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An exploration and critical analysis of the terminology used to describe ultra high dilution, the position of homeopathy in medicine and its relation to science – a demand for agreement on inter- and cross- disciplinary definition and vocabulary.

Abstract

In homeopathy there is a lack of consensus on the terminology used to describe it. The meaning of nomenclature is frequently not what we are expressing in words, because the terms we are using are not universal to the discipline of homeopathy. This fosters criticism, misinterpretation and confusion. The words describing `ultra high dilution´, serve as an example to illustrate this requirement for agreement on semantics.

Even outside the realms of homeopathy there is no agreement on a joint language. Medicine as a generic term, repositions homeopathy, and raises questions of the place of homeopathy as a science.

The dominant paradigm of science is ignorant of immaterial notions; therefore the question of a shift of paradigm to match the development of knowledge and science over time is discussed. Consequently it becomes evident that with a consensus of speech and an amendment to the existent paradigm, the position of homeopathy in medicine and science could be clarified. A universal language, will unite the knowledge, and avoid the misunderstanding of homeopathy.

Keywords: terminology, semantics, homeopathy, ultra high dilution, criticism, science, paradigm, medicine.

Introduction

With Homeopathy we have at our disposal a health care system that meets the demand for a scientific methodology strictly researched on human subjects. Homeopathy has been objectively and subjectively documented in sensitive detail for over 200 years. No other medical system is subject to such intense investigative, case-descriptive and experiential verification as is homeopathy [14]. Despite such extensive clinical evidence, the foundational pillars of this alternative medical approach are stumbling blocks to acceptance and acknowledgement of the efficacy of this treatment approach. The prime criticism against homeopathy relates to the law of Similars, the law of Infinitesimal and the law of Chronic Disease [10].

In my practice as a homeopath I have had the most queries concerning homeopathy, questioning the plausibility of the law of infinitesimal. A lot of controversy, criticism and misunderstanding surrounds this homeopathic principle. But not alone due to the persistent doubt of its efficacy, the inexplicability of the underlying mechanism, or its  position in the realms of medicine and science are practicing homeopaths constantly in need to defend their therapeutic approach. The terminology too, is often causing confusion.  I have therefore chosen to critically evaluate and analyze the fundamental concept of ultra high dilution from the point of view of its terminology. By way of terminology, I have also sought to identify the position homeopathy holds in medicine and science and am aiming at deconstructing conjectural beliefs and fundamental claims.

Relevant literature for this essay comes from books, and articles and studies that were taken from electronic databases such as Sciencedirect and Elsevier available via the UCLan subscription.

I have chosen to take definitions from “the pocket oxford dictionary” [19], a `house-hold´ dictionary, devoid of having a specialty focus in the contained vocabulary.  This is relevant for the argumentation concerning the confusion surrounding the semantics of homeopathy.

Personal experience from the patient-practitioner interaction and discussions with opponents to this treatment methodology, founds the basis for argumentation and investigation undertaken in this essay.


The importance of semantics

In my practice with patients it has not gone unnoticed that, although homeopathy is understood as an ‘other, gentle´ treatment approach, the comprehension of principles and specialized vocabulary is cause of confusion and misunderstanding. This is not surprising, considering the falsified semantics we homeopaths have been employing. When addressing ultra high dilution for example, by use of the wording, we are describing a solution that in reality is far from what we actually utilize as a homeopathic remedy.

Ultra molecular dilutions, ultra high dilutions, infinitesimal dilutions, are names given to the medicinal substances of homeopathic prescribing. Yet, they are false as they do not describe what is actually meant and are not precise in the dimensions they are sought to be descriptive of.

By the definition of the prefix ´ultra` as “extremely, excessively, beyond” [19] (p.817), one decisive explanatory factor is omitted. The use of the word `high´, is equally controversial. The most matching definition, for the description of the term ` high´, is “extreme, intense, above the normal” [19] (p. 346).

These quantitative terms that we utilize in the description of homeopathy, are relative and stand widely in connection to individual parameters. What is `ultra´ or `high´ is therefore dependent on who uses the term and in what context. `Infinitesimal´ likewise is best understood within context, but comes closer to what we mean it to describe in homeopathic terms. It is descriptive of something that is “infinitely or very small”, with `infinite´ meaning “boundless, endless; very great or many” [19] (p. 377).

Molecular has the meaning “of or relating to or consisting of molecules” [19] (p. 473). `Dilution´ is derived from the stem verb `to dilute´ which is to “reduce strength of (fluid) by adding water or other solvent; weaken or reduce forcefulness of” [19] (p.204).

