Homeopathy4health

15 June 2008

Homeopathy, Medicine, Science and Cognitive Dissonance

Given that more and more people globally are using homeopathy with benefit for all kinds of ill-health; its effectiveness in treating epidemics: cholera, influenza (here and here); its integration into the Indian medical system; and the World Health Organisation reporting that it is the number 2 medical system in the world (but you won’t find that report anywhere, it’s been buried), I can only conclude that the reason why conventional medics and scientists might genuinely (rather than wilfully because of love of science itself, self-interest or pharmaceutical allegiances taking priority over the health of patients) refuse to use and investigate homeopathy is because they are suffering from what is termed ‘cognitive dissonance’. www.learningandteaching.info describes it well:

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas, and it may be necessary for it to develop so that we become “open” to them. Neighbour (1992) makes the generation of appropriate dissonance into a major feature of tutorial (and other) teaching: he shows how to drive this kind of intellectual wedge between learners’ current beliefs and “reality”.  
Beyond this benign if uncomfortable aspect, however, dissonance can go “over the top”, leading to two interesting side-effects for learning:

  • if someone is called upon to learn something which contradicts what they already think they know — particularly if they are committed to that prior knowledge — they are likely to resist the new learning. Even Carl Rogers recognised this. Accommodation is more difficult than Assimilation, in Piaget’s terms.             
  • and—counter-intuitively, perhaps—if learning something has been difficult, uncomfortable, or even humiliating enough, people are less likely to concede that the content of what has been learned is useless, pointless or valueless. To do so would be to admit that one has been “had”, or “conned”.

Ordeal is therefore an effective — if spurious — way of conferring value on an educational (or any other) experience. “No pain, no gain”, as they say.

  • the more difficult it is to get on a course, the more participants are likely to value it and view it favourably regardless of its real quality.
  • ditto, the more expensive it is.
  • the more obscure and convoluted the subject, the more profound it must be. This has of course been exploited for years to persuade us of the existence of the emperor’s clothes, particularly by French “intellectuals” and “post-structuralists”. (I recently came across the wonderful phrase “intellectual flatulence” which perfectly describes such rubbish.)

It is not, however, so much the qualities of the course which are significant, as the amount of effort which participants have to put in: so the same qualification may well be valued more by the student who had to struggle for it than the student who sailed through.”

As medicine and science is very hard to get into and arduous to study, it seems to fulfill several of the above criteria.

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