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The Rise of Complementary Medicine and the Materialist Stance of Biomedicine

Harald Walach


It is puzzling to observe that at a time when medicine has allegedly made huge progress in combating disease and increasing human wellbeing a counter-movement has arisen: “Complementary and Alternative Medicine  (CAM)”. Sometimes also called “Integrative Medicine” it is quite popular not only in pockets of Society, but across a large part of populations in Western countries. Media campaigns have been started to curb its success. CAM has to be seen against the mainstream background in medicine which has adopted the machine-paradigm proposed by Descartes. While this has been successful within acute medicine, it is less successful in dealing with chronic, functional or lifestyle diseases. By default, the machine paradigm ignores individuality, agency, the psyche, and has placed a taboo on spirituality. This happens, because the mainstream model of modern medicine buys into the materialism that is inherent in the machine paradigm and currently prevalent naturalism. In this sense, CAM can be seen as a counter-movement, mainly driven by public demand, but also by some renegade scientists. It offers the chance to articulate alternative views of the human organism, of human suffering and disease. It allows the discussion of spirituality and other topics that are shunned by mainstream medicine. Complexity science might be a bridge, which has started to understand that that human organism is vastly more complex than the simplistic machine model would have it. We will likely need a new paradigm that can integrate all those elements neglected in the current mainstream model, most notable spirituality and the notion of agency and freedom.


Complementary and alternative medicine, complexity, integrated medicine, integrative medicine, machine model, paradigm, person-centered healthcare, spirituality

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