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Mind and Body

October 14, 1985

In stressing the importance of mental attitudes in the cause and cure of diseases, Barrie R. Cassilethi and Norman Cousins (Editorial Pages, Oct. 3) have brought the concept of a reciprocal mind-body relationship another step away from the old Cartesian paradigm of dividing mind and body.

It was this mechanical view of the total human organism that reduced both medical and psychiatric practice to the notion that the body is a machine with separate parts. Mind and body being the prime example. The physician's task, therefore, was to repair the part that is diseased.

Unfortunately, this view ignored the patient as a human being, reduced the problem of health and disease (consider the meaning of the word dis-ease ) to specific mechanical functioning, and shifted the whole emphasis from a holistic view of human health and disease to the technique of treating the pathological condition of separate organs.

The medical profession has yet to find an effective way of preventing disease or preserving health. Lewis Thomas of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center points to the fact that "we are left with approximately the roster of common major diseases which confronted the country in 1950."

One of our great physicians, Sir William Osler, anticipated the problem three generations ago when he said, "It is much more important to know what sort of patient has a disease, than what sort of disease a patient has."

The human organism is an open energy system in which mind-body is unified, both being two aspects of one function. Mind, therefore, is not a geographical location in the skull, but represents what a person thinks, feels and does as a total human being.

Perhaps the real problem is still the one Hippocrates presented more than 2,000 years ago: "The art of medicine consists in three things: the disease, the patient, and the physician. The patient must combat the disease along with the physician."


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