- Catalog of Books
- Internet Resources
- CMN Blog
- Members Area
Submitted by Ken Rose on February 14, 2007 - 6:36pm.
On Collaborative Creation of Content in Chinese Medicine
If you have been following the Chinese Medicine Network listserv over the past couple of years, you are already familiar with the thread about collaborative creation of content in Chinese medicine. I want to append a few comments to what’s been said on the list in order to introduce this topic a bit more formally in anticipation of the launching of a particular collaborative project: qi and complexity. Why do we need a collaborative project on the topic of qi and complexity? What has it to do with medicine?
Medicine begins and ends in thought and feeling. How do we think and feel about life, health, disease, death? Medical actions necessarily and inseparably depend upon such mental operations. Western medicine, i.e., the modern, supposedly science-based medicine that grows out of the modernization that has swept across the world largely from sources in Western Europe and the USA over the past several centuries, depends on a particular kind of thinking. The thinking that has informed the industrialization and technological developments of the past 250 years provides the ideological basis for modern Western medicine. In contrast, Chinese medicine developed millennia ago and finds its roots in the intellectual soil of ancient China. Western thought yields Western medicine. Chinese thought yields Chinese medicine. There is nothing terribly controversial about this nor about the proposition that the meeting and potential confluence of these two approaches to thought and medicine might hold out some sort of hope for the future of mankind.
Understanding the differences between what is meant and contained in Western thought and Chinese thought is thus key to understanding the frontier that has come into existence between modern Western medicine and Chinese medicine. It is important to recognize that when we talk of such a frontier we are in reality describing human beings and their experience in dealing with very real problems and challenges that all relate directly to life and death, health and disease. It is not an overstatement to speak in terms of hope for the future. And it is no understatement to say that the future depends on understanding. For we are limited by what we can conceive of, and only rarely does our conception of reality surpass our understanding of it.
Thus understanding here really means skill and capacity. All such study and learning focuses on the capacity to do something for a patient. Something of benefit, hopefully. It is with this emphasis on the practical and pragmatic dynamics of reading…and writing about Chinese medicine that we approach the question of collaborative content creation. And the very first topic on a long list of topics that relate to this question is the mode of content creation that has been used within the traditions of traditional Chinese medicine more or less ever since it first appeared in the lives of ancient doctors and patients.
To anyone who has studied such topics, one fact should already be absolutely obvious. All the content of all the Chinese medical texts that have survived to the present have been the products of collaborative work. Collaborative on what scale? Such texts as the Nei Jing, for example, were the work of literally hundreds of hands. According to Unschuld and Tessenow some 350 distinct textual sources constitute the text we know in the West as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (or other renditions of Huang Di Nei Jing). We have no way of knowing how many individual writers may have contributed to these various texts, but since they were written over a period of 300-500 years…or more, we can conclude that the number of authors who collaborated on the creation of the contents of the Nei Jing runs to several hundred…at least. And this doesn’t even begin to taken into account the various readers, redactors, editors, compilers, etc. who have handled the text over the intervening centuries since its initial composition.
It is useful to bring such facts to bear on establishment of a framework for collaborative content creation in Chinese medicine. For contemporary customs related to the writing and reading of books tend towards individual efforts that emphasize an individual’s point of view on the topic under discussion in the text. Clearly the traditions of Chinese medicine suggest an alternative approach. That is to say that what we regard as knowledge in Chinese medicine reflects a collaborative approach that aggregates the perspectives and points of view of relatively large numbers of individual writers in order to produce a text that can not simply withstand the vagaries of time and transmission across temporal and spatial boundaries but benefit from them. Importantly, such an approach to formulating text…as well as the knowledge that is contained and nourished by the text…embodies that text and knowledge with a broader set of sensibilities than that which is typically available in individually authored works. To borrow from the phraseology of contemporary complex systems science, collaborative text creation tends towards greater robustness. It might be defined as an emergent behavior of the vast and incredibly complex open system known as Chinese medicine.
It may already be apparent to some readers that such considerations fly in the face of a great deal of the bedrock material of American intellectualism which tends to favor the output of individual minds. As I mentioned at the outset of this short essay, we are up against habits of mind, patterns of thought when we consider the origin and nature of textual materials in Chinese medicine. And this applies to texts whether they were created 2,000 years ago or more or whether they are still waiting to be created.