Nonspecificity refers to the tendency for causes, symptoms, and treatments of various illnesses to overlap. For example, the same causal factor can produce variations in symptoms in different people; diverse causal factors can produce the same symptoms in a group of people; and treatments designed to relieve or suppress a specific symptom often produce side effects, both desirable and undesirable.
Specificity, on the other hand, implies specific causes and specific cures. In our modern age of specialization, professionals tend to view specificity as desirable. To be able to know with specificity what exactly is the problem and to intervene in a precise and specific manner is the ideal of contemporary medicine. Therefore, therapeutic interventions with a high degree of specificity are desirable and are prescribed preferentially.
Nonspecificity is a major problem for modern medical science which likes specific causes, discrete diagnostic categories (labels for diseases), and specific "magic-bullet" treatments for each illness. The problem is, specifistic models just have not worked very well with chronic/degenerative diseases. There are few (if any) therapeutic magic bullets for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's dementia, etc.
Edgar Cayce addressed the issue of nonspecificity in many of his psychic readings. However, rather than being a problem, he utilized nonspecific concepts to enhance his therapeutic model. He was able to do this because he used a sophisticated "systems approach" in his analysis of the human body. His explanation of the causes of illness, and his recommendations for treatment took into consideration the complexity of the human condition and the natural (innate) tendency for the body to bring itself into balance and equilibrium (health).
As an illustration, the readings often cite spinal injuries as the source of a wide diversity of illness. They note that pressures on certain nerves could throw the body into a state of imbalance which he called "incoordination." Because each body is different, the specific form the incoordination will take varies for each person. It is like stressing a chain - the weak link will break. Likewise, in the body the weak system(s) will break down under stress. Causal factors, including heredity, birth trauma, etc., can predispose a person's body to be affected in specific patterns when under stress (diathesis-stress).
So while the symptoms of the illness may be very specific for that individual, the same cause may produce widely different symptoms in a group of people. Hence, a spinal injury to a key nerve reflex center may lead to (or contribute to a pre-existing tendency toward) diabetes in one person, psoriasis in someone else, and migraine in a third individual. The cause is not necessarily linked to the same specific illness in every case.
Likewise, the treatments Cayce commonly recommended tended toward nonspecific modalities. For example, he often suggested certain basic treatments (such as massage, spinal adjustment, diet, hydrotherapy, etc.) for a wide range of conditions. The application for each individual was often highly specific (in the directions he gave). But the overall pattern of treatment and types of therapies were often not specific to particular illnesses.
To understand Cayce's rationale, keep in mind that he was using a sophisticated "systems model" that considered the interactions of many factors comprising the human condition (physically, mentally and spiritually). Healing is wholeness and balance among these factors. There is a natural (innate) tendency for the body to heal itself. Treatments were intended to assist the body to this end. Therefore, Cayce tended to rely on a few basic (safe and natural) treatment modalities to achieve this end. The treatments were not necessarily intended to cure a specific illness; rather they were to help the body to regain its own equilibrium.
Even within certain treatment modalities, Cayce recognized the importance of "general" nonspecific treatments. For example, in the thousands of referrals he made to osteopathic physicians, he frequently recommended that they not only make specific adjustments to the body's anatomy, but also include general (nonspecific) treatments to relax the body and coordinate the nervous systems. Keep in mind that "nonspecific" treatment does not refer to imprecise or casual treatment.
Modern medical science is just beginning to recognize the beneficial aspects of nonspecificity. Irvin Korr, a noted osteopathic researcher, has noted:
"... there appears to be a deemphasis of the specificity between the etiological [causal] agent on the one hand and the manifestations of the disease on the other. We see an approach to a unitary concept in which disease is conceived, not as the effect of this agent or that upon this organ or that, but rather as the reaction of the organism as a whole to noxious influences.... The pattern - the character of the disease - is determined by the patient, and not by the offending or invading agent; the nervous system certainly has a key role in the organization of the patterns ... [there is an] emphasis on the similarities among diseases rather than on their differences. 'There are not illnesses; there are only ill people.'" (Korr, 1948, p. 134)
"Reductionist biomedical research clings, although somewhat less tenaciously in recent years, to the concept of linear causality - one way cause and effect relationships -and pursues the quest in medical research and practice for the specific cause and specific cure. In doing so, it overlooks the role of the patient, and of the immense and unique constellation of factors in and around the patient, in both pathogenesis and recovery. Even in infectious disease, in which "specific etiology" seems established, the pioneer in that field, Louis Pasteur, reminded us that the microbe proliferates only when the host has become too hospitable because of preexisting illness. Finally, reductionist, mechanistic medical research fails to see that when illness occurs, whatever the affected part, it is illness of the person." (Korr, 1991, p. 162)
From the above quotes, one can begin to see why Edgar Cayce preferred to make referrals to osteopathic physicians. In conclusion, the Edgar Cayce material offers a unique and valuable opportunity to understand and utilize nonspecificity in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
- Korr, I. (1948). The emerging concept of the osteopathic lesion. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 48, 127-138.
- Korr, I. (1991). Osteopathic research: The needed paradigm shift. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 91(2), 156-171.