Changing thought structures in postmaterialistic science and the consequences for a new medical ethics

Dr. med. Günther Hanzl, Berg-Aufkirchen, Germany

I can imagine that the phrase “postmaterialistic science” in the title of my paper does not mean much to some of you.

So perhaps I should first explain the concept a little.

It refers to the natural sciences as they are now understood and interpreted by the most important and most progressive scientists and whose essential features have changed more and more over the last few decades. In the past, or to be more precise, in the last 200 or 300 years, nature was synonymous with matter. Back in the early
17th century, as we all know, Descartes divided our world, our world view, into “res cogitans” and “res extensa”, in other words, into thinking things, the mind and extended things, things which can be
touched, matter.

Matter was the object which the natural sciences had to deal with. As we all know, it was left to the humanities to deal with the mind, which can neither be touched nor weighed nor measured. All the more so as, over the course of time, the existence of such a thing as the mind appeared totally superfluous to scientists. Everything occurring in nature could ultimately be explained by mechanical processes and their laws. Even vital functions as well as
thoughts and emotions could readily be explained with the help of classical physics, with chemistry, with information physically stored in molecular structures, with genes and neuronal circuits.

This in any event has been the view held until now by most biologists and also a large proportion of the medical profession.

And then physical research increasingly showed that the object of research, matter,actually does not exist.

One could also object to another phrase in the title of my lecture. The phrase “medical ethics” might also appear questionable – or merit further scrutiny. Does medicine have its own ethics? Is there possibly a separate set of ethics for bakers or hairdressers? Surely ethics are ethics.

Yet ethics too are context-dependent – as I should like to demonstrate. They depend upon the milieu, the spirit of the age, the
continent and – as we shall soon see – the scientific knowledge of the time. And it is understandable that, in a profession so enmeshed in human life, specific forms of ethics have developed.

I have made two claims in my title which I now have to justify.

Firstly: is there really such a profound change in the sciences and in their thought structures and secondly – if these changes exist – are they really significant for our ethics?

I have already mentioned an important finding of modern physics, namely that what we used in the past to refer to as matter does not actually exist. Then again, almost two and a half thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Democritus had the idea that our whole visible world – the “res extensa” (extended things) as Descartes later named it – was made up of tiny indivisible particles, atoms. And until a short while ago physics conceded, with a few reservations, that he was right. It had to be admitted though that atoms also consist of even smaller units, the relatively large nucleus and the small but equally tangible electrons. The number and differing arrangement of electrons essentially explained the existence of various elements from which all matter was derived. There’s no doubt that the atomic model, most recently in the form discovered by Rutherford, has proved itself extraordinarily useful for a long time. At last we knew what matter is and what is consists of. It was all so easy to understand – even for the layman. Physics had solved all the problems, or so most people assumed. It had fulfilled its role; it could be replaced by chemistry and technology.

This attitude changed dramatically when I was born.

For, around this time, Louis de Broglie ushered in the age of quantum physics. Initially only the elite in physics were taken by the radical change in ideas associated with this. It was going too far for most people. They were certainly used to some things from the days of Max Planck, namely that light – similarly to earlier with Newton – was supposed to consist not just of waves but also of particles or quanta. But that now, even the smallest particles of matter were apparently waves, that went against all logic. You know Aristotle’s laws of logic: a sentence, a statement can be either true or false. “Tertium non datur“ (There’s no third option)! There is however no greater logical contradiction than that the same thing, electron, proton, positron has both form and size, is supposedly limited locally and spatially and is tangible and yet at the same time is unlimited, filling the entire space and immaterial. Niels Bohr, the quantum physicist from Copenhagen, could be described as the founder of a polyvalent logic and of the new “not only but also” mode of thinking.

He is responsible for the statement “the opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth.”

