Homeopathy Research—an Expedition Report: An Old Healing System Gains Plausibility
21 December 2017 (online)
P C Endler, email@example.com: Austria, Price: not given ISBN 3950144811, 2003.
‘And now’, as the saying is, ‘for something completely different!’
Christian Endler is known for his contributions to the study of high dilutions, and in particular as editor, with J Schulte, of Ultra High Dilution, a book that reviewed the research on the subject in 1994, followed by Fundamental Research on Ultra High Dilution and Homeopathy, in 1998. This slim volume is an altogether different kettle of fish, or rather tadpoles. Its style is light hearted, but its substance is serious. It is brief, but not superficial. And the resulting format makes it a compelling, entertaining, though sometimes mildly exasperating introduction to the breadth of ideas and many of the research themes that are current in contemporary homeopathy. It invites both the sceptic and the converted to think more critically about the phenomenon that they may be inclined either to dismiss or to accept too lightly. And it does so in a manner that will inform and should excite any student of homeopathy. I hope it will begin to appear on our teaching centre bookstalls.
Endler's expedition began in boyhood with an interest in the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs, and evolved over the years, once he became aware of the claims of homeopathy, into a study of the effects of dilutions and potencies of thyroxine on this process. From the beginning he recognised that no one factor acts independently to modify a biological process; that change in a biological system is always multifactorial. This applies as much to the conduct of experiments as to the outcome of therapeutic interventions. There is a great diversity of material in the book, which ranges over many fields of research and speculation related both to the specific activity of high dilutions and the whole nature of the therapeutic transaction in homeopathic practice. But for me, the question of the interaction of various influences upon biological, and indeed biophysical processes in general and healing processes in particular, is the core theme.
As homeopathic practitioners the book challenges us to be both bold and humble in the claims we make for what we do. Bold in affirming the role of the homeopathic prescription; humble in acknowledging that we do not understand that role, and that it may sometimes be only and necessarily a limited role within the therapeutic process as a whole. Bold also in asserting that homeopathy, for many reasons, has much to offer the worlds of medicine and science. It also challenges us to be continuously thoughtful and critical of our work and its effects so that we may all contribute intelligently, insightfully and creatively to this conversation.
Here are a few extracts in Endler's own words, and a quotation from within the book, to illustrate these points:
‘In a way, homeopathy's present popularity is a glaring criticism of orthodox medicine. Research into this field could therefore take us a large step forward towards a constructive criticism and improvement of medicine in general’ (Ernst).
Can homeopathy—articulate for the benefit of general medicine, a concept of health, disease and healing which does not depend on what critical voices call the ‘hocus pocus’ of succussion?
Is it then possible that homeopathic remedies really only work to a very small degree in order to bring about healing? They would only have to give a little impetus, and this impetus occurs, like the effect of a catalyst in the context of the therapy as a whole. It occurs in addition to the consultation—, in addition to the relationship which the patient has to his physician and to the therapy as a whole.
The potential effect of homeopathic treatment, which goes beyond chance, can be viewed as proven today. The accessibility of such effects is a subject of question, however. Is homeopathy ‘only partially’ accessible to science, then? Or does it give us the key to the ‘hidden marginal condition’.
There is a wealth of fascinating and provocative ideas here. There are no definitive answers, but a number of what might be called definitive questions, which we have a responsibility to keep asking of ourselves and of (medical) science.
The main sections of the book are: (1) Prehistory—the origins of the author's journey amongst tadpoles; his introduction to homeopathy; principles of dilution. (2) The amphibian model and homeopathy—adventures with tadpoles; investigations with high dilutions. (3) (Bio-)physical aspects—the properties of water; the properties of organisms. (4) The international forum—review of fundamental and clinical research. (5) The ‘holistic’ environment—psychological aspects, self-healing and integrative care.
As I have said, the book does have its mildly exasperating features. Its ‘expeditionary’ format is fragmented by all manner of ‘asides’—quotations, comments and research extracts in text boxes, and biographical anecdotes, as well as the necessary figures and diagrams, which can be disconcerting, even though they are always interesting in themselves. But each section has a useful summary of its main content at the end. There is a splendid ‘rogues gallery’ of photographs of most of the researchers in the field, including our own Peter Fisher and David Reilly. I found the index difficult to use and to relate to the text.
But for all its idiosyncrasies, this is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend as a worthwhile ‘expedition’ of discovery for the sceptical, the curious and the committed. And, indeed, for anyone who relishes the adventure of science as the open-ended process of enquiry and investigation that it ought to be.