I never imagined that my article about the West's fascination with alternative medicine would generate so many comments. Nevertheless, I am sure I have benefited by reading your opinions.
I had no intention to disparage a healing system devised by peoples smarter than I who did their best in a hostile world to heal and find causes of disease without the aid of modern instrumentation. Yet I don't see how questioning purported "Ayurvedic" cures based on astrology and claims of levitation minimizes the efforts of those who performed simple surgeries with moderate success hundreds of years ago. I marvel at such advances.
Likewise, I don't see how my mentioning Chopra and Mahesh Yogi minimizes "traditional" or purer forms of Ayurveda when some of these ancient cures (still to this day) call for saliva eye washes, animal urine and feces, and mercury. Ayurveda promotes sound diet and exercise, and the system has uncovered a multitude of useful herbs. Right on.
But some of it is, indeed, questionable. Look at what gets touted as Ayurveda: 'Mars is related to blood and the liver, Venus is related to sexual function. If the planetary alignment is not right, the cure won't work. Disease is a result of a natural flow in the universe, so planetary positions become important,' the theory goes. Need one even say anything in response?
As far as the comment that we only use 10% of our brain's potential, as opposed to 10% of a physical part, this is silly too. First of all, the 10% number was invented. It's not based on anything. So as we see with much of alternative medicine, we start with a fallacy or mistake and build a science on top of it.
(Think homeopathy: The dilution is proven implausible with the concept of the atom, so homeopaths dream of new concepts, such as vibrations and quantum physics and other scientific buzz words they don't understand.)
Clearly many of us waste our lives, numbed by television or trivial concerns or narcotics. But putting a number on "potential" -- that is, quantifying it -- implies that once we reach 100% potential, we can no longer excel. How much of its brain does a monkey use? All of it, half of it, or maybe only 10%? Are humans the only animals that only use 10% of the brain? If so, why? Does a monkey using, say, 87.5% of its brain outsmart a human using 10%?
The worst of alternative medicine always reveals flawed logic if you think it through. Holistic healers say diseases, such as cancer, are a mind/body manifestation; viruses or bacteria are results of disease, not causes. Yet why do they prescribe organic foods if the mind (and not a carcinogen) is the cause of the cancer?
(By the way, Aveline Kushi, co-founder of the macrobiotic food movement said to cure cancer, contracted and died of cancer in her 60s. Nice woman; met her on several occasions.)
Or, why do holistic healers avoid the radio waves and not the more abundant infrared and optical radiation from the sun? Why? Because they don't think it through.
The point of my article is that we should be proud that humans have learned as much as they have over the years. Let's keep moving forward. Let's not worry about the change in planetary configurations; it won't cure your impotence. Nor will ground tiger penis, for that matter, though Viagra just might.
Christopher Wanjek is the author of Bad Medicine (Wiley & Sons, New York).