November 4, 2014

From Unknown Illnesses To The Limits Of Reason

Hippocrates: a conventionalized image in a Rom...
Hippocrates: a conventionalized image in a Roman "portrait" bust (19th century engraving) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My mother died in 2010 and I was too ill to go back. When my relatives asked me what kind of illness I had, I had to use bunches of words to describe my condition, because there was no term for my my problem. I did not convince them, so judgment came along.

I consider myself a quite convincing person, but why didn't I convince them on this "simple" matter? Years later I found the reason was simple: I did not have a name for my illness. Had I just thrown them a term like "myalgic encephalomyelitis", I could easily shut all of them up. But sadly that's not what I got. What I've got had no name - at least according to  modern medicine, which most people worship, so my explanation became excuse.

Interestingly, I just realized, a name, or a term, is the base of our reason, so it usually is the first step of our reasoning. Helen Keller was awakened from a simple term "water"; children start to learn languages from names, one by one, until they get ideas about "whole" world. If we don't even know a name for a thing, or some "happenings", we would find them unreasonable, even uncanny, and eventually we may get frustrated even frightened about them. This is why people who have unknown illnesses looks "skeptical" in others' eyes. Take myself as example. I was in critical condition for years, but because there was no name for my condition, not only that I had to take care of myself, but also I had to make living by myself, because I didn't have a "decent diagnose" from doctors so there was no way I could get any help from government. As if these were not enough, I also had to endure many people's judgment.

For many people, "unknown" means "unreasonable", and "unreasonable" means "crazy". No doubt those who suffer unknown illnesses are usually considered as mentally ill (or at least mentally troubled). Were many illnesses with "noble" terms today used to be thought as being possessed by demons? Yes, because people had not known them "rationally", that is, had no reasonable names for them. So if we look at human history from a wide scope, we may found that mentally, we have not changed much.

Truth is, no matter how smart we think we are, we still know very little about this world. "Unknown" doesn't mean "crazy", it only means it's new to our reason. I think what we should do when facing something without a reasonable terms, is simply to accept our ignorance, instead of to ridicule facts in order to prove that our existing knowledge is adequate. We should not use our existing knowledge to judge reality, instead, we should do the reverse way, judge our knowledge by facts.

My mother died of "stroke". Glad she got a name.


  1. yunyi, it works both ways. There are diseases that have no name, and then there are diseases that exist only in name. The first kind exist in reality; the second in the imagination of psychotherapists.

    1. Marty, you are right. It seems to me that people just try to find an excuse (name) to persecute those who are different.

  2. Good post Yun Yi. I'm sorry for the loss of your mother and all you've gone through.

    On a related note, the other medical term that makes frustrates me is "idiopathic". I get why it's used, but doesn't help when you have a condition that is of unknown cause, yet symptoms are very real.

    1. Thanks Leigh Goessl. I guess we are essentially quite helpless.

    2. I don't know if that is the word I'd use to describe, but I am not sure which word I'd use to be honest. You've provided a lot of food for thought today.
      ""Unknown" doesn't mean "crazy", it only means it's new to our reason."

      Nicely put.