Medicine’s Missing Dimensions

Healing traditions are a part of all human cultures and are presumably as old as our kind. The archeological record and anthropological research indicate that these traditions were probably a rich tapestry of human experience and expression for many tens of millennia. Our own mainstream healing tradition is based in science. This merging of science and healing has led to a uniquely powerful ability to cure or control diseases. However, it has diverged radically from the traditional approach. As medicine has become almost solely science-based, dimensions present in all other traditions have fallen by the wayside. The missing dimensions involve “a life thing, a death thing” as stated by the !Kung bushmen.1 Traditional healing has almost always involved expressing emotion, acknowledging the relevance of our place in the universe, addressing the emotional impact of illness, exceeding the limits of the healer’s conventional ego and involving human spirituality. Having co-evolved with traditional healing practices, we may naturally expect our healers to address these elements of healing, but modern health care providers tend not to do this.

Reconnecting medicine with these dimensions while maintaining the integrity of science is not necessarily an easy undertaking. There are many ways to frame the spiritual and humanistic qualities that have gone missing in modern healing and many approaches to restoring a richer tapestry of human experience to medicine. We could look at it from a humanistic or existentialist point of view and frame the problem as one of the healer helping the patient to find meaning in life even in sickness and death. We could look at it from the point of view of the modern theistic religions that have largely replaced the animism and polytheistic religions that provided connection in the past. Buddhists, people involved in secular mindfulness based stress reduction and even modern day shamans can provide interesting and useful viewpoints. In our multicultural society, one approach probably will not work for everybody.

This web site is intended as a forum for MD’s, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to focus on two questions:

  • How can we conceptualize and state what went missing from Western medicine?
  • How could we enrich medicine by reconnecting with the missing dimensions and how would these approaches relate to science?
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The sentiment of this web site is that science should be deeply respected because it is effective at developing treatments and because it has involved great integrity and a sincere effort to understand one kind of truth. Trying to integrate our whole existence more fully into medicine should be undertaken with at least as much integrity and sincere effort at understanding the truth as has been invested in science. Thus, while the editors will try to take a liberal view on what is appropriate material, authors may be asked to address the question of why their approaches do not invoke notions that arbitrarily disregard the difficult and sincere efforts of the scientific community. Discussions of replacing medicine’s missing dimensions should make it clear how the approaches discussed interface with science and medicine. Approaches to healing the human spirit are especially welcome as are discussions of fostering nonduality of curing and healing.


This web site is guided by four present or former faculty members at Duke University Medical Center. Ken Wilson and Sabina Lee are in the Department of Medicine; Mike McLeod is retired from the Department of Medicine and Michelle Bailey has a joint appointment in the Department of Pediatrics and the Center for Integrative Medicine. If you would like to contribute to this web site, please contact Dr. Ken Wilson at ken.wilson. Email can also be sent to sabina.lee, mike.mcleod, and michelle.bailey. Submission of relevant materials may involve but are not limited to anthropology, medicine, personal growth, religion, spiritual practice and ritual. Submissions should describe a credible approach to replacing medicine’s missing dimensions and should address the two questions stated above. Material can include written prose, graphics and links to YouTube videos. Art and poetry will also be considered. Submissions will be reviewed by the editors and either accepted, rejected or accepted pending acceptable revisions. Please also forward web links and upcoming events of interest.


  1. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, The Old Way, Farrar Strauss Giroux, New York 2006

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