Science vs. Common Experience
Western nutrition as a science can be traced back to Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1745-1794), the father of chemistry, who believed that life is primarily a chemical process. However, it is more accurate to say that life is an experience that can be enhanced by understanding the chemical processes involved. Throughout history, some people have been able to maintain good health and longevity, while others have suffered poor health and shorter lifespans. By understanding the chemical processes of life, it is possible to promote and extend good health.
For example, in 1570, about one-third of children in London and Manchester were suffering from rickets. Scientists later discovered that the disease was caused by vitamin deficiency and people began consuming vitamin D to cure rickets. However, this knowledge was already in common use as people had discovered that certain foods, containing what is now called vitamin D, cured rickets. Although science was not developed until a few centuries ago, common knowledge has continued to expand and outstrip science in many areas. Unfortunately, much of this valid common experience in human health is often dismissed or ignored by modern scientists.
Modern medical scientists are universally skeptical of common experience, believing that nothing is true until it is scientifically proven. A typical scientist may tell you the nutritional content of a food item but dismiss the suggestion that it has health benefits unless there is scientific research to support it. However, many foods have been proven effective in promoting health and longevity through common experience and have become part of conventional wisdom in different cultures.
Scientists do make new discoveries based on common experience, but they may lag behind in the current understanding of human health. For example, Chinese people were eating liver to cure night blindness in the third century, which we now know contains vitamin A. However, scientists did not discover vitamin A until the early twentieth century. Similarly, Chinese people were eating seaweed to cure goiter, which we now know contains iodine, in the third century, but scientists did not discover iodine as a cure for goiter until the nineteenth century. Waiting for scientific discovery may cause unnecessary suffering.
There are three stages of truths regarding health, as well as in other fields of knowledge, which should be fully understood and distinguished from one another. First, something is true but unknown; second, something is true and known through common experience; and third, something is true that has been verified by scientists.
It may be possible for scientists to discover a cure for every disease and eventually discover all the nutrients that enable us to live forever, but it could take a long time. There are far more truths at the first and second stages than at the third stage, and it is important to acknowledge and learn from common experience in promoting good health.