Winter 1995




An Inquiry into the HIV/AIDS Controversy

Kriben Pillay

Even before I encountered the literature on the HIV controversy, I speculated that AIDS, whatever its causation, was telling us something significant about our collective psyche. The hysteria that it generated, the prophecies of doom that it seemed to fulfil for our smirking moralists, the elevation of medical science into an even more powerful figure of authority, were all pointers to something very fundamental happening just below the threshold of our conscious awareness.

Firstly, I am indebted to the science of fuzzy logic for showing me a way forward into this inquiry, in a way that I can communicate precisely (hopefully) without falling prey to woolly thinking in an area that is, sometimes justifiably, criticised for being philosophical, even mystical, without any connection to the real world.

There are many strands to this inquiry, and hopefully they will come together for the reader.

To begin with, to deny that there is a divide among scientists over some key issues in AIDS and its research would be to admit gross ig-norance of the matter. The controversy is not just about how to cure AIDS, but what is AIDS and what is its cause. To rattle off that HIV is the cause is, in the light of current research and debate, to simply admit to the powerful conditioning that we all have been subjected to. There is a divide, not necessarily in numbers, but in research and thinking, that shows that all is not well with AIDS (pardon the pun).

And there are the allegations and counter-allegations.

Of the sceptics being radicals on the lunatic fringe, to government departments bringing about more effective measures of population control through fear; of censorship by the media and mainstream AIDS scientists of alternative hypotheses, to highly placed religious fundamentalists finding the ideal way to control a sexually wayward world. Et cetera, et cetera.

Now I may be wrong, but in all of this, however persuasive and perhaps even true some of the scenarios are, there seems to be no understanding of what may be actually happening beneath all the currents of activity.

What is actually happening is that two world views are squaring up, and the AIDS phenomenon is the battle ground.

To steal from Bart Kosko's elegant book Fuzzy Thinking, Aristotle is making a last-ditch stand against the Buddha. (Of course, I could have used other representative figures, but these two are probably the most accurate for a number of reasons.)

Why is the HIV hypothesis more attractive than other equally plausible theories? For the sceptics to say that it is because the pharmaceutical giants hope to make billions out of an eventual cure (which is more likely to happen with a mono-causal agent), or that it is very profitable for scientists amidst hysteria to pursue phantoms while appearing to be doing something tangible, or that politicians can blame a host of preventable social ills on HIV for a very long time to come, is to deal in supposition which is dangerous because it does not get to the root of the matter, even though, I will concede, there may be elements of truth in some, if not all, of the many charges, some of which I have not even mentioned.

But one must be careful of conspiracy theories, because they fall into the very trap that has set up the initial problem.

And the problem is us versus them; Aristotle's one or zero; health versus illness; sex versus morals; I am right and you are wrong; God or the devil; life or death. This is the world-view that has dominated our thinking, and just as the world appears to be flat, so this appears to be right. There can be no other way, so it seems.

As a result, either/or, bivalent thinking has, until recently, featured in much that we have done; except of course in our intuitive moments where a multivalent perspective makes us realise that reality is not necessarily black and white, but black and white and many other colours too.

Medicine is a good example of working with simple cause and effect, because it has displayed its effectiveness at certain levels of treatment. And because technology has flourished in the refinement of the binary world, we have further entrenched ourselves in this perspective, where scientific truth is absolute, not relative (which it is and which I shall examine later). Many scientists will admit to the incompleteness of knowledge, but not to its relativeness. How can they, when it is all a matter of black or white!

We must understand that even with the fall of religious dogmas nothing new really arose, except more workable descriptions of things; linear chains of cause and effect in a black and white world.

So there is no God who created the garden of Eden, but there was a big bang that created the cosmos; the pattern is the same, only the words have changed. And `Adam and Eve begat Cain and Abel' became `unicellular organisms evolved into multi-cellular organisms.' Now, this is not to say that in this particular example this is not so, it probably is, but it is also possible that simultaneously this particular pattern was not adhered to, and the fish was somewhat a fish and somewhat a bird. Now we are really into deep waters. We feel upset - it must be either fish or bird, but not both; or the world must be either the result of God's creation or blind evolution, but not both. Aristotle liked it that way, and so do we. It's either Christ or Satan.

Regardless of the fact that the oppositional nature of this way of thinking has gotten the human race into all sorts of conflicts, why do we still persist?

Enter the Buddha.

While Aristotle's world-view (or at least as we have received it) does not include the Buddha's, the Buddha's includes Aristotle's. Not because the Buddha was a nice man who wanted to appease Aristotle, but because he came to realise that it could be no other way, no matter how flat the earth appeared everyone.

So what did the Buddha realise? Very simply that the dichotomies of either/or, good and bad, black and white are illusions. In this sense was he referring to the world being an illusion; that is, the way we habitually perceive the world is false and leads to suffering. So why are we masochistic and continue to create suffering when we can lead a wholly (read `holy') different life? Because our social conditioning, traceable to our animal roots with its strong instincts for physical survival leads us to believe that we are individuals (in the corrupted sense of the word) who lead distinct, separate lives. Like the flat earth, it seems so obvious. The phenomenon of the two camps in the AIDS debate is nothing new; we can trace it back to when our ancestors fought for territorial rights. The only difference is that the stakes are much higher now.

