UNDERSTANDING THE PLASTIC MIND

Recall the first time you saw the term neuroplasticity?  Perhaps this is it.  A recent book by Norman Doidge is the Brain That Changes Itself.  I have not read it yet but the review discusses the topic of neuroplasticity of which I am somewhat familiar

It is an amazing concept because it challenges decades if not more of the assumption that neural cells in the brain were fixed in number and essentially unchanging in function.  There has always been evidence that massive damage to specific neurons which occurs after strokes or brain surgery often leave the patient permanently disabled.

Newer concepts of neuroplasticity are far less pessimistic about the potential for rehabilitation and potential therapy to re-route neural circuits.  The book apparently goes into specific details but others have written about the ability to regain function when alternative pathways in the nervous system are activiated to assume functions lost from trauma.

The concept also supports the studies lauding the benefits of meditation, prayer and even positive thinking.  It does seem that it is conceivable that ‘mind over matter’ can work.  Training the mind seems to help re-wire the circuits of the brain.  Studies of meditating monks such as Mattieu Ricard reveal distinct and characteristic changes in the physical function if not structure of the brain. 

In his book Happiness, Ricard describes the results of his own SPECT scans which reveal that his ‘happiness’ centers of the brain were profoundly influenced by his years of meditation.

There will continue to be a tremendous amount of research and study on the concept of neuroplasticity but the potential is exciting.  It may certainly justify the large and growing number of people who feel that adjusting attitudes and beliefs can do wonders for the way we heal ourselves.

BOOK IS COMING!

I was truly gratified to receive an actual contract from Praeger, a member of the Greenwood Publishing Group to publish my book.  The working title is Meta-Physician On Call for Better Health: Metaphysics and Medicine for Mind, Body and Spirit.

The downside is that I will be scrambling over the next week to get it in order!  It requires detailed documentation and attributions of all quotes and concepts that are included in the text.  But it is a small price to pay for the thrill of the outcome.

My blog postings will be minial for a while but hope to get back ‘into it’ soon.  Will keep all informed.

HAPPINESS AND HEALING REVISITED

It seems worthwhile to revisit the relationship between happiness and healing. [see blog posting Oct 06].  It is based on an approach to psychology known as Positive Psychology which attempts to move beyond the traditional goal of psychotherapy which was to bring dysfunctional neurotics with anxiety and depression to a ‘normal’ level of being.

This approach is to seek to improve the level of functioning of everyone, to aspire to the Greek notion of eudonomia or the ‘good’ life. In other words don’t we deserve to be ‘happy’?  Of course words need to be defined and the goal of Positive Psychology is not to create a world of giggling bufoons. In this sense, we are talking about peace of mind, contentment, satisfaction, pleasure and general wellbeing.

Proponents of this approach include Seligman, Haidt, Csikszentnihalyi, and others. Most interestingly Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard notes that his philosophical approach to the alleviation of suffering corresponds nicely with this school of psychology.

Perusal of seach engines will reveal that not everyone is thrilled with the promotion of happiness as an ideal worthy of pursuit.  Several postings rail at the attempt to whitewash the suffering of the world by promoting feelings of happiness.  There is palpable outrage in the words of these bloggers. ‘How dare psychologists speak of happiness when the world is collapsing around us in torture, genocide, murder, rape and war?

I can understand the gross incongruity and the perception that only wealthy, Western human beings can speak of happiness in the face of such abysmal suffering.  Yet to seek happiness or contentment  for oneself does not demand that the seeker forget about those who do suffer.  In fact the Buddhist attitude proclaims that the path to our own peace of mind is to promote compassionate beliefs and actions that will benefit all mankind.

We do not all have to suffer to be deeply committed to the alleviation of suffering in others.  There is a need to be empathic, to feel the pain of others in order to help them move past their own.  But to wallow in their negativity will bring us down as well–emotionally, physically and spiritually.

In fact one of the common keys to happiness is not financial status and the acquisition of material objects.  It is our personal relationships, their quality and committment which are best correlated with our peace of mind.  And this is clearly directly associated with our mental and physical health.  Numerous studies have confirmed the benefit of loving, reciprocal relationships and longevity and quality of life.

So, in fact, we need to extend our sense of family beyond our own tribal or national awareness. To follow the advice of Einstein, we need to understand that our sense of separation and isolation is an ‘optical delusion of our consciousness’ which leads to unhappiness on a personal level and the sorry state of human relations on a global one.

NEW E BOOK

This posting is actually an announcement. Although a ´real´book is presently in the hands of a publisher and am awaiting the úp´ or ´down´ thumbs pronoucement, I do have a shorter Ebook available.

