2009 April

Chemical Algebra: part two

by Iain Marrs
Chemical Algebra:
Enjoying the fruits (and salts) of Jan Scholten’s invention

Part Two
This is the second part of a four-part article.

All the while that we have being benefiting from Jan Scholten’s books and from subsequent work in this lineage, homeopathic practitioners have kept on practicing homeopathically – as well as sometimes taking some research time off, all the better to assimilate the many developments currently on offer. Accordingly, clinical results have continued to emerge. Teachers whose practice is guided by other metaphors have, in turn, conveyed their insights regarding remedies made from elements and from minerals. For example, in Massimo Mangialavori’s Precious and Base Metals – An Alchemical View (2005), we find an approach that recuperates for homeopathy a variety of ‘esoteric’ approaches (alchemy, anthroposophy and even a spot of tarot). In all such offerings there are overlaps and differences to be noted between the new work and that which is already on the table (for example, Mangialavori places his themes in a hierarchy, as does Roger Morrison in Carbon). Each such work illustrates the practitioner’s own version of chemical algebra. In Mangialavori’s work we witness the recuperation of much material from ‘outside Homeopathy’ (a meaningless phrase that self-destructs as soon as it is spoken: as a universal science and art there is no ‘outside’ to Homeopathy) and this is a sign that everyone also continues to draw ideas from every possible source in accord with the only law (sic) known to the unconscious – to wit, ‘use whatever resonates…’ - so as to woo the alert practitioner into a homeopathic prescription. The presence of such material in Mangialavori might also remind us of the ‘door’ aspect in Jan Scholten’s stage 4 and its resonance with the Hebrew letter dalet, which has the numerical value of 4:

‘As we follow the clues - stars, numbers, colors, plants, forms, verse, music, structures - a huge framework of connections is revealed at many levels. One is inside an echoing manifold where everything responds and everything has a place and a time assigned to it.’
Georgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet's Mill, Godine, Boston, 1969

Given that resonance is the reality of how our minds actually work (and how evolution works, how Nature works), and given that experimentation and new discoveries proceed apace (after all, in homeopathy, we are living through a golden age, a renaissance or period of cultural evolution), the users of homeopathic algebra are thus faced with the continued task (necessity) of also evolving our art and science - along the Stages and the Ages! (Seven Ages, with the Lanthanides and the Actinides as well…)
Such evolution surely pivots around one basic idea which itself is a corollary of group or thematic thinking: if the themes drawn out (educed) from substances can and must be combined somehow when those elemental substances are combined, then the practice of such thematic combining is not dependent on the themes stated by, say, Jan Scholten or indeed by any one particular teacher. It is not necessary to slavishly follow (and has he ever asked it of us?) Jan Scholten’s theme for a given remedy. Such rote copying or parroting of themes would merely show our own fixed state or stage, also making it impossible to have such insights as Rajan Sankaran’s regarding the remedy formerly known as Natrum sulph (see Part One of this article). Yet Sankaran’s insight confirms the algebraic approach itself. This is how things develop in science: an evolutionary leap is made and although numerous details may be changed over time the leap itself remains incontrovertible. As thematic (group) thinking has evolved, through its application in clinical practice, we have necessarily seen a cultural evolution occur within homeopathy. Considered as one whole, this is a shift of paradigm. It is not, then, the work of Jan Scholten and of Rajan Sankaran or of other teachers which has to be reconciled, each with each: it is we who have to reconcile ourselves to the mutual effects of the whole, and thus of what every such teacher offers us – we who need to grow into these new clothes. Yes, some will continue to say that these are the “Emperor’s New Clothes” – but the human aspect within us named ‘pride’ will often not allow us to express enthusiasm for the work of others - work which we feel compelled to criticize before we can, begrudgingly, say yes to it. (I should add that there are also other voices which, conversely, always exclaim - like Elizabeth Taylor, regarding each of her marriages - ‘This one is really the one!’)

