TECHNOLOGY & NATURE — NO INHERENT CONFLICT

There is a tendency to argue that technological advances are not 'natural' which, of course implies that human activity lies outsides the boundaries of what is natural.

This argument is often used when it comes to medical treatments.  Patients may seek 'natural' or 'holistic' treatments in distinction to those derived from technological advances or 'big pharma'.

I contend that on a fundamental metaphysical level, everything that man does is 'natural'. 

 This is based on the obvious fact that we are natural beings who have evolved on this particular planet according to the laws of nature.  This does not argue one way or another about the spiritual nature of mankind.  We are here by virtue of natural processes.  Therefore, all our actions, good, bad, indifferent are natural.

The attitude of some individuals to avoid the products of technological advancement seems ridiculous.  Is the ability to draw blood, preserve it and deliver it to another human being in need not natural?  Of course it is.  Are pacemakers natural? Is surgery for a ruptured appendix, a malignant tumor, or coronary artery bypass not natural?  Absolutely!  They are products of human scientific knowledge, technology and advancement.  Therefore they are natural.

The philosophical basis of this attitude may have originated in Descartes' notion of duality.  Mankind was seen as having a spiritual element, the mind, while nature was devoid of spiritual value.  A consequence of such thinking often led to horrific abuse of animals as well as regarding the earth itself as a lifeless laboratory for human endeavor.

Of course this does not justify human behavior as 'good' or 'bad' for ourselves or the rest of the planet. Technology is inherently without moral context.  It is how it is used that brings these questions to the forefront.  That is a different though valuable discussion.

 Because of our position we are capable of utterly defacing  and destroying our natural home.  Our burden, therefore, is to consciously respect and defend it.

Perhaps by being aware that we are inherently a part of the natural order, we will embrace our role as its protector/defender  and understand that when we senselessly abuse or destroy it, we are doing so to ourselves as well. Yet likewise embrace the accomplishments of technology to save and preserve life as well as offer new opportunities for continual evolution.

AVATAR — Threatened by It’s Message ?

Just saw Cameron's film AVATAR in 3d Imax.  Truly a memorable entertainment experience.

Sure there are "messages" in the plot but they are hardly challenging or even original–the oppressive military/industrial complex which is more than ready and willing to displace and/or eradicate an indigenous people for their natural resources–the triumph of naturalistic spirituality as opposed to a creator God over such an "evil" empire.

What is surprising are the reports from around the world of the critical reactions to such benign messages.  Each group or country or religion seems to see some aspect of the films subtext which is potentially threatening.

I guess if you are feeling particularly guilty about riping apart the environment over natural resources, you will take notice.  If your religious beliefs are threatened by an more personal communion with the mother-goddess image of trees and nature you might have a problem here.  If you think militaristic soldier-types are always justified in their decision making you would be upset.

If you are a feminist who are disturbed by the larger male indigenous Na'vi, I'm sorry.

But if you are like most viewers, you will sit back, marvel at the spectacular movie-making technology the possibility of love transcending background and origin and a warm nonspecific spirituality which should threaten no one.

A NEAR FATAL TALE OF TWO PATIENTS — ONE CAUSE, STRESS

Most of us have heard the expression, "stress kills".  To some it is a metaphorTo a practicing physician is it much more–it is truth.

Now academic types will often deride the notion of "anecdotal medicine".  They insist that medical knowledge and truth is only derived from randomized, controlled trials.

Granted, science needs to proceed along recognized standards of evidence.  Yet in the real world, one real patient, or two, having  real experiences are worth a great deal.

To be specific.  The first patient is none other than my father, presently 90.  Several years ago while caring for my mother, his wife of 64years with progressive dementia, he nearly died.  It was crystal clear to me that ,his overwhelming, nearly fatal pneumonia was  a consequence of his nearly defunct immune system.  There is no other explanation to explain the phenomenon.  Although elderly,  he was rarely sick and had no other predisposing factors.

Miraculously, he survived.

My next patient, may not.  Her story is incredible because she is a survivor of rectal cancer diagnosed, operated on and followed closely for over ten years.  While other types of cancer can recur after many years, colo-rectal cancer is usually considered "cured" if it has not within five years.

A colonoscopy performed just over one year ago revealed no evidence of cancer.  A recent colonoscopy now reveals one!

Now colonoscopy is not perfect, neither is the gastroenterologist who performs it.  And colon cancers are not supposed to spring up this quickly. But in this case there can be no doubt that this lesion was not present one year ago.  The rectum is the first and last part of the colon examined.  There was nothing there one year ago.

So what can explain the change?  I have no doubt that her incredible emotional stress in handling her husbands struggle with cancer and dementia, his visits by Hospice, have rendered her immunologically impaired.

I can only surmise that cancer cells have remain dormant in her rectal mucosa and would otherwise have remained so if it were not for the overwhelming, unremitting  emotional stress she has been enduring.

Science has offered explanations for this most vexing aspect of the mind/body connection and it boils down to an incompetent immunological response to infections and cancer.

The lesson here is painful and difficult.  Will we ever be able to reign in our emotions when it involves the suffering of our loved ones?  Is meditation, psychotherapy, even neurofeedback the answer?

Perhaps we need to understand that our own survival may necessitate the awareness that our suffering  may not change the outcome of those we love.  What is worse is for our families to lose two loved ones in the process.

AUTISM SPECTRUM & AWARENESS

 A recent article in the JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] on January 11, volume 3, number 1 pointed out the apparent proliferation of cases of autims in this country.

There remains some debate as to whether this increase reflects more public and professional awareness or a true increase.  The feeling is that both are at play.

The point is to increase the awareness and to offer some hope.

Until recently the diagnosis was devastating on many fronts, including a lack of effective treatment.

In appears as if early diagnosis and treatment offers the best hope of increasing functional capacity in those effected.

I have written about neurofeedback previously.  It seems to offer promising results because of its very nature–to encourage and train the brain to function at its highest level possible. 

Although neuroplasticity is now a recognized fact of brain biology, it would seem logical that the earlier therapy is instituted, the easier it would be to retrain the developing brain.

We can only hope this promising therapy will continue to be studied and perfected.

BIOLOGY & THE MIRACULOUS MIX –” BUGS” ARE US !!

Recent scIscientific breakthroughs have been demonstrating the viral nature of our own DNA. Carl Zimmer in his NYTimes article HUNTING FOSSIL VIRUS IN HUMAN DNA describes the fascinating contribution of borna virus DNA to that of our own genome.  Apparently it entered the primate line over 40 million years ago and persists in us. 

It is estimated that over 8% of our DNA is of viral and possibly retroviral [like HIV] origins. It is presumed that the protein syncytin which allows the mammalian placenta to function is of viral origin.

It reminds me of the story of mitochondria in animal cells and chloroplasts in plant cells from Biology 101.  Each carries its own characteristic DNA which differs from the DNA found in the nucleus of the same cell.

Presumably each were free-living cyanobacteria which merged with eukaryotic cells [cells with nuclei] a billion or so years ago.  The symbiosis has allowed all life as we know it to develop and flourish on this planet.

So here we are–in a constant state of panic over which "bugs" we are ingesting or carrying around on our skins or in our lungs.

And clearly I am not against hygienic practices.  Just want us to be aware that, in truth, we are the product of millions of years of co-evolution with the simplest of living things.

TO BRIT HUME ON TIGER — Do Unto Others, Don’t Tell Others What to Do

I assume that there are many others out there who are as shocked as I am by Brit Hume's personal assertion that Tiger Woods could not find "FORGIVENESS AND REDEMPTION" in his own religion, Buddhism.

As a devout Christian, will Hume now ask Tiger Woods for forgiveness for attacking and denouncing his religious beliefs?

Unlikely.  By attacking the moral basis of Tiger Wood's beliefs [whatever they may be] Hume is guilty of an enormous sin of his own–metaphysical impudence–the notion that only his belief upholds ultimate truth and that other belief systems are completely wrong and inferior.

Of all religions, Buddhism is the most open-minded and accepting of the belief of others.  The Dalai Lama is famous for not expecting every prospective student of Buddhism to convert.  Instead he teaches that they can find spiritual wisdom within their own tradition.

Any student of history will find more than ample evidence to indict two of the world's religions for demonstrating intolerance of other faiths–Christianity and Islam.

In their understanding, not only do they reject the validity of "infidels" but allow the possibility if not probability of liquidating such "evil" individuals.

The concept of Jihad or Crusade was not invented by Buddhists.  And Hitler could never have achieved his goal of genocide without a two thousand year history of Christian anti-semitism. 

 Karma is the operative word and saying a few prayers should not exonerate any rational being from personal responsibility for their actions.  Only actions determine redemption.  No other position seems even  remotely close to being valid.

So what gives Hume the right to promote his personal beliefs on a news network? By what mandate of personal arrogance does he attack the personal spiritual beliefs [or lack of belief]  of another human being?  Nothing.  But I assume an apology and request for forgiveness will not be forthcoming from him.

 

THE NEW PARADIGM — NEUROPLASTICITY, METAPHYSICS & M I N D ,

The new paradigm is brain training.  Its appeal should be to those of us who desire to improve our cognitive as well as emotional milieu.  The underlying concept that makes this effort worthwhile is the notion of neuroplasticity.

If we were not capable of changing–either our emotional perspective and balance, or acquisition of skill sets and information–then clearly no one would bother trying.

The recognition that we can change our brains and therefore ourselves is crucial to any such endeavor.

But as important as changing the" wiring"  through various techniques including neurofeedback for post traumatic brain injury, strokes, dementia,etc [with obvious brain structural defects] is recognizing the power of the mind to participate in the process.

There are experts in neuroscience who still believe that the mind is an illusion–that it is all about neuronal structure and connections.  The mind, they contend, is "secreted" by the brain as any other organ secretes its byproduct into the body.

The problem with this notion is that is simply not true.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that meditation produces physical as well as physiologic changes in the brain.  Musicians, athletes, artists have areas of their brain developed as a consequence of repeated usage.  The brain does respond to the mind.

So the New Paradigm should offer complementary therapy to that of purely physical rewiring.  This opens the door to various types of healing including acupuncture, Reiki, deep meditation, cognitive therapy, physical exercise,dietary awareness–anything that will allow our conscious awareness a path towards healing.

It seems as though our thoughts and emotional state of mind can carve out its own path within our brains.

So it seems clear that the brain and mind are not identical.  Clearly they depend upon each other through what remains a wonderfully mysterious but remarkable system of feedback interactions.

Perhaps there is still room to ponder the nature of soul and where it fits into  the paradigm.

The effort will be worth it.

A NEW PARADIGM — BRAIN TRAINING FOR US ALL

If the last decade celebrated the "work-out" mantra for many, perhaps the newly one inaugurated one will extend that concept from body to brain.

Fifty or sixty years ago, those who exercised were either athletes or those recovering from physical disabilities, accidents or illnesses.  Clearly that attitude is much different today.  We can never be "too" fit or buffed or whatever adjective we choose to identify our goal of physical perfection.

I contend that the new paradigm will be to extend that concept of brain fitness….to everyone.

At present techniques such as neurofeedback [which does train the brain has been quite effectively] has seen its greatest successes with children with autism and ADHD, ADD.  But it has been also used in patients with epilepsy, post traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injuries.  Success has been demonstrated in early dementia, migraine headaches, even psychological disorders felt to be the concern of the therapist or pharmacist.

These conditions imply that there is a "problem" that needs fixing and neurocognitive enhancement methods are now recognized as extremely useful.

But what about the "normals" among you.  Would you not benefit from some brain training?

As I write this there are many executive types who are tuning up their brains for the strains of successful entrepreneurship.  Athletes are looking for that mental edge on their opponents.  

And who among us has not felt the impact of incessant sensory and information overload on our untrained minds?

So why not open up this technology to one and all? 

What parent would not want to have an educational program designed for their young child's individual brain wave pattern plus an individually designed program of neurofeedback which would maximize their cognitive potential?

And when this is demonstrated to work, at what age would we stop "working out" our brains ?  Probably, like physical exercise, never!

So welcome to the new paradigm.  Learn more about it.  Don't fear it. Our future is now.