And another strikingly simple solution from Niels Bohr: the concept of “non-locality”. He used this to brush aside the objections of Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky (the socalled ERP paradox). I’m sure you are aware that Einstein and his assistants sought to take quantum theory ad absurdum: namely it follows necessarily from quantum theory that, in a quantum system consisting of two particles, both particles always display the same properties and are in what is known as a twin state. So if something is manipulated in one particle, for example, the spin is altered, then this must also affect the other particle even if it is thousands of kilometres away. As, for example, with two light photons of a quantum system which fly apart diametrically and naturally at the speed of light. And this is impossible – argued Einstein and his assistants – because the information about the change in one particle would have to be transmitted to the other at twice the speed of light. And there is no such thing!

This was not a problem for Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen school; for the objects of these quantum systems are “undivided in the non-local reality”, even if, to our eyes, large distances separate them. Neither matter nor time nor space play a part here.

Einstein was fortunately spared having to experience this claim being proved experimentally, most recently by Zeilner a few years ago in Innsbruck. Incidentally, according to Nick Herbert “the world is full of countless non-local influences”. As biological systems are regarded as extreme quantum systems, you can perhaps discern the importance which the concept of nonlocality might yet acquire for medicine.

A concept which is also generally known in the lay world is “Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle”, perhaps better known under the misleading description “indeterminacy principle”. As is well known, this refers to the fact that, when studying what are known as elementary particles, movement and position cannot be determined simultaneously. And this is not due to technical inability but – as Heisenberg proved – to the fact that these so-called “particles” do not have position and momentum simultaneously. They move as a wave! But if these two values cannot be determined, then obviously their behaviour cannot be predicted.

So we lose an additional elementary principle essential for classical science, determinism.

At this point I should also like to come to another loss for science which forces us to revise our thinking, namely the profound restriction of the convention of reductionism. It was so convenient to trace things which one could not readily understand back to smaller components and to study these. Now systems theory
and complexity research have shown that systems lose their properties when broken apart reductionistically and the results of research are therefore unusable.

But let us return to the famous waveparticle duality and another revolutionary curiosity of quantum physics.

According to quantum field theory, socalled particles are merely compressions of the field, a concentration of energy.

And the behaviour of quanta depends upon our observation! The quantum, in other words what we called particle earlier, is first a wave and only becomes a socalled reinforced particle through the collapse of the potential wave at the moment of and as a result of being observed or measured.

This is not esoteric. This is exact physics. According to the Copenhagen School and also Hans-Peter Dürr, Heisenberg’s emeritus status successor, this means that only consciousness converts the world from the state of the possible, in other words of potentiality, into the state of reality.

Just take a moment to let that thought sink in!

We could spend more time discussing the baffling results of modern research. But the congress has other topics which are more important for you.

So I will just highlight the consequences of these new findings and add a few quotes from well-known researchers.

First on the now obsolete concept of matter:

„With the non-existence of localisable separable objects it is no longer possible to speak of parts in the sense of component parts”. And “Matter is not made up of matter”. (Hans-Peter Dürr)

And earlier Max Planck: “Matter in itself does not exist. All matter arises and exists purely through a force …”

And Albert Einstein: “There’s no place for both, for field and matter, in this new physics for field is the only reality”.

I think a few words are needed on the concept of field here: this actually comes from the materialistic era. It was created to explain interactions between matter (then still a tangible something), so interactions between matter over a distance, for example, the action of the moon on the oceans and the action of the earth on the apple on the tree through gravitation. An additional field, the electromagnetic field, was needed to explain the diffusion of light after the non-existence of ether was demonstrated. Two other fields had to be introduced to explain the stability of atoms: “strong” and “weak interaction”. (Both are only important within the atom.)

Understandably you will want to know what these fields actually are. I found precise explanations from Schommers and Sheldrake: “A field is a type of medium which fills space whose infinite range can be realised simultaneously.” Or “Fields are non-material zones which influence physical variables.” Or: “Things can act upon one another in fields without being in direct physical contact with one another.” Or: “Fields are undeniably physically real“.

That probably makes everything clear?

[You will now say to yourselves: How nice it was in the materialistic times before quantum physics when there was still tangible matter, when I still had a sheet of paper in my hand and not a field with condensed local energy. But actually I didn’t have a piece of paper in my hand then but just a vacuum with a minimal amount of what was then called matter. Imagine that your share of so-called matter is not even the size of a pinhead! So you could pass quite comfortably through this wall without fear of your so-called elementary particles colliding with those of the wall. What prevents you from doing this is the vacuum, the nothingness, the void.

