Remedies as Information to be Read
The Dutch doctor, philosopher, chemist and homeopath, Dr Jan Scholten put forward this idea and used the analogy of a cd or mathematical formula containing “nothing” but information – just like a homeopathic remedy. To quote:
Homeopathic medicines are often disqualified as “there’s nothing in them”, and in a way that’s true, there is nothing, no-thing, in them. There are no chemical substances in them. Here we meet again the discrepancy between conventional medicine and homeopathy. Conventional medicine thinks and limits itself to matter, the physical body. Homeopathy includes in its vision the mind, with all its aspects. In medicines it is the same. It is not the matter that matters, but the information. In the process of potentizing, the homeopathic way of producing medicines, the substance is left out and the information of the substance is kept. Homeopathic medicines can be compared with music CDs: the music can nowhere be found chemically. All music CDs are chemically alike, whatever the music on them. In chemical analysis only the carrier is analyzed and for every kind of music it is the same. The information though is the most important factor and that has to be analyzed in a different way. In the case of music CD’s, one can analyze the information with a CD player. In the case of homeopathic medicines the information can be “read” by living beings. How? We do not know.
So it was validating to read in an interview, in the Financial Times magazine yesterday (Nov 16, 2013), with physicist Paul Davies saying,
These days, it is the origin-of-life question that is gripping his attention. “The real challenge,” he says, “and we’re stuck at step zero, is what is this thing called life?” Although he’s always remained a physicist at heart, understanding the place of existence in the universe has been an enduring passion. That interest has been given fresh impetus by his work with Sara Imari Walker, an associate professor at the Beyond Center. For them, the division between life and non-life isn’t simply a question of chemistry – it’s about the way living things can store and process information. If you conceptualise life in this way, then understanding the physical architecture becomes a secondary concern.
This is the crucial point and is at the crossroads of homeopathy, orthodox medicine, religion, science and philosophy; Life. People only become ill because they have life, homeopathic medicines act because they contain life which arouses a reaction in the living person/animal. After all, dead people don’t get sick! But this is the challenge for science and medicine, to understand life, that which animates us (including mind, consciousness, etc.), the energy that is integral to all matter and till medicine and science and philosophy take this seriously and appreciate the vacuum not appreciating it creates, we will all be the poorer for it and medicine will never cure or appreciate why homeopathy can.
While scientists can understand the origins of the universe and maybe life, (i.e. living as opposed to dead matter, not “life” as used here in my argument meaning consciousness, mind, etc.), understanding the origin of life, meaning by that the origin of consciousness, mind, vitality, is problematic. Davies says,
We’ll never go anywhere with that. How do you get thoughts, feelings and qualia out of atoms, molecules, neurones, electrical circuits? We don’t even know how to begin…
In trying to rise to the challenge of understanding “this thing called life” – the division between life and non-life which isn’t simply a question of chemistry (remember, “it’s about the way living things can store and process information”), Davies explains with the analogy of trying to understand Windows operating system. It’s no use taking the material structure of a computer apart. Analysing the silicon, the plastic, the copper wiring won’t get you very far but studying the coding and software will. It’s the same studying molecules in a test tube; you are missing the point,
How do you get thoughts and feelings out of atoms, molecules, electrical circuits? We don’t even know how to begin.
Substrate of Life
He says the physical objects are the “substrate of life.” Substrate is an interesting concept and very useful in the therapeutic application of a homeopathic medicine. I suggest Davies reverse his use of the word substrate so that the coding, the information, the life of a person, the energy in matter is now the substrate (the thing that bears properties, as opposed to the properties themselves, a foundation or basis of something – according to more philosophical interpretations), rather than the external physical properties. It’s the inner information of a remedy we use and it’s the inner state (i.e. a deep inner constitutional way of being, a blueprint or template that animates one’s whole being at once) of a person we treat, not the external properties. Our vital life force is the substrate, the basis of all that we are in body, mind and soul, like the dough of a pizza is the base of all the ingredients that make up that pizza in its entirety.
But how to treat that inner reality? Hahnemann said we cannot see this inner state except by the external symptoms which symbolise it and so give a substance (as a medicine) which has the same properties or information expressing a similar substrate. The patient’s life then reacts to the life in the remedy (that life carries the necessary information or as Davies says, as quoted above; “it’s about the way living things can store and process information.”) and in so doing that patient reacts against their own symptoms because they have been stimulated to do so by the similar symptoms in the medicine. We become sick by reacting (most diseases are dynamic Hahnemann showed) and we return to health by reacting – against our symptoms.
Addendum: Scruton on Information
In his recent book The Soul of the World philosopher Roger Scruton asks “is there a single notion of information?” Information and how we perceive it is complex. When I inform you of something I also inform you that. This information is an intentional concept which describes states that can be identified only through their content, explains Scruton.
Intentionality (the focusing on representations, aboutness, which has no place in physical reality) is an obstacle to stimulus-response accounts of cognitive states but not to cognitive science. Why?
A digital picture, he says, say, of Venus conveys different information to that used by a computer to produce it. To describe this kind of information is impossible without intentional language – language that describes the content of thoughts rather than the object to which those thoughts refer.
The picture, he explains, contains a world of information but it is information about something, information that, which is not captured by the algorithm that a computer might use to translate it, pixel for pixel, onto the screen.
And how to move from one concept of information (that) to another (about)? How do we explain the emergence of thoughts about something from processes entirely explained by the transformation of visually encoded data? Cognitive science and computer models of the brain can’t tell us.
Interpreting, drawing conclusions is a process we do in retrieving information that. To do so requires intentionality (aboutness. A sceptic of intentionality might argue the only respectable form of scientific information is that there is no aboutness and so therefore no concept about how to proceed from one concept of information to another.
And here’s the crunch: Scruton concludes, “But isn’t science about the world, and does it not consist precisely in information that the sceptic tries to deny exists?”
While Scruton is not speaking from a purely biological point of view, he shows the problem of treating information in purely physical terms and why the sceptics and materialist scientists are snookered!
For more information about information read Jacek Norkowski’s comments
Royal Institution video: The Magic of Consciousness
On knowledge, Sean Moncrieff interviews Prof Jennifer Nagel about her new book Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction. The interview is on Moncrieff, 21st October 2014. Go to part 3 and the interview begins about 4 fifths of the way through.
Image: CD: WikiCommons