Medicine

I’ve read a bit about medicine, and it’s a very interesting topic. Not just from a scientific perspective, which I am the first one to admit, is quite complicated. I generally understand the principles of the science, but the Greek molecular nomenclature, and the endless portmanteaus to explain various compounds and chemicals are difficult to remember.

One interesting thing in particular is that medicine rarely works on its own. Sometimes of course it does, like antibiotics. Pretty straightforward how that works. But a lot of medicine such as various kinds of inhibitors for instance really just command our nervous system to perform, or refrain from performing, certain tasks.

For instance in the event of acute anaphylactic shock, the protocol is often to perform an intramuscular injection of corticosteroids. Which means that when someone has an allergic reaction and their throat swells up so they can’t breathe, this mixture of chemicals will quickly reduce the swelling.

And it doesn’t do it by dissolving the tissue, or reducing the pressure through some absorbent means, or draining the area, but rather through a hormonal reaction. It tells the tissue “Hey, stop doing that.”

Problem is of course that the body doesn’t have a precise chemical language, that’s why we get so many side effects with drugs. But it is quite eye opening just how remarkable the human body is. Swelling is a chemical expansion of our tissue, that can occur in minutes. That’s a pretty extraordinary ability that we possess, since it basically means we can change shapes.

Granted, it’s not like being a werewolf or a superhero, it doesn’t allow us to grow like the hulk, but nevertheless, it is very interesting.

Because it is a reaction from the immune system, it’s not something external. When we get injured and we experience swelling, that’s not caused by the injury, it’s a response to the injury.

Same with reducing fever, or cough medicine, or vaccines. The body can perform all those tasks on its own, it just for whatever reason doesn’t. In theory we could be immune to most conventional illnesses, including the common cold. But in practice, the immune system can’t always identify these foreign objects correctly.

And that makes sense when you think about it. Because imagine setting up a chemical detection system for anything that’s “Not body.” On a molecular or cellular level, that becomes very complicated. It’s kind of amazing we can even vaccinate ourselves in the first place, that we have this strange immune system that can actually learn new habits and functions.

And it really opens up one’s eyes to precisely what the mind is capable of. Because presumably this information is stored somewhere in memory. Maybe not memory as we consciously understand it, but this information has to be retained somewhere.

A doctor told me once that depending on your habits and what you eat and the like, you can slowly treat certain allergies. Because every 7 years or so, your body fully cycles your organ regeneration. Which basically means that little by little, the cells in your organs are replaced with new ones, and the final older generation cell is replaced around every 7 years, giving you a fresh set of cells for all your organs.

And apparently this is correlated with changes in allergies. I don’t think they go away entirely, but it can affect their symptoms and severity. Mind you, this was years ago, so I may misremember what the doctor said, but I thought it was interesting since it suggests that perhaps the immune system relies on organs other than the brain to retain this information.

That it’s more to do with the entire nervous system than just the kind of information we store in our heads. Sort of like the difference between machine code and assembly code. Two very different kinds of information in terms of its complexity.

And there are of course some animals which would prove this concept, such as the octopus, where the distinction between the conscious element we call a mind, and the nervous system, is a very blurred line.

Another interesting thing I know about medicine is how it varies a lot between cultures. Often I think we dismiss perfectly valid medical science because of cultural barriers. It’s not uncommon that some English celebrity intellectual will pretentiously scoff at the notion of Chinese medicine. Saying something along the lines of “These people claim that seeds and herbs can cure cancer! What poppycock!”

But of course, when you bother to actually study it, then what Chinese medicine often purports is that eating certain kinds of nutrients can prevent dangerous health problems, including cancer. Because they define medicine as things you do to improve your general health, or what they call Qi.

I asked someone from China exactly what Qi is, and they told me it’s blood. That was the explanation of it. Other scholarly sources told me it describes a general life force. And I can see how these two correlate rather well. Blood tells us a lot about our general health.

So I think it is clearly an error of presumption when, on one hand, a lot of people reject Chinese medicine as pseudoscience, but will then, without skipping a beat, entirely trust a western doctor who says that the best way to maintain health, including preventing cancer, is good diet and exercise.

