Training the Mind

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Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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5 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    Hmm… I think you’d be surprised at how much the mind, or at least the brain, can change as an adult. It’s true that much of the major wiring, barring dramatic events (e.g., loss of a major sense or brain damage), much of the systematic wiring is done, but new connections are being created all the time, and the brain is remarkable in its ability to adapt even at a fairly advanced age.

    Also, if you look at the research, you’ll find that psychotropic drugs are less effective, and in many cases (e.g., anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, etc.) largely ineffective long term without talk and/or behavioral therapy (depending on the disorder). CBT, in particular, can be quite effective for a wide range of affective and behavioral disorders, particularly when coupled with medication.Report

  2. You may find this of interest, Jon, from a supporter of Sarno.

    http://www.arthursmithphd.com/transitions.htm

    Dr. Arthur Smith: What you are talking about here is what Dr. John Sarno, Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU and long-time advocate of mind-body medicine in treating back pain, calls the “nocebo effect,” i.e., the thoughts and beliefs that work on the same principle as the placebo effect, but which cause disease or other harm. Sarno claims that many of the costly, painful, surgical operations performed to cure back pain are both ineffective and unnecessary, because even severe back pain can have psychogenic causes.

    Knowing what we do now about the stress response, any false beliefs that contribute to unnecessary chronic stress in our lives can be nocebos. I can’t prove it, but I would almost be willing to bet that words and thoughts spread colds and flus just as much as sneezes do. As we continue to learn more about the intricate and intimate relationship between the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, I believe we will find more and more links between immune activity — or inactivity — and the nervous system. A widely accepted theory of cancer, the surveillance theory, holds that the body creates malignant cells all the time. Cancer occurs when the normal immune activity that destroys these cells is somehow interrupted or incapacitated. The same could hold true for viruses, or at least some viruses.”

    I’ll add here, since of friend of my wife’s is one, that Christian Scientists are surely in the same zone. Add the “Christian” part, and admittedly some of their more extreme stances with their children, and it’s an object of derision for “rational” people.

    Yes, yes, the broken arm argument, and certainly it gets weird when they fight to let their children die of meningitis rather than allow treatment.

    However, the core remains, that once you start taking drugs and shortcuts, you lose your “mindfulness” about your health. In fact I believe Maimonides says something similar, and they didn’t even have any ace drugs back then.

    As for Sam Harris, yes, his affinity for eastern thought was detected awhile ago. Harris’ “seeking” is the sort that sells a lot of books, Buddhist scholar Paul Williams’ is not.Report

    • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Many thanks. I’ll check out those links.

      I know a number of these “kinds” of folks say diseases like cancer are caused by negative emotions that the mind can cure even diseases such as that. That just seems too far a stretch for me, as I understand things now. I don’t doubt negative emotions can contribute, trigger, make things worse, but as a cause and cure for something like cancer I can’t accept that yet.Report

  3. One of my favorite art profs. taught us a lot of tricks for adjusting our minds to suit different tasks, sort of the way that using non-standard guitar tunings can make some songs easier to play, or even give an entirely different color to the instrument.

    Conversely, the playwright friend I mentioned in the shooting to miss post had a whole bunch of tricks he’d play on himself to beat down the bad voices that pop up in the creative process, or just day to day business. One of my favorites was when he caught himself in a cycle of obsessive doubt, he would get an egg timer and for every minute he spent catastrophizing, he would spend a minute thinking about extravagantly successful outcomes.

    None of the above are curing cancer with the power of your own mind, but surprisingly effective.Report

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