The case for integrative medicine

(An improved and updated version of this essay has appeared in my book Brief Peeks Beyond. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)

This essay expresses my support for ISHAR.

Integrative medicine encompasses a variety of approaches to healthcare focusing on mind-body interaction. Unlike mainstream materialist medicine, which treats a patient’s body as a biological mechanism, integrative medicine seeks to heal the whole being, including – and often starting from – one’s psychic, emotional functions. It is a more holistic approach to healing that, because of the metaphysical bias carried by our culture’s mainstream materialist worldview, has largely been neglected over the past several decades. In this essay, I want to not only lend my support to integrative medicine, but also elaborate on how a sane and parsimonious understanding of reality provides credibility and strong rational foundations to the integrative approach. The time has come for our culture to overcome the narrow and artificial materialist boundaries that for so long have impaired healthcare. We have suffered long enough.

Let me begin by summarizing the worldview discussed at length in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney. Bear with me, for it isn’t easy to summarize 250 pages in one paragraph. I maintain that all reality is in consciousness, though not in your personal consciousness alone. This way, it is your body-brain system that is in consciousness, not consciousness in your body-brain system. Think of reality as a collective dream: in a dream, it is your dream character that is in your consciousness, not your consciousness in your dream character. This becomes obvious when you wake up, but isn’t at all obvious while you are dreaming. Furthermore, I maintain that the body-brain system is the image of a process of localization in the stream of consciousness, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localization in a stream of water. It is this localization that leads to the illusion of personal identity and separateness. For exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water, your brain doesn’t generate consciousness. Yet, because the image of a process correlates tightly with the inner dynamics of the process – just like the color of flames correlates tightly with the microscopic details of the process of combustion – brain activity correlates with subjective experience. Motivated by this correlation, materialists naively mistake the image of the process for the cause of the process. Finally, while particular types of brain activity are the image of egoic processes in consciousness, the rest of the physical body is the image of our personal ‘unconscious’ psyche. I maintain that the ego corresponds to self-reflective processes in consciousness – that is, processes that you are aware that you are aware of – while the ‘unconscious’ corresponds to non-self-reflective processes also in consciousness. As such, there is no true unconscious, but simply processes in consciousness that become obfuscated by the ‘glare’ of self-reflective awareness, in the same way that the stars become obfuscated by the glare of the sun at noon. Now, as the body is the image of our personal ‘unconscious,’ the world at large is also the image of a collective ‘unconscious.’ That is the reason we all seem to share the same reality. See the figure below.

The key point in this whole story, as far as integrative medicine is concerned, is this: beyond certain specific types of brain activity that correlate with egoic awareness, the rest of the physical body is the image of our personal ‘unconscious’ minds. The body isn’t merely a lump of matter fundamentally independent from, and outside, our psyche: it is the image of buried emotions, feelings, beliefs, cognitive processes and structures of consciousness that escape the field of our self-reflective awareness. Now, just as blue flames are the image of hotter combustion and red flames the image of colder combustion, so a healthy body is the image of healthy psychic activity and an ill body is the image of unhealthy psychic activity in the personal ‘unconscious.’ This way, if we need to speak in terms of causation, it is fair to say that unhealthy psychic activity in the personal ‘unconscious’ causes all illnesses. This shows the importance of integrative medicine: we can treat all illnesses by influencing ‘unconscious’ psychic activity.

A note of caution is required at this point. Many alternative healing techniques are promoted today that focus on the ego: affirmations, positive thinking, visualization, etc. But for as long as the corresponding psychic activity remains in the ego, it won’t affect the rest of the body. Because the body is the image of non-egoic psychic activity, whatever remains in the ego cannot influence the body. How many people get seriously ill despite assiduously practicing positive thinking and visualizations? How many people continue to suffer from the conditions they try to overcome with their daily health affirmations? Clearly, it isn’t enough to refurnish the ego: the new furniture has to sink into the cellar of our personal psyches if it is to have bodily effect. It has to be assimilated by the core of one’s being.

