It’s hard to believe how quickly this year is progressing. It’s been almost a month since returning to school, and though I’ve only had a couple weeks of a full class schedule, I already feel I have learned so much.
This week, I’m taking a couple steps back from the incessant reading. I have a lot of catching up to do with replenishing inventory, but I also need to let my mind make new connections between my diverging interests.
I still believe food studies and herbalism fit together, but they do butt heads at time. Last week had a focus on medicine and science. Specifically, a sociological approach to medicine and science. While I was excited for this theme, I found it lacking. To frame the disciplines of science and medicine in a social light is nothing new to me, and having received an undergraduate education in science from a liberal arts institution has proven to be more wholesome and applicable than I first realized. As a fellow biology student introgressed the sociopolitical coproduction of punctuated gradualist and mutationist theories of evolution into his genetic work on fish, I framed my understanding of plant secondary metabolism and chemical ecology with ethnopharmacology, ethnobotany, and pharmacognosy. We learned the things that scientists must learn: That every peer-reviewed paper is simply one nugget of information in a vast ocean of corroborating and contradicting information, and drawing conclusions from this ocean must be done with caution and skepticism. Finding causation in correlation is a long and easily-contested journey. Every question that is answered unlocks new questions. Every new question answered may make us question the old question’s answer. Equally vital, we learned that science can never be truly isolated from the social realm.
My formal studies in herbalism began in the chemistry classroom but naturally progressed into the philosophical realm out of necessity. Philosophy, I have learned, is a much more intuitive teacher than science.
I will still place my convictions in science, but as a professional discipline, it can never be unfettered from social, economic, and political spheres. Like every other subject, science and medicine can be weaponized to define, devalue, and disparage the Other. They can be an outlet for corruption and hate as much as religion.
In the 19th century, Western Medicine was forming its modern identity, and to acquire full domain over the medical sphere, it leveraged preexisting notions of race and gender to disparage traditional and lay medicine. White, antebellum doctors dismissed Indigenous and African American healing work as “magic” and “superstition”, and such terms have unfortunately persisted to this day. As scientific evidence for empirical healing methodologies grows, some medicine cannot be clinically tested. Spirituality offers its own form of medicine that may operate through placebo but also through building sense of community and networks of support. It is noteworthy to add that modern rises in witchcraft (however the term is interpreted) is correlated with social or economical instability as well as disenfranchisement, particularly of women, from medical establishments.
To methodize science is essential for producing clear data, and it is no simple feat in an infinitely complex world. Science must always be understood as one piece to a much greater, if not incomprehensible, puzzle. We must trust science to guide us into the future, but we should never let this supersede other, more traditional facets of Humanity which, I argue, may be more authentic to the human condition than science.