Material science believes that our thoughts, wills, and emotions have no effect on the external world, and the body is certainly part of the external world. Under the tenets of material science, the mind cannot affect the body any more than willpower can alter the course of a jump shot. To material science, the external world is supposed to be disconnected from mind. The human body appears on the screen of an arcade game, and only the knobs marked “physical cures” alter the picture; those knobs marked “spiritual cures” we twist in vain. They are there only to humor us.
Here then we find an inconsistency. Material science says that mind cannot affect matter, that mind alone cannot heal a withered hand. How then does the diseased hand affect the mind? Why do bodily diseases make us feel bad? Material science seems to have built a one-way street: physical illnesses negatively affect the mind, but the mind can have no beneficial effect on the body.
Placebos Can Work Nearly As Effectively As Materialistic Treatments
Material science theory states that a healthy mind cannot heal the body, but its own medical findings reveal the opposite: The mind plays a significant role in how well a healing method works. Perhaps the best example is the “powerful placebo.” [The Powerful Placebo, Shapiro & Shapiro]
Scientific treatments have a specific effect on the body. They include drugs that produce a generally predictable response in the body (pharmacological drugs) and modern surgical techniques that rearrange, remove, or replace bodily parts. Consistent with the material science viewpoint that the body is a molecular machine, pharmacological drugs are intended to remedy a specific molecular derangement, in the same way that oil fixes squeaky metal joints in a car door.
Placebos, in contrast, are make-believe or sham medical treatments with no scientific basis. In pill form, they have no active ingredient; although they may have the appearance of a pharmacological drug, they are usually nothing more than milk sugar.
If it were only possible to heal the body by treating the body, then placebos—fake medicine—would never work. By definition, they contain no active ingredient; taking milk sugar to cure arthritis should be like swinging at a baseball without a bat. Milk sugar has no scientifically proven effect on tumors, herpes, asthma, or other bodily ailments.
Placebos, however, have been found not only to heal the body but also, at times, to work nearly as effectively as materialistic treatments. One series of studies covering more than one thousand patients showed that 35 percent reported significant relief from a variety of ailments after treatment with a placebo. In another study of over fourteen thousand patients with illnesses from headaches to multiple sclerosis, 40 percent reported relief from placebo treatment. In a study on the analgesic (pain-killing) effect of placebos, it was found they were over 50 percent as effective in reducing pain as the potent drugs morphine, codeine, and Darvon, among others.
Under the right conditions, placebos and the materialistic drug can reverse their expected effects. Two regular users of the hallucinogenic drug LSD were given placebos when they thought they were getting LSD; they experienced hallucinations anyway. They then were actually given LSD but told they were given a placebo; they experienced no hallucinations.
The Powerful Effect of Expectation and Belief on the Healing Process
Researchers have studied placebos under double-blind test conditions which reveal the powerful effect that expectation and belief have on the healing process. In these instances, doctor and patient both believe the drug is real and not a placebo. The researchers selected a number of treatments that the medical community at one time believed effective, but that were later found no more effective than placebos. In other words, a treatment once accepted as scientifically legitimate was later found to be, in effect, a “sham.”
As the researchers point out, these circumstances furnish conditions where the “beliefs and expectancies of both doctors and patients were maximized.” At the time doctors administered the treatment, not only did the patient and doctor believe in the treatment, but so did the medical community at large.
In compiling the results based on five different medical treatments, the researchers found that 70 percent of almost seven thousand patients treated reported positive results. Or, put another way, a sham treatment improved the bodily health of almost three in four patients treated. The researchers concluded that under actual clinical conditions, where both the patient and doctor have some faith that the treatment will work, belief, expectation, enthusiasm, and other nonscientific effects “exert considerably more influence than commonly believed and reported in many controlled research studies.”
Wonder Drug or Placebo?
