Abstract of the chapter


Epiphenomena in Biology and Medicine

Alvaro Daschner

When a patient comes to the doctor's office, he wants relief from his symptoms or illness. A first step to be performed by the patient and the doctor is to look for the causes that lead to the illness. Through a real case in an Allergy consultation, different concepts of causality and their problems are exposed.  Main factors that help the patient and the doctor establish a causal link between possible factors and the effect (the disease) are the immediacy in the cause-effect time sequence, as well as the "exotic" of the possible factor between several more common alternatives. According to the philosopher D. Hume, human beings are not able to see the causal nexus in things, instead the scientific method includes the mechanistic explanations or models that help establish the understanding of a causal nexus. Today's medical science and therefore the culture of the patient use this premise. However, an evolutionary approach helps to understand why we often misunderstand correlation with cause and why treating "the cause" doesn't always help. Further, the explanatory models offered by science are virtually invisible to the patient (and the doctor) and it would be prudent to note that the mastery of the scientific method puts into the background the human capacity to identify causes with all the available senses. Taking into account the concept of epiphenomena, a multi-causal and inclusive approach of not only biomedical, but also social, geographical and psychological aspects, we try to find those causes that in turn are relevant and potentially modifiable.