The story of Samuel Hahnemann's experiments with Cinchona officinalis, China or Peruvian bark, the source of the anti-malarial drug quinine, is reasonably well known even outside homeopathy. It's generally – and with good reason – cited as the point at which the foundations of homeopathy were laid.
Stories of how the bark of the Cinchona species first came to Europe from the eastern Andean highlands vary somewhat, but are generally dated around 1630-1640. Whether or not they first introduced it, the Jesuit order were heavily involved in its importation and promotion as a cure for the intermittent fever or "ague" associated with marshy districts throughout Europe (1), hence its common name of Jesuits tree/bark/powder, among others (Peruvian bark, Red bark, Yellow bark, China). This was long before the discovery of the association between malaria (= "bad air") and the Anopheline mosquito species and their protozoan parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, P vivax, P ovale and P malariae. Malaria has been a scourge throughout history and has killed more people than all wars and other plagues put together. It remains globally the most important parasitic disease of man. In the 17th century it was rife thoughout Europe. Consequently much was at stake in the promotion of a cure.
To begin with, China was taken up as a panacea for all fevers and then promptly discredited because its specificity to malarial fever was poorly understood. Religious division entered the story with Protestants, particularly in England, refusing to have anything to do with a "Catholic" cure. It was only subterfuge – the success of a patent fever cure which falsely claimed it did not contain Cinchona – that eventually led to its becoming more widely accepted on the discovery of the cure's ingredients. Many attempts were made to profit from the supply of the bark. Both the Dutch and the British smuggled seeds out of South America and experimented with the cultivation of various species of the plant in their tropical colonies. The Dutch eventually succeeded in dominating the market with the higher quinine content bark produced by the hybrid C ledgeriana grown in Java, a position they maintained until the Japanese invasion of Java in WWII. After WWII, synthetic derivatives took over.
In Hahnemann's time, the remedy was well established, although it remained common practice to treat fevers with blood-letting and purging as well. The Cinchona species available in Europe around 1790 were C officinalis, C succirubra (pubescens) and C calisaya (2).
During the years 1789-1792 when he lived and worked in Leipzig, Hahnemann was already increasingly dissatisfied with the established practices of medicine in his day and was investigating alternative viewpoints. But constrained by his rapidly growing family to finding all means possible to support them, he was taking on more work as a translator – he was fluent in many languages – than he was as a doctor. One of the works he translated at this time was Scottish physician William Cullen's 'Treatise on Materia Medica'.
"In Cullen's "Materia Medica" – this must be clearly indicated as the zenith of the Leipsic period – was established the first milestone on the road of development of the new method of treatment, of which Hahnemann was the originator.
"In the question of the medicinal effect of Peruvian bark, Cullen defended the old opinion of the efficacy of this remedy through its "tonic effects on the stomach". Hahnemann attacked this opinion vigorously in his notes (Vol.II, page 108):
"By combining the strongest bitters and the strongest astringents we can obtain a compound which, in small doses, possesses much more of both these properties than the bark, and yet in all Eternity no fever specific can be made from such a compound. The author should have accounted for this. This undiscovered principle of the effect of the bark is probably not very easy to find. Let us consider the following: Substances which produce some kind of fever (very strong coffee, pepper, arnica, ignatia-bean, arsenic) counteract these types of intermittent fever. I took, for several days, as an experiment, four drams of good china twice daily. My feet and finger tips, etc, at first became cold; I became languid and drowsy; then my heart began to palpitate; my pulse became hard and quick; an intolerable anxiety and trembling (but without a rigor); prostration in all the limbs; then pulsation in the head, redness of the cheeks, thirst; briefly, all the symptoms usually associated with intermittent fever appeared in succession, yet without the actual rigor. To sum up: all those symptoms which to me are typical of intermittent fever, as the stupefaction of the senses, a kind of rigidity of all joints, but above all the numb, disagreeable sensation which seems to have its seat in the periosteum over all the bones of the body – all made their appearance. This paroxysm lasted from two to three hours every time, and recurred when I repeated the dose and not otherwise. I discontinued the medicine and I was once more in good health." (3)
Prior to this point, Hahnemann's own publications on medical subjects had focused mostly on hygiene and chemistry. It's while he was translating Cullen's work that he started to turn his attention to the existing practices of his day with a more critical eye, in particular to the practices of blood-letting and purging.
