Author: Jan Scholten
18.2 Theory of Provings
“Every art has only a few principles and has many techniques” Dale Carnegie
What are provings?
The word proving has several aspects. One is to prove, to establish as a fact, to make it certain. Another is to experiment or to test. This aspect is marked in the Dutch word "proeven", which means to taste. Taste and test come from the same origin.
Provings are procedures where provers are exposed to a substance or influence and invited to express the impressions of that exposure. The procedure can be compared with radio or television broadcasting with a transmitter and receiver. The remedy can be compared with the transmitter, the prover with the receiver. The procedure has several aspects: the remedy, the prover sensitivity and the prover attention.
The remedy, or any other influence, is the signal. The signal has to be strong enough to be received. In provings the signal can be made stronger in several ways. One obvious way is to give the remedy in a crude form, as is done in intoxications. This has the danger of overloading and ruining some parts of the receiver, it makes the prover ill.
Another way to strengthen the signal is to give repeated doses. People have also tried to strengthen the signal by using higher or lower potencies. The experience of Sherr and myself is that it’s hard to discern in provings which potencies are stronger than others.
2. Prover sensitivity
The sensitivity of the provers is crucial for the proving. Some provers hardly get any symptoms or they hardly dare to trust their impressions, in which case a good supervisor can be of help to strengthen their trust.
Sherr stresses the importance of sensitive provers in the proving: “One sensitive prover can make a whole proving, bringing to light the most profound aspects of the remedy in a most beautiful way” and “Often the most important proving symptoms are brought mainly by one or two sensitive provers, the others serving to fill out the bulk of common symptoms.” One 'master prover' in his provings has been crucial; some provings only made sense after she joined in again.
Another way to amplify the result of the proving is to involve many provers. Many provers can receive more information than one and different aspects of the remedy. Another way is to repeat the provings, in different times and circumstances, with different provers and in different cultures. This aspect will also be discussed below in the 'Prover attention'.
3. Prover attention
The attention of the prover is crucial. The attention of the prover can be compared with the tuning of the receiver. A radio receiver will only amplify what it’s attuned to; other senders will not be amplified and heard. When the attention of the prover is not focused on the remedy, all kinds of other influences can present during the proving. It’s like a receiver that has to be tuned to the right signal. Hahnemann was already very much aware of this fact, as he shows in § 126 of the Organon: “During the whole time of the experiment he (the prover) must avoid all overexertion of mind and body, all sorts of dissipation and disturbing passions. He should have no urgent business to distract his attention. He must devote himself to careful self-observation and not be disturbed while so engaged.”.
There are several techniques to enhance the attention of the prover. Frequent talks with a supervisor are a good help and according to Sherr indispensable. Another technique is meditation. Then, almost all the attention is directed to the remedy, although it’s by no means a guarantee that other influences will not come in.
This aspect of attention is crucial. The opposite of good attention is disturbance or noise. The incorrectly attuned receiver will show another sender or just noise and rumble. Attuning a prover is not as easy as attuning a radio receiver. Other influences cannot be excluded so they have to be taken into account. In every proving there will (probably) be incorrect information and disturbances. The topic of incorrect proving information has been for the most part neglected in homeopathy. Hahnemann excluded the possibility in paragraph 138 of the Organon. There are no procedures for removing incorrect information out of our repertories and Materia Medica (except obvious mistakes like confusion of "con" and "com"). The homeopathic community behaves as if mistakes don’t exist. In my experience there are many errors. The problem is how to sift them out.
Using more provers in one proving or repeating provings in different circumstances and cultures is a means to single out disturbances. A symptom that is produced by only one prover has a higher likelihood of being just a symptom of the prover. The fact that only one prover has a particular symptom is no guarantee that the symptom comes from a personal disturbance. Sherr has pointed this out clearly and it’s also my experience. One prover can perceive the essence of the remedy and even know that it is the essence. Using groups is also no guarantee against group disturbances. A frequently encountered disturbance is “homeopathic thinking” as most provers are homeopaths. This is a form of the more general cultural disturbances. A nice example is a proving by Sankaran of Ferrum metallicum. Many provers were dreaming about marriage, but it was not because Ferrum as such has anything to do with marriage, but that the symptom “being forced to” of Ferrum is connected to marriage in the Indian culture.
