One of the most beautiful places I've been to is Shalimar Bagh in Srinigar, the capital of Kashmir, India. Srinigar is flanked by two giant mountain ranges---the Himalayas to the northwest and the Pir Pinjal to the southeast. During the Mughals' reign of Kashmir, they built several giant Persian gardens. Shalimar Bagh is one of the biggest of these. It sits on the edge of the sparkling Dal Lake. Shalimar Bagh's architecture, trees, plants, fountains and waterways play out in elegant, rhythmic patterns and are meticulously tended. The garden is a feat of human engineering and labor.
In a funny juxtaposition, the mountains lie effortlessly behind it, as if to say, "Is that all you can do?"
When I first saw the gardens, I couldn't help but wonder if that was the point. With the vast sweep of mountain and wilderness in the background, the gardens seemed like an ode to what man is capable of---and to what he is not.
The research we have about the body feels a lot like the Mughal gardens. It's a massive amount of meticulous work that nevertheless constantly points to how much we don't know, how much we have yet to tame, and how much we may never.
The online arguments about what science has and hasn't shown can unhinge many of us. At root, people who like science (I count myself among them) simply want to distinguish between what science has proven, and what is still theory. They don't want people making false claims. But in practice, whole professions become cannon fodder. People who had good experiences with these professions were just lucky. It was probably a placebo, and/or a series of "random non-specific effects" (which is somehow a more respectable claim than "we're still in the infancy of our research").
Despite the lack of evidence for popular techniques in many professions (medicine, physical therapy, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture), certain professions keep taking the hit. If we had a good experience with one of these, we should perhaps doubt ourselves and look to the research instead.
We all work in the Himalayas, but some of us are very prideful about our particular mountain.
When I first started this, I thought, "I will be an evidence-based massage therapist. Massage is weird enough without doing weird things that haven't been proven." But you quickly learn---even the evidence-based therapists agree---that you can't proceed from evidence alone. Research tells us remarkably little about how to help someone out of pain. Yet somehow, across the world, much pain is relieved. Meanwhile, every time I look to the research, I find a relatively small, well-tended garden with a smattering of fountains and waterways.
There are techniques I myself doubt, that I will likely never embrace. There is science behind my reasons for that. I'm not doubting science. I am doubting the capacity of research to get to it all any time soon. More than that, I am doubting the dismissive voices in the field whose acidic tones insinuate themselves in my brain, even as I know better, even as I know I have to stay humble before the giant mountains towering in the distance. The more I learn, the more I understand that, on a vast number of things, the current research is no match for what we don't know. It is no match for what's possible. It is no match for the Himalayas.
P.S. From the Unesco description of Shalimar Bagh: "The scale and decorations of the buildings...seem to have been intentionally underplayed by the Mughals to avoid offering competition with the overarching natural beauty that surrounds the garden." ---http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5580/