Using the basis of all good science, measurement, we can test now, without waiting for some dubious religious experience, whether the Buddha was right or not. Physically, at the level of gross matter, there is distinction and separation. But at the molecular level where do my molecules and atoms end and where do yours begin? But, it may be argued, it is at the physical level that I feel and experience my separateness, so it is at this level that I am `me'. But if we look closer at this `me' we see that it is the result of a myriad influences that come from the genes we inherited, our environment, as well as the collective consciousness.

(The Buddha was probably the first teacher of his kind to use the scientific method in his spiritual teachings. It was never so elegantly refined as in the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, who, in a sense, showed that the Marxist dialectic - that man is the result of society - is only one side of the coin.)

The point being made is that we are the world.

There is no us and them, there just is. But to understand this intellectually is simply to indulge in verbal description. The Buddha's task (and that of other teachers like him, Christ included) was to get us to realise this fact experientially. Unfortunately, the resistance to giving up the illusion of separateness is very great, and for the most part, even when accepting intellectually the Buddha's perception, Aristotle's has been the way that has really held sway. After all, my car is not falling off the earth, is it?

But what does all this really mean for the HIV debate?

It means that we are moving at a snail's pace in effectively dealing with the problem because we cannot see that the problem is a manifestation of the way we think. Tentative scientific description has become the truth because, in the case of the HIV hypothesis, it so wonderfully mirrors the paradigm that we have unquestioningly accepted; that there is the `me' and there is the other; that there is HIV and there is AIDS; that we are right and that you are wrong. To consider multifactorial causes is to agree that what we have is a process at work which is not indistinct from the way life really is - a process. This is too frightening, because process, as implied in systems theory, seemingly takes away our individuality, my sense of self, my sense of control, and that is anathema to most of us, especially scientists who still believe that science can shape and control. To a limited extent, yes, but even then we are shaping and controlling as part of a process that is within the collective consciousness. To maintain the illusion that this is not so, we have, what I sense to be, this century's major scientific debacle.

I grew up believing that Hitler caused the Second World War.

In our constricted selfhood with its natural expressions in linearity, mono-causality and the sense of the other, Hitler was the cause. But from the perspective of non-separation we all were the cause; our self-interest, our territorial instincts, our illusory notions of things all contributed to the consciousness that created the war - Hitler was simply the catalyst. To see it from the perspective of non-separation requires a radical change in consciousness; to see it from the perspective of black and white is less demanding, but the consequences are horrific.

There is a Chinese saying which I shall paraphrase:

A mind that thinks in terms of good and bad is a corrupt mind.

We are so fixated with HIV as the enemy that we have lost sight of the processes at work which might offer a genuine solution to the AIDS problem. Scientific mythology has taken the place of fact, and because we are so ingrained with the idea of enemies, HIV makes a lot of sense; the earth cannot be round. I'll leave it to those more qualified than I to show just how HIV has developed in mythological stature in the last ten years. As did the Devil or the Russian menace not too long back.

Those that find Peter Duesberg's drug theory totally untenable do so because he is pointing to questionable scientific dogmas (that drug therapy is a panacea for all our ills) and to unhealthy life-styles. All this finally reduces itself, whichever way you care to look at it, to an attack on the self; what it wants to do, what it believes in - and for most of us this is intolerable. Hence the lack of genuine inquiry. And to prove my point about the self being under attack, we need only look at the way Peter Duesberg has been received; not as an inquiring scientist, but as a radical from the lunatic fringe, a right-winger, a homophobic, Satan himself wanting to stop the war against HIV when so many are dying of AIDS. But then that's how people behave when there is a perceived threat to the self.

The bottom-line is that people are dying of AIDS because we are refusing to wake up. The AIDS problem is our problem. We can choose not to see, but at our own peril.

I cannot ignore the fact that the nature of this inquiry will be perceived by some to be too philosophical and abstract; that it does not connect with the real world.

But this is exactly my point. Words, as descriptions, only point to the real world; the word is not the thing. Too often, however, we have taken the description for the described, the pronouncements of authority for truth, and in so doing we have traded accuracy for approximation.

But in order to be as accessible as possible - a difficulty if we are not open, except to what we want to hear - I am going to discuss certain issues in brief.

But people are dying

This is the classic retort of those who want side-track any inquiry into the HIV hypothesis, or are simply blindly defensive.

Yes, people are dying, and given the billions being spent with no cure in sight, why cannot alternative hypotheses be explored? I know of one very healthy HIV+ person who has refused all drug therapies. He tells me that all he did was fire his doctor. This was six years ago. Of course, the sceptics out there are going to point to the latency period - but has not that been recently changed to 25 years after a scientist observed something in a test-tube? Are we so committed to our sense of who the enemy is that we find it impossible to explore other avenues? My own sense of compassion tells me that people are suffering and dying. Which is more important, upholding our unquestioned world- view, or the suffering of thousands?

