Frequently Unasked Questions

Why Does Everyone Seem To Have Something Wrong With Them?

In "What About Causal Chains" I wrote: --
" Perhaps we are hampered by an underlying and unspoken supposition that there is a potential state of perfect health, or of perfect balance, in body, mind, or both. Yet where are the perfect specimens amongst us? Everyone, everyone, seems to have some disease, some area of at least a mild malfunction. It might be wiser and more correct to consider a degree of dysfunction not simply normal, but natural and right. Such mild a transitory dysfunction may be the necessary condition which makes possible the quite remarkable dynamic homoeostasis is the human organism. It is rigidity of performance which is often a sign of ill health, whether, for instance, in heart rate variability, or in behavioural disturbances: it is a sign of the failure to adapt to the constant changes in the environment of the organism, and within it. '

I think this is something which we accept unthinkingly, but which is an issue worthy of serious attention. When I wrote that paragraph, I had not -- to my recollection -- ever heard it discussed, or seen it written about. Subsequently, I was interested to see that Julian Kenyon in his (out of print) 1986 book ' 21st-century medicine ' , recognises the same issue, and discusses it briefly.

When I mentioned the problem, I merely said that I thought maybe it was the price we have to pay for the quite remarkable homeostatic powers of our organism. Kenyon takes a more profound view of the issue, which is more informative and thought provoking. In the end, perhaps he is saying exactly the same, but providing a theoretical framework and context through which homeostasis works, and from this derives principles for maximally effective treatment. He says: --

" Looking at the body using BER (i.e. bioenergetic regulatory) techniques shows that nobody is ever 100% healthy. It is of considerable importance to try to find some validation for this curious result, otherwise these methods could be interpreted as registering random meaningless fluctuations only, or it could be said that they are so prone to error due to technology used that this error must constitute most of what is being recorded. However, the work of the brilliant Belgian chemist Ilya Prigogine lends support to the veracity and relevance of BER techniques.

Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his theory of dissapative structures. Briefly, the classical view of the universe is that it has a tendency to entropy, in other words it is slowly running down. In contrast, biological systems display an opposite tendency, thereby contradicting Newton's second law of thermodynamics (i.e. a glass of hot water, if left, will cool down until it reaches the energy level (temperature) of its environment). Prigogine describes, through a series of complex mathematical equations, how the second law can remain valid for the universe as a whole, but will fail when applied to certain parts, particularly biological systems. Prigogine calls such substructures dissapative structures, implying that they interact with their local environment by consuming energy from it. A fundamental feature of these structures is that the greater the energy flow required to maintain them, the greater the susceptibility to disruption, due to outside change. This quality of fragility is paradoxically the key to growth. By responding in a coherent way to this perturbation the dissipative structure (i.e. the body) is able to escape to a higher level of complexity, as a result of successfully coping with the disruption. In other words the disruption is essential in order to allow further growth by means of a consequent re-ordering of the dissipative structure.

This theory must have implications for biology in general and for medicine in particular. The implications are interesting for two reasons. First, they assign a fundamental biological role to illness. In other words illness, and indeed various levels of continuing illness, are essential in order for any dissipative structure to survive and develop. Secondly, the idea of producing solutions from outside the body in terms of suppressive drugs or, in some cases, surgery, appears wrong-headed when considered alongside Prigogine's theory. These solutions do not produce any fundamental reordering in the body. On the other hand, therapies which help the body in its effort to reorganise to higher levels of complexity (i.e. to recover from illness), by stimulating the body to react positively to disruption appear the only tenable form of medicine in terms of this theory. Prigogine's work therefore provides an important theoretical backing for bio-electronic regulatory medicine and for causally directed stimulatory therapeutic approaches which are the core of the new system of medicine described in this book. Any approach which depresses the body's capacity to react positively to treatment (which is what most suppressive therapy does) is going to be counter-productive. This is a central criticism of conventional approaches and will be dealt with in more detail in the next chapter."

I have heard it said that of the totality of patients, one third recover spontaneously, one third are not curable, and one third are possible to kill by treatment. Therefore unless success is significantly above 33% they are likely to be due to chance.This may apply perhaps, to doctors, whose patients may show up for treatment for quite minor reasons sometimes, but I am not sure it applies to complementary therapists, who tend to see many people who have a long history of failed treatment for long-term chronic conditions. In this context, lower success rates might be quite impressive.

Incidentally, I think that one of the hallmarks of 'we all have something wrong with us' , in the sense which Prigogine's work suggests might apply to humans, would be that pathologies (i.e. the ' wrongnesses ' which are characteristically of this type) should be relatively short-lived, and constantly shifting. Variability is a key feature of healthy functioning, -- and indeed, of dissipative processes in general, I imagine. Some might be relatively long-lasting (e.g. a stationary whirlpool), but if they have much stability, they are likely to be chronic pathological rather than dissipative phenomena.

Most complementary therapists' clients come with chronic conditions, often of long-standing. We speak of ' chronic conditions ' and ' acute conditions ' as if they were different types within the same category of phenomena -- illnesses. But I suspect that it would be truer, and more helpful to speak , as some therapists do, of chronic burdening, rather than chronic conditions, because very often that is exactly what patients present with: -- a long-term burdening, very often due their own habits, which has culminated in the distressing pattern of which they are complaining.