This isn’t necessarily bad news, for it works the other way around as well: hypochondriacs, for instance, need not worry about ‘attracting’ the very illnesses they are constantly anxious about. Their anxiety resides in their egoic awareness, this being precisely the reason why they suffer. Remaining self-reflectively aware of unhealthy psychic activity causes psychological distress, for sure, but it also prevents that activity from becoming somatized as physical illness. Depth psychology has, for decades, insisted in the need to bring unhealthy psychic activity into the light of self-reflective awareness, where it does less damage and can be more easily treated through talk therapy.

Nobody needs to feel guilty about ‘attracting’ illness due to a negative mood disposition, since such disposition isn’t ‘unconscious.’ If it were, you wouldn’t be aware of it and wouldn’t feel guilty to begin with. Do you see what I mean? Generally speaking, you cannot know at an egoic level whether your psychic dispositions are going to compromise your health, for the dispositions that can do so are, by their very nature, ‘unconscious.’ Case in point: a meta-study has shown that ‘extremely low anger scores have been noted in numerous studies of patients with cancer. Such low scores suggest suppression, repression, or restraint of anger. There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis.’ [Thomas, S. P. et al (2000). Anger and cancer: an analysis of the linkages. Cancer Nursing, 23(5), pp. 344-9] This is entirely consistent with the explanatory framework I am putting forward here: anger only becomes somatized if it escapes egoic awareness and drops into the personal ‘unconscious.’ But the irony is clear in the quote: it is precisely low anger scores that indicate high internalized levels of, well, anger! How is a patient to tell a healthy lack of anger from internalized, ‘unconscious’ anger? Should people who do not feel angry start worrying about anger-caused cancer? That would be preposterous. Only trained therapists can differentiate between a healthy lack of negative emotions and deeply buried emotions; and even then only tentatively. Either way, worry is illogical.

Another thing to take into account is this: as the image of our personal ‘unconscious’ psyches, the body is connected not only to the ego on one side, but also to the collective ‘unconscious’ on the other side. See the figure above again. Now, since the physical world we perceive around us is the image of the activity of the collective ‘unconscious,’ environmental stressors like viruses, bacteria, exposure to the elements, nutrition, physical trauma, pollutants, drugs, etc., all obviously influence our bodily health. The problem is that this is the only avenue of influence that materialist medicine acknowledges. Therefore, it misses half of the problem and half of the avenues of healing.

The view that all reality is a manifestation of consciousness in consciousness points to the following twin-avenues for effective integrative medicine: first, the patient must be helped to bring all negative psychic activity into the light of self-reflective awareness, so it doesn’t become somatized. The patient’s ego must acknowledge and welcome the patient’s buried, repressed material. Once this happens, the patient can be treated through the oldest, simplest and most effective healing method ever devised by mankind: heart-to-heart personal interaction between patient and healer. Second, healers can influence the psychic conditions in the personal ‘unconscious’ – seat of all illness – through the egoic channel. But for this to be effective, healers must help patients internalize the treatment, so it drops past the ego and into the deeper layers of the psyche. Here is where the art and skill of the healer comes into play, for this ‘dropping in’ must be accomplished through bypassing egoic barriers and defense mechanisms. A form of benign manipulation is required, which may conflict with present-day notions of ethics.

A case in point is the so-called placebo effect. Current practice in approving new drugs and treatments is that they must be demonstrated to be more effective than the proverbial ‘sugar pills.’ A serious problem for the pharmaceutical industry is the growing effectiveness of placebos in combating illness, which makes new drugs increasingly more difficult to approve [Silberman, S. (2009). Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why. Wired Magazine, 17.09, 24 August 2009]. The elephant in the room, obviously, is that placebos work, and more so in recent years. Clearly, through the power of suggestion and a form of benign egoic manipulation, a real effect is produced in the patient’s personal ‘unconscious;’ an effect whose image is renewed bodily health. To close one’s eyes to the greatly beneficial implications of this fact is insane. Even the ethical questions often raised (‘Can we deliberately deceive the patient?’) are based on prejudices: there is no deception if the method works. It is hardly relevant, for instance, whether reiki or homeopathy work for the theoretical reasons claimed by their practitioners or for entirely different reasons, as long as they do work. As a matter of fact, the theoretical reasons offered by the practitioners may be integral to the treatment insofar as they provide the patient’s ego with models and images that help lower the ego’s defenses. Without those, the treatment may never fully penetrate the patient’s psyche and drop into the personal ‘unconscious,’ the only place where physical healing can occur. Moreover, even mainstream science depends largely on convenient fictions like, for instance, force-carrying subatomic particles [Okasha, S. (2002). Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, Chapter 4]. We claim these convenient fictions to be legitimate because we can build working technology based on them: empirically, things work as if the fictions were true, and that’s good enough. Why not apply the same sensible pragmatism to the healing arts? Maybe acupuncture works as if energy meridians were true and, until we know better, that’s good enough too.