"In the translation of Cullen's work mentioned above, Hahnemann for the first time unreservedly fought the pernicious habit of blood-letting and purging; particularly prevalent in his time. He wrote in one of his own annotations:
"Blood-letting, fever remedies, tepid baths, lowering drinks, weakening diet, blood cleansing and everlasting aperients and clysters form the circle in which the ordinary German physician turns round unceasingly.
"This happened in 1790. And two years later, at the beginning of 1792, Hahnemann intrepidly and unreservedly attacked this serious medical wrong, then in use. The instigation to this was given by the sudden and most painfully tragic death of Kaiser Leopold II of Austria." (4)
Kaiser Leopold II had come to the throne in the same year Hahnemann conducted his experiment with China. He was an insightful and able monarch who had managed to avert a war between France and the German empire and a lot of national hope was riding on his strategic abilities. His sudden and unexpected death was consequently the subject of much speculation and his physicians were forced to publish a bulletin explaining their treatment of him to clarify the situation. Hahnemann's response to the superficial and unexplained reasoning behind the kaiser's treatment described in the bulletin was to publish a challenge to his doctors to justify themselves publicly (which they never did). This caused a sensation, and a lot of ensuing correspondence in "The Anzeiger", the paper in which Hahnemann published his challenge. He reserved his most bitter contempt for the doctors' practice of blood-letting:
"The bulletins state: "On the morning of February 28th, his doctor, Lagusius, found a severe fever and a distended abdomen" – he tried to fight the condition by venesection, and as this failed to give relief, he repeated the process three times more, without any better result. We ask, from a scientific point of view, according to what principles has anyone the right to order a second venesection when the first has failed to bring relief? As for a third, Heaven help us!; but to draw blood a fourth time when the three previous attempts failed to alleviate! To abstract the fluid of life four times in twenty-four hours from a man, who has lost flesh from mental overwork combined with long continued diarrhoea, without procuring any relief for him! Science pales before this!" (5)
It was also in translating Cullen's work that references to the paradoxical nature of cure by similars first appears in Hahnemann's writing. In response to Cullen's assertion that the bark acts through its tonic effects on the stomach, Hahnemann remarks:
"Peruvian bark, which is used as a remedy for intermittent fever, acts because it can produce symptoms similar to those of intermittent fever in healthy people." (6)
It's a beautiful piece of thinking, apparently very logically derived from Hahnemann's experiences of taking Peruvian bark himself. It certainly appears very logical to us approaching the story in the knowledge of what came after it, but is far less so isolated from that context. Our reasoning is not conditioned to readily accept paradox; in fact, quite the opposite. Such clarity of insight is often cited as evidence of Hahnemann's genius and authority, which itself has led to a veneration for his work bordering on the religious by a sizeable contingent within the homeopathic profession, who also tend to resist any further exploration and development in homeopathy as if the mere suggestion amounts to a heresy.
Was Hahnemann really so exceptional? In many ways, of course, he was. Not for him the dictates of the authority figures of his profession at the time, which the vast majority of his colleagues and contemporaries considered perfectly adequate and acceptable (and as the vast majority of us do today in respect of our own "authorities", Hahnemann included). If an explanation for something didn't make sense to him in the context of the evidence, then it simply wasn't sensible and he went looking for an explanation or mechanism of action that made better sense. This lack of reverence for authority and conventional viewpoints seems a common quality among people described as geniuses. As Einstein ironically remarked, "To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself." (7)
What is genius? The modern understanding of the word as inferring exceptional, almost unnatural ability is a relatively recent development. It originally conveyed a sense of something wholly natural. Its etymology is from the Latin genius "guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth; spirit, incarnation, wit, talent," or better "procreative divinity, inborn tutelary spirit, innate quality", from root of gignere "beget, produce", from Proto-Indo-European base gen- "produce." Meaning "person of natural intelligence or talent" first recorded 1649. (8). So "genius" is basically an expression of the natural unconditioned essential self, which equates to the sense in which Bönninghausen used the word (he used the original Latin "genius") when referring to the "genius" of remedies, and is what Richard Buckminster-Fuller was talking about when he said "Everybody is born a genius. Society de-geniuses them." (9) and Einstein when he said "It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." (7). According to William James, "Genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way" (9), or as Einstein remarked "Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions." (7)
What if there is nothing intrinsically exceptional about Hahnemann's insights? What if those insights are freely available to us all? What if Hahnemann's insights were as much a product of the provings he did, starting with China, as anything especially unique to him?
