Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mind body? No! I don't mind at all!

I imagine one thing that I and Rush Limbaugh could agree about is that there is a grain of truth in the old joke/definintion: "Stress: that unhealthy side effect you suffer when you restrain your urge to choke the living daylights out of the contrary and annoying idiots you have to deal with".

The scientific fire, if any there be, under all the smoke I referred to yesterday is a loosely bounded hype-plagued topic often labeled "mind-body connections".

As a matter for academics to investigate, it has at least the legitimacy implied by the existence of projects and study centers at many universities such as this at U Wisconsin. More respectable studies than I can count have generally concluded that a "positive attitude" correlates strongly with a longer life and a healthier old age. I am NOT a researcher in this field, but who among us would not have an amateur interest in obtaining such effects in our own lives?

Any attempt to find a medically or socially beneficial theory of how the mind operates will have to account for these "correlations". Some authors in this field found their work on such observations as "There is clear evidence that people who have a positive outlook and are confident of overcoming stressful barriers have higher blood levels of the T cells and natural killer cells that correlate with robust immune function." I expect the researchers willing to consider the widest set of data will be the first ones to find which among the many correlations are the causes and which the effects.

And there is, I admit, a bewildering amount of evidence to sort out. For instance, how much do your genes matter? Do happy people live longer because DRD4 regulates both dopamine and bloodpressure?: [Reference: American Journal of Hypertension, (18) 9, September 2005, pp. 1206-1210] or do people with a better coping mechanism for stress save themselves?

So, what attitude would bail us out of the "stress" I first alluded to? The attempt to put your own huge and obvious rationality and rectitude aside for a minute and just see where the fellow you deal with is really coming from. As Thich Nhat Hanh would say,

Nothing obliges us to water the seeds of other people's suffering.

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