When using the term `ultra molecular´ for a dilution, we describe a solution `beyond´ the consistence of molecules, if we employ the above definitions. But in relation to `dilution´, this lacks the correct description of the element that makes the remedial substance homeopathic. An ultra molecular substance as we comprehend it in homeopathy is not one that has merely been reduced in concentration [12], but one that has been serially diluted and rendered dynamic. Hahnemann [15] described this in Aphorism 269 of the Organon. This process is known as dynamization or potentization. Crude substances lose their toxicity or their respective state of `being without healing´, by dilution, and increase their medicinal power by succussion or trituration [6]. Therefore a homeopathic remedy has to be serially diluted and vigorously shaken at each stage of potentization, in order to attain its healing modalities [7], [30]. A more correct term descriptive of a homeopathic remedy, is therefore an `ultra molecular potentization´.

To be descriptive of what we mean when we speak our homeopathic language, the definition of the wording we use has to be known and understood.

Complemented by a definition given according to www.britannica.com, `infinitesimal´ is of a “quantity less than any finite quantity, yet not zero.” This description of the word could meet the demand for a more precise definition, when used in a homeopathic context, as it incorporates a descriptive component of the dimension of the infinitesimal potentization. But this requirement for extension to the meaning may be unclear to the lay person or to potential patients as it makes use of a definition that is taken from another source. This raises the question of which definition comes closest to the correct meaning of the term and underlies an expression, or which dictionary or lexicon carries the most precise definition. We homeopaths need to utilize the same definitions and words if we and our therapeutic approach are to be clearly and correctly understood.

This is essential! Different sources produce different meanings to one and the same term and there from, at the very root, foster differentiation in meaning and consequently fallacy and disagreement in speech.

In my discussion with my patients, it has become evident that the difficulty of acceptance of and the criticism towards homeopathy lies mainly within the realms of the principle of `ultra high dilution´, or actually within the false terminology that describes it. A mere dilution is not what patients can see as an effective agent for the treatment of ailing symptoms. How controversial the mechanism of potentization is, the application of a mechanic motion to the remedial substance receives more acceptance of plausibility than just dilution. In practice therefore, this is not subject to quite as much scrutiny as is experienced from the realms of science or other medicinal methodologies. Patients frequently believe in `things between heaven and earth that cannot be explained´ and if these are able to make them feel improved, the `how´ this happens is not that relevant [16].

Alternative or discipline of medicine

Having no clear one language and precision in what we, within the discipline, mean causes confusion in the dialogue with lay persons and as previously illustrated, with our own patients. The above example of a re-definition, may have little implication on the overall comprehension of homeopathy, but does in the discourse with persons who only engage with homeopathy in the broadest sense, foster misunderstanding and consequently uninformed criticism. We are postulating in our practice an ethical treatment approach where patients are able to make an informed choice for their treatment [25] and therefore require provision of enough information for them to found their decisions. With an inappropriate terminology this is difficult. Consequently what can be identified as homeopathic terminology may, require slight correction [12].

Semantics also plays a crucial role when it comes to the communication amongst us practicing or engaged with homeopathy, and with those outside the homeopathic field of practice, with science and other medical disciplines [11], [12].

Our unorthodox use of the term `homeopathy´, already bares proof of the need to speak with one voice when representing a homeopathic stance. `Homeopathy´ in its usage, even amongst homeopaths, has different meanings [22]. In discourse with practitioners and lay persons alike, I have heard this terminology in use for the description of the consultation, the remedy, the philosophy and the principles; much like is mentioned in Relton et al. [20]. And I follow with Relton et al. for `homeopathy´ to describe a “system of therapeutics” (p.153) and all other terms to provide a distinguishable prefix, suffix or additional term highlighting their difference.

As much as the term `homeopathy´ is unclear in its application, the position of this treatment approach is not certain in its comparison and relation to what we normally describe as general medicine.

Homeopathy is described as a discipline unconventional or alternative; as opposed to what? To allopathy or allopathic medicine? Is homeopathy really that `other´? Is it not a therapeutic approach aimed at treating illness, just as is what we know as general medicine? Guajardo, Searcy, and Reyes, [13] have aimed at specifying semantics that may permit a better understanding of the position that homeopathy holds in the realms of medicine.

They point out that `allopathic medicine´ as such is not existent, but that `allopathy´ itself is descriptive of a treatment approach and not of medicine in general. The word `medicine´ is not equivalent to allopathy, although in practice it is frequently used interchangeably. From this it already becomes evident that outside homeopathy there is also little consensus of terminology or definition.

