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Important but incomplete
am 1. August 2013
Lipton, in his book, sets about demolishing what he himself admits is a straw man: the notion that genes determine disease and its progression. In his view, genes only provide a blueprint for building proteins, and it is the cellular receptor proteins on the membrane which drive gene expression in response to their environment. Few genes are self-expressing. This hardly seems controversial. Nevertheless, the book is, even if it is not its main intent, a good and very readable laymen’s introduction to the molecular biology of the cell, and worth reading for that reason alone.
The “belief” in the title refers essentially to the ability of the brain to command, whether consciously or unconsciously, the production of neurotransmitters and other signalling proteins which then tell cells what to do. This view, as Lipton acknowledges, is based on the ideas of Candace Pert. Interestingly, Lipton reports that this signalling intelligence was first developed in unicellular amoeba communities, where the signalling compounds are released into the environment and operate between distinct individuals. Multicellular organisms came only later, and took over this system of signalling to regulate the behavior of the community of cells which had now come to be permanently associated in a single individual. Thus cellular intelligence underpins the intelligence of more complex organisms.
Despite its expositional merits, however, Lipton’s book does not get us much closer to an understanding of the actual mechanisms behind the control of cell behavior. For the most part, he relies on somewhat forced analogies from quantum physics, the pertinence of which is far from established. Whilst he seems authoritative in matters of cell biology, what he says about quantum physics is frequently wrong and sometimes breathtakingly so. Essentially his main argument, which may well be valid but is nevertheless lacking in detail, is that the body’s self-healing mechanisms are activated by relaxation and disactivated by stress, i.e. by the activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
These self-healing mechanisms may be astonishing, and may depend to a significant degree on the variables he cites, but they remain quite mysterious in their details. One possibility one might have hoped Lipton would explore, but which he does not, is that there is a macro equivalent of the cellular apoptosis mechanism which leads entire organisms to self-destruct when signals in their environment communicate to them that they no longer play a role in the community. This may be a gross simplification but it would fit with Lipton’s overarching metaphor whereby the human body is, in many ways, merely the cell writ large.
Lipton also takes the medical community to task for overuse of prescription medicines without a proper understanding of their systemic functioning. However he does not, and cannot, establish any principles to determine whether or not the use of pharmaceuticals is appropriate in individual instances and whether the other healing resources of the body have been sufficiently activated and explored. As such, the criticism, even if one may have sympathy for it, seems superficial.
These criticisms aside, it is clear from this and other books that a major shift in social consciousness around health and healing is underway and increasingly forcing its way into the mainstream. For those who continue to place undue faith in the mechanistic and simplistic ideas which have hitherto underpinned Western allopathic medicine, the book will be a very helpful antidote. We may be still a long way off adequately describing how the body’s self-healing mechanisms work, but there seems no doubt at all that they make a key contribution to health outcomes and, if only for this reason, should be nurtured. In reality, of course, the quest for optimal health only dictates what the spiritual path anyway demands on other counts: a conscious uncovering of reality, and the courage to listen to what we already know.
For other reviews of related books, see my website [...]