2007 April

On the Study of Homeopathic Materia Medica

by Constantine Hering
A Defense Of The Method We Have Proposed

The assertion that one remedy must first be perfectly known, and that then the rest will be acquired with less difficulty, and still more easily the farther we advance, is founded on the principles and practice of mnemonics.
This diagnostic method, indeed, appears to me to be the only practical plan of studying the materia medica, or at any rate, the shortest and most direct way of attaining the end proposed.
There are certainly two other possible methods. One is to learn what are called the principal symptoms of each medicine. The other is to study each substance by itself, and thus, all of them unconnectedly. A fourth and last method would be, not to study the materia medica at all. (Exempla sunt odiosa!)

To learn the so-called principal symptoms – e.g., to extract from an epitome like Jahr's Manual, the most prominently marked sentences, and to get these off by heart – is the shortest way to practice. But, at the same time, it is the surest way to permanent mediocrity. Let him who is forced to make a trade of his profession, adopt this method. It will bring him soonest into the center of the woods.
But let him not forget to secure at the same time a permanent possession. If not, he will resemble the squatters in the far west, who establish themselves without troubling their heads about their right to the soil. And when the buyer of the land chases them off, they remove to a distance, out of one wretched wooden hut into another.
They barely support their existence by the scanty profits arising from ill cultivated ground, and the uncertainties of the chase. This superficial, unmeaning sort of life has charms for them. And their labors, together with those of the destructive wood louse, lighten the task of the settler.

Those qualities that we at present term the principal symptoms of the medicines are, for the most part, unsatisfactory — nay, they prove an obstacle in the way of accurate individualization, and lead to carelessness.

It is much more convenient to administer to patients a dozen homeopathic remedies according to this principle, than any plan of the old school. And one may, by such practice, be pretty sure, that by the end of the year a number of patients will have recovered.
These principal symptoms are, moreover, in many instances incomplete, and in many others perfectly false. They can only be known with certainty, and have their due value assigned them, by a careful study of the various medicines, having especial regard to their relations one with another.
A mere acquaintance with these principal symptoms cannot be called studying the remedies. If we were in possession of a scientific arrangement of the materia medica, we might make it the basis of our study of the medicines. But at present, we cannot expect to construct anything satisfactory on such an uncertain and incomplete basis.

He who seeks to study the medicines according to their symptoms, but each medicine separately and without instituting a comparison between them, will, with the very best memory, not advance far before forgetting what he had previously learned. The memory is incapable of retaining any thing but what is presented to it in connection with something else. An idea is easily brought to the recollection only when in connection with others.

We would remind him who has had no experience of the comparative method, either on himself or others, that acquiring a knowledge of the symptoms of medicines, is exactly similar to the mode in which the chemist, the mineralogist, the botanist, and the zoologist acquire a knowledge of the objects connected with their respective sciences. We should, therefore, set about it in a similar manner.
Let it be considered what a multitude of signs are so perfectly at the command of the zoologist, that he can easily recall them to his recollection. Although no one is capable of giving a complete description of all animals, a repetition of all their characteristics "off the book," as the saying is.
The zoologist can at once determine to what class a new animal belongs, and point out its particular characteristics

. The homeopathic physician must do just the same with his medicines. Yet the zoologist can at once tell a new animal when he sees it. He can instantly determine to what class it belongs, and point out its particular characteristics. By merely looking at each animal, he already knows its characteristic peculiarities, or at least has no difficulty in discovering them.

The homeopathic physician must do just the same with his medicines. Let it not be alleged that zoology and the other branches of natural science are things quite different from our science. It must be regarded and dealt with in exactly the same manner as the natural sciences.
Let it not be said that those sciences are so far advanced, and the system so perfect, that every thing connected with them is much easier. Suppose that our materia medica were at present as little advanced as a natural science - as zoology in the time of Aristotle.

This should not deter us from regarding it as such, working it out as such, and studying it as such. By this means we should make as much progress in it as was then made in zoology – and that is a good deal in comparison to knowing nothing at all, or to wandering in benighted ignorance amidst a profusion of everything.
I refer to those who possess a real knowledge of our materia medica, if that has not been obtained in the way I have just pointed out – and I doubt not that some now see that they have unconsciously obtained their knowledge in the same manner. There can only be one right way. But this may have been pursued without the individual being exactly aware of it himself, as has happened to those proficient in many of the arts.

When one remedy has been accurately studied, and the art has been acquired of classing others along with it according to their resemblance and of distinguishing the differences between them, then each subsequent group that is studied in a similar manner costs far less trouble. The result will be that he who has thus made himself master of a hundred medicines will require for the second hundred scarcely so much time and labor as he expended on the first ten.
An increase of the medicines, therefore, ad infinitum, will never prove too much for human capabilities. Entomologists can easily acquire knowledge of a number of new insects. It requires little trouble on the part of the botanist to learn an endless succession of new plants. This they do by a speedy conception of the resemblances and differences among them – and the more practice they have, the easier it is.

It may be urged that no such laborious mode need be adopted to acquire of one of the natural sciences, but that the general characteristics of the various classes are soon learned. In the present state of the natural sciences, all the relationships existing among the various classes and orders may be seen at a glance, and the study of them thereby greatly simplified.
But, as we have not brought our materia medica to such a pitch of perfection – and from the short time of its existence, it has been impossible to advance it farther than it is at present – we must dispense with this simplifying glance.
The time is, we hope, not far distant, when we shall be able to talk about the objects of our science in the same manner as natural historians do of theirs.
We must, however, on this account, follow the only path that leads to this end – laborious though it be at present. As the progress of inventions facilitates commerce and travel more and more, so the progress of science always lightens the task of learning what has been discovered. The same will be the case as regards the materia medica.
Until that time comes, we must study the remedies as we find them. The time is, we hope, not far distant, when we shall be able to talk about the objects of our science in the same manner as natural historians do of theirs – when, like them, we may be able to give complete descriptions of these objects without touching upon unimportant information.
The time, we hope, is at hand when we shall know what is and what is not important in our materia medica.

Categories: Theory
Keywords: materia medica, study, classification, mnemonics


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