Law of Similars
The discovery of homeopathy dates back to the late eighteenth century when a leading physician in Germany named Samuel Hahnemann performed a very simple experiment. At that time, medicine was neither very systematic nor very effective in healing the sick. Hahnemann was disillusioned by the state of his profession and devoted most of his efforts to the translation of medical texts.
When translating a particular English medical book, he came across a passage which stated that a certain herbal substance was beneficial in treating malaria because it had “bitter properties”. The substance, peruvian bark, is rich in quinine and still is the source for this well known anti-malarial drug. There was little doubt that peruvian bark was indeed effective in the treatment of malaria, but Hahnemann rejected the explanation that the “bitter properties” were the reason. After all, aren’t there many other substances that taste bitter which have no effect against malaria?
So Hahnemann reasoned that perhaps it would be possible to learn about the nature of this peruvian bark if he himself, as a healthy person, ingested it. The result was that Hahnemann temporarily felt as though he had malaria-like symptoms. He then reasoned that if a healthy person suffers from certain symptoms after taking a particular substance, then a sick person who naturally has similar symptoms will be cured by that same substance. This is otherwise known by the phrase “like cures like”. This principle forms the basis of homeopathy, and in fact, is the basis of the name “homeo” meaning “similar”, and “pathos” meaning “disease”.
As Hahnemann tested this concept, he and a growing number of students began to do “provings” with various substances. That is, they would adminster a particular substance, for instance the element sulphur, in varying doses to a large number of healthy persons. Then over a long period of time, they would record the symptoms that arose in these people as a result of ingesting it. The symptoms were of both an objective nature, such as skin rashes or diarrhea, and a subjective one, like feeling angry or not being able to concentrate. The history of homeopathy, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is full of these provings performed with thousands of substances. An enormous literature was filled with the findings of the provings.
The study of homeopathy is based on becoming familiar with the provings and recognizing that the set of symptoms that a patient has is similar to the symptoms that were created during the proving of a particular substance.