Moods Matter

The science of brain-immune communications bridges clinical medicine and the intangible but essential input of emotion

Excerpted from 'The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions.'

If we are to make the leap into the next era of science, we must also include a look outward from each scientific discipline, and a re-integration of them all. As C.P. Snow described in his essay "The Two Cultures," we must drop the arrogance and walling off that comes with increasing technological specialization--and we must try to understand how the technologies and approaches to solving problems of one scientific discipline can be applied in order to solve the problems of another.

The science of brain-immune communications is by its very nature a field that does this. It looks inward to the most detailed level of body chemistry, and at the same time it looks outward to the larger concerns of health and emotion. It applies technologies that analyze molecules and genes, and technologies that image functioning of whole organs. It bridges specialized disciplines of basic science, such as immunology and neurobiology, and it bridges specialized fields of medicine, such as psychiatry and rheumatology. It bridges the basic sciences with clinical medicine and both of these with the intangible but essential input of feeling and emotion. The end result is to make the body and mind whole again.

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Probably it was necessary to go through the exercise of increasing specialization in the previous era, from the time of Descartes and Bacon until the middle of this century, to achieve the level of detailed medical understanding that we have today. But so overwhelmed with detail is each scientific discipline that in the domain of health at least, sometimes the whole has been lost in favor of the parts. Perhaps in response to scientists' preoccupation with what seems to be minutiae, disillusioned with the medical community's enthusiasm for shiny technological toys at the expense of human interaction, the popular culture has turned away to seek more seemingly controllable, less alienating ways to health. Herbs and Zen meditation, acupuncture, spas and crystals-"alternative" forms of healing--are sought and paid for by the public with out-of-pocket billions, approaching or even exceeding traditional health care costs. How much of any benefit from these cures is placebo, how much are the desperate hopes of vulnerable people taken advantage of by clever salesmen? How much is real?

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Esther M. Sternberg, M.D.
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