Toward a Meaningful Alternative Medicine

By Prasad, Vinay | The Hastings Center Report, September-October 2009 | Go to article overview

Toward a Meaningful Alternative Medicine

Prasad, Vinay, The Hastings Center Report

In 1998, Phil Fontanarosa and George Lundberg declared, "there is no alternative medicine." They maintained there "is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which data is lacking." Fontanarosa and Lundberg continued:

   Regardless of the origin or type of therapy, the theoretical
   underpinnings of its mechanism of action, or the practitioner who
   delivers it, the critical questions are the same. What is the
   therapy? What is the disease or condition for which it is being
   used? What is its purported benefit to the patient? What are the
   risks? How much does it cost? And, perhaps most important, does it
   work? (1)

The issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association in which this appeared contained six randomized clinical trials that evaluated various alternative interventions for the treatment of common clinical conditions.

Now, more than ten years later, the enterprise of alternative and complimentary medicine boasts annual revenue in excess of sixty billion dollars, and visits to alternative practitioners outnumber visits to primary care providers. (2) But by no means should this be taken as an affront to Fontanarosa and Lundberg. Today, whole journals are devoted to evidence-based alternative medicine, and ancient practices are subjected to the rigor of randomized controlled trials.

Sometime during medical school, I attended an alternative medicine conference in Chicago. The keynote address was by a general internist trained in several other modalities, and a critic of holding alternative medicine accountable by Western standards. His practice, however, was a hodgepodge of interventions. Some of the medicine he practiced was evidence-based--hypnotism for smoking cessation--and he emphasized the data for it. Some were therapies that were conceivably testable, but had not yet been verified, and some were interventions that ran contrary to the best large population evidence in medicine. He argued that he did not need evidence to know what worked--citing patients who simply "felt better" after acupuncture--though he had earlier basked in the level one evidence for hypnotism. His talk was philosophically confused. But most importantly, his practice did little to add richness to the way patients thought of health. It was aspiritual and faddish.

At a time when medicine is increasingly pulled toward both evidence-based and alternative medicine, a number of philosophical issues arise, but they are all concerned with our conception of good health and the healthy life. I will argue that there is a unique way to think of alternative medicine, a way to preserve it in the midst of the evidence-based movement. We should move toward a rich and meaningful philosophy of meditative medicine.

Looking to Heidegger

The late works of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger were marked by recurring themes of poetry and technology as contrasting ways of making sense of the world (of "Revealing," as Heidegger put it). Heidegger used these terms not only in the concrete way we think of them, but also as placemarkers for their essence. The essence of technology for Heidegger is calculative thinking--the use of objects to achieve some purpose--while the essence of poetry and art is meditative thinking--reflecting on the beauty inherent in how things are. Heidegger believed that Man's nature was not restricted to either one of these modes of thinking; it encompassed both. So, though often described as antitechnology, Heidegger in reality was concerned that "The approaching tide of technological revolution in the atomic age could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle, and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking." (3)

The issue then becomes "saving man's essential nature. Therefore the issue is keeping meditative thinking alive. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Toward a Meaningful Alternative Medicine


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.