Paracetamol and the Golden Chrysanthemum

There are many things in life that cannot be “explained” – this is essentially what people would continually think throughout history and present. For anything we can’t explain, we, as humans, may attribute with spirituality until we find a plausible answer. We can fill it with phantasmagoria or use folklore, or we can attribute humanistic or supernatural theories; above all, humans are not comfortable without answers. Perhaps this is why science exists – to give us answers that we can reuse and replicate. What if we start to run out of answers?

“Energy”, “ghosts”, “spirits”, or “gods” – we give them all different names, but what do they actually mean? Are these merely human manifestations of “unknown”, or perhaps what we don’t know really cannot be answered using the limitations of the human tongue and diction? Aside from physical kilowatts per hour, science certainly has a hard time quantifying “spirits” or “ghosts”. It’s the scientists’ desire to find another measure instead, whether it’s the use of a biological or physical marker, or quantifying unprecedented subjectivity, which, in itself, is no simple task. In history, perhaps this could have been the chemical concentration of plasma immunoglobulin M and G, or the serum concentration of Hg; even “perception of pain” versus dose of paracetamol would help a medicinal chemist sleep better at night than “channelling of the winds and waters in the upbringing of the greatest Dharma” versus time taken to drink a cup of chrysanthemum tea. Skeptics don’t settle with “just because”. If you can quantify it, you graph it; if you can’t quantify it, you use quantum physics. But what is there to do if you can’t use quantum physics? Does it simply become “just because”, or could it really be what is commonly abased as “fairy tales and metaphysics”?

Research is like hide and seek rather than hot and cold – you don’t get any clues as to where the answers are hiding, because they don’t leave any trails in the lush forest of scientific limbo. Take homeopathy, for example. Chemists and pharmacologists would be horrifically baffled to learn that a homeopathic solution is a panacea ailments, when theoretically all that’s left is merely solvent. You could probably sit out a feud of toxicologists by calling a town hall with drawings of upside-down U’s or J’s. Physicists could settle with just quantum physics, wielding several paintbrushes with the essence of Schrödinger or Einstein relativity. Spiritualists? They would open their arms to chakra and chi to the smell of sandalwood. But what is it really coming down to? Is this really getting us anywhere? I could settle with any of these, and I would learn any language if it meant it gave me an answer – after all, I’m merely a human. The universal language of mathematics and physics sounds like a good start.

However, opposed to what we can’t see in a bottomless hole, what about what we can’t see in a chaotic parade of people and stores like a Lunar new year in downtown Spadina? Apothecaries, galenicists, herbalists and botanists alike run through our lineage of blood and, while they may speak little themselves, pass their botanically-hewn hands and minds in volumes. We cannot easily figure out what is the panacea and what is the poison if our taxonomically-distant relatives-of-being create these elixirs themselves. In fact, how do we even know they are what they were proposed to be? These are arduous, but arguably, scientifically more plausible to work with. What is most important in Chinese medicine, though, is the culture that follows it – a Chinese scholar could not get by as a true “scholar” without understanding poetry themselves. That is merely the way they communicated. This is in part why I perceive no personal limit in desire or education in all aspects of humanity, whether in the beauty of musical and visual art; the practicality of business, technology and economics; the ubiquitous and endless ways of thinking in philosophy and religion; or science and humanity for the human cause. I may not be a scholar of Confucius, but it’s my part in this little vignette called life to understand what these conversations are all about.

In that sense, for the sake of philanthropy, we should not seek these answers to bring people dismay and grief – we should only do this for the greater cause of the “answer” that we all seek, whether implicitly or explicitly, and thereby protect the most vulnerable. This is only done with a mind like the depths of Oceania – transparent, vast and receptive, yet the stoicism of Terra – acceptive of anything that can exist, yet malleable when things absolutely must change. Whether humans have reached their limit or not in science is another story, but what should matter most is that we continue until we find what we need most – a plausible answer we can all use.