With respect to homeopathy, Guajardo et al. [13] state that we, homeopaths, “maintain the habit of labeling ourselves as a dissident medicine” (p.35), so to speak as `alternative´ or `unconventional´, “when in truth homeopathy is but a method” (p.35). Why is homeopathy described as a ‘other´ medicine, when in reality homeopathy just like many other therapeutic methods, is but a treatment approach to illness [12], a discipline, a methodology or a specialty? Homeopathy is not alternative or unconventional compared to medicine, but complementary to the different treatment disciplines that make up health care and make up what is described as `medicine´. The term `medicine´, is therefore the generic expression for many different treatment approaches aimed at treating disease.

Science or paradigm

Homeopathy, being one treatment approach of many that are together comprised in the term `medicine´, raises fundamental questions. If homeopathy belongs to the group `medicine´, and medicine is described as scientific, then homeopathy as a medicinal discipline should also be scientific. Yet critics find it hard to permit homeopathy this sort of labeling [4]. The argumentation is that the principles underlying homeopathic practice are “not explainable on the basis of established science” [10](np). Bellavite [3], states that “the homeopathic and scientific medical worlds have developed separately” (p.203). But this again places homeopathy aside of medicine when semantics above has shown that it is in fact a therapeutic discipline of medicine. So where does homeopathy stand?

Campbell [4] argues that what is described as conventional medicine frequently does not live up to the attempt to be scientific, and homeopathy, on the other hand, is the “only true scientific form of medicine” (p.79). Science, according to a dictionary definition is a: “branch of knowledge involving systematized observation of and experimentation with phenomena; systematic and formulated knowledge” [19] (p. 667). Does this not apply to both the generic term `medicine´ and specifically to homeopathy? With its underlying principles that are fundamental to homeopathy, and the confirmation of its efficacy in practice [4] homeopathy should be acknowledged the requirements defined for a science. Why then is it viewed with criticism and not acknowledged as scientific?

The question of the efficacy of ultra molecular potentization is one that critics describe as obstacle to homeopathy’s acknowledgement as a science. The efficacy of a homeopathic remedy potentized beyond Avogadro´s number, that is, beyond the stage where an molecular entity is traceable in the attenuation [28], [32], is in its mechanism not explainable by the laws of the mechanistic [1] or materialism [23] paradigm of science that scientists generally apply to the realms of medicine [1], [23]. What a paradigm represents is according to a dictionary definition, simply an “example or pattern” [19] (p.531). A better description is given by Swayne [27]: “a mindset that determines, and restricts, the direction in which scientific thinking and investigation are allowed to progress” (p. 90).

And again, here it becomes evident that there are differing terminologies in use. Is there the mechanistic paradigm as Bastide [1] calls it, or the materialism paradigm, so named by Scholten [23] in his article, in application of mainstream science? Are they the same or different? Why do we use different terminologies? `Mechanistic´ relates to `mechanism´, “structure or parts of machine or other set of mutually adapted parts” [19] (p.456), and `materialism´ means “nothing exists but matter and its movements and modifications” [19] (p.453). Both definitions have in common what Scholten [23] points out for the materialism paradigm that denies “the existence of emotions and thought” (np), and claims that “only the material world can be object of scientific research” [23] (np). Consequently homeopathy is declared as incompatible with the dominant scientific paradigm, and is denied recognition as a science.

In homeopathy, we speak of vitality and potentization and include criteria that are immaterial such as emotions and consciousness [23]. Therefore, does this not call for a new framework or paradigm as the, to date, dominating one “is in contradiction with the experience of all people” [23]?

We are in need of a shift in paradigm! A shift that permits the comprehension of “living structures” as Bastide [1] put it.

The paradigm of signifiers identified by Bastide and Lagache in 1992 is one that could be used to understand the impact of ultra molecular potentization [2] (nd). It states that “life forms communicate with their world in a non-verbal way, both on a somatic and a psychological level” [1] (p.129). In terms of ultra high potentization, this implies that homeopathy is related to a form of information transference. This implies that the remedy incites a transference of information from the remedy into the patients system, that is there recognized as a potential source of harm and consequently the immune system reacts by fighting this and the similar, existent disease information [1]. The result is a return to health of the patient.

Potentization can therefore be seen as the process that extracts information from the solvent [2] and thus a homeopathic remedy “contains only information but no molecules” [29] (p.109).