We have every logical reason – not to mention myriad empirical ones – to give ourselves rational permission to embrace and trust integrative medicine. It explores effective avenues of treatment that have been left untouched by mainstream materialist medicine. Today’s healthcare systems treat us as biological robots because the materialist metaphysics defines us as such. Consequently, doctors often behave as mechanics instead of healers. But for millennia prior to modern medicine, it was the sheer strength of the healer’s personal presence, as well as the psychic effects of his or her often-intricate techniques, that helped people heal. Back then, we lacked the avenue of the collective ‘unconscious’ in the form of effective drugs and surgery. Now, the situation has been reversed: we focus solely on the collective ‘unconscious’ methods of drugs and surgery, ignoring the egoic channel. The time has come to explore both of these avenues concurrently. The time has come for integrative medicine. Human health and wellbeing demand no less.

(Regarding this essay in particular, I'd much appreciate your feedback: Is integrative medicine a valid area for applying philosophical insights? Is it an important focus area in the so-called 'culture war'? Is this something you think I should be spending effort on? Please leave a comment below or participate in my Discussion Forum)


  1. In answer to your question, I think integrative medicine is a perfectly valid area for applying philosophical insights. In fact, I think it really shows the power and relevance of the issue of worldview. On top of the worldview of materialism, integrative medicine seems like a stretch. It seems to strain the limits of the body-brain connection. Yet if we switch worldviews to idealism, integrative medicine becomes the natural application of the nature of reality to the field of medicine. It proves that our worldviews cast giant shadows across human civilization.

    On the subject of placebos, what you're saying seems to imply that it would be OK to have the market flooded with drugs that are mere placebos. I expect you are not saying that, but that's how it sounds. I can't help but think that there is a way to harness and direct the power of belief that involves no false investment of belief. Maybe a placebo is an easy way to harness that power, but presumably it can be harnessed in pure form, without the crutch (and perhaps the limit) of a placebo.

    Anyway, I for one would welcome more posts like this, in which you draw out the social implications of your worldview. Oh and I thought that your summary of your book was excellent.

    1. Thanks Robert! Yes, I see what you mean. It is important to discuss the practical implications of a worldview to ordinary life, and healthcare is certainly an important one, where materialism has been a priori limiting.
      On placebos, you are correct: I didn't mean that at all! Simply selling sugar pills does not produce the placebo effect anyway. The effect is only produced when there is an actual interaction with a physician or healer, couched in the proper set and setting, and a whole gestalt of experience that plants the suggestion in the personal 'unconscious.' It's much, much more than just taking an over-the-counter pill.

  2. Integrative Medicine is the way of the future because without it, there is no future. In the best of worlds it won't need to be called Integrative, it will just be Medicine which embraces all medical and healing methodologies.

    With Allopathic medicine now one of the top killers, as iatrogenic - doctor or medical induced - most of it sourced in prescribed drugs, and research showing that numerous procedures and tests do more harm than good, and drugs like statins, prescribed as fear-based, maybe medicine for diseases you don't have and may never get, it is very clear that if human beings are to have health and the best of medical care something needs to change.

    Modern medicine is sourced in modern science and an erroneous belief that the world and everything in it can be reduced to the material and mechanical and that the body is no more than a machine or bag of chemicals. Patently it is not which is why modern medicine does so much harm. Other medical methodologies take a holistic view and medicine needs to embrace it all.

