Medical Research

More on Munger's Mental Models and Acupuncture

Kristen Sparrow • December 06, 2011

My post yesterday was a riff on Charlie Munger and his use of mental models. Why is this of interest? I am searching for workable models to use for acupuncture and thereby improve its efficacy. I also think that the models for Western Medicine are breaking down in various ways and to varying degrees. They are still the best we have, but they are inadequate and have been corrupted by moneyed interests to boot.
At the ISAMS conference, I presented a poster on Heart Rate Variability and its correlation with clinical outcomes in my private practice clinic. Professor Longhurst was interested in the poster in so much as he came over a number of times to argue with me. He has done yeoman’s work on hypertension and cardiac health and acupuncture. His argument was that since I used manual and not electroacupuncture, I was not getting a sustained stimulation so I couldn’t draw any conclusions. His argument makes sense according to his mental model; i.e that acupuncture works by stimulating nerves under the meridian. My models say that that’s part of it, but after reading a textbook on Immunology and the Skin describing what happens when one gets a sunburn, I would posit that there are cascades of immunological healing effects that happen with the tiny injury of placing of a needle. (This is the model that could account for the non-specific needling effects seen with acupuncture.) Also, as I’ve written about repeatedly on this blog and in my research I think that the decrease in the stress response can account for the variety of conditions treated by acupuncture from panic attacks to allergy to sciatica.
Models are extremely important, because without them how can we improve outcomes? When it comes to Longhurst’s model it worked in this study on hypertension, but to use electroacupuncture routinely in the clinic, especially for musculoskeletal pain can lead to severe aggravation of symptoms, which, naturally enrages the patients. Not good clinically nor for business… Electroacupuncture is used on lab animals all the time and they don’t seem to be enraged, but maybe they have a stronger placebo effect?? I kid.
The mental models used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, also do their best to make sense of health and healing in their own ingenious way and have structured their models completely differently than the models of Western Medicine. It is a struggle to use models that don’t fit with our models, but on the other hand there is a constraint of thinking in only using the traditional models again and again if they are failing. For failing models you need look no further than Avastin, temporal artery surgery for stroke prevention, or stents to name a few.
More on my practice here.