Derby Unitarians

Illness And Healing

by George Cope.

I usually visit the doctor as a last resort, having in mind the old-fashioned admonition "You can't go to the doctor - he's a very busy man"! Doctors and nurses are still very busy people due to massive underfunding in the past of the NHS, but they do a wonderful job under very difficult conditions. My reluctance to visit the doctor nowadays is because I view with some concern the trend modern medicine is taking with its reliance on anti-biotics and drugs with bad side-effects. Hence my interest in alternative medicine and other developments.

The experience of forgetting a name, and then for it to pop up some time later, indicates to me that even when we are not particularly paying attention to an issue, the brain is working on lt! If its work in recovering a lost name is possible then is it not possible for the brain to be giving messages to the body to heal itself if we have positive thoughts, whilst worry and stress may convey the opposite message to the body? Many charlatans practise in this field of healing. Can we get any scientific evidence for believing that the mind can influence the body in & therapeutic way? Cases have been reported of illnesses mysteriously disappearing without medical intervention (spontaneous remission), and of people improving in health whilst being treated with medication of no therapeutic value (placebo) - it is the belief that the medication is doing them good that causes the cure. Looking first at the cause of illnesses or diseases, we have, besides the widely accepted idea that it is due to malfunction of some physical part of the body, various other explanations which see bodily disease as arising from the influence of the mind. If the mind is troubled, if there is stress, or guilt or worry, this will take its toll on the body. A foremost proponent of such a theory, Georg Groddeck (founder of psychomatic medicine), saw illness not as something that afflicts us from the outside, but as a message, (or warning), from our innermost depths that something is wrong, that we should cease living in the way that we are doing, that we should take a fresh look at our lives. Whilst he persuasively argues this approach in even explaining 'accidents' such as a fall resulting in a broken arm or leg, I am not sufficiently familiar with his writings to say how he would explain the illnesses of young children, or account for epidemics. Dethlefsen and Dahlke take a similar approach, rejecting both orthodox medicine and alternative medicine.

Moving from possible causes of illness to a consideration of how the body works, we have the ideas of Dr. Deepak Chopra, an endocrinologist, who combines the latest research of Western medicine with the 5,000-year-old Ayurveda system of India. His outlook abounds in enthusiasm and hope. Forr him, thinking is engaging in brain chemistry - with every thought we manufacture chemicals, protein-like molecules (neuropeptides) in the brain. But not only in the brain, also in the immune system, the endocrine system (which produces hormones), and the gut. 'Gut feelings' often seem to have more certainty about them, which could be, he postulates, because the gut has not evolved the capacity to doubt. (M. D. Gershon, M.D., has studied the human bowel for thirty years, having started off as a neurobiologist with a ,special interest in investigating whether a deficiency of serotonin in the brain may explain the development of schizophrenia. He found that 950 of the body's serotonin was produced in the bowel to which he next turned his attention, recognising that the complex of nerves of the gut was as worthy of study as the brain. He called these nerve-l' cells of the gut the 'Second brain' because they are able to handle all its process of digestion, elimination , etc., without input from the 'first brain'). According to Chopra, the body can manufacture hundreds of different chemicals at a time in a coordinated manner and the body's chemicals have none of the harmful side-effects of man-made chemicals! When you feel tranquil, your body manufactures valium, and when you feel exhilarated it produces powerful anti-cancer drugs. The cell's DNA knows how to make the precise anti-body to fight off a bacterium. Information is passed between cells which he considers to be 'intelligence' - the intelligence of the cells. Mind and body are., not seen as two separate things - rather mind is seen assort o f diffused throughout the body; mind and body viewed as one. This picture, if correct, would give some basis for concluding that 'mind' could be capable of healing the body.

Ernest Rossi, Ph.D., surveys the work of many scientifice investigators in "The psychobiology of Mind/Body Systems". I found this book quite difficult, but it contains many 'gems': it looks at the nature of memory; the causes of 'human error'; ultradian rhythms (90-minute cycles of activity followed by a desire for rest - witness our timing of tea and lunch breaks,etc.!) which seem to regulate nerve and endocrine systems as well as having an effect on mental activity; speculates that some 4 billion years ago single cells evolved a method of communication with each other as a survival measure. Rossi notes the stages of scientific interest, first confined to studying matter, then (after Einstein) energy, now, with the advent of quantum mechanics, it studies 'information'. Quantum is still a strange concept; J. J. Thomson discovered that the electron was a particle, 30 years later, his son, George, proved that electrons are waves. Both turned out to be correct - you can't get much stranger than that! Can 'information' (after quantum) assist in our understanding of mind and body? Rossi says it is easier to find evidence that stress, etc., can cause bodily illnesses, but difficult to find irrefutable evidence for positive attitudes promoting good health. But why shouldn't it work both ways - many people believe they receive benefit from relaxation and meditation.

Sungchul Ji, from his work in biology, proffers 'gnergy' at the microscopic level as containing both information and energy and wonders whether life on this planet may not have been a random event, but 'programmed' from the start, the Big Bang having contained an enormous quantity of information as well as energy. With quantum theory we are reaching the furthest point our present knowledge takes us, and a lot is speculation. However, the pointers are there to show that our existence, our universe, are far from the humdrum picture which we get from everyday life. There is so much to wonder at, so many questions unanswered, that we can only feel awe at the sheer complexity of this universe of which we are just one small part.

G. Cope

"Molecular Theories of Cell Life & Death" - Sungchul Ji,
"The Undiscovered Mind" - John Horgan,
"Quantum Healing - Deepak Chopra,
"The Healing Power of Illness" - Dethlefson,
"The Meaning of Illness" - G. Groddeck,
"The Second Brain" - M. D. Gershon.