If you’ve ever been burned in the kitchen, you probably know that the worst thing you can do is to stick your hand under cold running water. Yes, it’s what the docs advise. You get a big blister, pain and redness for several days to remind you to be more careful in future.
Your grandmother may have passed along a piece of folk wisdom: slather the burn with cooking oil or a pat of butter. It seems counterintuitive. But it works every single time to reduce the pain, the swelling and prevents blisters from forming. Within an hour, you would probably have forgotten all about the kitchen mishap.
Now you choose: which would you rather live with?
Why does the counterintuitive advice — adding fuel to a burn — work?
Because it is a principle of nature.
Drawing on folk tradition, Paracelsus, father of modern Western medicine, argued that Like Cures Like. A poison in the body would be cured by a similar poison, and it is the dose that makes the poison. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a similar adage, using a poison to cure a poison (以毒攻毒). This is the same principle underlying homeopathy, which uses very small doses of substances that produce certain symptoms in healthy people to resolve the same symptoms in the sick.
Think of it this way: when you face an opponent with a 1-2 punch, there is, at best, an escalation. He fights back, and you do the same. This is the stuff that made boxing so entertaining and ultimately, lethal to its best fighters. At worst the disease is cured, but the patient is weakened by the battle. It is also the stuff of medical campaigns. Fight cancer! Fight malaria! We have been fighting for a long time, and alas, the diseases and their carriers – the mosquitoes, the ticks, the cockroaches, the microbes and viruses – evolve to fight back with every war we wage on them. They’re smaller, and more nimble. We’re complex.
When you present an opponent, as homeopathy does, with its mirror image without a physical trace, a virtual disease, if you will, you stop the disease in its track. There is nothing to resist, no force to oppose. Where there is no resistance, an opponent cannot exercise its power. It resolves. And the body starts to heal itself.
I have been wondering about different kinds of fires in the kitchen. When a towel catches fire, we stick it under the sink to extinguish the flame. So why not a hand that has suffered an oil burn?
The answer, I bet, lies in the fact that our bodies are living, and respond to interventions with its own vital force. For instance, a morning coffee releases the body’s internal brakes and zooms us onto the energy highway. Within hours, a slump sets in as the body’s heightened fight/flight responses exhaust our body. The adrenal glands, the nervous system, the liver and ultimately, our entire network of body systems respond, “No. Enough is enough,” in order to protect the body from overdrive and burnout.
If our bodies were simple machines with no life of their own, another hit of fuel would keep the wheels churning faster. Not so. Drinking more coffee to keep going eventually forces the body to shut down faster. Ironically, after an initial withdrawal period, people who give up coffee restore their balance and find they have more energy than before, without the highs and lows of the caffeine.
Back to the burning towel. It is a passive object, and what is done to it transforms its state. It doesn’t rebound. One day, we may have kitchen towels made of “intelligent materials” that can respond, as our bodies do, to fuel, and bounce back with a little help when burnt. Until then, Like Cures Like applies to living creatures that have the ability to self heal. Let’s take heed and work with the miracle of a live body instead of treating bodies like simple, non-living machines without intelligence.