medications including homeopathic", advising her on or around 20 August that she no longer needed to take her heart medication, and adding on 23 August, "She just cannot take ANY drugs – I have suggested some homeopathic remedies ... I feel confident that if she follows the advice she will regain her health." The patient was admitted to hospital the next day, and died eight days later, the final diagnosis being "acute heart failure due to treatment discontinuation".[265][266]
In 1978, Anthony Campbell, then a consultant physician at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, criticised statements by George Vithoulkas claiming that syphilis, when treated with antibiotics, would develop into secondary and tertiary syphilis with involvement of the central nervous system, saying that "The unfortunate layman might well be misled by Vithoulkas' rhetoric into refusing orthodox treatment".[267] Vithoulkas' claims echo the idea that treating a disease with external medication used to treat the symptoms would only drive it deeper into the body and conflict with scientific studies, which indicate that penicillin treatment produces a complete cure of syphilis in more than 90% of cases.[268]
A 2006 review by W. Steven Pray of the College of Pharmacy at Southwestern Oklahoma State University recommends that pharmacy colleges include a required course in unproven medications and therapies, that ethical dilemmas inherent in recommending products lacking proven safety and efficacy data be discussed, and that students should be taught where unproven systems such as homeopathy depart from evidence-based medicine.[269]
In an article entitled "Should We Maintain an Open Mind about Homeopathy?"[270] published in the American Journal of Medicine, Michael Baum and Edzard Ernst – writing to other physicians – wrote that "Homeopathy is among the worst examples of faith-based medicine... These axioms [of homeopathy] are not only out of line with scientific facts but also directly opposed to them. If homeopathy is correct, much of physics, chemistry, and pharmacology must be incorrect...".
In 2013, Sir Mark Walport, the new UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser and head of the Government Office for Science, had this to say about homeopathy: "My view scientifically is absolutely clear: homoeopathy is nonsense, it is non-science. My advice to ministers is clear: that there is no science in homoeopathy. The most it can have is a placebo effect – it is then a political decision whether they spend money on it or not."[271] His predecessor, Professor Sir John Beddington, referring to his views on homeopathy being "fundamentally ignored" by the Government, said: "The only one [view being ignored] I could think of was homoeopathy, which is mad. It has no underpinning of scientific basis. In fact all the science points to the fact that it is not at all sensible. The clear evidence is saying this is wrong, but homoeopathy is still used on the NHS."[272]

Regulation and prevalence

Homeopathy is fairly common in some countries while being uncommon in others; is highly regulated in some countries and mostly unregulated in others. It is practised worldwide and professional qualifications and licences are needed in most countries.[273] In some countries, there are no specific legal regulations concerning the use of homeopathy, while in others, licences or degrees in conventional medicine from accredited universities are required. In Germany, to become a homeopathic physician, one must attend a three-year training program, while France, Austria and Denmark mandate licences to diagnose any illness or dispense of any product whose purpose is to treat any illness.[273]
Some homeopathic treatment is covered by the public health service of several European countries, including France, the United Kingdom and Luxembourg. In other countries, such as Belgium, homeopathy is not covered. In Austria, the public health service requires scientific proof of effectiveness in order to reimburse medical treatments and homeopathy is listed as not reimbursable,[274] but exceptions can be made;[275] private health insurance policies sometimes include homeopathic treatment.[273] The Swiss government, after a 5-year trial, withdrew coverage of homeopathy and four other complementary treatments in 2005, stating that they did not meet efficacy and cost-effectiveness criteria,[188] but following a referendum in 2009 the five therapies have been reinstated for a further 6-year trial period from 2012.[276]
The Indian government recognises homeopathy as one of its national systems of medicine;[277] it has established AYUSH or the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.[278]The south Indian state of Kerala also gives the final nod for AYUSH department where homeopathy and Ayurveda are the main streams along with Sidha, Unani and Yoga.[279] The Central Council of Homoeopathy was established in 1973 to monitor higher education in homeopathy, and National Institute of Homoeopathy in 1975.[280] A minimum of a recognised diploma in homeopathy and registration on a state register or the Central Register of Homoeopathy is required to practice homeopathy in India.[281]

