In deadlocked debates it’s often useful to step back and ask: “Could there be another perspective?”
Take homeopathy, conceived in 1796 by German physician Samuel Hahnemann on the controversial basis “less is more” – that is, the active ingredient in the remedy is often diluted to the point where there’s arguably none left.
This is ridiculed by many, as evidenced in recent gloating over an Australian study that claims to find homeopathy ineffective. Examples could be read in headlines such as “Homeopathy is bunk, study says” and “Of course homeopathy doesn’t work but patients don’t want to hear it,” both from the Guardian.
Yet one medical website took a more nuanced approach to the study, refusing to discount the actual experiences of users.
“Despite this evidence, many people around the world would argue fiercely in its favor,” it said.
Indeed, homeopathy has many faithful adherents, including actors, musicians and royalty. The prize for the most colourful thumbs-up would have to go to jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, who said: “There have been two great revelations in my life: The first was bebop, the second was homeopathy.”
All of which begs the question: “But why should it work for anyone?”
One response is to say, as the Australian study did, that “homeopathic remedies are no better than a placebo”, that is, “a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment”. In response to which,Guardian Comment is Free: Belief editor Andrew Brown tweeted: “Simple obvious point: if homeopathy works no better than a placebo, it works…placebos can sometimes work very well. If homoeopathy is that good, fine.”
So perhaps a more helpful way of looking at this same conclusion is to ask what a placebo-like record might suggest about the mental factors at work in homeopathic remedies.
This was done by an early practitioner of homeopathy, who explored its application while seeking relief from sickness herself. In the 19th century Mary Baker Eddy observed how the smaller the active component in the solution the greater the mental element in play and the more marked the improvements she saw in those she treated.
Noting a case in which she administered tiny doses of a solution containing “common table-salt” in which there wasn’t “a single saline property left”, she reportedly cured a patient who had been “sinking in the last stage of typhoid fever”.
“The highest attenuation of homeopathy and the most potent rises above matter into mind,” she concluded, prompting her to dig deeper into what kind of thinking is most beneficial to wellbeing. She deduced that in every case “either human faith or the divine Mind is the healer.” And by leaning on, and learning more of, the latter she was restored to health without using drugs or homeopathy and went on to help many others.
This contrast between human faith and divine consciousness is not easily measured in a laboratory setting, of course, but it’s one we can each test in our daily lives.
I’ve certainly been helped by doing so. For instance, I’ve found that nurturing spiritual qualities like humility and kindness, and replacing traits like resentment with forgiveness, has proved markedly beneficial. Many studies vindicate this, indicating, for instance, that bitterness can make you sick while trusting your neighbour is health-giving.
Beyond that, I’ve also experienced more powerful healing effects when – to quote Eddy – my thought has “plunged beneath the material surface of things, and found the spiritual cause” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures). She saw this kind of divine “revelation” – to borrow Dizzy’s phrase – as enabling Jesus to heal in the conclusive way he’s reported to have done.
Many today find that even a touch of such “revelation” can go a long way. That is, gaining some new insight into the divine nature can restore harmony to both mind and body. Doing so at various times has brought me complete freedom when suffering ailments from the common cold to chronic pain.
Time will tell whether medical research tends towards a similar conclusion, but the wheels of scientific inquiry have moved, slowly but surely, in the direction of mind-body medicine. More recently, researchers have begun exploring the impact of spiritual thinking on wellbeing and are often finding positive correlations.
And for many – who have successfully road-tested such a thought-shift for themselves and found it to be powerfully therapeutic – the jury’s no longer out.
To them each such healing is a not just a revelation, it’s also a demonstration that every thought counts and evidence that the healthiest thinking of all is unselfed spiritual love.
This article was first published on BuzzFeed as “Homeopathy, Placebos And The Healing Power Of Our Thinking!”