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San Clemente Journal

From Mind to Matter

Nov 01, 2007 05:37PM ● By Don Kindred
by Dr. Hotosa Ebrahimzadeh

Western medicine has perfected the art of examining the human body as a machine. Health care practitioners have been trained to reason their way from symptom to diagnoses. There has not been any motivation to look for reasons outside of physical symptoms. But those ideals are shifting. Many ancient cultures never denied the connection that existed between the mind and the affects it could have on the body. Recent studies are showing a shift in modern perspectives, incorporating what ancient cultures already knew. 

Doctors were once taught that the laws of nature are neutral ones and that disease cannot possibly “mean” anything more than that. What is coming to the forefront of science is exactly otherwise: what if actions of the mind did affect the matter of the body? This “meaning” we give our illnesses and diseases gives reasons for our mind to understand what is occurring in our bodies. Meaning becomes the bridge that connects mind to matter. 

What recent evidence do we have of an increasing acceptance of meaning in medicine? A recent Reuters health article found a correlation between chronically lonely people and a set of genes they all had in common. The cluster of genes they shared was responsible for unhealthy levels of chronic inflammation due to a weakened immune system. Feelings of loneliness have found meaning in physical forms. In another recent LA Times article, it was found that healing in hostile couples was 60% slower than in couples who refrained from antagonist behavior. In addition, the study found that even the use of words between couples profoundly affected their health. Studies found that in relationships in which “we” or “us” talk is more common than “I” or “me” talk, better levels of health were found, especially lower heart disease levels in women. 

What is fascinating about such studies is the questions that arise from them. What other physical affects can be attributed to the meanings we start out with in our minds? Olympic athletes already use a process of visualization to further enhance their physical training. In practicing in their minds first, they improve their activities. On another level, there are numerous articles written about people who have learned to control their heart rates through feedback mechanisms. They can increase their heart rate when they give their mind anxious and worrisome thoughts. They can lower their heart rates when they bring peaceful images to the fore. This tells us that what we tell ourselves in the mind (such as a calm thought) will have meaning that translates into a physical form for our bodies. 

Another common reference is the placebo affect. Scientists have witnessed again and again that what patients believe will happen to them often does happen to them, even if they are not taking the actual medicine and have instead been given an ineffective placebo. The belief that the patient had in their mind fuels the body to respond accordingly. Numerous doctors will support such claims with stories and experiences of their own. When we wonder and look at where it seems to come from, what we are seeking is a connection between the mind and the body. How does what we think and know correlate into what we are? The meaning is the interpretation and significance that seems to bridge the two. 

We have been taught to believe that the atoms and molecules of the human body are both unfeeling and unconscious. But what if it is true that the mind gives meaning to physical manifestations? What if our interpretation of how we feel actually affects how we feel? If there is truth to even some of that, then there is truth in the possibility of harnessing our minds to affect and influence our bodies. To this day, these possibilities are thus far seen as correlations because we do not have the science sufficient enough behind them to call them explanations. Perhaps one day, we will. According to Dr. Larry Dossey, author of Medicine & Meaning, maybe “we shall see that the physical does not always have the last word, and that even the manifestations of genetic diseases can yield to the power of the belief system.”