Vitalism and Mechanism – A tale of two philosophies

There are two philosophies with regard to health care.

Spend any time with a practitioner here in Tacoma and you can probably tell which one they operate from. Whether it is mechanism or vitalism.

Mechanism perceives the body as a machine, albeit a very complex one. What are the qualities of a machine? They tend to breakdown, and require regular maintenance to fix them. We replace these parts with little difficulty in the event of breakdown. The problem with the machine is often due to a failure in one part that, when replaced, will fix the problem. This would be analogous to organ transplants in the human body. It is, in effect, very symptom based, and the symptoms are often seen as the problem.

Examples of this kind of thinking include the germ theory of disease, pharmaceutical interventions in general, and Newtonian physics.

This kind of medical philosophy is great at savings lives, though it does little actually promote health. When Laelle had to get an appendectomy last year, we were very glad to have medicine and the mechanistic model. They took the appendix out with little difficulty.And still there was a significant process of recovery involved.

Vitalism is more about maximizing health. It takes a broader view, and looks at the body as an integrated whole. The body is in and of itself, striving to be healthy. It needs little help to do so, only an honoring of its function and no interference to its normal processes. The body knows best how to take care of itself, due to this vital force. Symptoms are not the problem, but are the body’s way of addressing its own health issues. Support and acknowledge symptoms, rather than suppress them, is the vitalistic view.

Its tends to fall in line more with quantum physics, which incorporates a certain element of the chaotic into its theories. Chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, craniosacral therapy, all follow this philosophy, or could. They all tend to honor the wisdom of the body to take care of itself.

There are times for each. Mechanistic intervention can save lives, but Vitalism is the philosophy of maximizing it!

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