I began to strongly suspect that Hahnemann derived much of his inspiration and insights from provings, whether he was aware of the source of that insight or not – probably not; he doesn't come across as the sort of man to conceal his understanding – after the same sort of thing started to happen to me through all the provings I was doing. Provings started to become profound and exciting learnings challenging, even defying, many present consensual models of the nature of existence. Because each was a direct and intimate experience; lived, felt, sensed, and understood, it far exceeded anything I could possibly have learned from studying with, listening to or reading any amount of philosophical or psychological theory with other human beings.
By tracking the themes running through a remedy's different modes of expression, without being limited to to any preconceived notions about valid areas for sympathetic resonance to express itself, and attempting to derive understanding from the symbolic similarity between those themes, it soon becomes clear that the effects of a proving are apparent at all levels of existence. The limitations to its "action" are in the perceptual limitations of whoever is doing the perceiving and is not an intrinsic property of the genius of the substance itself.
This has some profound implications. Quantum physics (not to mention ancient knowledge carried through the esoteric traditions of all the great world religions and in remaining First Nation cultures) reveals to us the fundamental interconnectedness of the entirety of existence or, restated, that "individuality" is only relative and contingent. If the proving of anything manifests itself at all levels of existence, then it should be possible, by the effective merging of the consciousness of both remedy and prover, to tap into an ever more fundamental appreciation of our ultimate condition through these interactions, every bit as effectively as plumbing the depths of our own individual experience through techniques such as meditation (see quote from Michael Talbot below). In fact more so, since it's usually the case that we only become consciously aware of our state when we experience deviations from normality – the reflection in the surface of the water is only seen for what it is when something creates a ripple.
My personal experience has been that each proving essentially "teaches" the same lesson in highlighting the existence of the conscious continuum as substrate, but each approaches it in a different way in its own characteristic manner. Confronting and resolving paradoxes is a fairly frequent occurence. By putting all those successive understandings and approaches together, it becomes possible to gain an ever-widening perspective on what underlies our experience of existence. This, I believe, echoes Hahnemann's experience in realising something of the underlying mechanisms which give rise to illness and the paradoxical manner in which it can be effectively addressed, and leaves the door wide open for successive generations of homeopaths to engage with Hahnemann's legacy in a far more direct and dynamic manner than placing his work on some untouchable pedestal.
All these ideas coalesced during another proving in January 2006 (10). I knew only that it was a re-proving of an existing remedy. 24 hours into the proving I unexpectedly ran out of heating oil and experienced a seemingly unending saga of improbable and 'coincidental' obstructions which meant that what would normally have been a 24-hour hiatus in the supply of our "vital fluids" turned into one 8 days long. No joke in Scotland in January. Combined with the distinctive symptoms I was getting, this experience pointed very strongly to China. I resisted the temptation to look anything up and concentrated instead on trying to get a grip on patterns which would indicate the substance's signature resonance at a deeper level.
With this proving I'd found myself drawn to working with mechanisms that give rise to outer appearance; eg. the internal structure and interaction of the files responsible for the appearance of my website. Other things that were pulling at me were to do with the degree to which society in general tends to concentrate on ultimates – symptoms, not causes; behaviour, not the feelings that give rise to it; attributes of a realised state rather than the underlying state itself – and the paradoxical nature of the process. How our understanding of it is all back-to-front and inside-out. I wanted to think about these things a lot and write about them (hence this essay!). I felt very contemptuous of people who base all their reasoning on outward appearances.
It was then that the penny dropped: that this was all about how underlying states give rise to outward manifestations, and the paradoxical nature of the process. In that instant, I was not only totally convinced that the remedy was China, but that it was exactly this perspective which Hahnemann had been experiencing in the dawning of his understanding about the paradoxical nature of the use of similars and in how the vital force gives rise to symptoms. Not only that, but the drive to think about it, to write about it (even to the extent of making such comments in a book you're only supposed to be translating), the contempt felt for those pursuing a more superficial understanding, especially for those deliberately utilising loss of vital fluids as a means of healing, are all signatures of the energetic state that is China. (This isn't to say that Hahnemann didn't have a natural predisposition to thinking, writing, or being contemptuous of others, but those qualities appear to have been accentuated during the time of his experiments with the substance.)