In what is probably the most reported placebo case, doctors treated a patient suffering from a long-term asthma condition with a new wonder drug. The new drug seemed to work: when it was used the condition subsided, and when it was discontinued, the condition returned. The patient’s doctor, desiring to test the placebo effect, then substituted a placebo without telling the patient; as expected, the condition returned.
Having shown that the new drug worked and running short of supply, the doctor asked the pharmaceutical company for a new shipment. The company informed him that because of the positive response it had received from the drug, the company had never in fact sent it; the first shipment was a placebo. But a problem persists in material science circles: “The placebo effect is a phenomenon still in search of a model or theory.”
Medical science’s study of the placebo effect is only the most modern example of “how strong belief heals.” [The Healing Brain] Only in the last century has medical science concluded that the body consists of a complex arrangement of molecules and that diseases can be viewed as derangements in the body’s molecular makeup.
If modern science is correct—that only molecular-based cures have scientific validity—then, as Arthur Shapiro notes, “Whatever beneficial effects accrued to man’s first medication could only have been due to the placebo effect.” Western medical science believes it alone understands the body, and further believes it has a monopoly on the means to heal a sick body. Consequently, if some other healing method works, it must be as a result of the mysterious placebo.
In the material science worldview, a patient who confronts a disease without a medically approved cure stands naked: the patient’s thoughts, beliefs, and willpower are left alone to battle the illness. But these internal states (the mind) are not supposed to have a positive effect on the body. The placebo effect shows, however, that these internal states can cure physical ailments.
Over time we should find that our reliance on materialistic cures, such as chemicals, surgery, and radiation, will be greatly lessened as the medical community more fully appreciates the power of the placebo. But then we will need to take the next step and realize that, in the end, it “takes a village” to cure any human problem, including disease. Our modern, materialistic worldview not only separates our minds from our bodies, but separates us from each other and weakens the power of the united mind to improve the world.
The Power of Belief
In material science’s mind-set, the body is a machine composed of genes that control a person’s evolution [The Selfish Gene, Dawkins] and health. As modern medicine demonstrates a connection between the belief in a cure and its effectiveness, so modern biology is beginning to demonstrate that both the environment and a person’s belief system affect bodily genes. Our beliefs, not genes, determine who we are and what we will become.
In his book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton writes about his transformation from a card-carrying materialist, conditioned in the body-as-machine paradigm, to a holistic thinker, unable to ignore medical findings that “cell life is controlled by the physical and energetic environment and not by the genes.” Genes, he says, are “simply molecular blueprints used in the construction of cells, tissues and organs. The environment serves as a contractor who reads and engages these genetic blueprints and is ultimately responsible for the character of a cell’s life.”
Despite mounting evidence that the physical body is not a self-operating machine, material science continues to ignore its own medical findings and design a continuing assortment of medical treatments and drugs treating the body as a machine. But if our beliefs determine who we are, then is our belief that we are machines taking us down a doomed road that we have unwittingly paved ourselves? We are, in fact, spirits operating under the delusion that we are machines, a misguided belief that we need to overcome.
©2013, 2014 by Philip Comella. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission. Publisher: Rainbow Ridge Books.
The Collapse of Materialism: Visions of Science, Dreams of God
by Philip Comella.
“Philip Comella, takes a fresh and bold look at the debate between science and religion—and attempts to go farther than any other book to unite them. Probing, well written, and thoroughly researched, and bolstered by a wide range of enlightening sources, including religion, eastern philosophy—and science itself—this book breaks important ground regarding the limited purview of life as we’ve come to know it, encouraging readers to explore the unfettered depths of a new vision of universal purpose.”—Dominique Sessons, Apex Reviews
About the Author
PHILIP COMELLA is a practicing lawyer with a philosophy degree whose mission in life is to expose the fallacies in our current materialistic worldview and to advance a more promising—and rational—outlook. In pursuit of that mission, he spent 30 years studying the foundational ideas to our current scientific worldview and developing the arguments made in this book.