    No-one would deny that the mechanics of Allopathy are extremely useful in surgery and trauma but both would benefit and do less harm and achieve more good if combined with things like Homeopathy or Acupuncture, but beyond the mechanical Allopathy does a lot less healing and cure than it should and kills and injures millions every year.

    Something is very wrong.

  3. As research begins to discover what was once known in some older medical methodologies, the cells have 'consciousness' and 'intelligence' and a capacity to process and communicate in order that the body can function optimally.

    And while the materialistic/mechanical approach of science/medicine is useful within its limitations because limited it must be given that the body is not a machine or just a bag of chemicals, it is unlikely to understand any disease process, let alone cancer, unless it broadens its beliefs and approach.

    Given that any minute of any day our body is dealing with 'rogue' cells and no disease results and given the 'nature' of rogue cells which are not or cannot be controlled, the question surely is why that changes for some people, at some times, and what might trigger that change.

    One wonders if the reason why a cell turns ‘rogue’ and morphs into a cancer cell is because it has become confused and ‘forgotten’ who and what it is and lost the ability to recognise ‘friends’ and the support that ‘friends’ can offer and so, from a place of fear and a desperate urge to ‘survive’ it embarks upon a course of rebellion; a civil war in fact within the body, where it co-opts, often by deception, others to its cause and runs riot at the cellular level.

    The cell if you like becomes paranoid and loses the ability to rationally and intuitively 'read' its world and everything in it. That can happen when relationships founder and it often does. The way your cells work is the way you work.

    There must be many things which create confusion in our cells, subject as they are to environmental influences, more so today than ever before in cellular history. But what would be more likely than most to ‘create’ confusion in a cell as it goes about its business of recognising ‘self’ and ‘other’; identifying threats; reading messages from its environment and from other cells and molecular entities?

    Something which confuses us more than anything and which can have a long-lasting influence because it destroys our trust and makes us doubt ourselves, is when we are tricked! One of the major influences in our lives today, from in utero until death, for some more than others, is pharmaceutical drugs. And many of these drugs, probably most, work on the basis of ‘tricking’ the body into accepting them as ‘self’ when in fact they are ‘other,’; tricking the body into thinking they are ‘safe,’ when often they are not, and in essence functioning in our bodies as ‘imposters,’ which is what they are.

    How would you be if you constantly had imposters invading your house, seeking to deceive you and often succeeding by bypassing your natural protective and security capacity? You would be confused and you would be fearful and you would have your capacity to function at optimal levels compromised. Why not our cells?

    Most drugs are made from synthetic chemicals, compounds, molecules, structures, which are not found in nature but are synthesized by medicinal chemists in pharmaceutical industry labs. The reason this happens is because a natural ingredient cannot be patented but a synthetic can.
    Drugs have side-effects, in the main, because they are 'unnatural,' and they are 'imposters.’ They cannot ‘dock’ perfectly with the cell, to ‘fit’ with the cell as nature intended and for the ‘conversation’ to then take place which will lead to the medication having an effect.

    But the more important point is, if cells have their own consciousness and need to communicate for functional 'relationship' to be possible, as it is for us as the complete human being, then what effect can or does the 'unnatural' nature of modern medication, and even possibly, vaccinations, have on that capacity to communicate and to relate clearly, effectively and optimally?

    1. Interesting perspective, Roslyn. I do think, though, that mainstream allopathic medicine, and its drugs, have its place as well. I suspect you don't dispute this either. I'm not giving up on the 'collective unconscious channel' that we've developed -- largely successfully -- over the past 100+ years. I just think we should not restrict ourselves to it because of largely arbitrary metaphysical views, like materialism.

    2. I believe there is a place for everything and that includes Allopathic drugs. I believe they would do more good and less harm if they were not synthesized but they are synthetic because only then can they be patented and greater profit obtained.

      I believe your work is important because modern science/medicine has morphed into a quasi religion and sought to apply its limited paradigm where it does not belong. The irony I find is that both Newton and Descartes would be spinning in their graves at what has been 'done in their names.'

      When science/medicine can recognise, remember actually, that there is more to this world in general and the human body in particular than the material and mechanical, then it will be more constructive and less destructive. A part of that process will be embracing non-Allopathic medical methodologies for a holistic approach to health.

