Last month we discussed the role of vital force in health and tried to develop an understanding about the thermodynamics of biological systems and their relation with vital force and the human body. Let us move forward today and discuss aphorisms 11 to 15, which deal with the role of vital force in disease.
The 11th aphorism states:
§ 11 Sixth Edition
When a person falls ill, it is only this spiritual, self acting (automatic) vital force, everywhere present in his organism, that is primarily deranged by the dynamic influence upon it of a morbific agent inimical to life; it is only the vital force, deranged to such an abnormal state, that can furnish the organism with its disagreeable sensations, and incline it to the irregular processes which we call disease; for, as a power invisible in itself, and only cognizable by its effects on the organism, its morbid derangement only makes itself known by the manifestation of disease in the sensations and functions of those parts of the organism exposed to the senses of the observer and physician, that is, by morbid symptoms, and in no other way can it make itself known.1
In this aphorism, Hahnemann states that it is derangement of the vital force that causes disease. Let us explore his words in detail. We have already discussed the properties of vital force in the last 2 aphorisms and here he repeats some of them in saying that the vital force is self-acting and spiritual. We discussed last time that the use of the word ‘spiritual’ pertains to ‘energy’ and has nothing to do with ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’. In this aphorism, Hahnemann states one more quality of the vital force that it is present universally in our body. I’ll tell you why he wrote this a little later.
He says further that the vital force is deranged by the dynamic influence of a morbific agent inimical to life. ‘Morbific’ means ‘disease causing’. So the agent that causes vital force’s derangement has one basic property and that is – it is inimical to life. What this means is that if left on its own and not countered by any constructive force, the morbific agents will cause degeneration and death of a living organism.
And how do these morbific agents affect our vital force. If vital force is only ‘energy’ then it can only be influenced by something that is ‘dynamic’, something that is also ‘energy’. Hahnemann also states that these morbific agents exert a dynamic influence on the vital force.
In the footnote to this aphorism, he has explained very clearly what he means by dynamic. Hahnemann gives the example of the force between earth and moon that makes the moon go round the earth. He also gives the examples of tides in sea coming in because of the ‘dynamic’ effect of the moon on the water and the dynamic effect of a magnet on iron nails. Dynamic to him was energy that cannot be seen by eyes but whose effect could be perceived through senses. Vital force was nothing more than such energy for Hahnemann.
But Hahnemann did make a mistake in this footnote. He wrote:
“The steel needle becomes itself magnetic, even at a distance when the magnet does not touch it, and magnetises other steel needles with the same magnetic property (dynamically) with which it had been endowed previously by the magnetic rod, just as a child with small-pox or measles communicates to a near, untouched healthy child in an invisible manner (dynamically) the small-pox or measles, that is, infects it at a distance without anything material from the infective child going or capable of going to the one to be infected. A purely specific conceptual influence communicated to the near child small-pox or measles in the same way as the magnet communicated to the near needle the magnetic property.”
Now to him the effect of the smallpox and measles infection was just like the effect of a magnet – something that definitely happened but could not be seen with the eyes. I wouldn’t blame Hahnemann for making such a mistake. He had no way to know about the full theory of microbes and to ‘see’ them. He could only see their effect and remarked clearly that a child with measles only spreads measles and not smallpox and vice versa.
But this footnote brings an interesting twist to the whole theory of vital force and the ‘dynamic’ cause of all diseases. Hahnemann had said that the vital force is dynamic and it is affected by the dynamic influence of morbific agents. And he also believed that the ‘infection’ was a dynamic event. He especially mentioned Smallpox and Measles. Today we know that the infections that he was talking about are not dynamic. They do have a material morbific nature. So is the whole theory wrong?
No. You have to understand that Hahnemann primarily relied on his observation to make conclusions. The facts about the invisible contagion seemed to fit nicely with his dynamic concept of life and disease. So what do we do now? Throw the microbes in the dustbin or the theory of vital force. Neither! While Hahnemann did make this mistake due to the limits of his power of observation, he knew the difference between the dynamic and material causes of disease well.
If you read the Organon and Chronic Diseases carefully, you will realize that he did make a distinction between the primary cause of the disease and the secondary cause of the disease. The factors that derange the vital force are the primary cause of the disease and the infectious agents like bacteria and viruses are usually (not always) the secondary cause of disease, which become active only if the vital force is deranged enough. We will discuss this further some other time.
