The Idea of Progress keeps us from learning from the past

Remember the time (or the movies) when a mother or the doctor, at the bedside of a sick child, smiled with relief and said “The fever broke. She’s going to be alright.” Today most of us presume that fevers are part of the problem, and an aspirin is prescribed to treat the fever. It could be that fevers are not a symptom, but actually part of the solution and reducing them immediately is not a good idea.

Which brings me to lost knowledge of the past. The advice from Hippocrates, that everyone remembers and that physicians should consider first, is to do no harm. He also is recorded as having said, “Fever is half the striving of the organism against the disease. It purifies the body like fire.” There is also a quote from Parmenides, “Give me the power to produce a fever, and I will cure any illness.”

In an article in the Institute of Noetic Sciences Special Report of 1987 “Healing, Remission and Miracle Cure,” there was a section about Doctor William Coley who treated cancer patients from the 1880s and started taking notes of those who contracted an erysipelas infection that brought on a fever, which they spent a few days fighting – “as though,” the doctor said, “the immune system were being activated to fight off the infection.” Later he recorded that 40 percent of the cancers of the infected patients who had fevers, went into remission. Dr. Coley died in 1935, but his daughter kept his records and gave 1,000 documented cases to Lloyd Old at Sloan-Kettering. Sloan-Kettering began a study of the erysipelas infection to learn how it triggered the necrosis of the tumor and the possibility of a pill to do the same.

Perhaps the Greeks figured it was the fever, not the infection that was the effective factor. If cooling a patient can have positive effects, why not test the possibilities of heat?

Yet little has been said by the medical profession about the potential of fever (and possibly heat) as an effective treatment for many diseases, including cancer.

When I read the article I remembered my own experience in 1977 when I was in the hospital recovering from a mastectomy, I had been told that the cancer was very aggressive, and had invaded my lymph nodes. I, too, had a high fever for a couple of days before it was treated. It was discovered that I had an infection where the incision in my chest for a tube had been placed. Later I learned I probably had erysipelas, a strep infection. My cancer has never returned.

The Library in Alexandria contained some 40,000 manuscripts and books before it was destroyed by Caesar’s army and later by others. The Pagan temples, also treasure troves of ancient knowledge, were destroyed around 391 AD by the Coptic Christian Pope, Theophilus, when Paganism was declared illegal. It is reported to have had 70,000 tomes. We will never know what those tomes contained. And although there are many accomplishments of the past that we cannot explain, many doctors as well as others tend to treat them what they knew patronizingly, assuming that they could not be as knowledgeable as civilized and educated humans today.

My opinion is that our unchallenged belief in the Myth of Progress is what keeps us from learning much, if anything from the ancient past. My friend Sarah corrected me when we were talking at the feria last Saturday. She said it is the profit motive as well as the Progress motive. It’s true, if you can’t patent it, you can’t sell it. Whichever it is, wars, religious and otherwise, destroy the knowledge the world has achieved.

It was another Greek in ancient times — Aeschylus — who said “Truth is the first casualty of war.” I would like to add, “And Truth continues to be a casualty in post-war eras.”

Let’s hope that in the New Year change will come about, not by wars, but by velvet revolutions so there will be no vanquished, no victors to write history and no more books burned. And maybe Truth will recover.

This entry was posted in Friday Column. Bookmark the permalink.