Classical Chinese Medicine

Blind Men and an Elephant – An Analogy with Paradigms of Healthcare

There is an old parable with which many people are familiar by many names. One of these is the Blind Men and An Elephant. It has existed in various forms since, possibly before, its earliest printing in Buddhist text in the first millennium. In its various forms it has been to illustrate many points.  Collectively the moral of the parable is that Reality is subjective to those who interpret it by projecting through their incomplete experiences and knowledge as being the whole truth. This conclusion also illustrates how other individuals’ experiences are not always taken into consideration when formulating “Reality”. In some versions of the parable the differences between the blind men is so stark it leads to confrontation as to who is, or is not, correct.

I find the extension of the parable to that of the Western and Eastern paradigm approaches towards healthcare informative – an analogy between the Paradigms and the Blind Men. Both are distinct disciplines looking at the same subject. Although there are similarities between the two paradigms there is not a viable way to perform a one to one comparison. In this case while the two disciplines are at odds and arguing about which is correct and proper way to look at “Reality”, the patient dies.  Both have forgotten the ultimate goal which is to provide care for the individual. There is little value doing a point by point comparison between the two approaches other than trying to convince others of the superior aspects of a particular diagnostic and treatment approach. As an extreme example, consider a case where one of the wisemen observing the elephant was deaf and not blind.  Obviously their perception of the elephant would be different. It is nonsensical for the blind wisemen to interpret the assessment of the deaf wiseman in terms of hearing, likewise the deaf wiseman can not validly assess the blind man’s assessment with terms of sight. This is the same for the western and Chinese approaches to assessment.  One can not accurately categorize terms of Chinese medicine in western terms and vice-versa.

There is a misconception nowadays on integrative care.  The concept of integrative care is not to mesh, meld, and cobble together a single approach, it is to use the strengths of multiple approaches collectively to achieve optimum healthcare and preservation goals.  This is placed in practice much better in China – in hospital western medicine and Chinese medicine modalities are viewed from their points of strength and weakness and the most appropriate application of both to achieve an optimal outcome.  Thankfully a more collaborative approach has started to gain traction in the west as well.

It can behoove us to look at a quote by Carl Sagan when referring to science and alter it by analogy to the area of healthcare:

“Science’s only sacred truth is that there are no sacred truths.  All assumptions must be critically examined.  Arguments from “Authority” are worthless. Whatever is inconsistent with the facts, no matter how fond of it we are, must be discarded or revised.”

For healthcare:

In Healthcare, All assumptions must be critically examined.  Arguments from “Authority” are worthless. Whatever is inconsistent with Clinical Success, no matter how fond of it we are, must be discarded or revised.

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