Unpacking the import of thematic algebra
Simply put, I suggest that if we ‘unpack’ thematic algebra it potentially changes everything about the practice of homeopathy. The most basic example is this: no item of data bequeathed to us by the years of experience (via clinic, toxicology, or proving) and included in that body of work called ‘homeopathic materia medica’ – no such item is now solely itself. No item of data is exhausted (emptied) by simply being read as applicable to the remedy to which it is nominally attached. To repeat, we can no longer be assured, regarding any item of data, that the item belongs uniquely and solely with the remedy to which it has traditionally been attached. If a symptom is given ‘for Sepia’ or ‘for Lachesis,’ yes, it may be “true of that remedy” but the truthfulness of this statement pales in comparison with the dawning realization that it may also be true of a whole class of remedies of which the individual remedy (Sepia; Lachesis) is but one member. Given that a class may be as large as ‘Animal,’ or as particular as Viperidae or as newly mapped as Cat-like, this means that each item of data must needs find its proper level in a hierarchy of thematic groups so that we realize the full prescribing options implied once we identify a given thematic as actively present within a given patient who sits before us.
A second facet of this example: If a homeopathic practitioner teaches (demonstrates, illustrates by cured case, convinces us of) aspects of a remedy that no-one else has noted before, then for that practitioner who uses the algebraic method or who analyzes cases using thematic group thinking, this discovery now awaits (requires) assimilation to (reconciliation with) the current algebraic understanding of the remedy in question. That is, if we think in thematic groups, we must endeavour to place the newly discovered (or longstanding) aspect of any remedy under one of the existing headings, or understand a conjunction of themes afresh, or supplement the thematic aspects that we had previously gathered in regard to that remedy.
If we trust homeopath Y - who, it so happens, does not practice a systematic approach to thematic algebra but is a teacher/practitioner whose work we respect, then that thematic insight offered by homeopath Y has to be capable of assimilation to our thematic understanding of the remedy in question. It is no good saying, “Well, Y doesn’t agree with our way of thinking so we need not form an interpretation to explain Y’s clinical observation!” In the working out of such, one consequence may be that the systematic frame which we have used to approach thematic work on the remedy in question is altered, in this or that detail. If such is the outcome then we can rest easy knowing that we, as homeopaths, are now practicing Thomas Kuhn’s ‘normal science,’ that phase which ensues after the ‘revolutionary science’ which itself instituted the new paradigm (Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).
As new clinical evidence is produced, a ‘gap’ may open up between the established algebra for a remedy – let’s take as an example, Merc iodatum flavum - and a fine case of that remedy, a case where the patient’s behaviour and symptomatology is clearly organized by the metaphor ‘tiger’ (as in a case by Mangialavori of this remedy) -

“I dream that I’ve got teeth like a tiger… But I have to be careful how I close my mouth otherwise I’ll make holes in myself and then I’ll get mouth ulcers…”
(9 year old girl, in Mangialavori, Precious and Base Metals: An Alchemical View, p.84)

Such a gap – between algebra and case - may continue to exist for many years (or only for a few months: after all, there are lots of us whose practice may bring forth a solution for any particular problem posed by algebraic metaphor) but eventually, unless the insight (‘tiger’) can be understood by thematic (group) thinking, then our approach will have failed to grasp this aspect of particularity and, accordingly, will not have comprehended that which it is our task to comprehend (the particularities of a case and of a remedy) for the purposes of enabling cure in our chosen manner (that is, through the homeopathic algebra of metaphor).
The position taken in this essay, by the way, is that thematic (algebraic, group) thinking is an inevitable part of our engagement with experience. Likewise, metaphors and analogies share a condition with homeopathy: not only do they work but their function is itself an ineluctable part of reality. Given this fact, like everything else which wants to survive, the algebraic approach must continue to evolve – which brings us to a central task facing us.
The main problem that an algebraic approach presents to the homeopath, I suggest, is the task of distinguishing (in any given analysis) between that which is emergent and that which is constituent. ‘Tiger’ is emergent (given Mangialavori’s cured case cited above) from the homeopathic action of Merc iodatus flavus, the homeopathic constituents of which are mercury and iodine, each understood thematically.
It is incumbent upon those who teach the thematic approach that they keep reminding the homeopathic student not to apply the method superficially, and such reminders are now an abiding presence within this approach. In Structure we find Dr. Sankaran warning the reader not to be triggered by the apparent arrival of an animal theme in a case that, in fact, may require a mineral. These comments have the same import as Jeremy Sherr’s wise old saw that ‘Helium looks like an eagle…’ Now, after Mangialavori’s case, the next time we see what we think is a tiger we will have no excuse not to consider Merc iodatus flavus, alongside anything else that might look like a tiger (tiger mosquito; tiger’s eye, a variant of crocodilite) and, sadly, everything else that may act like a tiger but not have ‘tiger’ in its name (just as Merc-i-f does not). Similarly, after Scholten’s Rubidium case (H &E, pp.535-36), when we see lions (clinically!) maybe we should give a look at some or all of the ‘Stage 1’ mineral elements – and in both these examples I have not even mentioned the homeopathic remedies prepared from cats… Massimo Mangialavori added Zincum phosphoricum to the Snakes because he clinically observed this remedy acting like one. Divya Chhabra finds a thematic presence of lizards in Strontium and related remedies. Vega Rozenberg’s ‘Plastic’ box is full of arsenic!
Not only are there countless clinical examples that expand this point, there is also ample advice from elsewhere as to the many and varied consequences of this one important, underlying fact - the fact that there is no single fixed interpretation or translation for a given symbol or metaphor – and such advice has traditionally been both negative and positive, examples of which now follow to conclude this part of the article.

