The role of meaning in (medical) science

Reflections by Adam Bjerre on N=1Campus25

The CauseHealth workshop at NMBU was a very different kind of workshop than I was used to as a practising and basically mechanistically trained physiotherapist. The gathering was much more abstract, more reflective and still tremendously engaging and relevant. It occurred to me how much the workshop highlighted the problem that still seems to haunt the medical sciences as well as the sciences in general, but the natural sciences in particular: the role of meaning in a material world or more precisely how (local, not global) meaning can be causally efficacious.

In the special sciences I think we assume this kind of causal connection, but it is still quite a task to explain how this kind of causality comes about and what the consequences (especially in the medical sciences) are in terms of thinking about our deeper assumptions regarding health, disease, treatment and care. Concepts like interpretation, function, value, self, sentience, and emotion are concepts that are not easily integrated into a naturalistic perspective that is heavily dominated by a reductionistic, mechanistic, eliminative and (still) dualistic perspective and yet to claim a kind of downward or top-down causation that is somehow a free-standing principle for life and mind is equally fruitless and just begs the question. The aphorism “the whole is more than the sum of the parts” also invites non-materialistic explanations and interpretations which isn’t very fruitful either.

But I think that is the task that we are faced with when trying to get more clear about the problems of explanation and understanding we face regarding medicine, fatigue, pain, suffering, experience or subjectivity. It seems like the CauseHealth-project is a tiny, but important step towards reconciling the divide that Descartes among others created with a purely mechanistic view of our bodies. I for one look forward to interesting and engaging discussions on these topics and especially trying rationally to put the person in the center instead of the disease.

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