Who is ultimately in control of your health? Is it your body, driven by hormones, or your mind/spirit which is your soul, your thoughts, your intellect, and your free will? What is the role of your mind in healing your body?
Religion and medicine have wrestled with the mind-body question for thousands of years. It has only been since the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment that the split between religion and medicine became final and complete.
The Roots of Western Medicine
Modern Western medical practices are based upon the views of René Descartes (1596 – 1650). Descartes’ theory of the fundamental separation of mind and body remains today as the foundation of Western intellectual thought and Western medical science.
In his treatise on man, De Homine, Descartes declared that both animals and humans are wonderful machines. Because modern Western medicine is grounded in Descartes’ writings it is important to understand some of the history behind the publication of his writings.
The first of Descartes’s writings were completed in 1633. A friend of his, Maron Mersenne, wrote to him of Galileo’s fate, that same year, at the hands of the Roman Inquisition. Galileo was threatened with torture and convicted of heresy. He was placed under house arrest for life – his crime, you might recall, was stating that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe.
Descartes immediately suppressed publishing his own treatise, until he came to an agreement with the Pope – his writings would not have anything to do with the soul, the mind, or the emotion. The mind remained the jurisdiction of the church. Medicine and science would deal only with the physical body.
The workings of the mind (psychology and philosophy) were the territory of religion and the study of the body (physiology) belonged to science and medicine.
Descartes was a deeply religious man and he maintained that the idea of God is the prior condition for the possibility for every other idea. There is irony in the fact that modern Western medicine has moved far from Descartes’ thought of the necessity of God.
In a recently published research report (2000) by Harold G. Koenig, M.D., Duke University Medical Center, Koenig states: “Among the many reasons for the continued separation [of Western medicine and religion] is that religion may either be simply irrelevant to health or, worse, that it may have a number of negative health effects.”
Western medicine views the body as a machine; Western doctors are trained to repair our physical body, our “machine.”
Science, including medical science, is based upon the “scientific method.” The scientific method is dependent upon being able to test a hypothesis – to do this you must be able to observe the results. Western medicine depends upon “double blind” studies. This presents a problem. How can you do double-blind studies on something that cannot be observed – such as the mind?
Western medicine takes the position that to base “truth” on anything less than the scientific method opens the door to all kinds of “new age” mind over matter philosophies and “holistic” medical cures that are based on nothing more than anecdotal stories. Charlatans use these new age anecdotal methods to take advantage of vulnerable individuals.
However, Western medical practice is in a transition phase of accepting a mind-body connection, referred to as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI, Psycho-Neuro-Immunology). I will discuss this in a future post.
Going back to the original question, who is in control of your health – your mind or your body? Ultimately, the control of your health is dependent upon these four facts:
- The Body is pre-programmed (wired) for survival. It is controlled by the brain (unconscious brain activity) and driven by hormones and cytokins (chemical messengers).
- The mind (conscious thought) cannot override the body’s programming. Forget about using any mind over matter strategies. However, the mind can direct the brain. To use a common computer analogy, you have the ability to direct which program the brain selects. The mind can determine which hormones cascade throughout the body.
- Each cell in your body listens to your every thought. Each cell reads your mind.
- The body will believe whatever the mind tells it, as long as it tells it the truth.
These four facts are backed by extensive research.
If you have a life threatening illness, if you base your personal participation in your recovery on the four facts presented above, you will significantly aid in your recovery.
If you are beginning a weight loss program, you need to base your weight loss program on these four facts or you have a 95% risk of failure.