At this point I started exploring references to Cinchona. I looked up the appearance of the plant and discovered that its leaf shape was very similar to a carving I completed a month before the proving "began". (This has happened before – see blog entry Stoned?) This further convinced me that I had to be proving China. The degree of conviction was unusual – generally I'm not particularly curious about what I'm proving, knowing it will all be revealed in due course. Similarities to known remedies might get noted along the way, or even insights into other remedy states obtained (the essay on Lilium tigrinum was written while proving a tulip), but second-guessing a proving substance seems a bit of a waste of time. That in itself gave the suspicion that I might be barking up entirely the wrong tree, but the conviction was way too strong and I was well and truly hooked. As the proving came to an end I finally repertorised all my symptoms. Only a small handful are not found in China.
I went on to research the substance and came across an article on the internet putting forward the view that Hahnemann's physical symptoms were no more than an allergic hypersensitivity reaction to Cinchona, and that consequently "the fundamental doctrine of homeopathy – Similia Similibus Curentur – is based on a pathological condition of its founder, Dr Samuel Hahnemann" (11). It brought into wonderfully sharp focus to what extent conclusions derived from a superficial assessment of outward appearances differ from those drawn from studying the mechanisms of action that give rise to such appearances! Yet simultaneously this perspective, stripped of judgement, opinion, and the specific constraints of the author's model of disease, hits the nail on the head. A proving can be seen as an artificial disease state, so Hahnemann's "pathological condition" is no fantasy, and his "hypersensitivity reaction" is indeed a reaction of a finely tuned sensitivity, just not quite the same sort of sensitivity as the author presumably had in mind.
This experience led on to considering the nature of Hahnemann's insights on the vital force and its role. Particularly the distinction he makes between the "unintelligent" vital force and the "reason-gifted mind".
In his article on the vital force, David Little writes "Sometimes Hahnemann calls the vital force, the spiritual vital force, the vital energy, the vital principle, the life principle, the natural healing power, and at other times, he calls it the crude, senseless, automatic vital force, the instinctive vital force, irrational vital force, etc. At one time he seems to be praising it gratefully and at another time he is critical of its activities. Such irony always accompanies the secrets of nature." (12)
As indeed it does, and usually because there's an element of confusion between the perceived and perceiver, between the source and its reflection. Irony and paradox often signal where we've got things a bit back-to-front and inside-out.
There are enormous difficulties in trying to describe and clarify subtle categorisations of our immaterial selves, not helped by the fact that words like awareness, knowledge, consciousness, etc, are used with all kinds of wide-ranging and varying definitions and mean different things to different people. For instance, the sense of consciousness as an awareness of self and situation is not the same as the more narrow medical definition which refers only to the alert cognitive waking state, since the awareness of self and situation can persist in states of medical unconsciousness (eg. in surgery). Definitions of consciousness as being confined to awareness of the physical location of the body are also challenged somewhat by phenomena such as remote viewing, and many cultures would argue that we're no less conscious in the dreaming state than in the waking. Consciousness can also be used as a substitute for knowledge in certain contexts (as in "he had sudden consciousness of ..."). Knowledge is a wide-ranging word covering definitions which in other languages are separated into 2 or 3 different terms. It's used in the sense of information/data; the synthesis of information, memory and logic in understanding; the product of a natural (intuitive) understanding ... and so it goes on.
The boundary Hahnemann draws between the vital force and the reasoning intellect is in any case an artificial one. There is no separation between any aspect of our immaterial being and experientially it's impossible to tell where one part of it begins and the other ends, except perhaps at the threshold of waking awareness. Since we are largely unaware and unconscious of the workings of our bodies, even while awake, it's tempting to assume that anything to do with them (including the vital force which Hahnemann later defined as the body's organising principle) ends where waking-conscious-reflective-awareness begins. Although he had yet to formulate his ideas about the role of the vital force at the time he proved Cinchona, it seems that this natural threshold insinuated itself into his thinking in such a way as to form some kind of divisive boundary. Despite the holistic nature of homeopathy, Hahnemann still maintained a subtle degree of mind-body dualism in his thinking ... few people of genius can entirely escape the prejudices of their conditioning. Consequently, to attribute the insights he received as a result of his interaction with the vital force of Cinchona officinalis to his own intellect was a very natural thing to do.