Then of course there is the question of death itself. Aristotle gave it to us very neatly - life or death.

Buddha was radical. He said that death is a part of life, and that life lived without illusions was a movement in understanding death. Now this is really empowering stuff! If I have this understanding then I'm truly free.

But society has never really been concerned with freedom, except when our shoddy sense of self is threatened. The fear of death has been a powerful way to control people, and consciously and unconsciously it keeps world-views in place.

So as I see it, a true commitment to the problem of AIDS means answering this fundamental question - for oneself and by oneself. And let me state categorically that it can be answered, not in verbal description, but in actual experiential understanding.

Then we will laugh at the absurdity of our fear.

But this understanding does not turn one away from the suffering of others - how could it? You are the others, and the paradox is that while you know freedom you will still share in the suffering of others, because their suffering implies that parts of you are not free. This, of course, would be stretching it too far for Aristotle - being free and suffering. But it is a cinch for the Buddha. You are the All, everything is contained within You.

But on paper it is ridiculous non-sense. Yes.

But surely we need something simple for the poor masses?

That was Hitler's programme for the German people, and the extermination of 6 million Jews was the result.

Why can we not go by the truth, even if the truth is `we don't know'? Must we always decide what the truth is for others?

With specific reference to the HIV controversy, admission of confusion would not necessarily lead people to behaviour with high health risks. Educational programmes to promote safe sex need not suddenly come to an end; but to give the impression that abstinence or a piece of latex are the answers, is to be irresponsible in the light of the current impasse in finding a cure - indeed not only finding the cure but not knowing the precise cause or causes. We could be saying that it is all right to do drugs as long as you are wearing a condom.

So I shouldn't go to the doctor anymore?

Be careful, there's Aristotle again!

In fact, I would say that the majority of the people who are pro-HIV are concerned, caring individuals.

I, for instance, disagree with my doctor on the HIV issue, but I still respect him for his expertise in many areas of medicine, some of which I require occasionally. But I also know what I do not require. Challenging one's illusions awakens an integral intelligence.

So I am not of the school that sees only bad in allopathic medicine and only good in whatever alternative treatment you may have happened to chance upon. The health of the body is the result of our waking up; it is not the domain of my doctor any more than eating my vegetables is the domain of my greengrocer. But they are part of the process.

But our education does not deal with all of this. A sense of separation will always breed the need for authorities.

Except that now the HIV controversy is showing just how little our authorities know.

But scientific knowledge is true!

It may appear that scientific knowledge is true knowledge as opposed to other forms. But is it?

Surely scientific knowledge, based as it is on measurement, is simply giving, within a context, more workable systems of description that have relative value for those systems?

To prove my point, measurement can give me more precision in determining that there are three women that require breakfast. Without numbers and the ability to use these numbers, we would have had no technology, no way of doing anything. But description is valid for its context - in this example it is to determine how many plates of food are needed. There is mathematical precision but not much accuracy of the real world.For instance, do all the women eat the same amount of food?

Only in retrospect can we measure quantities of food consumed. There could be no absolute mathematical precision before.

And this fact applies every time we engage with dynamic systems. Perhaps this is why technology has made such tremendous advances when it came to inanimate objects - mono-causality, linearity, bivalence are simple, precise tools for dealing with simple machines, however complex they may evolve by arrangement. The computer as it stands now is still, conceptually, a simple machine which, through very complex arrangements, mimics the dynamism of animate systems.

But already, in order to make smarter machines, machines that go beyond a bivalent system, we have to look to a different mathematics for it. In this case I am referring to fuzzy logic, which incidentally was suppressed by mainstream academia as being inconsequential until the Japanese got hold of it and applied it to technology. But then, Japan is the land of the Buddha. The suppression was a reflex action - it threatened the Aristotelian world-view.

Where animate systems operate in fairly simple ways then science has no problem.

Medicine, for instance, has been hugely successful with illnesses that tolerate cause and effect treatments. Where the illness is systemic, medicine is in a state of confusion and Aristotle is nowhere to be found.

So scientific truth is as relative as any other truth; its ability to create a sense of order is just a sense, however appropriate in its context. Mathematical precision is not accurate in its description of the real world - it is a neat approximation which we have taken for fact.

No wonder the Buddha kept silent when asked about the Ground of Being.

No doubt if I were to go up to the Buddha and ask him what I should do in the face of the AIDS phenomenon, his Noble Silence would simply reflect me back upon myself, challenging me to awaken in the moment, in the now.

And I am quite sure I would find him with Aristotle, holding his hand in friendship.


1994. Re-Thinking AIDS. 1 (10).

National AIDS Research Programme of the Medical Research Council. 1993. AIDS Bulletin. 2 (2).

Kosko, B. 1994. Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic. London: HarperCollins.

Lauritsen, J. 1994. Truth is Bustin' Out All Over: HIV Symposium at AAAS Conference. New York Native, July.

Papadopulos-Eleopulos, E. 1993. Has Gallo Proven The Role Of HIV In AIDS? Emergency Medicine, 5 (2), 113 -123.

Root-Bernstein, R. 1993. Rethinking AIDS - The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus. New York: The Free Press.


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