Now what happens when the morbific agent succeeds in deranging the vital force? Hahnemann says:
“…it is only the vital force, deranged to such an abnormal state, that can furnish the organism with its disagreeable sensations, and incline it to the irregular processes which we call disease;”
Many philosophers call the derangement of vital force the ‘disease’. But Hahnemann has clearly stated that the ‘derangement of vital force’ per se, is not disease. He says that when the vital force is deranged the body experiences disagreeable sensations and is inclined to irregular processes, which we call disease. Speaking in modern terms: when the vital force is deranged, the normal physiology of the body is disturbed and the body tends to develop abnormal physiology, which results in pathology. So the derangement of the vital force is just the first step towards disease. It is followed by disturbed physiology and then the pathology follows.
Now how do we know if our vital force is deranged? Hahnemann says that since vital force is dynamic in nature, its disturbance can only become apparent when the normal physiology gets disturbed, resulting in abnormal sensations and functions. So you have to find out the abnormal sensation and functions to find out the derangement of the vital force. The abnormal sensations can be ‘sensed’ by the patient and the physician, but how do you find out the abnormal functions? They will manifest themselves as ‘symptoms’ that can be observed and sensed.
I will place a little caveat here. Hahnemann says that the derangement of the vital force “only makes itself known by the manifestation of disease in the sensations and functions of those parts of the organism exposed to the senses of the observer and physician”
I would like to bring your focus to the words ‘parts of the organism exposed to the senses’. In Hahnemann’s time, it would mean taking note of signs and symptoms that could be seen through eyes or perceived through external physical examination. Today what a physician can sense is much more than what he could 200 years ago. Much more of a human body and its functioning is exposed to human senses directly or indirectly. Be it a simple stethoscope, an otoscope, colonoscpe, bronchoscope, X-ray, USG, CT, PT and MRI scans, or biochemical tests – our ability to sense a change in our body has increased manifolds. Many disease pathologies are today discovered accidentally, even before the patient feels any significant change in his/her health. So if you were a homeopath, I would urge you not to hesitate in using these extended sensory tools to find out what is wrong with your patient. The knowledge of pathology is as important as any other mental or emotional symptom. These tools do not belong to orthodox medicine alone, they are diagnostic tools that can be used by anyone, who knows how to make sense of them. So if these modern tools add to our knowledge of, or help us in finding the ‘abnormal functions’, we should use them whenever they can help in diagnosing and managing the case.
I’ll also add a warning here. Many conventional doctors tend to order unnecessary tests, sometimes to escape the responsibility of making a clinical diagnosis and sometimes to increase the kickback that they get from private diagnostic labs. Homeopaths should not fall into this trap. Use these tools judiciously and only for the benefit of the patient.
Before I move on to the next aphorism, I’ll explain a few more things. Earlier I told you that I would tell you why Hahnemann wrote that the vital force is present everywhere in the body. The answer lies in aphorism 13, where he says:
“Therefore disease considered, as it is by the allopathists, as a thing separate from the living whole, from the organism and its animating vital force, and hidden in the interior, be it ever so subtle a character, is an absurdity,”.
In an earlier lecture I had told you that during the time of Hahnemann, the medical field was full of fancy hypothesis regarding the cause of disease. There were many materialistic theories, attributing all diseases to some specific organ or function. Hahnemann says in aphorism 13 that most physicians of his time were trying to find the cause of disease, hidden in the interior of the organism. Hahnemann said that they will never find it anywhere within the body because the real cause is the derangement of vital force – a dynamic event that cannot be seen. It can only be experienced through the changes in sensations and functions.
Now let us move on to aphorism 12, in which Hahnemann says:
§ 12 Sixth Edition
It is the morbidly affected vital energy alone that produces disease1, so that the morbid phenomena perceptible to our senses express at the same time all the internal change, that is to say, the whole morbid derangement of the internal dynamis; in a word, they reveal the whole disease; consequently, also, the disappearance under treatment of all the morbid phenomena and of all the morbid alterations that differ from the healthy vital operations, certainly affects and necessarily implies the restoration of the integrity of the vital force and, therefore, the recovered health of the whole organism.