And you are made up 99.999% of vacuum. It is true though that this vacuum has the character of a field].

As Einstein said, immaterial fields are the only reality. To explain our world, attempts were made to combine these different fields, about which we know only the effect but nothing more, into a universal field theory, a universal dynamics of interaction.

Sheldrake’s “morphic fields” are extremely interesting attempts to explain the phenomena of our world. I will spare you them however!

Even more interesting is Ervin Laszlos’ model of the so-called 5th field, also described as general information field or vacuum field or occasionally as scalar field or background field.

So fields are not just responsible for communication and interactions between so-called matter. Fields are also the regulatory principle which is responsible for the continuity and stability of our world. For this too is a discovery of quantum physics that what are known as elementary particles undergo constant change, a constant process of destruction and creation. The world now is not identical to the world a moment ago. It occurs anew every moment!

I think that could be enough for you to accept that an incredible change is currently going on in physics and therefore in all the natural sciences. So it is no exaggeration that I have recently given a
series of articles in the old and the new ZÄN Zeitschrift the title “Die Rückkehr des Geistes in die Naturwissenschaften [The mind returns to science].”

To quote Hans-Peter Dürr once more:

“Everything is rooted in an irreducible potentiality which cannot be split and which bears the traits of a holistic mind”.

And David Bohm, one of the most important physicists states. “The mind is in some way implicitly present in inanimate matter.”

To let a biologist, who physicists claim are the last materialists, … so to let a biologist get a word in, here is a quote from Sheldrake:

“The notion of an inanimate nature has been replaced by the notion of a nature organised by fields. Fields like minds are invisible organising principles.”

The following remark is ideally suited for leading us into the 2nd part of my paper with the reason for a new medical ethics:

“The immaterial basic structure of reality has dramatic consequences for our view of the world.”

I realise I have bombarded you with an unusually large number of quotes. But I felt this was necessary to give my claims authoritative backing. We now have a basis for the arguments that follow.

It is probably indisputable that the findings of natural science mould the entire world view and behavioural norms of our culture group.

Our society has a proverbial faith in science. The original belief in “religious truths” was replaced long ago by the belief in “scientific truths”. These so-called “truths” stand or stood for a long time in sharp conflict with one another (think of Galileo, Bruno, Darwin, etc.). Today most people – apart perhaps from some regions of America – hold the view that “scientific truths” are at least more valid than “religious truths”. Our society has readily followed scientific “findings” according to which the fiction of the “mind” was superfluous and all processes attributable to a possible mind, including thought and emotions, can be reduced to material chemical processes.

I should like to name two typical examples of the influence of science on our whole world view and our mental state.

These are the entropy laws formulated over one hundred years ago by L. Boltzmann according to which everything which exists strives for an advancing disorganisation, for maximum disorder, for inescapable “Wärmetod” (heat death). This scientific “truth” gave rise via philosophy to a fundamentally depressed and pessimistic attitude among large sections of the population which also found expression in art.

Even clearer perhaps is the influence of science and its current findings on our world view, on our way of thinking, on our social behaviour and on our ethics in the face of the effects of Darwin’s studies. The proverbial “materialistic” basic attitude already evident at the time of his publications developed into rigorous behaviour patterns in social and professional life based on so-called “social Darwinism”.

Now in this area at least the scientifically and religiously based standards were to a certain extent brought closer together. The instruction “Be the earth’s master” applied here too.

These are general statements and do not specifically relate to medicine.

It takes some courage to want to deal with the subject of “ethics” in 20 minutes, even if, as here, it is limited to the field of medicine. Ethics as a topic which can be investigated scientifically and analysed rationally falls within the humanities. My lack of knowledge in the field of philosophy and ethics does not allow me to refer to guiding intellectual forces in this sphere or even to quote them.

Obviously various aspects of the subject of ethics can be discussed in medicine too. But one of the most important appears to me to be the dependence of scientific models and those of the theory of science.

The question is: is there actually any need for debate?

