Eastern Medicine in the West

Food for Thought

Mike invited me to his BBQ party yesterday. It was an unusual group of people; everyone, including him, was an acupuncturist, and none of them were Asian. Although the popularity of Eastern medicine appears to be growing, the mainstream still looks at it with much skepticism. It’s not uncommon to come across people who are irritated by the whole idea of Eastern medicine.

What I would call “naive rationalism” dominates the Western ethos where every action is backed up by reason. Western doctors, for instance, would not suggest any remedies not backed up by science. I call it “naive” because science must always follow the phenomena. Science is a descriptive language. No doubt it is powerful but is always applied after the fact.

Take penicillin, for instance. It is arguably the best proof of the power of Western medicine. We wish every illness could be cured in the same manner. But science didn’t discover it. It was an accidental phenomenon that Alexander Fleming decided to investigate, which begs the question: How do we make these accidents happen?

Alcohol has been used as antiseptic for thousands of years. The scientific evidence of it became available only in the 1800s. Because it was already vouched as “scientific” when we were born, we assume it has always been scientific, not some black magic or alchemy. In this way, all Eastern remedies backed up by science will eventually be subsumed under “Western medicine,” which, in turn, means “Eastern medicine” will never be scientific because its definition will always include “remedies not proven by science”

This is why entrepreneurs and Wall Street traders have little respect for academic economists. On a daily basis, the former are overwhelmed with uncertainties they have no choice but to manage without being able to justify their decisions logically. They have to make do with what might work without evidence. The economists in academia have the luxury of debating what happened after the fact because they have no personal stakes in the results. At least in business, we respect entrepreneurs as much as we do economists. I don’t know why we don’t extend the same respect to other fields.