The problem that remains is that “as long as the materialism paradigm prevails, proof in favor of homeopathy will be denied, ridiculed or put away as irrelevant or unreliable” [23]. And this explains why recent research that undeniably provides evidence for the efficacy of ultra molecular potentization is rejected, although “information specific to the original dissolved substance remains and can be detected” [29] (p.109).

Experience or research

The recent research conducted by Montagnier et al. [17] has been revolutionary in that it demonstrated that there exists the “capacity of some bacterial DNA sequences to induce electromagnetic waves at high aqueous dilutions” (p.81). Chikramane et al. [8] have been successful in providing evidence for the retention of “starting materials and their aggregates even at extremely high dilutions” (p.242). The latter is, like the former, for homeopathy, of radical and outstanding value. This has major implications for future research, focusing on the comprehension of the processes underlying potentization and remedy activity [8], and consequently, may, at the scientific foundations, foster the necessity to re-consider the paradigmatic orientation.

Scientific research is necessary where the results reduce insecurity and deliver a better basis for decision making [31]. But according to Rubik [21] “major changes in science have never been brought about by isolated experimental findings but by collective evidence” (p.165). This gives rise to the question of why the numerous homeopathic provings that have been undertaken, with ultra molecular potentized remedies, leaving healthy individuals experiencing symptoms that have distinct parallels to the symptoms created in the testing of crude substances [18], are given little notice. Likewise the many successful treatments reported by patients, providing proof of efficacy of homeopathic remedies, are consistently ignored by those external to the discipline.

Experience in practice has justified our treatment approach and yet not all rules of homeopathy behave strictly as Hahnemann had described it. The circumstances out of which Hahnemanns´ postulations developed, have to be viewed critically and comparatively to the development of us and our environment in the time since Hahnemann wrote the Organon [22]. For example, we have to acknowledge that in ultra molecular potency prescribing “the old axiom of high potency for mentals and low for physicals is irrelevant” (p.83) as Sherr [24] put it. This shows that our practice in over 200 years is constantly put to the test in order to improve and prove our claims.

Likewise I believe that Science and its´ paradigm should be re-viewed critically and comparatively to its development through time and should experience a re-evaluation.

We humans are undeniably emotional and have a conscious functioning. Therefore, the dominant paradigm excluding the immaterial is outdated and should undergo a shift.

Conclusion

In the over 200 years of its existence, homeopathy has experienced highs and lows, great acceptance and large opposition. It is undisputable for those convinced by its efficacy that ultra molecular potentization contains an active property. Critics undoubtedly will oppose even the above mentioned study results.

What happens during the process of dynamization of an ultra molecular potentization, is still without comprehension even for us homeopaths, and is, for those from outside homeopathic prescribing, an even greater prohibition to acceptance of homeopathy as a rational healing discipline [26]. Yet research has provided us with the proof that something remains in our potentized remedies.

Therefore, in my communication with patients and in discussions with interested persons, when asked to theorize on a possible mechanism of action of the ultra molecular potentization, I describe a model quite similar to that fundamental to the paradigm of signifiers. The terminology of `ultra molecular potentization´ allows, for me, little other speculation of a possible mechanism of action. The transfer of information and a subsequent immune response against the intruder that carries a very similar imprint of information to that of the disease, present in the patient, cannot be denied plausibility. Given this explanation, the criticism against homeopathy is not silenced, but its plausibility thoughtfully weighed as possibly inherent of a mechanism following this explanation [16].

Future research will hopefully bring us closer to knowing how exactly this mechanism works.

It cannot be renounced that we have to be more careful with the choice of our wording. We homeopaths, have to reach an agreement on our language, such that this will be copied and borrowed correctly by others engaged with homeopathy, and by those external to our discipline, scientists and lay persons alike.

It is false to postulate `ultra high dilution´ as a fundamental concept of homeopathy. The definition of terminology used, requires specification and consensus of meaning. What we seek to express, needs to be just.

A universal consensus will globally inform and subsequently reduce criticism that is founded on wrong semantics.

Guajardo et al. [13] state that, “we should nurture the dignity of our specialty” (p.36). We can do this by assuring a high level of education of future practitioners [5], [13], by committing to unbiased research and by sharing a joint terminology, globally, of those practising the homeopathic healing art.

[Many thanks to Hazel Partington and Jean Duckworth, University of Central Lancashire, U.K., for their assistance with this assignment]

© U.M. at Clever Homeopathy

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© U.M. at Clever Homeopathy

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