      I also believe that as science, particularly quantum physics and biophysics, develop, so will come understanding of how Homeopathy works and in the doing, official acceptance of a remarkable medical methodology which can heal and cure without doing any harm. And the same for Acupuncture although Homeopathy is a far more complex and brilliant methodology than acupuncture which could more readily be explained in material and mechanistic terms.

  4. I am presuming you have read this but if not:

  5. Hi Bernardo:

    First, let me apologize - if an apology is needed? - for being a bit overly verbose in my comments. It's just that I love these topics so much and think it's so important, and also hope I have some iota of something to contribute.

    As to your question - absolutely. A medical/homeopathic doctor just sent me his manuscript, "Metaphysics and Medicine", which deals exactly with this topic (Larry Malerba; his website is wonderful if you want to follow up - in fact, if you write him - his email is at the site - mention my name; he'd be happy to brainstorm with you on a nonmaterialistic approach to integrative medicine).

    You might try looking into the pain literature. My dissertation was on mindfulness and pain. Specifically, when I treated pain patients, I noticed that the ones who had the greatest ability to let go of the idea of pain as a solid "thing" which is just there, objectively (materially, or physically, so to speak) were the ones most successful at using mindfulness to alleviate pain (the p value for mindfulness working was p = .001; the p value for cognitive flexibility as varying directly with ability to reduce pain using mindfulness was .03).

    It's a wonderful place to start for promoting your philosophic view, because in a way, it's the whole physicalist view that makes pain so intractable for so many people. How many times have I heard, "No, it's not just in my "mind" - it's REAL!" I usually use a brain based explanation (chronic pain patients don't have any patience for metaphysical explanations:>)))!!) it's very simple - no matter how much your back is hurting, if i block the nerve messages going to the brain, you're not going to feel pain. No brain, no pain (which of course, is only an image of a non material process, but you already know that).

    The really wonderful paradigm shift is when I can show them - through mindfulness, imagery, relaxation, music, etc - that changing their view of the pain actually changes the experience of pain.

    For years, skeptics thought that only the interpretation of pain changed, but not the physiological abnormalities associated with it. But more recent research shows that a change in attitude actually brings about physiological changes.

  6. (part 2 - apologies again for the length!!)
    There was already a ton of research on this when I was working on it in the late 90s; it's just exploded now. Anything in the psychoneuroimmunology literature is good - Esther Sternberg is an excellent writer on this topic (Anne Harrington has a history of mind body medicine that's not bad. And Eugene Taylor has written some very good stuff on this - he's an expert on William James, who as you know, had a kind of non dual philosophy of his own that is very much in line with what you write).

    Well, that's a start. The placebo literature is of course, also excellent. The book, "A Nation in Pain" has an excellent section on placebo - I can't recall the name right now, but there's a Harvard based physician who has been doing the best work on placeboes in recent years. You might also look up nocebo effects.

    Finally, if you go to this page, at the bottom you'll find links to very simple information on neuroplasticity, epigenetics and placebos.

    Epigenetics, in fact, may be the most radical. Fundamaterialist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne recently admitted - obviously with a great deal of pain - that epigenetic changes can actually be passed on for up to 3 generations. He was adamant that it couldn't POSSIBLY go beyond that, but couldn't really justify this except to hint that it would just plain spoil his day if it did (of course, he didn't quite put it that way):>))

    Have fun exploring!

    Oh, I did remember one thing - the whole thing about repressed emotion. I've been exploring mind body connections the last 10 years to lower my blood pressure medication and ultimately stop altogether, hopefully! (125/80 on half dose of a diuretic; hopefully off by the end of the year). I've extensively researched mind body connections on this - it seems that the best theory is of Samuel Mann, who says that at most, it accounts for 25% of individuals with elevated blood pressure - it's not people who are obviously angry but rather those who are extra nice and don't' think they have anger about anything significant. (here also, is an example of how you could make use of yogic science without having to decide what "philosophy" is best - after you've done enough research, and look again at the yogic writings, and learn how to translate them from symbolic/picture language to a way of speaking more accessible to our modern psyches, I think you'll find an absolute wealth of insight into the body and mind from Ayurvedic as well as Tibetan and Chinese medicine sources that have been way way too often overlooked)

    1. Wow, thanks Don, for all the interesting links! I'm sure other readers will benefit too.Cheers, Bernardo.

    2. +donsalmon, Great posts. I have read Larry Malerba's Green Medicine which is excellent and would also recommend Stephen Goldsmith, MD, a New York psychiatrist and homeopath, who wrote The Healing Paradox. You would find it interesting in terms of his use of Homeopathy on his patients.

