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The Cancer Journal - Volume 8, Number 1 (January-February 1995)


Healing force of nature

The healing force of nature, vis medicatrix naturae, was a guiding principle of ancient Greek medicine. It protected the patient during disease and determined his prognosis. The physician's task was to assist the healing force during treatment. To modern medicine, the healing force stands for unspecified processes operating in disease. It has lost its appeal since technology brought about astounding medical achievements and profoundly changed medical practice. Technology has also revealed that diseases evolve. While ancient diseases fell upon the patient, modern diseases start as silent aberrations which gradually emerge. With advancing technology, more and more silent aberrations are detected while medicine lacks clear guidelines as to how to deal with them. Is an arteriosclerotic plaque a disease that should be treated, or an aberration whose treatment may be postponed? How to deal with slight hyperglycemia, or minimal blood pressure elevation? Medicine has reached a conceptual impasse. While competent at specifying how to treat, it generally fails to decide correctly when to intervene (1).

Wisdom of the Body

The answer to these questions is given by the organism itself whose wisdom directs diseases along their course (1). The Wisdom of the Body anticipates diseases and directs the healing force in health and disease. It aims at improving health. Health is represented here by a simpler concept: tolerance, which can be estimated. Disease lowers tolerance, and correct treatment, improves it. An aberration should be treated only if improving tolerance. Tolerance estimation is therefore crucial for correct treatment. We shall be concerned mainly with the direction of tolerance, whether it improves or deteriorates, and less with its exact magnitude. The direction of the tolerance can be estimated from the behavior of the healing force.

Norm and State

All components of the organism are its norm. The healing force continually adjusts the norm to improve tolerance. Since most components are not observable, we shall restrict our attention to measurable components, or the state of the organism. Blood sugar, for instance, is such a component upon which the healing force acts. Its level is defined as blood sugar state. So are other factors, e.g., insulin, glucagon, ketosis, or apprehension. The intensity of each can be expressed by a number, and the collection of these numbers is the state of the organism. These values are continually adjusted by the healing force to keep the overall state at its most optimal norm, or best tolerance. The healing force might be likened to a conductor directing an orchestra. While the conductor aims at aesthetics, the healing force aims at optimality, or tolerance. Both are normative.


Treatment should improve tolerance. Since the healing force manipulates the entire norm, what appears optimal to us may be less optimal to the organism as a whole. When treating a patient with insulin we aim at lowering blood glucose to its non-diabetic level, which might be harmful since it lowers tolerance. As disease progresses, the organism creates new norms which have to be considered during treatment (2, 3). The diabetic norm might require a slightly elevated blood sugar. Since only the healing force adjusts components of the organism normatively, normative treatment can be achieved only by assisting the healing force. This is the main therapeutic implication of the healing force concept. It is a guideline for "normative treatment" (4). In order to apply it we ought to explore ways of measuring the healing force.


Science provides a means for dealing with vague concepts like the healing force. Gravity, for instance, is as obscure as the healing force. Its intensity can be deduced from its effect on the motion of objects. This is the essence of Newton's formula F=ma. Given a body with a mass m whose velocity is constant, a force F accelerates the velocity of m by a. This equation links an obscure force with a measurable effect, acceleration. The greater acceleration the stronger the force and vice-versa. We could apply the same reasoning to the healing force. Let m be the state of the organism represented by a list of component values. In the above example m is the state of the diabetic patient; m = {blood sugar level, insulin level, glucagon level, apprehension intensity, . . .}. Let F stand for the healing force, a will express the change of each component in the list m during a time instant. If the equation is applicable we might be able to estimate the healing force F from the instantaneous change of components in the list m. When a increases, the condition of the organism improves and when it declines, tolerance is deteriorating. In this example a is related to normativity.

Mathematics of medicine

This example illustrates how it is possible to define the healing force mathematically. The equation F=ma and its ramifications spurred mathematical development during the last centuries and this wealth may now be applied to evaluating the healing force. On the other hand, is it valid? Is it appropriate to apply Newton's equation to a "force" that does not exist in the physical world? Nor does it resemble any known physical force, e.g., gravity or electromagnetism. The name might be misleading; we could as well call it "Act of God", or élan vital. Would this make F=ma meaningless? Not at all! Changing the healing force's name does not obviate the validity of the equation since "Act of God" or élan vital may still be estimated from the acceleration of the components in the value list m. The equation is valid as long as it can be applied for the benefit of the patient. Mathematics is only a language and may be applied for describing unrelated phenomena in the same way as our numbering system is applied to counting apples or oranges.


This example highlights yet another facet of the equation F=ma. While Newton's original equation is linear and can be solved with modern mathematics, its medical counterpart, is non-linear and chaotic, and cannot be solved by modern mathematics. The first rudiments for its solution are found in Chaos theory (5-8).

Gershom Zajicek
e-mail: Gershom@md2.huji.ac.

1. Zajicek, G. Wisdom of the Body. Cancer J. 7: 212-213,1994.
2. Canguilhem G. Le Normal et le Pathologique. Translated into English by Fawcett CR, Cohen RS. Zone Books New York 1991.
3. Zajicek, G. The Normal and the Pathological. Cancer J. 7: 48-49, 1994.
4. Zajicek G. How to treat cancer? Cancer J. 7:132-133, 1994.
5. Gleick J. Chaos. Making a New Science. Viking, 1987.
6. Zajicek G. Meta-analysis and chaos. Cancer J. 4:152-153, 1991
7. Zajicek G. Chaos and biology. Meth. Inform. Med. 30:1-3, 1991.
8 Zajicek G. Chaos reigns - Heraclitus is back. Cancer J. 6: 108,1993.