I would say that there is evidence of an increasing unease with medicine’s ethical and moral standards. Yet for all the criticism of shortcomings, an opposing view is also occasionally voiced, namely that the demands of medical ethics are unrealisably high. At the most, they will block progress. An objection which is primarily made by those doing research (e.g. with embryos).

The code of medical ethics is laid down in what is known as the Hippocratic Oath, which all doctors swear. There can be few doctors however who do not regard this oath as a completely outdated relic from the past, a relic which in its time may well have been justified but in which today, after over two thousand years of scientific progress, most passages appear anachronistic.

I shall come back to this.

In medicine – in astonishing contrast to developments in the area of scientific theory and the theory of knowledge – the traditional view is still encountered that every scientific discovery and every advance in knowledge means we are getting closer to truth or reality. As, according to this notion, “scientific truth” cannot be separated from general truth, ethical principles must be oriented towards “truthful scientific objectivity”. This means that conduct in medicine is only ever regarded as ethical conduct in line with valid scientific findings.

Conversely, infringements of rules of scientific discovery – whether deliberate or through ignorance -equate to infringements of ethical rules and must be punished appropriately. There are examples of this not just from the recent past but from the whole history of medicine.

The conviction that scientific discovery is identical to truth exists not only amongst traditional scientists but is accepted by virtually the whole population.

Yet, from the viewpoint of scientific theory, at least since Th. S. Kuhn, at the latest however since the establishment of F. Wallner’s Constructive realism, the concept of “truth” is largely obsolete in the natural sciences. Kuhn believes we should talk about “validity” within a paradigm while Wallner prefers a (jointly) constructed reality whereby the actual “reality” is not accessible to us, at least rationally. Accordingly scientific truth as claimed by conventional medicine, is only a relative concept for the present state of knowledge, or rather the overall agreement on the results of scientific constructions. Science itself is an aid, a tool of cognition. Dealing with science does not guarantee in any way that you will get closer to a “truth.” As is well known, “today’s truth is tomorrow’s error.”

[Incidentally: renowned physicists describe how the existing error is perpetuated in practice 1, namely “scientists all play false to defend newly recognised principles of scientific research against any perceptions of inadequacy.”

The problem with linking ethical and moral behaviour with current scientific knowledge becomes especially clear if one considers the service life of this “scientific knowledge”:

“The useful life of scientific facts is [in fact] similar to that of shoes, around three to five years,” according to the renowned biochemist and scientific critic Erwin Chargaff 2. Chargaff goes on to say that this short service life “also lies in the interests of those who produce science, in the sense of them being unionised.”

I mentioned earlier that ethical requirements, as expressed in the Hippocratic Oath, are regarded by a large proportion of the medical profession as unrealisable and anachronistic. A typical example of this anachronism and impracticality is the requirement of “nil nocere” (do no harm), a requirement which cannot be met by any so-called “scientifically backed” form of treatment in the light of current scientific knowledge. It is taken for granted that an effective treatment must have adverse side effects. Consequently adhering to this oath would mean renouncing effective medical assistance and so naturally equate to unethical conduct! This leads to the baffling consequence that what is known as “scientific knowledge” appears responsible for the discrepancy between a reasonable ethical requirement and its actual practicability!

It is certainly accepted that most doctors want to do the best for their patients and are committed to doing what they can. Yet above all it is their scientific training and their scientific environment which tells them what is best for patients. The decision as to what to do for a specific patient is therefore based on specialist knowledge in which statistics play a decisive part. The doctor knows, for example, that this or that drug produces the desired effect in 78% of cases, so only 22% of patients would be expected to be “non-responders”. He also knows (or he should know) that severe side effects from this or that therapy are only expected in 9% of cases so, statistically, his patient has a good chance of successful treatment. The doctor also knows from the statistics (and generally also tells his patient) that the survival time with this type of tumour is only one year. If the patient is still alive after 5 years, then this is due to the patient who represents a statistical minority. In any case this doesn’t happen very often as suggestive statements like this virtually equate to a voodoo spell.

Today faith in statistically-based scientific knowledge shapes the ethical decisions and conduct of doctors to a considerable extent.