      Other excellent books are Homeopathy, Science or Myth by Bill Gray, MD and The Basic Code of the Universe by Massimo Citro, MD. I may have mentioned these elsewhere but both Gray and Citro have some interesting thoughts on research into medicine at the energy, or frequency level. Citro also talks about the possibility of utilising this for pharmaceutical drugs on the basis that, in this way, like Homeopathic remedies they could treat but do no harm although I wonder about the difference when the material is synthesized as it is in pharmaceutical drugs.

  7. Funny i was having a discussion at work , where i stated that bio- medical model that compleltely seperates food and drugs misses the importance of foods as drugs- I work in Trading Standards in the UK, where it is considered criminal to promote a food substance as a medicine, and for obvious reasons, although it is very clear that food is a medicine, and no doubt the startring point for medicine ( hope this is making sense)
    I don't; think I made my point well as I was trying to point to the fact that medicine and drug law is compleltely from a materialist perspective and so as you were saying is lacking. Well my poiint here that as I was having this discussion I wondered what Bernard's opinion would be. Thats was yesterday and today I accesssed your website and lo and behold , you have given your opinion. A litle bit of synchronicity.

    1. Funny how things unfold sometimes... :)

    2. Hi Bernardo , not sure my comment made too much I would just like to re- write, i was disccussing what i see as problems with the way the law is enforced in UK & EU with regard to health claims on medicinal products and foods and alternative health therapies -( which most it not all of my colleagues would dismiss as a nonsense) I thought that the law is obviously based upon a materialist perspective and so can not understand how something like homeopathy would work - ( i guess that might the same for a lot of homeopaths- I am assuming homeopathy when works , works in the same way as a placebo).and as I have made numerous visits to your website over the month or so I wondered what your opinion on 'healing ' would be , although prior to this I don't think you had discused healing & health , so there was no reason to expert that there should be an essay about the topic on your website. But there was, hence my comment of a little bit of synchronicity. I hope this makes a little more sense.
      Also i would like to say that I find your writing very clear and powerful , do keep it up please . I asked my local library if they would get your latest book in, the librarian did a search and said no plans too and then had a look on Amazon and read a few reviews and turned to me and said well its got 5 stars. I said I think he is really interesting writer . The librarian then said we shall get the book in. Which has really pleased me, because not only will I be able to read you book for free : ) and for you another book purchased but also having the book at a large central libray will ensure more readers. Thanks for reading !

    3. Got it. I smiled while reading your comment. :) And thanks for promoting my stuff at your local library! :) Cheers, B.

    4. +Anonymous, Homeopathy is definitely not purely placebo. All medical treatments contain placebo and nocebo factors to varying degrees depending upon practitioner and patient and Homeopathy is no different, but it is far more than placebo and here are a few reasons why:

      Homeopathy has been shown to have effect on - cells, body tissue, plants, unconscious animals and human beings and months after the remedy has been taken - none of which can happen with placebo in any pure sense.

      If you are interested in more credible research on Homeopathy I have listed some books above in a post to Don Salmon.

  8. I have been work through the Skeptiko archive and came across this very early interview with Dr. Marilyn Schlitz


    though there is not much about it in the interview, her research has been focused on integrative medicine.

  9. This is extremely helpful. Most importantly, the physicalist, mechanistic model of our reality that is so prevalent in medicine is the direct cause of our spiraling, uncontrollabe inflation in healthcare. See my blog post here: The bottom line is this thinking has direct practical implications, and it's time to wake up. We cannot go on allowing medicine to proceed as a branch of Newtonian physics.