The Middle Road (Not just for Buddhists)
I’m writing this post as a way to put my viewpoint down on paper, following a conversation I had with a co-worker today. I’m not necessarily writing this for her benefit, though I might pass it on to her to read.
I walked into her office to strike up a little conversation, and shortly thereafter, she (let’s call her Marie, for anonymity’s sake) started to put bee pollen in her drink. After asking what it was, I was told that it’s extremely good for you. I did what I normally do when presented with a claim like that; because I knew next to nothing about the product, I simply gave a non-response and let her continue. (After doing some independent research, it does seem like bee pollen is a fairly competent supplement, though as usual most of the more miraculous claims are false)
Things started to get rough when she said “[Bee Pollen] is good because it’s natural.”
Now, to a degree, I agree. There are many naturally occurring compounds and substances which can help a Human’s body in some way. However, I couldn’t help but point out that there are notable exceptions (I believe I brought up poisonous mushrooms, but that also includes many naturally occurring things that our bodies just can’t break down to use in a reasonable way). Marie replied to this by saying that she of course wasn’t talking about the things in nature that are bad for you.
I started to try and explain that taking one viewpoint on a spectrum to heart (ie natural vs manufactured) can be detrimental, and lead to, for example, supporting things like Homoeopathy. I picked Homoeopathy over other alternative medicines, because pretty much by definition, Homoeopathic treatments are a placebo (1 part in 1,000,000,000,000, as is the number on that site, means that in a 1L dosage of the liquid, you would have 0.00000000005844 grams of the starting ingredient [assuming the starting ingredient is NaCl, AND that they even started with a mole of ingredient. Also note that this is 1L of liquid, not the small tablets or doses you would normally buy]). Homoeopathy makes claims regarding the potency of a treatment as its concentration goes down, or that water has memory. The first claim might actually have some truth, because the solutions used in Homoeopathy are often harmful when taken in undiluted form. As the concentration of the harmful ingredient goes down, the placebo effect can start to overtake the damage done by the ingredient. When you’ve effectively removed the harmful ingredient from the mixture, it’s allll placebo. The second claim is god damned laughable, as any claims to evidence have been unsubstantiated by independent reproduction of the experiments (and come on, a molecule having memory? Hah.).
Marie immediately challenged me to explain my example of Homoeopathy as a ‘bunk’ (my words) destination on the “Nature is good, manufactured is bad” train of thought. Now, of course I couldn’t explain all of this to Marie in any effable way. I’m usually the type to want to type out reasoned responses rather than have to remember details and risk doing so incorrectly. Anyway, my explanations were met with further challenges: “how do you know this? Have you done research?”, and other such general disbelief in my knowledge of the practice.
She viewed this as me being overconfident or confrontational, a position I certainly wasn’t trying to take. I’m usually not confident on a subject, nor will I tend to use absolutes, until I have at least done some research on the subject. Even with things that are somewhat ambiguous, such as acupuncture, I tend to not take a hard line with what I say.
But what disappointed me about the conversation was that the argument over Homoeopathy overshadowed the point I was trying to make, which is that views shouldn’t be taken to extremes, and that the benefits of both sides of an issue should be recognized and utilized. For example, while organic food might be better for you, it is most likely less sustainable than conventional farming (in the sense that, because it produces less yield than conventional farming, we are likely to run out of food earlier). Therefore, it is preferable to use both in a smart way, as opposed to throwing out one method in favour of another. I try and take the same view on one of my most important issues: religion. While I am certainly of the “we don’t need religion” team, I do not outright reject religions as unneeded, because I recognize some of its benefits and think that (in our current intellectual and social makeup) we would be worse off if tomorrow everyone stopped believing in their religion.
So Marie, I realize that if I’ve given you a link to this article, you probably don’t fully agree with me. That’s good. Don’t take what I say as granted just because I’m saying it (argument from authority is bad!). Go out and do your own research. Read positive and negative articles, try and find (peer reviewed) journal articles that support major claims. I’m much happier when someone comes to a conclusion on their own than if they were guided into it.
I’d be happy to discuss Homoeopathy with you, if you disagree with my position, but be forewarned that I might not take your claims at your word, and might not be fully read up on whatever evidence you might have to the contrary of what I’ve been saying.