Is Medicine an art or a science?
We heard that phrase quite often in Medical School. But most of the time we didn't take it too seriously. The "art" side of Medicine seemed to be in the history taking, interpretation of symtpoms etc.
Well after attending lessons in Basic Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine as part of our coursework for the Graduate Diploma in Acupuncture and reading the textbooks, I can say that the "art" side of healing is very much well and alive even today.
TCM is founded very much in philosophy and "art" rather than in science the way we popularly understand.
The way TCM explains the body, disease syndromes etc is based on the Yin-Yang theory as well as other theories like elements eg Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water. These are generally more philosophical in basis. Eg the laws of nature would explain that Wood would feed Fire, Fire would nourish the Earth, the Earth is where we find Metal, and Metals enrich Waters.
Diseases as well as bodily functions are explained using these philosophies. And these philosophies were written >2000 years ago.
Now there is no denying that TCM is an art. If you asked a TCM physician why he thinks you have a particular problem and the basis on which he prescribes certain herbs to you as treatment, you would get an explanation that is philosophical in nature. Eg you have excessive Earth Qi which has transmitted to the Metal Qi and thus you have a problem and so he has given you herbs to drain the Metal Qi as well as stimulate the Fire Qi to "dominate and control" the excess Metal Qi. Hardly sound "scientific" right?
Now the interesting thing is that for some diseases, the treatment eg choice of herbs and the organs associated with the elements affected in TCM principles are very closely correlated with the findings from scientific research in modern westerm medicine. It is amazing to think that the TCM treatment based on philosophies written >2000 years ago are actually scientifically correct!
Personally I look at it as the philosophy on Traditional Chinese Medicine being logical and sound and science being a means of "proving" these philosophies.
So the art of healing came a long time ago, because scientific techniques were archaic. But the healing arts were by no means wrong. Scientists merely help us better understand the arts in another way and therefore lend weight to the theories. The art and the science may still be wrong in some cases.
Many patients who do not feel well but do not present with typical symptoms or any palpable symptoms at all might be termed "Normal" by western doctors in the past. Today we have an emerging new category of diseases termed "subclinical" diseases or "functional disorders". These problems are hardly explained in scientific terms, but we do know that there is a problem.
This is where the true art of healing should be applied. If one understands the philosophies and basics of TCM, you can deduce and explain a disorder or symptom or syndrome using those concepts. And in so doing, you can then deduce the appropriate best treatment.
I'm glad I signed up for the course. I had always suspected that there were many inadequacies in my western medicine training. The TCM philosophies complete my education in the healing arts. Similarly I would have felt inadequate had I completed TCM training but not training in western medicine.
I look foward to completing my course and helping my patients better in the near future.