Similarly, Qigong also speaks to this. It means “Life cultivation.” And what does Qigong actually do? For one thing, it relaxes the mind, and clears your thoughts. Very important for focus and concentration, two things that keep you from making what can sometimes be dangerous mistakes. But on the other hand, many of these exercises are cardio based, which once again brings us back to the connection between Qi and blood.

When doctors tell office workers to get up once in a while to stimulate their blood system, then Qigong would be the ideal exercise for this purpose. It is exercises that have been, for several generations, designed to benefit the cardiovascular system, among many other things.

And what is so remarkable is just how efficient Qigong is. Through relatively small investments in time and effort each day, you can greatly exercise the most vital parts of your body. It won’t give you big muscles, or make you run a marathon, but it will extend your life expectancy.

It also loosens the muscles, which means it brings general comfort to life which can also help reduce nerve problems and chronic pain disorders.

That’s a very interesting and not to mention very useful perspective of medicine, and I think we don’t give Chinese medicine enough credit. Instead we see it and think in a European fashion, where medicine is often only framed as treatment of ailments, rather than regimentation of one’s physiology.

But this is also a very modern mistake to make. In Ancient Greece we had a far more holistic understanding of health. Particularly when it comes to water. In Europe since the bronze age, we’ve had an intuitive understanding of how water has healing properties. Especially hot springs. That’s where we get our modern language from, since one common historical area for hot springs in England was the region of Bath.

Similarly, Spa is a city in Belgium that dates back to Roman times.

And it is one of those holistic understandings of health. Because you can’t entirely directly correlate how water therapies treat the body. It just generally helps your blood vessels, relaxes muscles, it can also reduce toxins, have disinfecting and even anti inflammatory effects.

Water itself cancels out gravity through hydrospheric pressure, which also means it can ease pain and tensions. It treats everything at once in very subtle ways, from nerves, to the heart, to the immune system, and even localised injuries. It provides a kind of passive benefit to one’s general well being, and this is most easily understood as the idea of QI.

Moreover we have the contents of water. Springwater is another idea that is understood to be a benefit of health due to its mineral content especially.

So when I see such smug intellectuals deride foreign cultures like this, I just imagine how it would look if they would deride more familiar examples such as springwater or spa therapies. Obviously these would not work as direct treatments for specific illnesses, but they have immense therapeutic and holistic value.

That’s also another word that is often abused, namely holistic medicine. Apparently in England it refers to what is a pseudoscience about diluting things in water in order for them to somehow become stronger.

But that’s not what the word means. Holistic is a philosophical concept that translates to “The whole.” It’s a thing of perspective. So holistic medicine in most cultures refers to how you cannot compartmentalise the body. How if you have an excellent heart, but a failing liver, then these won’t cancel eachother out. You need the whole body to work properly.

But if we again define medicine through a very centered idea of treatment only, then yes, you can easily mock the idea of holistic medicine. “Oh so you’re saying I can treat my fever by taking an insulin shot? What stupidity!”

No, but you can prevent fever and diabetes alike by eating plenty of vegetables which reduces pancreatic stress and enhances your immune system with vitamins and nutrients. In fact, vegetables in general are handy in both regards since they provide the body with vital components to build cells. You literally are what you eat.

Another problem with compartmentalisation is that it leads to some very prominent pseudoscience within western medicine too. One example being the weird fixation with tobacco. I do actually smoke, because like a lot of people with PTSD, it helps me regulate my symptoms since I have adverse reactions to the pills.

But even so, I could make an argument that I am less likely to get cancer than the average European. For once thing, I have a good diet with plenty of vegetables. For another, I use olive oil for just about everything. I also don’t own a car, and I don’t drink alcohol.

Alcohol alone has as high a risk of causing cancer as tobacco, but since we have a “drinking culture” and medical studies are biased to consider alcohol consumption as normal, it’s the tobacco usage that becomes the statistical outlier. Even though both factors are equally detrimental to the individual user.

Similarly cars are a very silent killer indeed. Sitting in a sealed box and marinating yourself in petroleum pollution through a daily commute is just as bad of a habit as smoking, but once again, car usage is considered a statistical default, and is therefore not seen as a distinct factor.

