Medical Research

More on Complexity

Kristen Sparrow • January 09, 2012

Sorry for the long gap without posting! I guess I’ll blame it on the holidays and getting back to work, though that certainly can’t account for such a long window. I’m reworking my website, and will be giving a presentationm though that kind of activity is always going on.
But I wanted to continue a bit with the article by Andrew Ahn, discussed here. I will highlight the pertinent part, because it reflects my thinking about Heart Rate Variability and what it can tell us about the overall health of the patient. He even says that it may reflect a person’s “adaptability” which is the conclusion I’ve come to over the years. Though effective acupuncture treatment most likely is a function of the correct acupoints, the overall state of the subjects system is probably an important factor too. Then the question becomes, how best to nurture that adaptability that will allow for self healing.

Because heart rate is dynamically balanced through many elements, including the autonomic nervous system, respiration, hormones, and other physiologic systems, the heart theoretically should be responsive to, and exhibit increased complexity across, multiple time scales in concert with fluctuations in these elements. The temporal changes of a variable therefore may contain hidden information that is useful for describing the overall system. This capacity to capture the global state of a system or an individual suggests these complexity-based measures may act as surrogates for concepts that were traditionally difficult to measure but considered important for CAM research (e.g., “health” and “adaptability”). Does a homeopathy prescription or massage treatment affect complexity measures of HRV?…
means to understand CAM better, CAM therapies themselves can be thought of as exemplars for how complexity theory can be applied to clinical medicine. Historically, conventional medicine has evolved and developed under a reductionist Cartesian framework. Complex problems such as chronic diseases were typically divided into smaller, simpler, and thus tractable, units. This approach has affected the way practitioners diagnose, treat, and prevent illnesses. Importantly, it has also shaped the practitioner’s worldview and heuristic approach to medicine. To incorporate a distinct philosophical framework such as complexity theory to medicine may therefore challenge pervasive entrenched beliefs and perspectives….
In this regard, CAM is uniquely poised to provide the needed perspective and experience. Many CAM therapies are rooted in a worldview most consistent with complexity and systems theory. The human body is viewed holistically and considered dynamic and complex; the mind, body, and spirit are inextricably linked; and the interactions among the organs and individuals are as important as the components themselves… fractal patterns within the body (e.g., reflexology, auricular acupuncture), and the use of minimal interventions to affect the larger system (e.g., acupuncture and homeopathy).

I didn’t realize that the traditional medical model was a “reductionist Cartesian model.” I’ve always thought that the limiting perpective of traditional medicine, was that it was mainly developed after the industrial revolution, and so the body is seen as a machine rather than a living, adapting, organism.

More on my practice here.