Friday, April 24, 2020

Mind-body influences

I am interested in mind-body connections.  I bought a book called "Words Can Change Your Brain".  I didn't pay strict attention as I read through it but I came away thinking,"Of course!  ALL words change my brain."  What I hear spoken, what I read - it is all history that my brain experiences.  Then, I thought of the power of some phrases, such as "I do" and "Help!" and "Don't worry - it's not loaded".  

When I think of mind-body connections and mind-body medicine, I think of the book "Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body" by Jo Marchant, PhD.  It is excellent and I recommend it.  Here is a link to some notes I took from the book:

More recently, I found the book by Prof. Anne Harrington, Harvard historian of science, called "The Cure Within".  She takes a valuable and unusual approach to the mind's effect on the body.  She explains six stories that depict common understandings of disease.  She uses the word "physicalist" to signify the position that all difficulties are physical, that is, mechanical in some sense.  But she knows that illness visited on a person is sometimes ascribed to the evil practices of others, or punishment for sin, or a test of faith.  Comparing and contrasting Marchant and Harrington is informative.  

There are reports of a coach giving a runner a pill, informing the runner honestly and completely that the pill is an empty capsule but may help the runner go faster.  When the runner is able to go faster, he wants the same sort of capsule for his next race.  Harrington says

Mind matters too: how one thinks, how one feels, what kind of personality or character one has or cultivates. For stories of this third kind, questions like "Why me? Why now? What next?" are not meaningless after all, but exactly the right questions  - and for medical and scientific reasons, not just moral and existential ones.

Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine (p. 18). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Her first story is The Power of Suggestion, as in my dying of a heart attack after being told by the shaman that I would when the cock crows.  I haven't gotten to the other stories yet.  She titles them 

The body that speaks

The power of positive thinking

Broken by modern life

Healing ties

Eastward journey

She also explains events that show it is not sufficient to cure patients but the cure must be socially and politically acceptable in that time and place. Her descriptions and language are both wonderful and sympathetic.

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