1 How the vital force causes the organism to display morbid phenomena, that is, how it produces disease, it would be of no practical utility to the physician to know, and will forever remain concealed from him; only what it is necessary for him to know of the disease and what is fully sufficient for enabling him to cure it, has the Lord of life revealed to his senses
In this aphorism, Hahnemann reinforces the fact that it the derangement of the vital force alone that produces disease. He further says that the derangement of the vital force that leads to the disease, is fully exposed to our senses through sign and symptoms. Also if all the morbid (related to disease) changes from the body are removed under treatment, it indicates that the integrity of the vital force and the health is restored.
If we understand this in modern terms, we can say that during homeopathic treatment, if all the morbid alterations (not just perceptible signs and symptoms) are removed, the health of a person is restored completely. This is logical also because unless the harmony in the body and the vital force is restored, the physiology will not revert to normal and the pathology will not disappear.
The reason why Hahnemann has said that the health is completely restored after removal of all perceptible signs and symptoms is that some of his detractors (like Hufeland) had challenged him that while the symptoms may disappear with homeopathic remedies, the disease remains within the body. This paragraph (along with aphorism 8) was an answer to such people who doubted the restoration of health with homeopathic treatment.
In the footnote to aphorism 12 Hahnemann says that it is of no use for the physician to know exactly how the vital force is deranged (mechanism not cause) and how it leads to the development of various diseases. What he needs to know about the morbid alteration is revealed to him in the form of perceptible changes. The rest will probably always remain concealed from him.
Hahnemann was very farsighted in making this statement. His work depended on practical observations. He knew that his medicines and principles work, but there was no way to find out the internal dynamics of the human organism at that time. Providing better treatment to everyone through homeopathy was a much bigger priority than trying to find answers to all the ‘how and why’ behind homeopathy. He wanted physicians to focus on curing the sick and not indulge in futile speculations. And he was successful in keeping the focus of the homeopathic community on clinical practice through his timely guidelines. The survival and growth of homeopathy has largely depended on this focus on clinical practice. More than anyone else, homeopaths know that the proof of the pudding, lies in its eating.
Today, after more than 200 years since he wrote these words, human beings have still not been able to understand all the complexity in our body. While a lot is known, a lot more is still unknown to us. And whatever is known is still on the material plane. The understanding of living organisms as energy entities and of the energy dynamics within each body is still very limited.
But today there is a need to understand how our body works as an energy system, how it is deranged, how it causes disease, what happens during dynamization and how our remedies affect our bodies. The material world will not be satisfied till we get these answers. Moreover the physics of today is at a level where we can hope of getting these answers in the not so distant future. Let us keep our hopes alive for that day!
Hahnemann takes these thoughts forward in aphorism 13, 14 and 15.
Therefore disease (that does not come within the province of manual surgery) considered, as it is by the allopathists, as a thing separate from the living whole, from the organism and its animating vital force, and hidden in the interior, be it ever so subtle a character, is an absurdity1, that could only be imagined by minds of a materialistic stamp, and has for thousands of years given to the prevailing system of medicine all those pernicious impulses that have made it a truly mischievous (non-healing) art.
1 Materia peccans!
There is, in the interior of man, nothing morbid that is curable and no invisible morbid alteration that is curable which does not make itself known to the accurately observing physicians by means of morbid signs and symptoms – an arrangement in perfect conformity with the infinite goodness of the all-wise Preserver of human life.
§ 15 Sixth Edition
The affection of the morbidly deranged, spirit-like dynamis (vital force) that animates our body in the invisible interior, and the totality of the outwardly cognizable symptoms produced by it in the organism and representing the existing malady, constitute a whole; they are one and the same. The organism is indeed the material instrument of the life, but it is not conceivable without the animation imparted to it by the instinctively perceiving and regulating dynamis, just as the vital force is not conceivable without the organism, consequently the two together constitute a unity, although in thought our mind separates this unity into two distinct conceptions for the sake of easy comprehension.
