The unprejudiced observer - well aware of the futility of transcendental speculations which can receive no confirmation from experience - be his powers of penetration ever so great, takes note of nothing in every individual disease, except the changes in the health of the body and of the mind (morbid phenomena, accidents, symptoms) which can be perceived externally by means of the senses; that is to say, he notices only the deviations from the former healthy state of the now diseased individual, which are felt by the patient himself, remarked by those around him and observed by the physician. All these perceptible signs represent the disease in its whole extent, that is, together they form the true and only conceivable portrait of the disease.
In aphorism 6, Hahnemann describes – from the homeopathic perspective – what a disease actually is.
What is perceptible & experienced
In the first part of this aphorism, Hahnemann warns against ‘transcendental speculations’ which cannot be confirmed from experience.
Other than a being a leading physician, Hahnemann was a researcher – finding out what worked through methodological experimentation. He was driven to put medical practice on a more rational footing.
In the medicine of his day, doctors were using theories of disease causation which could not actually be verified, such as with the practice of bloodletting, where blood was withdrawn from the body, supposedly to balance bodily fluids (called the “humors”). Cure did not necessarily result from these practices, and in many cases, they were dangerous!
There is also another meaning here, revealed in the footnotes to this aphorism. Medicine has always looked for the primary cause, hidden somewhere in the interior of the body. Hahnemann’s view was contrary to this: that it’s the whole being, a complex system, engaged in disease – and it has to be for it to generate the full spectrum of symptoms experienced. Therefore, it is this totality of perceptible symptoms, which is the disease.
The disease gestalt
So what is disease? For me, the best way to describe is as a gestalt. A gestalt is something that is an organised whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.
Hahnemann describes the disease ‘gestalt’ as consisting of the changes in the health of the body and of the mind, which can be perceived by means of the senses:
- felt by the patient himself
- remarked by those around him
- observed by the physician.
The disease gestalt includes the subjective experience of the patient, along with the objective observations of the physician, family, friends, colleagues, etc.
To use Hahnemann’s words: ‘All these perceptible signs represent the disease in its whole extent, that is, together they form the true and only conceivable portrait of the disease’.