I sometimes get dissent from pointing this out about cars, but I maintain that spending hours every week exposing yourself even to marginal amounts of the gas that people use to commit suicide with probably not good for you. I just don’t see how there’s a rational argument against such an assumption. Especially when you’re in the middle of a road surrounded by dozens of other machines that also contribute to this poisonous miasma.

Moreover the rates of cancer and also asthma we see in modern times is very unique, and also very correlated to fuel burning technology. We do have studies to prove this fact, and I do think the first step to being affected by pollution is to be exposed to it. Apparently I need some kind of peer-reviewed study for that as to eliminate the possibility that say, the millions of people who died from mustard gas at The Somme didn’t just do so by sheer coincidence.

God I hate sociology…

Anyhow, by removing two typical factors towards cancer, and keeping one uncommon factor towards it, then I’d say my odds are pretty good actually, and I think if you twisted a doctor’s arm enough, they’d have to concede this.

Then there’s also trees. Trees are sort of magic. Magic is also an abused word, I maintain it refers to the poetic essence of things which maintain a sublime or wonderous nature, but others think it’s when you zap electricity from your fingertips, or things that lonely people dressed like Tony Montana do on cruise ships.

My point is that, obviously magic is real, and more obviously, trees are sort of magic.

Because I read a book by Ted Reese called Socialism or Extinction, which talks a lot about the dangers of pollution, and one problem with deforestation is not only a general damage of the ecosystem, but also the human withdrawal from the ecosystem.

Humans have lived alongside trees for most of our anthropological history. And we rely on trees, because trees enrich our oxygen. You get a lot of pundits and pseudoscientists who say “Oh well deforestation isn’t so bad, trees are not responsible for most of our air supply, you find that in the oceans, etc. etc.”

And it’s total nonsense. Because it shifts the question. Trees enhance our air quality because of how they chemically interact with the air. Nobody’s afraid of running out of air, nobody’s afraid that the atmosphere is shrinking. The issue with the environment is air quality. But by shifting it to something irrational, they can dismiss the argument in a way that is subtle enough for the layman to perhaps overlook.

And Ted quoted these studies on the matter, saying that simply by planting trees in poor neighbourhoods where people often have very low life expectancies compared to most, you see drastic changes. As I recall it, it has the same impact as opening up a neighbourhood clinic.

But in contemporary science we have a very foolish way of looking at that. Because we call that stuff “ecology”, nobody thinks to call it medicine, or treat the two as overlapping features. In the vulgar understanding of medicine, medicine is exclusively something that doctors do, and that it is somehow separated from the realm of what we call “health.” But I think that’s a very peculiar way to look at it compared to most cultures and most of history. To most, medicine and health are very synonymous things.

But I think that also undermines the air of elitism that comes with higher education. The idea that the janitor’s efforts in keeping flies and roaches out of the surgical theatre is just as important as the work of the surgeon is a notion that really separates the wheat from the chaff.

Obviously a good and ethical doctor has no issues recognising how medicine is a team effort, carried out by numerous avenues of labour ranging from agriculture all the way to sanitation. But to the unethical doctors, the doctors who enjoy the authority and the prestige, who like the money and who became a doctor simply to say “I’m a doctor”, this idea is quite offensive.

And we’ve all had one of those doctors. In fact all doctors have worked with one of those doctors. The kind of doctor who thinks that medicine would’ve been their dream job if it wasn’t for all the lousy patients.

That’s one of the reasons why I like to read medicine, and figure out what words to use and how things work. Because a good doctor will see how you make the effort and appreciate how you’re trying to communicate things clearly, but a bad doctor will often get a little bit insecure at how you’re demystifying their profession.

Because I think that’s why Harry Potter became such a popular book among snooty academics, they sort of see themselves as the chosen ones at Hogwarts, and how everyone else is a muggle. They still believe in that pseudoscience about how genetics determine intelligence, and some people are objectively smarter than others. It’s a comforting thought to them. The idea that by simply reading books, others can on some level demonstrate the same capacities for learning as they have is in my experience often seen as something very threatening.

I think that’s where the idea of pretentiousness comes from. Sometimes academics call me pretentious and I always ask “How?” I ask them “What am I pretending to be, and what am I supposed to be?”

And they usually get very reluctant to answer since in today’s HR environment you’re not supposed to belt out “a fucking pleb!”