On Analogy

‘Thinking homeopathically is thinking metaphorically. If we don’t think in metaphors we are lost.’
Misha Norland, ‘Some excerpts from Misha Norland’s July 1995 Seminar,’ Homeopathy BC, volume 2 (1996), #2

‘There are a hundred thousand minerals and plants and a hundred million animals and insects. Curing like with like is about metaphor and analogy, not sameness, so there cannot be one simillimum and we don’t want there to be a simillimum either, just like there can never be only one perfect poem for each person.
Homeopathy is poetry or music because it is analogy. You don’t say to somebody, “Your eyes are beautiful, like eyes!” You say, “Your eyes are like the lake in the spring and your hair is like the wind blowing through the soft leaves as they fall to the ground in the autumn.” If it is the right music, rhythm and words, it will touch. So, many poems touch you and they will do so in different ways. Some poems will be better than other poems, and they will touch deeper and longer and carry you further. And some will be crap and not touch much at all!
We want to work “in the image of” and it is better that way because it means that every level of practitioner can get results. It allows practitioners the possibility of not being perfect.’

(Jeremy Sherr, interviewed by Rowena J. Ronson)

‘Fast intuitions depend on the ‘undermind’ taking a quick look at the situation and finding an analogy which seems to offer understanding and prediction. These unconscious analogies surface as intuitions. Whether they are right or not depends not on how “intuitive” they are, but on the appropriateness of the underlying analogy. Often we are absolutely right. But sometimes the ‘undermind’ is fooled by appearances, and then it leads us off in the wrong direction.’
Guy Claxton, Hare Brain Tortoise Mind

‘We may note that, in these experiments, the sign “=” may stand for the words “is confused with.” ’
G. Spencer Brown, The Laws of Form

‘Well, it must be acknowledged quite plainly and frankly that the method of analogy presents many negative sides and many dangers, errors and serious illusions. This is because it is entirely founded on experience; and all superficial, incomplete or false experience is bound to give rise to superficial, incomplete and false conclusions, by analogy, in a direction parallel with the experience from which they are the outcome...
It must be concluded, therefore, that the method of analogy on the one hand is in no way infallible but on the other hand it is qualified to lead to the discovery of essential truths. Its effectiveness and value depend on the fullness and exactitude of the experience on which it is based.’

Valentin Tomberg, ‘The Magician,’ Meditations on the Tarot

‘The poet and critic Matthew Arnold, during his time as an inspector of schools, used to tell of a colleague who boasted of thirteen years’ experience – whereas, as Arnold would comment, it was perfectly clear to anyone who knew the man that he had had nothing of the sort. He had had one year’s experience thirteen times.’
Guy Claxton, Hare Brain Tortoise Mind

Iain Marrs practices homeopathy in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and - like all practitioners – in practicing he researches both its art and its science.
Iain Marrs

Categories: Theory
Keywords: Massimo Mangialavori, Roger Morrison, Thomas Kuhn, (Jeremy Sherr, Guy Claxton, G. Spencer Brown, Valentin Tomberg, Guy Claxton


Write a comment

  • Required fields are marked with *.