In the introduction to the Organon, Hahnemann writes ""The vital force, which of itself can only act according to the physical constitution of our organism, is not guided by reason, knowledge and reflection." (13) However, in my learnings from provings, I've come to perceive that it's not the vital force that's unintelligent, but our habitual modes of reasoning. The vital force is not guided by reasoning and reflection – these being the principal functions of the conscious intellect who's purpose is to reflect on the nature of existence (with both an intial 'e' and 'E') and mediate interactions with other parts of it – but it is guided by knowledge (in the sense of wisdom-knowledge). Hahnemann makes some salient points when he rails against the old school physicians of his time:
"Tolle causam! they cried incessantly. But they went no further than this empty exclamation. They only fancied that they could discover the cause of disease; they did not discover it, however, as it is not perceptible and not discoverable. For as far the greatest number of diseases are of dynamic (spiritual) origin and dynamic (spiritual) nature, their cause is therefore not perceptible to the senses; so they exerted themselves to imagine one, and from a survey of the parts of the normal, inanimate human body (anatomy), compared with the visible changes of the same internal parts in persons who had died of disease (pathological anatomy), as also as what they could deduce from a comparison of the phenomena and functions in healthy life (physiology) with their endless alterations in the innumerable morbid states (pathology, semeiotics), to draw conclusions relative to the invisible process whereby the changes which take place in the inward being of man in diseases are affected – a dim picture of the imagination, which theoretical medicine regarded as its prima causa morbi; and thus it was at one and the same time the proximate cause of the disease, and the internal essence of the disease, the disease itself – although, as sound human reason teaches us, the cause of a thing or of an event, can never be at the same time the thing or the event itself." (14) (bold emphasis added)
The underlying state is not perceptible and not discoverable. It can only be perceived by reflection in its ultimates, the outward appearance of the inner state. Habitual human reasoning attempts to make sense of outward appearances as things-in-themselves, but since these are only reflections of the inner state, any rationale will necessarily be a mirror image of the true state for as long as the outer appearances are understood as ultimates, not reflections. What Hahnemann is railing against is the normal functioning of the mind which, without the input of wisdom-knowledge (as opposed to data/information), or genius, from the vital force (whether relatively individualised in some form or in its entirety) is rather unintelligent, crude and often senseless. Hahnemann's reflected perception of the limitations of individual conscious intellect, seen in the mirror of others, is clear enough, but the disparity with his sense of his own or of some idealised notion of intellect creates feelings of contempt.
Returning again to the notion of the modern understanding of "genius" as being some kind of super-intelligent super-being, juxtaposed with it's original sense conveying the idea of an inborn tutelary spirit – some "vital force" perhaps? – it seems rather as if our intellects in their hubris might have appropriated a term which rightly does not belong to them. Consequently, we might more logically reverse Hahnemann's vision of man as comprising unintelligent vital force plus reason-gifted mind and instead perceive a vital force of supreme intelligence somewhat hobbled by the persistent stupidity displayed by our so-called reason-gifted minds! (As Einstein is quoted as saying, "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity...and I'm not sure about the universe.")
As if to confirm such suspicions, I discovered when the proving had finished that I was not, after all, proving Cinchona officinalis, but Leonurus cardiaca, Motherwort, a plant known amongst the old herbalists as proof against "wykked sperytis". Some wicked spirit indeed! – another prover had been similarly convinced that she was proving a completely different remedy – and another twist in the process by which underlying states give rise to outer manifestation, this one being pure Trickster.
Does that invalidate the insights it prompted about China and Hahnemann? Well that's for you to decide for yourself, according to your own models and judgements. The last words should perhaps go to Michael Talbot and Jorge Luis Borges:
"Our concept of time and space, the very structure of the universe, are more intimately related to problems and phenomenon of consciousness than we have seriously suspected.... There is no strict division between subjective and objective reality, consciousness and the physical universe are connected by some fundamental physical mechanism. This relationship between mind and reality is not subjective or objective, but 'omnijective'. An omnijective concept of the universe is by no means new ... There is a vast philosophical and metaphysical tradition behind the philosophy that the universe is omnijective The mystics tell us this is true. The idealists tell us it is true. Most exciting of all, the physicists tell us it is true." (15)
“Let us admit what all idealists admit – the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done – let us search for unrealities that confirm that nature. I believe we shall find them in the antinomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno ... 'The greatest wizard (Novalis writes memorably) would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of accepting his own phantasmagorias as autonomous apparitions. Wouldn't that be our case.' I surmise it is so. We (that indivisible divinity that operates in us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it as enduring, mysterious, visible, omnipresent in space and stable in time; but we have consented to tenuous and eternal intervals of illogicalness in its architecture that we might know it is false.” (16)
Preliminary information from the proving of Leonurus cardiaca can be downloaded from Joy Lucas's website.