Because I’m not pretending to be a doctor, but it is a matter of fact that I like to read books about medicine, and that’s why I rightfully call myself a scholar. Scholars are people who study things in an effort to understand the world better and to share that knowledge.

I’d never call myself an academic, nor would I call myself an intellectual, because I’m neither of those things. Since no one has to pay me to study, I do that for its own sake. And I’m pretty sure that categorises me as a scholar.

A lot of people misuse that word to refer to an academic, but most academics are the opposite of scholars since the historical definition of a scholar is a student of many subjects who pursues an understanding of the principles and laws of such subjects. To be a proper scholar you can’t have a major or take specific classes, you need to study the old fashioned way prior to standardisations or curriculums.

And I think academics co-opted the idea of the scholar because they felt quite threatened by this strata of culture and society. Because most scholars due to their general understanding of many things, can speak outside of academic frames of reference and generally produce more interesting and poignant arguments in debates.

If you’re a professor of economics, then you can only speak the language of economics. Compared to someone who may not know as much about economics specifically as you do, but who can nevertheless exemplify their understanding of the subject through principled analysis of say, history, art, philosophy and multiple languages, they will appear smarter to an audience since the professor of economics can only make economic arguments for his view on economics.

He cannot make philosophical, cultural, historical or rhetorical arguments in the same capacity, nor can he be reasonably expected to argue within such a frame of reference.

So does that mean the scholar is smarter? Of course not. But it is to say that the scholar can see the role economics play throughout a broader spectrum of subjects, and in doing so, speak a more universalist language. He is, in other words, more coherent to more people.

Because the academic has a reason of singular dimension. Often they are empirical in their thoughts, with of course some addition of rational understanding to tie things together. But the material epistemology is often far too understated, and the romantic epistemology is practically forbidden, seen as a kind of medievalist and arcane thing that must be cast aside due to how it is irrational.

But that to me is laughable, because the world is irrational. On some level you do need to be irrational in order to understand the world. The great irony is that if you try to understand the world rationally, as to superimpose your own sort of mode of action wherein you deliberate yourself onto the world, then you’re essentially a creationist arguing intelligent design.

I do have religious beliefs, but I don’t think God just handcrafted every part of the universe like some sort of mad artisanal worker. I don’t like the idea of a hipster god who makes handmade locally sourced universes like that. I don’t want to live in some Etsy shop universe.

I think it’s a bit more sophisticated. I do not deny the science of the universe and its creation. Nor do I think creation has to be rational. Because even our own creation is irrational.

When we make bricks in a brick factory, then we do not deliberate upon every brick and design it carefully for its specific purpose. Rather, we take a standardised measurement that is generally useful for a brick, and then have various factory machines replicate such a measurement. We do not call up the brick factory and special order custom bricks for our own special building.

Rather we adapt the building to suit the bricks, and that is irrational. It is irrational that the shapes of our cities and architecture is ultimately determined by a brick factory. In a rational world, it would be the other way around.

And why is that? Because things can make sense in ways other than the rational. In fact, more often than not, being rational is a good way to be wrong in science. It’s perfectly rational to think that a bowling ball would fall faster than a feather because it weighs more, but it’s also wrong. Turns out it’s wind resistance, and that in a vacuum, things fall at the same speed.

But at the same time, if a child said “Heavier objects fall faster” you wouldn’t clap him over the head and say “No it’s because of friction in the atmosphere you idiot!”

I mean I might if I didn’t get in trouble for it, but more mature people have explained to me how “That’s not entirely pedagogic.”

What I mean is, you’d have to be pretty irrational to conclude that mass had no role in gravitational pull prior to vacuum testing facilities. It’s not an intuitive answer.

Or at least a bowling ball and a balloon sprayed with scotch guard… don’t know why they always spend so much money on these things.

Still, now we know for sure. People are living in tent cities, but now we know for sure.

So I think one could make an argument for bringing scholars back into academia, instead of simply redefining the word to include academics as well.

And that’s the only reason why I bother to write about medicine, I think it’s a niche market. At least in English. Latin America of course still has scholars, which is also why they have some of the world’s best doctors and medical training, and not to mention some of the world’s most intelligent medical ethics.

