Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Weird" science #2: Louis Pasteur

This is one of those posts I have been tied up in knots over because I have simply not had enough time to study it out to the final degree I want to. But I think I have gone far enough to share it with you so, if you are intrigued, you can study it far enough to feel comfortable yourself either to affirm or deny its veracity.

If you think I may be following a primrose path to error, please feel free to correct me!


I had always been led to believe that Louis Pasteur was a great person, worthy of great honors. After all, it is he who developed the germ theory that led to most of the tremendous advances in late 19th and early 20th century medicine and, of course, to the process that bears his name: pasteurization, "a process of gently heating foodstuffs like milks to kill these organisms without changing the flavor or nutritional value." I have even found him held out by many conservative Christians as a model of religious rectitude.

This is what I have been taught.

Except now I am finding that nearly everything I was taught about Pasteur's science and discoveries, not to mention the value of pasteurization, may be wrong.

More specifically, I'm learning, there is quite a number of historians who claim,
  • Pasteur didn't "discover" what is credited to his name. All of those "discoveries" were known before he came along. --It appears the case for this is quite strong. (See Chapter 1 of The Dream and Lie of Louis Pasteur for one source.)
    • Question, however: Could it be said that Pasteur "discovered" the germ theory in the same way that it can be said legitimately that Columbus "discovered" America (even though we have definitive evidence Columbus was not the first European to make it to the Americas and back)? No, Columbus was not first in the sense of absolutely no one having done it before. But, yes, he was first in the sense that it was only after Columbus went and returned that "America" came to be generally recognized for what it was. I.e., he was first in somewhat the same sense that George Washington was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." . . .

      My point: Is it possible that, while, as R. B. Pearson notes, it was proposed by many people even centuries before Pasteur that diseases are transferred by microscopic "seminaria contagionum" (Geronimo Fracastorio (1483-1553)) or "animalcula" (described in 1683 by Antonius van Leeuwenhoek) or "germs" (proposed in 1762 by M. A. Plenciz), the world really needed a Pasteur to popularize the concept and make it stick?
  • I lack the capacity to judge one way or another on this matter, but several credible sources suggest that bacteria are not so much the causes of disease as they are the consequences. Microorganisms are, as it were, the "cleanup crew." When a macroorganism is weak, the microorganisms will come in to put it out of its misery and/or digest (and, thus, remove) the diseased parts. They say that the germ theory of disease--the theory that germs cause disease--is ill-conceived.
It was/is this latter point, really, that has put much of my blog writing on hold over the last few weeks. I have had this post semi-written (up to the words "ill-conceived") for the last month. But/and I have not been able to get far enough into the underlying literature to feel satisfied about the truth or error of the claim.

So let me share some of the sources I have perused:

The Dream and Lie of Louis Pasteur. --That, actually, was my first introduction to this set of weird ideas. It focuses primarily upon Bechamp and Pasteur. I received the link from a friend who has bought into the theory that "the [physical] terrain [of the host body] is everything; the germ is nothing."

The Lost History of Medicine. A development of the terrain/germ dichotomy with lots of links.

. . . I would like to develop this more, but I think the development will come in subsequent posts. (Be glad! 1--I'm getting this stuff published. And, 2--maybe my posts will be shorter than they used to be when I would get into this kind of stuff!)

For those who think I have jumped off the deep end, that I would even "listen" to this kind of stuff, let me acknowledge that I am finding myself extremely skeptical about the claims. But I am intrigued that, even if (as I expect), the authors of these articles--and the books and articles that they reference--are mistaken in some fundamental ways, they are probably more right than conventional medical advocates are willing to acknowledge. Put another way: Conventional medicine has some insights (but claims far more knowledge and competency than it has a right to claim), and these possible "quacks" are onto some keen insights that most of us ought to know about and utilize to our benefit. At the same time, I expect, they also claim far too much for their theories than they have a right to claim. --Just for example, "The terrain is everything," I imagine, is way overblown. So, too, I'm sure, is "the germ is nothing." But it would be extremely valuable to notice the terrain, and pay attention to the terrain, and to work on the terrain--something that conventional medicine, by and large, refuses to do; and something that the U.S. government, through its subsidies, actively undermines (a subject we will return to in subsequent posts).

So. Onward!

I hope you'll join me as we see where this leads. . . .
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