Science takes a Wrong Turn and The Osteopathic Method.

About 400 years ago science took a wrong turn which has never been corrected. Natural philosophers, scientists today, before this point would use a two step process or double procedure for their method of scientific inquiry. This two step process originated from the works of Aristotle and endured for 3,000 years. From the early Greeks through to the middle ages a combination of induction (analysis) and deduction (synthesis) continued to be used. It was not until a mistranslation of the works of Galileo in, amongst other texts, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences that science took this wrong turn. This mistake was discovered by Stillman Drake (1977) and it demonstrated that Galileo would not have recognised the method that was attributed to him. Drake further brings to light (1974) that, “The popular offered reconstruction of Galileo’s procedures in establishing his new science of motion are mistaken with respect to the role of mathematics in them.” This mistake continued when interpreting the works of Robert Grossteste, Francis Bacon, William Harvey, René Descartes and Issac Newton.

“It has often been maintained that Galileo became the father of modern science by replacing the speculative, deductive method with the empirical, experimental method. I believe, however, that this interpretation would not stand up to close scrutiny… To put into sharp contrast the empirical and the deductive attitude is misleading, and was entirely foreign to Galileo.” Wrote Albert Einstein in the forward to Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems translated by Stillman Drake (1952).

What seems to have happened was a confusion between Aristotle’s method and Galileo’s criticism of some of Aristotle’s results. Galileo used Aristotle’s double procedure in his physics which was misinterpreted leading to a misunderstanding which has continued into modern science today. 

Modern science subsequently became empirical-rational based with theory dominating as a consequence of this confusion. Science or natural philosophy developed into a theory-centred method and away from a phenomenon-centred method. 

Aristotle’s double approach began with induction (analysis) leading to First Principles towards deduction (synthesis) as demonstration of the theory resulting from induction. Theory was built in the process of direct experience and then tested by inquiry and mathematics and not, as today, a theory is suggested and method chosen and then measured mathematically by the collection and interpretation of data. Induction is a combination of direct observation, reasoning, intuition, perception, memory and experience leading to an basic idea or First Principles. Deduction is still within direct experience and can be tested in context with changing situations with or without the use of mathematics. Aristotle’s method is a scientist-centred science leading to a theory to be tested not a theory-centred science as an abstraction from the scientist’s experience. 

It was an American Civil War surgeon and politician, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, an extensive reader in Greek philosophy who corrected the error and went on to developed and practice a system of health care based on Aristotle’s double procedure. Dr. Still called this philosophy Osteopathy. The context in which this philosophy of reaching First Principles was based on anatomy and a correction of the disturbances of anatomy presenting as disease. Due to the inductive nature of his method there was a failure by the majority of his students to understand what he was doing. 

“It seems to me that my failure to understand in every instance the connection between the lesion, which was claimed by him to be the causative factor, and the diseased condition, is due to the fact that Dr. Still was much better student of nature that I.” (Hildreth, A., 1942)

“It was the general remark, “that there will be no osteopathy after Dr. Still is gone.”” (Still, C. E., 1898)

Family and colleagues called him spiritual and clairvoyant with the result that attention was only paid to the end product of the activity manipulation. This lead to the development and formal teaching of so called osteopathic manipulative techniques the very approach that Dr. Still was against. Central to Dr. Still’s approach, in beginning with induction, was his active state of consciousness with perception, imagination and intuition as direct experience leading to a theory and Aristotelian First Principles. While the patient is talking to Dr. Still:

“I am listening to her story, and while listening, I am seeing in my mind’s eye the combination of systems which go to make up the whole of the body structure…I am seeing the bony framework… I am seeing in my mind’s eye the nervous system… I see divisions into the cerebrospinal and the sympathetic part… “I further see the arterial system… Then I visualise the venous system.” (Hildreth, A., 1942) 

Just as a footnote: Elon Musk credits his success to First Principles! 

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” Galileo Galilei. 


Drake, Stillman (1974) Mathematics and Discovery in Galileo’s Physics. Historica Mathematica, 1, pp 129-150. 

Drake, Stillman (1977) Galileo on Sense Experience. ISIS 1977, Vol. 68, Pt 1, pp 108-110. 

Hildreth, A, (1942) The Lengthening Shadow of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still. Hildreth & Van Vleck, Missouri & Michigan. 