Because at times, all doctors face moral contradictions where they can either follow the regulations, or do the right thing. A common example of course being treating a homeless person without insurance. A lot of ethical doctors will of course falsify some paperwork and do it in secret, and a lot of… well, other doctors, will not do that.

And the only time I have witnessed doctors do this with perhaps less extreme examples but nevertheless the same core dilemma in my own situation, it’s been doctors who were trained in Latin America. They always put ethics before regulations, and they’re often quite proud of it.

To their minds it’s only logical that protocols and regulations cannot be reasonably applicable to every possible situation, and when they are counterproductive, then you improvise if that’s what it takes to help your patient.

And that’s very good medical ethics. That is a principled understanding of medicine as opposed to a retentive understanding. To be principally understanding of something is to understand not just how it works, but also why it works. To be able to invent, elaborate and use knowledge creatively as to solve problems. It is to apply the romantic element of epistemology. To find that strange universe where art meets science.

And then there is retentive understanding, where you basically memorise a series of rules and statements, and then act them out a bit like a robot. Not really bothering to critically engage with why things work, but simply doing what you are instructed to do even if you only have a superficial understanding of why you’re doing it.

And that’s another way I sometimes gauge if I can trust a doctor or not. I look up some obscure or arcane medical term for something, and then see how they react.

A good doctor asks “What do you mean?” and then you explain, and they say “Oh I know that, these days we call it so and so.” Because we had the same principled understanding of two different words.

But a bad doctor just dismisses it as nonsense since it exists outside of the abstract circle that he drew around a series of statements which he calls “the facts.” Any time someone mentions “the facts” then it is a clear warning that you might be talking to an idiot.

So that’s a good way to see if you’re getting good care. If your doctor thinks like an academic, then find a better doctor. If your doctor thinks like a scholar, then be sure to end every appointment by thanking them for their service.

There is also a spiritual component to medicine that is very understated by nevertheless real, because to heal others is to suffer. Some wounds are treated physically, others are treated psychologically, and some even spiritually. But whether you are a physician, a psychologist, or a spiritualist, you must expose yourself to suffering.

One good intersection of the three is of course addiction. Addiction is a physiological, psychological and spiritual problem. You need all three to resolve it. The first two most people will understand, but what do I mean when I say spiritual?

I read a book a while back called “Introduction to mysticism.” And it defines mysticism as the sublime and transcendental element to spiritual teachings. The spiritual is often mercurial in the English language. In many ways it is to address the strange suffering that cannot be told by words. Physical suffering is to scream, but spiritual suffering is to be silent. It is easy to conflate to psychology, but only in a superficial way.

A spiritual problem is when you listen to music that often makes you feel extraordinary things, only to have it make you feel nothing. Spiritual suffering is to live in a world stripped of innocence, curiosity, imagination and belonging. What psychologist could resolve such things?

What a psychologist does is to remove ailments. Symptoms. Problems. Fears. Psychologists resolve emotions that causes us to suffer. But spiritual suffering is not to have the presence of pain, but rather the absence of being.

This is a very different science. At most I fear the contemporary resolution is to turn to psychopharmacology. To in some way produce a fleeting and euphoric effect that merely masks the underlying problem. To use drugs for treatment of spiritual suffering is often to apply a band aid to an infected wound. It is a dangerously misguided practice.

I was listening to a lecture by Cornel West, a man who is in my opinion a very astute spiritualist. It was a lecture on literature as I recall, and he talked about the innate human need to be recognised. With a heavy emphasis on that precise word, to be recognised.

Because it echoes to the Hegelian ontology of consciousness as framed in the dialectic of the master and the slave. The ultimate conflict between these archetypes, between the oppressor and the oppressed, is a conflict of recognition. The slave demands recognition. He is the one who is building, who is working, who is contributing. He is the one who is an independent and useful man.

But the master fears recognition. Because to recognise the slave is to recognise the master. To see how the master is a helpless, infantile and parasitic man who exploits the slave. Who cannot live without the slave. Who, without the slave, is subject to an existential poverty.

He must live in a fantasy. And when this fantasy is challenged, when this reality confronts him, then he is met with a great existential threat that makes him ruefully violent. He will torture, repress, demean and even exterminate the slaves before they manage to expose him to himself.

And this is a universal thing in all oppression. From landlord to homeless, from rich to poor, from master to slave, from all these relationships wherein one feeds upon the other.

