Happy Birthday, Samuel Hahnemann!

Lesedauer / Reading Time: 4 min

Samuel Hahnemann, the inventor of homeopathy, would have turned 266 today.

A retrospective by Dr. Natalie Grams

Picture of Samuel Hahnemann, born 1755 in Koethen, Saxonie, dies 1843 in Paris
Samuel Hahnemann (born 1755 in Koethen, Saxonia, died 1843 in Paris)

When I first heard a sentence from Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, I was a young medical student – and totally excited: “The highest ideal of cure is rapid, gentle and permanent restoration of health, or removal and annihilation of the disease in its whole extent, in the shortest, most reliable, and most harmless way, on clearly comprehensible principles.” (Organon, 6th edition). Whoa! That was exactly what I wanted to achieve as a prospective doctor: to understand, to really understand what made my patients ill and to help them to achieve improvement in the gentlest and yet best possible way. In short: I found this ideal great.

At my university I found like-minded people during my studies and learned homeopathy there in student circles and in courses and weekend seminars. I read the texts by Hahnemann, in particular his basic works “The Organon of Medicine” and “The Chronic Diseases” and really had the feeling that I had found a particularly healthening form of medicine. Later I opened a private practice for homeopathy, treated my own family and patients mainly homeopathically and was happy about the success. Although I heard here and there about the criticism of homeopathy, I dismissed it as unfounded – without looking into it any further – and swore by Hahnemann. I was fascinated by his idea that illness only arose because the immaterial life force in humans was disturbed and this in turn could only be brought into an even flow by immaterial healing force in drugs. The successes, which I also saw in practice and in my circle of acquaintances, convinced me that this concept simply had to have something to do with this. I could have imagined keeping this work and this medicine up to the end of my life. Hahnemann appeared to me as a genius, a great thinker and pioneer of his time.

In order to really understand homeopathy and its founder, however, we must keep in mind the time Hahnemann lived at and how he came up with his ideas and the development of his own “medicine”. Especially in the last 200 years, medicine and science made an enormously progress. Hahnemann had no idea of bacteria, infection pathways, the immune system in all its complexity and how we could influence it. His ideas, as innovative as they were at that time, have become untenable regarding to the background of today’s knowledge. Moreover, he had succumbed to a thinking error from the very beginning. The well-known chinona bark self-experiment, with which he believed to have found the similarity principle of homeopathy, could never be reproduced after all.

Homeopathy may have been a blessing as an alternative to the medicine of that time, but today it is no longer the case (neither alternative nor blessing). By turning away from the then usual rough methods such as bloodletting or vomiting cures, Hahnemann certainly contributed to a better medicine. This is still his merit and legacy. Today, however, knowledge in physics and chemistry is completely sufficient to be able to say that nothing else happens during the production of homeopathic remedies than a very, very heavy dilution, which leads to the fact that usually no active substance is present at all and no energy is produced. After all, the globules cannot do any direct harm, but they don’t really work either. This does not make homeopathy completely ineffective and this explains the successes that I have also noticed: A so-called “sham therapy” does not mean that nothing happens. Only the thought and the hope that someone treats us well can lead to physical improvements in us humans. It’s called the placebo effect. That is not nothing, but it is also certainly not a medication therapy – and it does not replace such if you are really ill. Hahnemann himself could not know this, because he had neither the knowledge of today’s natural sciences, nor the statistical possibilities, the theory of science, and our complex methods (“clinical studies”) today to test the efficacy of drugs and methods in medicine. So we can’t blame him! But anyone who still believes one to one in his statements today is wrong together with Hahnemann who deceased 177 years ago. Where there is nothing, nothing can work – except good faith and understandable hope.

Even today, when I have distanced myself far from homeopathy and criticize it in many places, I believe that Hahnemann was a mastermind of his time. However, someone who has been refuted in many of his thoughts over the course of time. But it is not a sign of tolerance to hold on to what has been refuted. Let us thank him for what he did well in his time and let us remain realistic: Even 264 years after Hahnemann’s birth, healing does not come from nothing. And as beautiful as the sentence of gentle and comprehensive permanent healing sounds for us, as little has been proven in almost 200 years of research that it is also true when homeopathy is used as a medication therapy. And didn’t Hahnemann himself demand “clearly comprehensible principles”?

Today, I find it important to be honest with patients and not to keep them from really effective therapy with deceptive promises of salvation – even if this may consist in waiting patiently (this will be the case often more than expected). If there is one thing that I have taken with me from my time in homeopathy, it is that our body is surprisingly often healed all by itself and with the help of its inherent self-healing capacities. And that really is the gentlest and most natural way of healing.

Picture: Wikimedia commons

This article was published originally in German on the blog “deiks.de” and is published here slightly acuralized and translated.