Public opposition

In the April 1997 edition of FDA Consumer, William T. Jarvis, the President of the National Council Against Health Fraud said "Homeopathy is a fraud perpetrated on the public with the government's blessing, thanks to the abuse of political power of Sen. Royal S. Copeland [chief sponsor of the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act]."[282]
Mock "overdosing" on homeopathic preparations by individuals or groups in "mass suicides" have become more popular since James Randi began taking entire bottles of homeopathic sleeping pills before giving lectures.[283][284][285][286] In 2010 The Merseyside Skeptics Society from the United Kingdom launched the 10:23 campaign encouraging groups to publicly overdose as groups. In 2011 the 10:23 campaign expanded and saw sixty-nine groups participate, fifty-four submitted videos.[287] In April 2012, at the Berkeley SkeptiCal conference, over 100 people participated in a mass overdose, taking coffea cruda which is supposed to treat sleeplessness.[288][289]
In 2011, the non-profit, educational organizations Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the associated Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to initiate 'rulemaking that would require all over-the-counter homeopathic drugs to meet the same standards of effectiveness as non-homeopathic drugs' and 'to place warning labels on homeopathic drugs until such time as they are shown to be effective'. In a separate petition, CFI and CSI request FDA to issue warning letters to Boiron, maker of Oscillococcinum, regarding their marketing tactic and criticize Boiron for misleading labeling and advertising of Oscillococcinum.[290] CFI in Canada is calling for persons that feel they were harmed by homeopathic products to contact them.[291]
In August 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed against Boiron on behalf of "all California residents who purchased Oscillo at any time within the past four years".[292] The lawsuit charged that it "is nothing more than a sugar pill", "despite falsely advertising that it contains an active ingredient known to treat flu symptoms".[293] In March 2012, Bioron agreed to spend up to $12 million to settle the claims of falsely advertising the benefits of its homeopathic preparations.[294]
In July 2012, CBC News reporter Erica Johnson for Marketplace conducted an investigation on the homeopathy industry in Canada; her findings were that it is "based on flawed science and some loopy thinking". Center for Inquiry (CFI) Vancouver skeptics participated in a mass overdose outside an emergency room in Vancouver, B.C., taking entire bottles of "medications" that should have made them sleepy, nauseous or dead, after 45 minutes of observation no ill effects were felt. Johnson asked homeopaths and company representatives about cures for cancer and vaccine claims. All reported positive results but none could offer any science backing up their statements, only that "it works". Johnson was unable to find any evidence that homeopathic preparations contain any active ingredient. Analysis performed at the University of Toronto's chemistry department found that the active ingredient is so small "it is equivalent to 5 billion times less than the amount of aspirin... in a single pellet". Belladonna and ipecac "would be indistinguishable from each other in a blind test".[295][296]
Following a threat of legal action by the Good Thinking Society campaign group, the British government has stated that the Department of Health will hold a consultation in 2016 regarding whether homeopathic treatments should be added to the NHS treatments blacklist (officially, Schedule 1 of the National Health Service (General Medical Services Contracts) (Prescription of Drugs etc.) Regulations 2004), that specifies a blacklist of medicines not to be prescribed under the NHS.[297][298][299]

United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 2015 hearing

On April 20–21, 2015, the FDA held a hearing on homeopathic product regulation. Invitees representing the scientific and medical community, and various pro-homeopathy stakeholders, gave testimonials on homeopathic products and the regulatory role played by the FDA.[300] Michael de Dora, a representative from the Center for Inquiry (CFI), on behalf of the organization and dozens of doctors and scientists associated with CFI and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) gave a testimonial which summarized the basis of the organization's objection to homeopathic products, the harm done to the general public and proposed regulatory actions:[301]
The CFI testimonial stated that the principle of homeopathy is at complete odds with the basic principle of modern biology, chemistry and physics and that decades of scientific examination of homeopathic products shows that there is no evidence that it is effective in treating illnesses other than acting as a placebo. Further, it noted a 2012 report by the American Association of Poison Control Centers which listed 10,311 reported cases of poison exposure related to homeopathic agents, among which 8,788 cases were attributed to young children five years of age or younger,[302] as well as examples of harm - including deaths - caused to patients who relied on homeopathics instead of proven medical treatment.[301][303]
The CFI urged the FDA to announce and implement strict guidelines that 'require all homeopathic products meet the same standards as non-homeopathic drugs', arguing that the consumers can only have true freedom of choice (an often used argument from the homeopathy proponents) if they are fully informed on the choices. CFI proposed that the FDA take these three steps:
  1. Testing for homeopathic products The FDA will mandate that all homeopathic products on the market to perform and pass safety and efficacy tests equivalent to those required of non-homeopathic drugs.
  2. Labeling for homeopathic products To avert misleading label that the product is regulated by the FDA, all homeopathic products will be required to have prominent labels stating: 1) the products claimed active ingredients in plain English, and 2) the product has not been evaluated by the FDA for either safety or effectiveness.
  3. Regular consumer warnings Encouraged by the FDA's recent warning of the ineffectiveness of homeopathic products, CFI urged the FDA to issue regular warning to the consumers in addition to warning during public health crises and outbreaks.[301]

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