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Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body


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So, is my starting on CR and believing in it based on initial rodent shining examples of CR benefits and then continuing it and believing in its benefits after seeing some of the monkey results a mind over body exercise?


My brother tried acupuncture after getting no respect from conventional treatment for his trigeminal neuralgia, which had previously cost him much pain, thousands of dollars for the dentist and multiple teeth that did not need treatment, and got great results at first but with many more treatments and $s they stopped and his head pains were only largely remedied by surgeries.  I figured from the getgo that the acupuncture was placebo.  Now my significant other's daughter wants to go that route for the injury from a horse kicking her.  The mind is a powerful thing.  Use it.






Excerpt's excert:


"This is the problem with placebo effects—in trials they are elusive and ephemeral, rarely disappearing completely but often altering their shape. They change depending on the type of placebo, and they vary in strength between people, conditions and cultures. For example, the percentage of people who responded to placebo in trials of a particular ulcer medication ranged from 59% in Denmark to just 7% in Brazil.3 The same placebo can have positive, zero or negative effects depending on what we’re told about it, and the effects can change over time. Such shifting results have helped to create an aura around the placebo effect as something slightly unscientific if not downright crazy."



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All, but especially Zeta,


Here is a really interesting article related to the placebo effect, or more generally, the impact the brain and nervous system can have on the body's response to treatments. It basically talks about how it is possible to condition the body to associate a benign yet memorable stimulus (e.g. a really strong tasting flavor) with a beneficial, but potentially toxic drug and its effect on the body (e.g. a chemotherapy agent, or an immunosuppressant drug to avoid organ transplant rejection). Later, when the person or animal tastes the flavor, their body is conditioned to react in the same was as it did when the drug was administered for real, gaining the benefits of the drug (e.g. killing of cancer cells, or immunosuppressance) without the harmful side effects that would accompany an actual dose of the toxic drug. Here is just one of many examples discussed in the article:


Animal studies hint that the approach might also be useful in the treatment of some cancers. In the 1980s and 90s, researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, trained mice to associate the taste of camphor with a drug that activates natural killer cells – white blood cells that attack tumours. Then they transplanted aggressive tumours into the mice. After the transplant, mice given doses of camphor survived longer than those treated with immunotherapy, and in one experiment, two mice defeated their cancer altogether, despite receiving no active drug. Schedlowski is following up on these results too, and so far has shown that the effects of the anti-tumour drug rapamycin, which stops immune cells from dividing, can be conditioned in rats.


Zeta, I know you're suffering from some difficult-to-diagnose maladies at the moment. I'm not sure how, but perhaps something along these lines could be useful in your situation? Even if not, I think it is a fascinating example of the power of the mind over the body.


Over on the cryonics thread in the Chit Chat forum, we've been talking about Nietzsche and I mentioned his devaluation of Truth with a capital T - or more specifically, how he criticizes the seeking of "Truth at any price". In this video lecture on the topic, Ken Gemes tries to illustrate how we Truth-loving, rational Western intellectuals might wrap our head around the idea that sometimes Truth isn't all it's cracked up to be, as Nietzsche suggests. He gives examples of athletes who puff up their own estimate of their personal skill/competence and as a results actually perform better, or soldiers stuck behind enemy lines who are actually more likely to evade capture if they believe they will be one of the minority of soldiers who'll do so. Some would simply call it the power of positive thinking.


But I think the placebo effect is the best example of where sometimes it's can be rational or at least preferable, to strongly believe something that objectively isn't 'True" (i.e. 'this sugar pill has the power to cure my cancer'), because pragmatically, your life will turn out better if you can bring yourself to sincerely believe it. In other words the sugar pill might actually cure your cancer, or more accurately your innate immune system may cure it, but only if you can maintain a sincere conviction in the power of the placebo to work.


Al, I think the example you give of your continued belief in the benefits of CR despite some evidence that might undermine that belief, is a great example of this. You said:


So, is my starting on CR and believing in it based on initial rodent shining examples of CR benefits and then continuing it and believing in its benefits after seeing some of the monkey results a mind over body exercise?


It reminds me of the work of another philosopher I admire, the Pragmatist William James. James said that when faced with a choice between two alternatives (e.g. believing in God or not, or believing in the power of CR to extend lifespan), if the choice has the following three characteristics:

  1. Live - It truly cannot be definitively settled based on available evidence.
  2. Momentous - It has important consequences, not just "what flavor of ice cream should I chose?"
  3. Forced - Deferring the choice (or remaining agnostic) is not an option. I.e. deciding not to choose is equivalent to actually choosing.

then the best course of action is to choose the option which will result in the best outcome, including one's psychological well-being. In such a situation, faith in one's choice can be considered rational, according to James.


In the case of whether to believe in CR or not, the choice is certainly live - there is not enough evidence one way or the other to definitely say whether CR will significantly extend human lifespan, especially when you throw in the wildcard of potential medical advances one might be able to take advantage of, but only if one is healthy in a few decades when the treatment become available. The decision about believing and practicing CR is also momentous, since it could potentially mean the difference between dying or living an indefinite lifespan - it doesn't get much more momentous than that! And finally it is also forced - you either practice CR or you don't, although some of us think there might be alternative "CR-like" practices that might be worth pursuing as well :-). 


So CR would seem to be one of those (relatively rare) life decisions where we should feel empowered to choose to believe what we want to believe, or to make the choice that best serves us. For many of us, it seems to serve us to have faith in the benefits of a CR(-like) diet, despite the ambiguous evidence that now exists about its likely effectiveness in humans. I think the challenge is how to maintain a sincere conviction in our choice despite our hyper-rational minds constantly seeking out and trying to integrate new information from the latest research studies that will inevitably either bolster or undermine our conviction. We love Truth, but we shrink from it as well. The situation is made all the more difficult by the fact that there are some people who try to wield Truth (via scientific evidence) as a weapon, in order to bludgeon others into adopting their set of beliefs :-).


There, I've done my philosophizing for the day :-[      (Guess who that emoji is meant to represent? Answer)



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