Download PDF
Papers published in

Int. J. System of Systems Engineering, Vol. 5, No. 2, August 2014

The control systems engineering foundation of traditional Indian medicine: the Rosetta Stone for Siddha and Ayurveda


This paper uncovers the scientific foundation of Siddha and Ayurveda, two of India’s oldest systems of traditional medicine, by discovering an ontological link, a Rosetta Stone (Downs, 2008), between the terminology of the core principles of control systems engineering and the lingua franca of the core principles of Siddha and Ayurveda. This Rosetta Stone provides a much-needed bridge to comprehend the scientific principles that underlie traditional Indian medical systems, particularly at a time when problems of the current healthcare system are motivating a pervasive and fundamental rethinking: a paradigm shift away from reductionism to systems of systems engineering (SoSE) approaches.

The explosive growth in the use of alternative therapies and concomitant rise in evidence-based research of traditional systems of medicine, such as Siddha and Ayurveda, exemplifies this shift (Miles, 2009). These traditional systems conceive the human body as a holistic system. This shift parallels the emergence of the field of modern systems biology, a result of the post-genomic era (Weston and Hood, 2004). Systems biology aims to develop an integrated and holistic model of the human system across multiple temporal and spatial scales, from molecules to molecular pathways to cells to tissue to organs to whole organism.

Recent developments in systems biology have recognised the importance of multi-layered systems of systems (SoS) architectures (Hunter and Borg, 2003) in its objective to model the whole human system. The core principles of modern control systems engineering (Ogata, 1997) such as:

  1. open loop systems, based on general systems theoretic concepts of energy transport, conversion and storage
  2. closed looped systems containing control elements such as goal, controller, sensors, feedback and disturbance,

have become central to systems biology’s implementation of such architectures (Bosl, 2007). For over a century, control systems engineering principles have enabled major technological advancements from the thermostat to the aircraft. Systems biologists acknowledge that the modelling of the human body, far more complex than any aircraft or man-made engineering system, also requires these same principles (Dhurjati and Mahadevan, 2008; Mandel et al., 2004; Decraene et al., 2007). The systems architectures of Siddha and Ayurveda, developed over 5,000 years ago (Mukherjee and Wahile, 2006; Fritts et al., 2008; Patwardhan et al., 2005) in the Indian subcontinent, reveal an integrative and multilayered framework that modern systems biology aims to replicate and understand (Patwardhan et al., 2008). Siddha and Ayurveda are themselves a systems biology, and likely, the world’s first systems biology (Patwardhan et al., 2008). Though systems of Indian medicine have their origins in basic principles of systems and complexity theory (Hankey, 2005; Rioux, 2012), their ancient lingua franca has obfuscated the complete exposition of their foundations in modern control systems engineering. This obfuscation and the inability of modern practitioners to clearly convey those scientific principles have constrained their acceptance by modern science.

This paper demonstrates the commonality and invariance of the use of control systems engineering principles, across east and west, ancient and modern, by showing an ontological link. Such an exposition provides a gateway for modern science to confidently explore systems such as Siddha and Ayurveda, as well as remove any askance that exists on whether such systems have a scientific foundation. Though the representation and communication of observations, made by the originators of Siddha and Ayurveda, occurred within a different historical and cultural context, leading to a lingua franca, foreign to modern science, the underlying framework is scientific and universal.

The pathway to this exposition is done in a step-by-step manner. In the next section, we begin by reviewing the reductionist thinking that pervades the modern healthcare system. In Section 3, the emergence of systems biology as an alternative to this reductionism, its central features, and aims are discussed. Section 4 reviews the core principles of control systems engineering that are the foundations of current efforts in systems biology to model the human system.

In Section 5, with this background on the reductionism of the modern healthcare system, a review of systems biology, and an itemisation of the fundamentals of control systems engineering, the core principles of Siddha and Ayurveda, in their native lingua franca, are introduced. In Section 6, these core principles of Siddha and Ayurveda are juxtaposed with the core principles of modern control systems engineering to reveal a Rosetta Stone that interprets the lingua franca of Siddha and Ayurveda. This juxtaposition demonstrates that the principles of control systems engineering are the same as that of Siddha and Ayurveda.

This exposition serves to provide a comprehensible understanding of the scientific foundation of Siddha and Ayurveda. This comprehension is particularly critical at a time when there is a growing recognition that SoS approaches, ancient and modern, must be fully explored and exploited to overcome the reductionism, prevalent in the modern healthcare system. Overcoming such reductionism will advance a systems medicine that can deliver on the real promise of healthcare: timely and cost effective solutions for the cure and prevention of disease.