Still, C. E. (1898) Establishing the Fact that Osteopathy is a Science. Journal of Osteopathy, Vol. 4, No. 9, February, 1898, p. 415 – 418. 

Walter Llewellyn McKone, DO, London, January 2022. 


Journal of Osteopathy, Vol.4, No.6, November 1897.

Every science must have a reasonable method. The question of method is important preliminary to all scientific construction. It involves the two great necessities of procedure, first, what is to be done, and second, how to do it? Osteopathic procedure is analytic and synthetic. It asks, first, for facts; and, then, it reasons to causes. This is its method of discovery. It operates, second, upon these facts, in relation to their causes, and secures intelligent and natural effects. This is its method of relief, or construction. The first process in this method is that of Observation; by which is meant the widest appeal to fact; by way of an actual understanding of cases in hand. This must be extended to include all pathological conditions, which a profound knowledge of anatomy and physiology may give, aided by microscopic analysis of the chemical conditions of the body, as for example, the quality of urine, and excreta of the body; and aided, further by a trained and discriminating touch by which the slightest abnormality of structure or function in the body, may be detected. In other words, the condition of the patient is exhaustively considered. 

The second element in the procedure is, Treatment, which consists in changing and varying the pathological conditions by mechanical means found in the anatomy of the body itself, and discovering essential reasons and causes, that will obtain in all cases. These reasons and causes constitute the materials for an intelligent and scientific system of practice. The results reached are studied and the practical principles by which such results were obtained, are reasoned out by the operator, and therefore become the basis of established procedure. Conditions are referred to a great anatomical, or physiological principle, and are successfully diagnosed and treated when their causes are properly discovered. The principles go beyond the facts they rest upon, and their accuracy must be tested and confirmed by further application to other cases as they appear.

The third element is Deduction, which is the final stage in the scientific method. By it, the truth of the general principles set forth in the actual treatments, is made applicable to successive individual cases, and by further tests in treatments, the truth of application of principle is made sure. Each successful application tends to establish the theories more firmly, until they reach the rank of a Law of Nature.

Upon this brief summary of the scientific method of Osteopathy, the following remarks may be made:

1. In proceeding from a case of real discovered causation to all cases of the same kind, it is assumed that there is a necessity in the connection between causes and effect in nature; that is, there is a regularity in nature’s proceedings. 

This is the law of the Uniformity of Nature; and this law of uniformity by which the body and all its functions, under given conditions, are controlled, comes to the aid of the other Law of Cause and Effect; and by these two laws, reasoned out from the facts of individual cases and successive treatments, the thinking Osteopath reaches the great principles of his science.

2. It is to be noted that no confirmation is possible to a scientific principle except by a direct appeal to nature. Hence, the last as well as the first appeal of the Osteopath is to observed facts, as discovered in the laws of the body’s operations, and systematised into methods of treatment, and adapted in turn to each successive case.

When we remember that in the search for causes in the diseased conditions of the body, the difficulties are vastly increased, by the complexity of causes, and that it is the function of the operator’s reason so to eliminate elements in the causal complex, that agencies other than the real one may be observed at work in the body; and when we further reflect that no single function of the body is ever found operating alone, but all accompany and modify each, through the mediation of sympathetic system – we can easily see the necessity for practicing Osteopath to constantly use his reason, to discover in each varying case the exact cause of disease and apply the remedy. Causes and effects are thrown into the body in inextricable confusion. External or bodily causes, a change of temperature, lack of exercise, impure air, insipid food, sluggish circulation, undue pressure of bone, ligament, on blood vessel or nerve, an internal organic abnormality, may start a train of effects. This train may be hindered or helped by a thousand physiology and psychological conditions. 

How can we single out the real cause in this entangled network, by the ordinary methods of medical diagnosis? It is as vain as to endeavour to discover the cause of a configuration from examining the blaze: was it a match, lightening, friction, chemical combustion? Only one method can determine: this is actual knowledge based upon observation and experience of the laws of cause and effect, as embodied in the chemical composition, anatomical structure, and physiological action of the human body itself. 

This is the sure and substantial foundation of the principles and the practice of Osteopathy. It is the method of fact, of certitude, and of success. Its basis cannot be overturned, or its method disapproved. It challenges the world to attempt it.