Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bad science writing plus reductionism equals: arrggh!

Mechanism Behind Mind-Body Connection Discovered, says the headline.

Quite a headline, yes? Unfortunately, it is parked at the top of an article that comes nowhere near supporting the claim. To begin with, the writing is nearly incomprehensible. The article appears to be about a new study but never once tells us directly what the study is about or where it was done. The reader has to infer a lot, and the headline itself is never addressed.

After re-reading a few times, I think the basic gist is that there are these tiny structures on cells (called telomeres) that shorten as we age, and also shorten when we are under a lot of stress. Shortened telomeres have already been associated with a number of diseases, including, says the article, "HIV, osteoporosis, heart disease, and aging." (Hello? Aging is a "disease"?) It has also been known, previous to the new study, that an enzyme (telomerase) released in cells helps preserve telomere length.

The article then states, in the second paragraph:

"UCLA scientists found that the stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cells' ability to activate their telomerase. This may explain why the cells of persons under chronic stress have shorter telomeres."

So it seems that the study being (barely) reported on proved this one thing: that cortisol, a stress hormone, suppresses the activation of telomerase in immune cells. From this new piece of information, researchers are suggesting that this may be why people under a lot of stress over a long period of time have shorter telomeres. Which in turn theoretically exposes them to the potential for any number of diseases.

Exactly how does this relate to the headline? Maybe here, in the third paragraph, sort of:

"The study reveals how stress makes people more susceptible to illness. The findings also suggest a potential drug target for preventing damage to the immune systems of persons who are under long-term stress [snip]."

Mind-body mechanism discovered? Geez. All that's happened is that research has yet again shown that our mental and/or emotional state physically affects our bodies. Which anyone who has ever blushed or who has ever felt butterflies in the stomach knows already.

The idea that shortened telomeres are somehow at the epicenter of the mind-body connection is laughable--western science reductionism at its finest (that is to say, worst). Okay, let's say that this is exactly right: that when we get stressed out over time, we lose the capacity to keep our telomeres long and this threatens our immune system.

Then what? Well, western scientists know exactly what to do with that--that's where the "potential drug target" comes in.

Rita Effros, apparently one of the UCLA researchers involved in this project (she's never identified directly as such), is quoted in the story.

"When the body is under stress, it boosts production of cortisol to support a 'fight or flight' response," explains Effros. "If the hormone remains elevated in the bloodstream for long periods of time, though, it wears down the immune system. We are testing therapeutic ways of enhancing telomerase levels to help the immune system ward off cortisol's effect. If we're successful, one day a pill may exist to strengthen the immune system's ability to weather chronic emotional stress."

So you see where this goes. We've discovered that stress can suppress the production of an enzyme that is required for good health, so we're going to develop a drug that will get the production going again.

How many things are just plain wrong with this world view?

How about working to educate and support people so that they can better deal with life circumstances that currently cause a lot of stress?

And how about recognizing that the material incarnation of an emotional state is not necessarily the baseline reality--may in fact never be the baseline reality? Scientists are themselves the ones who have come to realize and inform us that everything ultimately is energy. And yet in our bodies, energy does not exist to science.

Time and time again, western science presumes, and therefore seeks, a material cause for an energetic circumstance. That is, they identify a concrete, physical reality associated with an energetic state (stress, for instance), and then insist that this material reality (say, the suppression of the production of an enzyme) can be manipulated so that we "feel better" or get "healthier," without any awareness that the energetic state that created the physical symptom is itself the more powerful reality.

If we are under a great deal of stress over a long time, our bodies get damaged. If we continue to think that finding the key material circumstance associated with how damage to the body may occur is going to solve the great mystery of existence, and let us all live forever, we will continue to miss an opportunity to understand what human life is and has the potential to be. Western researchers who arrogantly ignore the body's energy system and seek some sort of Fountain of Youth in its chemistry are fooling themselves, and us, year after year.

1 comment:

ForestForTrees said...

Hi, Jeremy. I've recently started my own TMS blog, and would love to talk to you about yours. I would be very happy to hear from you at "forest for trees at ymail . com" ? (remove all extra spaces and change the word "at" to an @)

The blog is quite rudimentary at the moment, but you can find it at if you are curious.