Posts Tagged homunculus

If tongues could talk, what would your dentist say?

Most pseudomedical modalities can be divided into three distinct types.

The first of these is detox, where a pseudomedic takes it upon themselves to declare arbitrary substances “toxins” and seeks to purge them from your body. c.f. chelation, colonic irrigation, quack diets, etc.

The second is vitalism, which holds that there is some sort of “vital energy” or spark which “powers” your body.  Any flaw in this vital energy will make you sick; fixing said flaw will make you well.  This forms the basis of acupuncture, chiropractic, reiki and therapeutic touch – just about anything that requires the manipulation of our “energy fields” (whatever the hell that means).

The third type of pseudomedicine is the homunculus. An homunculus is a tiny effigy, or other representation, of a human being, most familiar to philosophers from the homunculus argument; and to Doctor Who fans as Mr Sin from The Talons of Weng-Chiang.  In a medical context, an homunculus is when a part of the body is said to represent the whole.  The quack, er, I mean, holistic life therapy coach guru specialist… or whatever… then diagnoses (by reading) or treats (by manipulating) the patient’s malaise via the homunculus. This approach forms the basis of reflexology, iridology and (to a lesser extent) palmistry and phrenology.

Homunculus therapies are pre-medical and pseudoscientific, with a view on how the body works that hasn’t changed since the middle ages. They take no account of anatomy, chemistry, biology or evolution. Face it, if you have e. coli in your kidneys, it doesn’t matter how hard you rub the middle of your foot, it’s not going to go away.

That bastion of love and tolerance, the Daily Mail, seems blissfully unaware of this and has cheerfully published an uncritical and credulous story by Christopher Middleton, describing a visit to the “holistic dentist” Dr John Roberts. Dr Roberts runs a dental practice in West Yorkshire which combines ordinary dentistry with quackery, and calls it an “holistic approach”.  Middleton’s article focuses on “tongue diagnosis”, which Roberts claims he can use to identify his patient’s medical problems.

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