But even in doing this, even in committing these horrific atrocities, the master still loses. Because even if he tortures and kills, even if he commits these horrific massacres we see in history, these crimes against humanity, then he must still recognise. He must still acknowledge the power and the threat of his supposed inferior. He must still concede that he is too weak to coexist. That he cannot endure it. That the reality imposes itself like a sacred wind, and that it must be silenced at all costs.

It is a bitter victory, and it doesn’t do the dead much good. But it is still true. It is still to be recognised. It is still to have the world know you, and to know who you were, and to know why you died. To know what you did, and to know what was done to you.

And that is precisely why we rebel. Why people rioted at Auschwitz in spite of the impossible odds, knowing they were going to die, why people would rather go down kicking and screaming, because at the end, even when you have nothing, you can still be recognised. No matter your poverty, no matter how little you have, you can still always pursue that one vital and spiritual desire to be recognised.

Because if you are going to leave this world at the hands of some tyrant, at the hands of cruelty, then you may as well make sure that you look the culprit in the eye, and give him a broken nose before the guns go off.

To make sure that the last thing you grasp for is that recognition, that final moment of truth.

And then maybe, if you’re very lucky, you just might win. That is the true spiritual struggle of rebellion, of freedom, of struggle against injustice. It begins not with some rational idea of how one may defeat this overwhelming and oppressive force that towers above you, but rather by the unwavering desire to die standing.

To know dignity in its starkest form. It is irrational, it is romantic, and it is spiritual. It turns monarchies into republics, dictatorships into democracies, parliaments into general assemblies, and sweatshop workers into labour unions.

And that’s where the real spiritual existence begins, with this need to be recognised. With this yearning to be bestowed with humanity. To be seen, to be heard, to be known. Spiritual realisation is not to live well, but to die well. To know that people will recognise the footprints you left behind on your journey. To know that you will be remembered, and that you existed.

To quote one of my favorite passages by Fanon, one of the few pieces of text that even to this day moves me to tears:

All forms of exploitation are identical because all of them are applied against the same “object”: man. When one tries to examine the structure of this or that form of exploitation from an abstract point of view, one simply turns one’s back on the major, basic problem, which is that of restoring man to his proper place.

Colonial racism is no different from any other racism. Antisemitism hits me head-on: I am enraged, I am bled white by an appalling battle, I am deprived of the possibility of being a man. I cannot disassociate myself from the future that is proposed for my brother. Every one of my acts commits me as a man. Every one of my silences, every one of my cowardices reveals me as a man.

Fanon lived in Martinique, and his enemies were the French soldiers and aristocrats who was plundering his lands and enslaving his countrymen. To a rational mind, it is shocking to think that we would want to fight alongside these terrible soldiers when he enlisted in the allied forces to fight the Nazis.

These men who had committed every atrocity upon Martinique, that Hitler was committing upon Poland.

His motives rather instead comes down to this struggle to be recognised. He could not sit idly by. He could not be revealed like the dialectical master. He had to do something. He had to become the only man that he was willing to recognise. That is to exist spiritually.

And it is so that to heal is to suffer, because to be a doctor, a therapist, a spiritualist, whatever else, is to expose yourself to suffering. Is to expose yourself to the darker sides of life. It’s to see the hardship, the want, the hopelessness and the desperation of the suffering. To see the consequences of violence, destitution, want and grief. To see the suffering you cannot ease, and to therefore suffer in turn.

And that suffering, when the pain of others becomes your own, is a spiritual suffering. Because you cannot recognise yourself. You are here to help, and yet there is nothing you can do. It’s these kinds of painful contradictions that weigh the heaviest on the spirit.

And in modern times we often dismiss the spiritualists as liars and charlatans, and obviously those people exist. I don’t deny that. Before academia became the gatekeepers to knowledge, we had the church doing that. The torch has been passed, but I don’t deny this history.

And yet if you ask any clergy or former clergy that maintains at least a halfway disposition towards integrity, that takes themselves seriously in their duties to the community, even low ranking ones, if you ask them how many suicides they’ve prevented, most will tell you they’ve lost count.

I sure know I have.

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Vince

Vince

Scholar, minister, musician, engineer, technician, reformed criminal