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What can Traditional Medicine Teach us About Consciousness?

Traditional therapies could provide keys to understanding how the brain works.

The human brain represents one of the final frontiers of scientific research. For all of our knowledge of the atom and distant galaxies, we still understand relatively little about the workings of our own minds.  

“We know more about the Big Bang than we know how our brains are doing consciousness,” says translational neuroscientist Dr. Peter V. Madill. “But nothing would matter to us if we weren't conscious.“ Madill believes that one pathway to understanding consciousness lies in a field that scientists have long cast aside: non-Western medicine.

Madill has paired his own scientific research with explorations of acupuncture. He argues that traditional therapies, long written off as elaborate placebos, could have neurological implications that scientists don’t yet understand. Scientists, he insists, should be open to examining traditional therapies in a research setting. 

“It's not just enough to have the basic research. We have to translate it,” he says. “So with anything that makes sense, we are called to do experiments to see whether it really works.”

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That could include everything from herbal medicine, to acupuncture, to homeopathy, to the study of the neurological impacts of placebos themselves. “Placebos are an extraordinary manifestation of the brain's power to rewrite the script,” he says.

Watch the full interview: