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October 09, 2006

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The essential corollary to the sacred principle of "Science Doesn't Know Everything, You Know" - "Therefore This Heap Of Utter, Steaming Drivel Is Perfectly Reasonable."

I do not want to get into details about whether certain people about certain aspects of belief are right. What I would like to do, is ask you two questions. Do you believe in the possibility of illness, pain or discomfort being psychosomatic*? If you do not, then you are pretty alone in your belief. If you do, then you must understand the inherent symmetry of physics, or believe in the duality of everything (For there to be cold, there must be hot; for something to have a state of on, the must be a state of off... anyways, you get the idea). Then you would be contradictory to say the human mind could manifest something (illness, discomfort, pain) without the ability to "un-manifest".


What if more then just stomach ulcers are created by the mind or emotional stress? Then what; how lopsided are you willing to go? I would like to go further with this discussion. But, before I do, I would like to see what you have to say about this first. I have a feeling that since you are such a skeptic of things, you are drowning yourself in the details to find the fallacy. Well, once you do that you are ignoring a universal truth. An analogy would be you are trying to find why someone would have an irrational fear of heights by looking at individual neurons.


*a : of, relating to, involving, or concerned with bodily symptoms caused by mental or emotional disturbance [Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary]

Then you would be contradictory to say the human mind could manifest something (illness, discomfort, pain) without the ability to "un-manifest".

A complete non sequitur, I'm afraid, Justin. You start by inviting us to consider that certain ailments are psychosomatic, and then seem to extend that to imply that therefore all illnesses can be cured by an effort of will.

I don't believe any major illnesses or diseases are psychosomatic, just a few minor syndromes.

What if more then just stomach ulcers are created by the mind or emotional stress?

Sorry, Justin, but not even stomach ulcers are created by the mind, but by a nasty little bug calle Helicobacter pylori. It's no more amenable to mental self-healing than a broken bone.

Have you got anything better than "What if?" and an appeal to be "open-minded"? I'll listen if you have anything constructive to add.

You know, science just can't handle the truth and the truth is faith and the mind heal better than western "medicine" Did this site celebrate the 15th anniversary of Magic Johnson announcing he had HIV and that he was going to FIGHT the disease, where as the scientific community until that time said it was a death sentence. What was a death sentence was small minded scientists telling everyone they had less than two years to live. When the "pseudo" scientists started getting patients to take an active role in using their mind to heal, that is when cancer and AIDS patients started living longer.
The more time you guys spend with your white robs in the lab the better, because than we don't have to see your depressing scowls on the street or read your negative garble online.

Dear Big Al,

(Objection, leading the witness.) I would like to point out that your usage of placing "words in my mouth" to prove your point should not be used if this is to stay an intellectual debate - I never said that all illnesses are psychosomatic (I think saying "all" is just as naive as saying "none").

Now, I will ignore your non sequitur statement since it is nonsensical pertaining to the discussion. Your second statement since it has meaning, although quite a superficial, is a start. Your call on the bacteria is of little importance. What is of importance is why this, or any other bacteria, suddenly proliferates considering we are all carrying many kinds of bacteria on and within us at all times. Why is it at some point the bacteria finally takes hold. Why, in case of the stomach ulcer, does the lining become weak or the gastric acids become to profuse. I was going to quote many clinical studies showing my point of view on how stress, anxiety or emotional instability can have profound affects on our biochemistry including our digestive system, but any internet savvy person can do it on there own.

I will now disclose intentions with my comments. I am not a desperate believer in all of the "hocus-pocus", and not a huge fan of Deepak either. But, what I find funny is that you guys are taking such a possible and even plausible general idea and discarding it. Your motivations for doing this remind me of the religious fanatics. You're so emotionally tied up in your ideology (extreme skepticism) that if anything that comes along that may contradict this position you immediately reject it with the usual caustic judgment. To admit that there is no possibility that the mind has no connection with the health of the body is, excuse the pun, mindless. If even in today's scientific community there are still no factual evidence contrary to the point stated above, then how can you say it does not exist with such fortitude. It reminds me of how religious fanatics spit out there so called "facts" out of their holy book.

When people make an effort to communicate an idea of empowering oneself and taking more accountability towards their own health. I believe it is a good idea. Now this whole gene thing may be a little too far. But, if this effort could help 5-10% of the population with their illness of discomfort, then why not. Is it not worth a try. Is the outcome to horrifying to except.

Thanks for replying to my comment, I appreciate the intellectual banter. I will leave you with a definition of the placebo effect out of your own dictionary.

"A person's beliefs and hopes about a treatment, combined with their suggestibility, may have a significant biochemical effect. Sensory experience and thoughts can affect neurochemistry. The body's neurochemical system affects and is affected by other biochemical systems, including the hormonal and immune systems. Thus, it is consistent with current knowledge that a person's hopeful attitude and beliefs may be very important to their physical well-being and recovery from injury or illness." - The Skeptic's Dictionary

Perhaps it matters not whether our faith lies in the ministrations of medical science or in the power of the mind, as long as our faith is TOTAL.

The biblical Peter fell into the water when his faith wavered- symbolizing the destructive effect of doubt.

If we believe wholeheartedly in the ministrations of a doctor then therein lies our salvation. If we do not, we must search elsewhere.

Whether we are victims of disease or its' creator is for each of us to decide. Only through our own experience can we know the truth. The opinion of others, whether scientist or layman, are only a guide. We must closely examine our own experience to answer the question for ourselves.

Welcome to solipcism, where there's no need to assume anything outside your mind exists, and it's alright to assume that all knowledge is based on arbitrary authorities, rather than on verifiable facts obtained through carefully controlled experimentation.

Perhaps it matters not whether our faith lies in the ministrations of medical science or in the power of the mind, as long as our faith is TOTAL.

So we can just think our cancer away now? I'd love to see some evidence.

If we believe wholeheartedly in the ministrations of a doctor then therein lies our salvation. If we do not, we must search elsewhere.

Where? Homeopathy? Xian Science? Carrot and coffee enemas? None of these work - is this evidence for your "thinking sickness away" theory? Not very convincing.

Only through our own experience can we know the truth.

Bullshit. Even logical meanies like me are suceptible to placebo effect, wishful thinking, confirmation bias etc. That's why I rely on verifiable facts obtained through carefully controlled experimentation. (Thanks Dawg!)

The opinion of others, whether scientist or layman, are only a guide.

Not when those opinions are based on verifiable facts obtained through carefully controlled experimentation. Those have merit; believing in "alternative" medicine not based in verifiable fact is moronic.

Always remember what doctors and scientists call alternative medicine that works:

Medicine

"verifiable facts obtained through carefully controlled experimentation"

This is a nice concept but such experiments just don't exist in the real world. The same experience just can't be replicated. Give up your need to believe in the sanctity of science. Your faith is misplaced...

This is a nice concept but such experiments just don't exist in the real world. The same experience just can't be replicated.

Then why do you consider it to be reliable at all? Relying on such experiences is sure to leave a person in chaotic free fall with nothing stable to grab onto. I prefer believing that knowledge is possible.

Give up your need to believe in the sanctity of science. Your faith is misplaced...

So, the thing that has revolutionized the way we live by giving us tools like the laptop I'm typing on now, and the medicines that saved my mother's life is worthless?

Skeptico replies to Todd

Re: "verifiable facts obtained through carefully controlled experimentation"

This is a nice concept but such experiments just don't exist in the real world. The same experience just can't be replicated.

Really? All those thousands of double-blind studies must not exist then,

Re: Give up your need to believe in the sanctity of science. Your faith is misplaced...

Oh wow - the old Equivocation fallacy again: – no evidence to back up your claims so you have to rely on the old “science is faith” drivel. You’ll need to do better than that here Todd.

This is a nice concept but such experiments just don't exist in the real world. The same experience just can't be replicated.

I really think this guy is trying to say that the "experience" from a controlled experiment is different than the "experience" when all controls are removed. Sounds like nearly everyone who weasels out of JR's challenge.

Todd - the reason things like psi, wishing yourself well, psi, homeopathy etc. fail under controlled conditions is because all chances of trickery, delusion and chance are removed. Anything that produces observable effects can be replicated under controlled conditions. If it can't, the "experience" is caused by trickery, delusion or chance.

Does that help you understand?

The double blind test is certainly the holy grail of scientific medical testing.
The problem is that the double blind test can only be applied to relatively few medical procedures. For example, any drug taken into the body that has significant effects (such as the nausea caused by cancer and aids drugs, for example) cannot be trialed in a double blind test for its’ effects are too obvious. Neither can surgery unless a doctor is willing to cut open a large number of people needlessly.

I am not arguing against using the double blind where it is possible. What I am saying is be aware of when trial methods are relevant and when they are not.

My own faith in the double blind method was shattered when I read an autobiography by an aids sufferer (title forgotten) who was one of the first to trial an early anti-aids drug. It was supposed to be a double blind test with patients not knowing whether they were receiving the anti-aids drug or a placebo. Shortly after he began the trial a fellow patient on the trial told him if he bit into the pill he received and the taste was bitter he would know he was on the anti-aids drug. He did and his pill was bitter and he was happy because he didn’t want to be on a placebo for a disease he believed was killing him. So much for the double blind! And the question is: how often is this the case?

We need to have eyes wide open about the strengths and limits of scientific testing and not just take such findings on their face value.

Todd wrote:

He did and his pill was bitter and he was happy because he didn’t want to be on a placebo for a disease he believed was killing him. So much for the double blind! And the question is: how often is this the case?

No, the questions are; was he right about the pill not being the placebo and how did he know, how did the fellow patient know, and was it all confirmed?

Jimmy Blue wrote:
"No, the questions are; was he right about the pill not being the placebo and how did he know, how did the fellow patient know, and was it all confirmed?"

Good point. I can only assume that given the confidence of the fellow patient, he had discussed with other patients their experience of pill taking to discover both bitter and non-bitter pills. The assumption probably being that placebos are “sugar pills” and therefore not bitter.

But no, there was no discussion between trial patients and those running the test. It seems patients did not wish to jeopardise their access to the trial drug in their desperate plight.

(On a google search of "AZT taste" I found this article which discusses early trials of AZT:
https://www.duesberg.com/articles/jltrial.html)

Here is a excerpt:
The unblinded trial

The study was planned as a "double-blind" trial, which means that the drug was supposed to be labelled and the study conducted in such a way that neither doctors nor patients knew whether AZT or a placebo was being administered.

In practice, the AZT trial became unblinded rather quickly.

An FDA medical officer writes: "the fact that the treatment groups unblinded themselves early could have resulted in bias in the workup of patients".

The study became unblinded among the patients as a result of differences in taste between AZT and the placebo:

Initially the placebo capsules, which were indistinguishable from the AZT capsules in appearance, were distinguishable in taste. This difference was corrected and the placebo capsules replaced with new ones after early reports were received of patients breaking the capsules and tasting the medication.

Anyone who has spent time with PWAs is aware of the keen interest with which they compare treatments. And anyone who has observed the gay grapevine is in awe of the speed with which information can travel around the world. I can well believe that from the time the first two patients compared notes on how their capsules tasted, it was only a matter of days until many or most of the patients knew whether they were getting AZT or a placebo.

Other patients discovered what medication they were receiving by taking their capsules to chemists for analysis.

In some instances patients pooled and shared their medication, thus ensuring that all of them could receive at least some AZT. Other patients, who found out their medication was only a placebo, took Ribavirin that had been smuggled in from Mexico.

So lets be clear.

You repeat anecdotes whose truth you can't confirm, you make and admit massive assumptions that are unfounded and unwarranted about those anecdotes, then you admit that there was no confirmation that the people in the anecdote you refer to were right when they thought they weren't taking the drugs/were taking them. But this shattered your faith in the double blind test. There was no proof that the double blind standard was broken, but you still used this story to conclude it is a broken system. Why?

Then you site an article to support your position from a biased site, which references material that the author doesn't reveal to us but references and makes claims about.

Note I make no claim about the truth or validity of the article you referenced, just that certainly it and its sources deserve more than a little critical appraisal. At least as much as you seem to be willing to give to the other side of the argument, but not your own.

Jimmy Blue makes the excellent point that Todd’s claims are just unverified anecdotes, and that double-blind studies are still the most reliable way we know of finding out which drugs work and which don’t. I would only add that even if Todd’s anecdotes were 100% true, this would still not be evidence that Chopra’s drivel makes any sense, or that PZ’s debunking of it was flawed in any way.

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