Georg Ivanovas From Autism to Humanism - systems theory in medicine

5. Empirical medicine

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5.3 Hippocrates – rhythms and logic

Out-of-date theories are not in principle unscientific because they have been discarded.

Thomas Kuhn (p. 3)

Issues of this chapter: precise observation; observation versus theory, concepts of homeostasis, principles of inflammation, critical days, inner rhythms and their suppression, individual prognosis, understanding the inner hierarchy, processual diagnosis, effectiveness.

Hippocrates plays an outstanding role in the history of Western medicine. Each generation interpreted him its own way (Smith 2002b) and it seems that it is possible to trace back every kind of medicine to Hippocrates, ‘reinventing’ him each time according to the current paradigm (Cantor 2002).

When Hippocratic medicine is discussed today it concerns mainly the ethical issues, especially the nil nocere or μη βλάπτειν (Jakob 2004), the oath (Markel 2004) and the idea that doctors are much more artists than scientists (Smith 2004c). His pathophysiological concepts are normally rejected, not astonishing after 2.500 years. At most he is praised for his precise descriptions that enable us to understand what the patients ‘really’ had. But a more subtle analysis shows that a lot of the Hippocratic pathophysiological concepts are surprisingly in line with modern concepts. Furthermore, Hippocrates (1) used concepts of inner balance, observed rhythms and understood healing as a process with an inherent logic. That is, Hippocrates might be reinvented as the father of a systemic medicine.


(1) Hippocratic texts are collected in the Corpus Hippocraticum. It is a selection of texts from different authors and different centuries. This chapter mainly uses epidemics I and III, prognostic, regimen that, according to most scholars, date back to the fifth century BC, are probably written by the same author and represent the thinking of the so-called Coan school. To simplify matters these texts are attributed to Hippocrates, independent of any historical truth.

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