Yet if one actually attaches such significance to the scientific grounds for ethical standards, then what is known as scientific rigour must continuously be examined. And then “scientific” conventional medicine proves not to be nearly as scientifically based as it describes itself. Pietschmann (another physicist) repeatedly pointed out that the scientific rigour behind this medicine was, at best, 19th century science. Similar observations were also made by Capra, Popp, Vester and others.

Yet, for all the criticism, the fact is that for us ethics is now, to a large extent, dependent on the prevailing image of science. Our behavioural norms are shaped by science as the modern ersatz religion. Which makes the structural change beginning to emerge there all the more interesting.

If ethical standards are tied to such an extent to scientific knowledge and patterns of thinking which are still extremely relative, they must consequently – I should like to say fortunately – also be subject to corresponding changes.

Let us return to the supposedly unrealistic Hippocratic Oath and its requirement of nil nocere. I have already pointed out that, in the opinion of our conventional medicine, effective drug therapy is not possible without side effects. A claim generally put forward by our medicine in relation to the effect of drugs goes: „“There can be no drugs and no action by drugs without a side effect.” And the reverse: “If there is no side effect then this is because the drug is ineffective.” As is well known, these claims are used in arguments against homeopathy. The consequence of such ideas is that one must frequently consciously take into account that the patient will be harmed to a greater or lesser degree. No further consideration will be given here to the extent to which weighing up the relative benefits versus the harm fails due to the doctor’s ignorance. In any case such behaviour conflicts with the Hippocratic Oath. And paradoxically this damaging therapy is regarded as ethical behaviour.

This example seems to me to be exemplary for ethics’ dependence on the current scientific context. It is assumed here to be a normal chemical pharmacological fact that, when reactions progress in the body, the effect is also felt in places other than that intended. Chemical reactivity is dependent upon the presence of certain co-reactants, in other words molecules, which react with one another, and less upon the intended point, the intended organ. As a result, a highly specific limited effect is generally not possible. In other words: “A drug cannot be effective without producing a side effect.” This is quite right if the effect of the drug is reduced simply to the progress of chemical reactions.

But what is our justification for this?

According to the notions of quantum physics, we have to assume that matter, or to be more precise, its elementary particles, also essentially have the characteristics of waves. And, as we all know, a fundamental property of all types of waves is the ability to cause interference and a long-range effect through resonance. Spectral analysis and electron microscopy are examples of the few opportunities afforded by quantum physics which our medicine already makes use of. I have explained all this in detail in the chapters “Ein neuer Aspekt der Medikamentenwirkung” and “Homöopathie entmystifiziert” in my book “Ist unsere Medizin noch zu retten?” 3 I’ll just say this much here: partly due to the dipole effect of molecular structures as dynamic electrically charged “particles”, substances, and obviously medicines too, emit their typical oscillation patterns. And as a result, under the laws of physical resonance, these can be received by suitable receivers (resonators). As, in the body, the structures of Heine’s mesenchymal matrix have the properties of these resonators, signals (information patterns) from the transmitter (medicine) can be transferred to the body.

This sort of targeted action produced by receiving and processing a signal has no side effects. Either the signal transmitted is appropriate, causing resonance so that resonance coupling occurs or it isn’t appropriate and then nothing happens. If the oscillation pattern and the suitable receiver do not tally, in other words if the
chosen medicine is not appropriate, then no action can be expected. (Rather like all the other radio programmes available as frequency patterns in the aerial’s range being ineffective if a receiver is tuned to a specific transmitter.) To exclude side effects, the number of molecules present in the medicine should be reduced to prevent chemical reactions progressing so that, under the law of mass action, a chemical reaction is no longer possible (as is customary in homeopathy, for example).

[What this aims to show is simply the extent to which ethical conduct and ethical standards in medicine are dependent upon scientific context. One may now object that homeopathy actually shows that the principle of “nil nocere” is possible without
a scientific foundation. Yet real outstanding medical performance – especially with the thorny problem of chronic diseases – will only be possible with scientifically based medicine. Empirical and intuitive experience must be monitored and optimised by a critical rational logic! The widening in scientific understanding which is currently going on will provide appropriate tools for this.]