Unfortunately I have not been able to provide a link to offer it directly.  But if anyone is interested I can send it via email as an attachment.

Feel free to email me a  drstevegi@aol.com and I´ll be happy to forward it to you.

BEWARE OF THE FAD

Several recent articles on the net and in the medical literature have re-visited the issue of gluten intolerance.  In its most potent incarnation, gluten intolerance is known as celiac disease or gluten enteropathy. Traditional medical literature described its severe manifestations as weight loss, anemia and as a progressive syndrome of malabsorption and eventual death.  In a profound irony, before gluten was recognized as the culprit, unfortunate patients were actually loaded up with bread products in the misguided belief that they would gain weight and vitality.

The disease actually is an autoimmune syndrome in which the body mistakes a subprotein, gliadin as an offending agent. It produces antibodies against this subprotein which unfortunately attacks and progressively destroys the cells which line the small bowel–the major location for the absorption of ingested calories and essential vitamins.

In recent years there was been a welcomed recognition that more subtle forms of celiac disease can masquerade as irritable bowel syndrome.  In my own practice I often order blood tests to determine if my patient falls may have this condition.  Presently, the only treatment is a gluten-free diet.  This is not a very simple or easy diet to follow because many grains, cereals contain gluten as well as an enormous number of food additives.

There has been a ground-swell of gluten-free products in the alternative health world as well. Many otherwise healthy individuals are being directed to eliminate gluten from their diets with promises of renewed health and vigor. This has produced an enormous financial boon to manufacturers and promoters of these products.

A recent re-evaluation of such a recommendation is in order.  Why should ordinary individuals eliminate a food substance which is not harmful in any way to them?  Granted, there are many individuals who suffer from gluten intolerance. This may manifest with symptoms of gas and bloating.  Such patients may do well to reduce their intake of gluten as well as other varieties of fiber, since this is a common side effect of increased fiber.

My major point in this blog is this–becareful of fads in the elimination or promotion of new approaches to eating.  Be the open-minded skeptic in all aspects of life.  Don´t be afraid to try different combinations of foods and to systematically reduce or eliminate those which bother YOU as a unique individual.

Such an approach will keep all aspects of traditional as well as complementary and alternative healing and eating in check.

SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-REPAIR–Political Considerations

Self-awareness leads to an understanding of oneself, ones’ nature, the nature of reality.  As difficult if not impossible as this task may seem, it is a worthy goal of the metaphysician within us all.  Healing requires an understanding of our true nature, in particular the relationship between mind, body and spirit,  otherwise how could we possibly know how to go about it? And since all healing is self-healing, therefore the expressions self-awareness, self-healing.

This may seem like a bit of a leap, but perhaps nations should practice serious introspection themselves. Perhaps the USA could have avoided the fiasco in Iraq if we would have tried to understand our own beliefs and motives at a deeper level. I am certainly no expert in politics, history, or the nature of intelligence gathering, but clearly we blew it when it came to what was happening with Iraq. 

I was personally against the war in Iraq for one reason only–the fear of what has occurred–becoming bogged down in the local, historical, religious conflicts which are not our business and which we failed to comprehend prior to our actions. This ignorance, this lack of awareness has sadly led to the death and disability of numerous innocent individuals on all sides.

American leaders need to understand that our beliefs are not those of the world. Clearly democracy is the greatest form of government. Yet it cannot possibly survive without the entire historical, cultural, intellectual foundation which Western civilization provides.  Other cultures may or may not be capable of nourishing it–and to plant something in soil and conditions which are unfavorable to it, is absurd and self-defeating.

If we are ever able to overcome our stupidity and hubris as a nation, we need to realize that we don’t know what is best for the rest of the world.  It is painfully clear that we didn’t understand the Iraqi culture, just as we failed to understand the Vietnamese situation.

We need to become more humble, less certain that we know it all.  It has been noted by many observers that our actions in Iraq might have proven successful after our initial victory over Saddam if we had understood how to transition the leadership into the Iraqi’s hands. The initial appreciation of our efforts gradually were poisoned by our failure to understand the minds of the multiple communities who resided there. We blew the occupation because we didn’t understand our own beliefs and motives.  It seemed as if we truly believed that we knew better than the Iraqi’s how to run the post-Saddam situation.

We need to come to the realization that we cannot continue to launch military action against nations and cultures who do not view the world through American eyes. We will continue to lose wars and waste lives unless we become more aware of the mind-set of other nations and cultures.

If we are to avoid such horrendous mistakes in the future, if we are to repair our sense of appropriate actions in the world, we need to look within ourselves and become more aware of the nature of the world in which we live.