Disturbances can be seen as the consequence of being out of tune, or being attuned to something else, other than the remedy we want to “measure”. Several kinds of disturbance can be recognized:
1. Event disturbances.
All kinds of events happen at the same time as the proving. It’s almost impossible and never done to isolate the provers from all impressions other than the proving substance. Eating is an immediate influence just as not eating is.
A nice example of an event disturbance is described by Shore in the proving of Pelecanus occidentalis: “Everyone is aware of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001. These tragedies happened one week after we started the proving. This event had an impact on all of us and colored the proving in ways we cannot predict or separate out”. This event is obvious for the impact it can and will have. But minor events too can influence the proving, like a dinner with friends, the kind of food eaten, a television program or a story in a journal or a quarrel with a family member.
Events can also be subtler. In meditation provings one clear event is the meditation. This produces meditation symptoms like light feeling, floating sensation, tingling, hyperventilation, awareness of heartbeat, respiration and of the body. One can find symptoms like these in all meditation provings and most of the time they say nothing about the remedy.
One of the problems is to discern if the event belongs to the remedy or not, if it’s accidental or synchronicity. There’s no way beforehand to know for sure which of the two is the case.
2. Personal disturbance
Every prover brings with him his personal make-up, ideas, character and state. One could call them stored events, as they are the consequence of events in the past and adaptations to those events. They are fixed, conserved and can be triggered by new events or come up by themselves. Events like provings can trigger them just as much.
A nice example has been published by Vermeulen in Dynamis. He compared the provings of six remedies and found out that they all had the symptom of misanthropy, aversion to people. It turned out that that symptom was every time coming from the same prover. That prover's character had plenty of timidity and misanthropy.
Group states can also be of influence. An example is the proving by Jürgen Becker of Ferrum phosphoricum, which produced the symptoms of transvestism. In my experience that symptom doesn't belong to that remedy. I haven’t seen it in my own and other homeopaths' cases and it doesn't fit in with the Element theory.
Every prover brings with him a lot of themes. They can arise from himself, but can also arise in these cases from his family, the group that he works in, his culture or the history of the world.
It’s hardly possible to discern during the proving whether symptoms belong to the remedy or not. Even when a symptom is typical of the prover it might be that the remedy has that symptom too and that might be the reason it could be triggered so easily.
Provings have only a few principles: remedy, prover sensitivity and prover attention. This leads to many techniques such as intoxications, full provings, dream provings and meditation provings. In each of these, many variations or completely new forms can be designed. Examples are bath provings (dissolving an essential oil of a plant in a bath and sit in it), image provings (looking at a plant or an image of it and meditating on it), thought provings.
None of them can guarantee complete and accurate results. Some homeopaths have the idea that dream or meditation provings cannot give correct results. This can be refuted with an example. In both Cerium provings at the end of this book, the symptom of being in a bell-glass was experienced. This symptom has been verified in many Cerium cases. All provings have advantages and disadvantages and I’ve placed some of them in the table below.
For me the meditation proving is often the most convenient and helpful. It gives results fast and with little effort. The disadvantages are that the picture will not be complete and can be incorrect in parts. But that can also be the case with other provings. In my experience, meditation provings often are quite reliable and give the essence of the remedy, more so than dream provings. For others the opposite can be true.
When used with care, the information in the meditation provings in this book can be and has been very helpful in the development of the remedy pictures. I publish them so that the reader can have a fuller picture of that development.
Advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of provings
Proving Advantages Disadvantages
Intoxication Reliable symptoms Disease-producing
Physical symptoms Unethical
Full proving Standardized High costs in time
Full picture High costs in energy
Dream proving Reasonable costs in time Attention dependent
Meditation Low cost in time and energy Meditation disturbance
Full attention Personal disturbance
Little event disturbance Partial picture