In aphorism 13 he says that disease is not an entity hidden somewhere in the interior of the human organism, as is believed by the allopaths who have a materialistic approach to life. The material concepts about disease have led to the development of the current medical system, with all its vagaries and harmful treatment. Remember, these were Hahnemann’s thoughts for the medical system of his time, which relied on strange practices like bloodletting and fancy theories. The orthodox medicine has progressed a lot in the last two centuries. Some of the development is positive, but the underlying philosophy and approach to life and disease has remained more or less the same to this day. The orthodox system is now not as crude as it was during Hahnemann’s time. It is more refined, polished, a more potent palliator and more wrapped in a scientific veil. But under that polished and scientific appearance, the fundamentals are still the same. We will leave this topic for some other day.
Also, in the first footnote to aphorism 13, Hahnemann referred to the disease causing influence as ‘materia peccans’. You should know that it is an old Latin phrase, which was even used by Galen. It literally means ‘sick making substance’. Hahnemann has referred to it just as a synonym for the material morbific agent that was being searched for, by the allopathic school.
Now let’s come back to aphorism 14.
In aphorism 14 he reiterates that there is nothing in our body that is diseased and will not make itself known through signs and symptoms. Whatever might be the changes in the invisible interior of the body, they do reflect on the surface as perceptible signs and symptoms. But he adds a qualification here – ‘to an exactly observing physician’. It means, to understand and appreciate all the fine changes that are brought upon by the disease process, one needs a person who knows what to look for and is a keen observer.
In the 15th aphorism he says that the internally deranged vital force and the outwardly reflected signs and symptoms are not separate from each other. They are one and the same – one is on the dynamic plane and the other on the material plane. Just like the material body and vital force are not separate from each other. The material body cannot be imagined without this life force and similarly, the vital force can have no existence without this material instrument. The two form a unity. It is only to improve our comprehension of the two that we study them separately, but they are part of a single unit and cannot be separated from each other. Likewise the deranged vital force and its material manifestations are not separate phenomena that need separate treatment. If you restore one, the other is restored too.
Understanding Disease as a Thermodynamic Phenomena
In the last lecture, I told you that the second law of thermodynamics does not support the evolution of complex thermodynamic systems (which have low entropy) like living organisms because it needs lot of energy/work to sustain such systems. The living systems have low entropy (entropy is measure of disorder. The more complex and ordered a system, the lowers is the entropy) and high Gibbs free energy. All thermodynamic systems tend to attain a state of lowest Gibb’s free energy and high entropy.
The human body is an open thermodynamic system. It is a complex and orderly system, so it has low entropy and high Gibb’s free energy. Without the inflow of energy (through food), this system will follow the second law of thermodynamics and will try to become more simple and in this process more disorderly, resulting in high entropy and low Gibb’s free energy.
Now let us try to understand the disease process in terms of thermodynamics. Hahnemann said that since vital force is dynamic in nature, it can only be influenced by the ‘dynamic influence’ of a morbific agent that is inimical to life. So first we have to understand what is ‘inimical to life’. Any force that disrupts or disturbs the fine equilibrium of this complex thermodynamic system can prove to be ‘inimical to life’. It can be a variation in temperature or humidity, a decrease in input of energy to the system or an increase in energy loss by any means. Basically, any physical, mental, emotional or telluric (atmospheric) stress can result in the disturbance of the equilibrium of this thermodynamic system.
So what happens when this system is disturbed? The living organisms are evolved enough to perceive this change. Remember the lecture about the biological purpose of our existence? If not, go back to the last lecture. Since fulfilling the biological purpose of our existence is a priority for all living creatures, they try to correct the thermodynamic influence through the reserves they have. If the system (the vital force) succeeds, nothing happens. All is well. If the disturbance is very great, the system disrupts and the life is lost. If the disturbance to the thermodynamic system is not small enough to correct itself and not great enough to create loss of life, the system starts working in a compensated state – a state in which the normal physiology is disturbed. The altered physiology results in abnormal sensations and functions. Sometimes the physiology is altered so much that, it gives rise to pathology itself. At other times, the weakened system creates an environment within the body that aids the growth of secondary causes of disease like bacteria and viruses, whose action on the body result in further damage to the system, resulting in nosological disease entities.
So this brings us to the end of this lecture. Do send me your feedback at email@example.com and we will meet next time to discuss the role of vital force in restoration of health. Till then, adieu!
- Hahnemann S. 1997. Organon of Medicine. B. Jain Publishers, New Delhi.
- Thaxton et al. 1984. The Mystery of Life’s Origin. Lewis and Stanley, Texas.
Dr. Manish Bhatia