The Scientific Approach of Weston Price, Part 6: Conclusions — Real Food, and the Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

This is the sixth installment in a series of posts in which I am laying out the most salient points from my 2012 Real Food Summit talk, “Weston Price on Primitive Wisdom.” See these links for part 1, part 2part 3, part 4, and part 5. This post will cover Price’s support for what we could call “real food,” and why he considered alternative approaches to be based on the accumulation of knowledge at the expense of wisdom.

Price expressed his support for “real food” most concisely in the following statement (NAPD, p. 294):

Great harm is done, in my judgment, by the sale and use of substitutes for natural foods.

Price made this statement after discussing the poor absorption of minerals in the form of “inorganic chemicals” rather than as part of foods rich in liberal quantities of fat-soluble vitamins. In general, though, Price’s sentiment derived from a recognition that our knowledge is limited. The following quote illustrates this principle (p. 258):

I do not use the term “vitamins” exclusively because as yet little is known about the whole group of organic catalysts, although we have considerable knowledge of the limited number which are designated by the first half dozen letters of the alphabet.

Of course we know a lot more about vitamins now than we did in Price’s day, but what is our knowledge in relation to the total pool of truth? My guess, as I’ve written about before, is that it looks something like this:

Most of what is true probably isn’t known, the bulk of which is likely untestable or unimaginable. The main defect in this diagram is that it fails to show that some unknown portion of what is “known” is probably wrong. In any case, I think Price had at least some sense of this principle and would have retained his humility even in the face of a doubling or tripling of his knowledge.

Although Price attributed the immunity to disease seen among the non-modernized groups he studied to their accumulated wisdom, he contrasted their approach with the pursuit of accumulated knowledge alone that was characteristic of much of the science of his time (p. 301):

There are two programs now available for meeting the dental caries problem. One is to know first in detail all the physical and chemical factors involved and then proceed. The other is to know how to prevent the disease as the primitives have shown and then proceed. The former is largely the practice of the moderns. The latter is the program suggested by these investigations.

Price was not against learning “in detail all the physical and chemical factors involved,” and in fact he devoted considerable effort to learning about these factors. His opposition here is to insisting on completing this knowledge first, before proceeding to address the problem of modern degeneration by tapping into the solutions found among the successful “primitive” groups he studied.

Price observed the backward steps that modern society kept taking with each new piece of knowledge it obtained. With a little knowledge, it first removed the vitamins from its bread, and with more, it supplemented isolated vitamins. Price cited a study showing that isolated vitamin D2 caused placental calcification and fetal kidney stones when given to pregnant women, whereas cod liver oil did not. That isolated vitamin D2 did not have the same properties as his combination of high-vitamin cod liver oil and concentrated butter oil was among the first observations that led him to postulate the existence of an “activator X.” After seeing the tooth decay that resulted from white flour and sugar and the soft tissue calcification that resulted from pure vitamin D, how could Price be anything but discouraged by the track record that the progress of knowledge generated?

The problem was that many, once they obtained some new knowledge, were tempted to sacrifice the wisdom of previous generations rather than using their knowledge to further enrich the pool of accumulated wisdom. Price was humble enough to learn from the Swiss, who “recognize the superior quality of their June butter, and without knowing exactly why, pay it due homage.” Others would simply discard this recognition because it wasn’t rooted in the superior epistemology of modern science, considering it perhaps even worthless precisely because the Swiss paid this homage “without knowing exactly why.”

Of course it would be just as problematic to discard the scientific method and blindly accept every human tradition. It would be similarly problematic to discard our own experience in deference to either of these sources of knowledge. How are we to respect and embrace the wisdom of our ancestors, while using science and our personal experience to refine and enrich the pool of accumulated wisdom? In the next and final post of this series, I will address these questions as I attempt to set Price’s work within the context of other forms and sources of evidence.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

7 Responses to The Scientific Approach of Weston Price, Part 6: Conclusions — Real Food, and the Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

  1. ilona says:

    Great post. Thank you, Chris. Looking forward to your next article on Weston Price.

  2. Sabine says:

    Beautifully written. These issues have been troubling me for a long time. Thank you for writing about this.

  3. Julie says:

    Great series! Coincidentally, I have been reading Price for the first time. Just last week I finished the chapter you quote at the beginning of the article! Although I picked up quite a bit about Price on the web, it is a true pleasure to read the original; there’s a lot more in there than just praise of fat-soluble vitamins. The anecdotes, like the one quoted here about the Swiss “sacred butter,” are like little parables. I also like your “Pyramid of NonKnowledge” (!).

  4. Well expressed.
    Apropos of the sacred butter story:
    I’ve just been researching the use of low-dose naltrexone. This seems to have been based on an incorrect assessment of its mode of action (endorphin receptors). The true or more important mode of action (TLR4) has come to light recently and explains the benefits neatly. This error didn’t prevent people benefiting from the treatment, but a fuller knowledge will almost certainly improve the effectiveness of LDN in future.

    http://hopefulgeranium.blogspot.co.nz/2013/03/our-first-song-for-today-is.html

    and

    http://hopefulgeranium.blogspot.co.nz/2013/03/more-lessons-from-naltrexone-and-tlr4.html

    with more to follow.

  5. Sara R. says:

    Great series, and I LOVE your pyramid. So true! It reminds me of the scripture about the “depth of God’s wisdom and knowledge”, and how we will only scratch the surface when we live forever as he originally intended.

  6. Arie Brand says:

    Thanks for this Chris. You made your argument perfectly clear to non-specialist readers.

    I was, among other things, interested in the way you dealt with your endodontically treated molars which amounted to a resounding acclamation of what Weston Price – Meinig had to say on this topic.

    However in Baumgartner et al: Baumgartner JC, Bakland LK, Sugita EI (2002), Endodontics, Chapter 3: Microbiology of endodontics and asepsis in endodontic practice (PDF), Hamilton, Ontario: BC Becker,
    one can find the following statement:

    “Today the medical and dental professions agree that there is no relationship between endodontically treated teeth and the degenerative diseases implicated in the theory of focal infection. However, a recent book entitled Root Canal Cover-up Exposed has resurrected the focal infection theory based on the poorly designed and out- dated studies by Rosenow and Price.8 This body of research has been evaluated and disproved. Unfortunately, uninformed patients may receive this out- dated information and believe it to be credible new findings.”

    Well there is among informed people, contrary to what Baumgartner et al suggest, obviously no consensus on this topic. They also forget in the patronizing way they talk about those dumb patients who take this to be new information that Meinig makes it very clear that this is old information that has never been properly refuted.

    The trouble with removing an endodontically treated tooth is what to replace it with. Not to replace it at all doesn’t seem to be a viable option unless it is placed at the very back. Have you got any suggestions on the matter? Also, removing it obviously requires some expertise but is that also required for replacing it after removal or is that within the skills range of the average dentist?

    • Hi Arie,

      Well, I don’t think removing it requires a specialist. It just requires following the appropriate protocol, which involves taking out the periodontal ligament and the first millimeter or two of bone. I would not try to educate a dentist on that; I would find a dentist who is familiar with Price’s protocol, through the professional directory on the PPNF site. I don’t think the physical act of making the replacement requires a specialist, but choosing one requires a dentist who is conscious of the potential adverse biological effects of replacement materials. If you go to a “regular” dentist for that you’ll be completely out of luck, most likely.

      Chris

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