Aristotle is well known in the world of philosophy and even history. But did you know that he is actually regarded as one of the founders of evidence-based medicine?
His teaching of logic was used to guide the medical industry away from a past of superstition and into one that formed the scientific medicine. In order to fully grasp how foundational Aristotle's teachings were to evidence-based medicine, we need to start with early medicinal practices in ancient Egypt.
Early Egyptians had a god of medicine, called Imhotep. He, or rather the Egyptians' beliefs surrounding him, influenced much of how this early super culture approached the world of medicine.
Egyptian medicinal practices evolved over the years and were mostly therapeutical used to treat ailments at the start. It's evident though that the Egyptians began gathering a great deal of knowledge about the human system.
We have the Ebers papyrus, a 110-page document from 1552 BC that describes diseases concerning the heart and vessels of a person. It also discusses contraception, pregnancy, intestinal diseases, dentistry, and even surgical procedures.
While that is a great deal of knowledge that you might otherwise not expect such an ancient culture to have known about, a large number of the treatments to conditions were "magical." Many discussions on the curing of diseases refer to the causes as demons inhabiting the individual.
Looking over into Greek culture around 500 BC, they too had a highly mystical understanding of medicine based on their gods. For much of the culture's history priests were both teachers of religion and healers of the people, drawing upon the powers of the gods.
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However, around 400 BC Hippocrates grew to become one of the greatest physicians to ever live. He is regarded as the father of western medicine. He founded the Hippocratic School of Medicine and his followers compiled the Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of early medical works from Greece.
Hippocrates was one of the first people to work in the field of medicine and base their decisions on clinical signs and rational thought. While Hippocrates' life did overlap with Aristotle's by 14 years, (384-370 BC), the two never would have worked together before Hippocrates' death. It was after Aristotle established himself that his work in the field of evidence-based medicine began.
Aristotle was quite the polymath in his day, studying essentially every subject that you can think of while also making significant contributions to nearly every field. In fact, if you were to read all of his works that survived from the time period, you would get a decent picture of the entirety of Greek knowledge at the time.
At the forefront of his contributions to society was his idea of logic and natural cause and effect. The adoption of principles like A=B and if B=C, then A=C, significantly strengthened mankind's ability to think about the world around us.
While Hippocrates focused on early practical medicine, he really had no concept of logic, or practical cause and effect. It wasn't until Aristotle pioneered these fields that true evidence-based medicine could develop.
After Aristotle passed in 322, evidence-based medicine as a practice continued evolving.
The Alexandria School of Medicine
The city of Alexandria became the hub for academics in the early days of evidence-based medicine. Ptolemy, one of the key thinkers in the city, invited a large number of physicians from around Greece to come study and practice and teach medicine there.
These physicians helped centralize the entirety of early medical knowledge in the Greek world. In doing so, they made sure to shed old practices that didn't line up with the new ways of thinking aligned with Aristotle. In essence, this gathering of physicians was an audit of medical practice at the time, conforming what was old to the newly established way of thinking pioneered by Aristotle.
In this city, many of the physicians pioneered new fields, like the study of the brain and cardiology. The knowledge mankind had about medicine began hurdling forward at a rate far accelerated from the past.
All of this advancement started to slow though around the 3rd century AD. The spread of early Christianity caused Alexandria to become a hotbed of revolt against pagan Roman rulers.
In 391, mobs attacked pagan statues across the city and set fire to them, which started the great fire of Alexandria. In this fire, a large portion of documented human knowledge kept at the library of Alexandria was destroyed and lost forever. It wouldn't be until the renaissance period starting in 1300 AD that much of this early medical knowledge would be rediscovered.
The Evolution of Modern Evidence-based Medicine
The methodology pioneered by Aristotle marks one of the greatest contributions to human knowledge and thought in all of history.
His thoughts and ideas around logic and evidence continue to be the basis of scientific discovery even today. That said, even into the modern era much of the medical field still continues to grapple with purely evidence-based medicine. A significant degree of experience-based medicine still exists across the world, though this is a larger movement to get rid of these thought processes.
Even with the clear superiority of evidence-based medical decisions, in practice, the methods of the medical field aren't always so cut and dry. In recent years, clinical practice has started to shy away from evidence-based into more personalized experienced-based care. Researchers are still working to understand why exactly this is occurring or what effects it might have on the medical industry as a whole.
In the end, it will be the combination of sympathetic medical care and evidence-based medicine that pushes the industry to its next level. Of course, all building off of Aristotle's original ideas.