If not restricted, science certainly offers the conditions for developing safe methods of healing patients, free from side effects.

The body’s ability to self-regulate or “autopoiesis” (Maturana, Varela) which was recently identified and is now also understood, should also result in greater respect for the human body and increased confidence in its abilities. A more modest assessment of the part played by medical achievement can also be expected. “Medicus curat, natura sanat” (A doctor administers the cure; nature does the healing), a phrase which can be taken more seriously again. Here nature is not meant as a vague romantic concept but as a “natural” inherent property of biological systems which can be described precisely.

Another passage in the Hippocratic Oath should prompt us to think carefully. “I will prescribe regimens for my patients according to my ability and my judgement …” The current tendency to set particular “guidelines” for every therapy, for every diagnosis and every syndrome totally conflicts with this. To meet the requirements of the Hippocratic Oath however, doctors’ training would also need
to be modified. It would have to place the emphasis on developing critical enquiry and away from adopting the current products of “knowledge producers,” free from all responsibility (Chargaff). The
opportunity to mechanically follow these guidelines may well be welcomed by some medical professionals because it relieves them of responsibility for the individual patient. It reduces them however to
scientific “removal men”, to use another of Chargaff’s bons mots.

I have had unfortunately to keep another equally important consequence of research into quantum physics from you, ladies and
gentlemen, due to lack of time: namely the interdependence of everything. But this subject would fill a lecture all by itself.

I hope nevertheless that I have in some way managed to demonstrate to you that a comprehensive ecological paradigm is currently emerging through the involvement of the most important researchers from various scientific disciplines. The new medical paradigm will also be embedded in this. New knowledge from research into chaos theory, quantum physics and also holographic research will and must influence our whole world view.

A quintessential part of the ecological paradigm is the ancient and yet revolutionary discovery of the interdependence of everything.

Through this finding, science and ethics will for the first time exist in a shared context. Ethical requirements, perhaps experienced intuitively, originating from so-called conscience or religiously motivated, can now also have a purely rational basis. They can be derived from new scientific discoveries. This form could perhaps be described as “secular ethics”.

Interconnected thinking brings with it new consequences!

Thinking in interdependent structures always affects ethical areas as well; the responsibility of the individual is also an inevitable consequence where it is not possible to identify the immediate and linear effects of one’s own actions and thinking. Every influence, including every disruptive influence, exerted on our environment or outside world will always also react upon us due to the feedback loops emerging everywhere as a result of interdependence. This is an inherent result, a logical consequence, not punishment from a superior power however! In eastern cultures dating back thousands of years this is known as “karma”.

The principle of the “interdependence of everything” makes it seem attractive and meaningful to me to use the term “religio” in a new context. “Religio” in its original – I should say: “free from religion” – meaning, translated literally as “attachment, dependence”, can definitely be regarded as a modern scientific concept, as an expression of an encompassing systemic interdependence and interaction. Religio becomes a secular concept! So-called “secular” and religious or conscience-based ethics would thus be identical and consequently acceptable to everyone in the end.

I am aware that all the arguments presented here for a new medical ethics are purely rationally based and therefore one-sided. This could create the impression that I would reduce man’s mental abilities to his rational mind and scientific thinking. But I believe man’s emotional and intuitive abilities and resources are just as important for a holistic life – and holistic medicine! – as our ability to think clearly. Intuition and empathy are also vital ingredients in newly emerging holistic medicine.

For our medicine to be reformed, however, thought structures must first be changed. Ethical standards will then change quite spontaneously in a new context.

Literature

1 Bohm D, Peat F D. Das neue Weltbild. München: Goldmann 1990. 

2 Chargaff Erwin. Erforschung der Natur und Denaturierung des Menschen. In: Dürr H-P u. Zimmerli W. (Hsg.): Geist und Natur.

3 Hanzl G S. Ist unsere Medizin noch zu retten? – Plädoyer für eine
Horizonterweiterung. Neu-Isenburg: LinguaMed Verlag 2007.

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