Rod Dreher

In mice, that is. So says a new report in the science journal Cell, as reported by Jonah Lehrer. This study involved lab mice injected with cancer cells. Those who were given toys to play with in their cages were better at fighting the cancer than those deprived of toys — this, for reasons that can be explained, sort of, through neuroscience. Here’s Jonah:

It’s important to not overhype the results of this study. Nobody knows if this data has any relevance for humans. Nevertheless, it’s a startling demonstration of the brain-body loop. While it’s no longer too surprising to learn that chronic stress increases cardiovascular disease, or that actors who win academy awards live much longer than those who don’t, there is something spooky about this new link between nice cages and reduced tumor growth. Cancer, after all, is just stupid cells run amok. It is life at its most mechanical, nothing but a genetic mistake. And yet, the presence of toys in a cage can dramatically alter the course of the disease, making it harder for cancerous cells to take root and slowing their growth once they do. A slight chemical tweak in the cortex has ripple effects throughout the flesh.icedCoffee.jpg
It strikes me that we need a new metaphor for the interactions of the brain and body. They aren’t simply connected via some pipes and tubes. They are emulsified together, so hopelessly intertwined that everything that happens in one affects the other. Holism is the rule.

I’m telling you, Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about this holistic view of the mind and the body. Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, a Western-trained physician who is also trained in TCM, writes in his great book “The Web That Has No Weaver”:

To Western medicine, understanding an illness means uncovering a distinct entity that is separate from the patient’s being; to Chinese medicine, understanding means perceiving the relationships among all the patient’s signs and symptoms in the context of his or her life.

The connection to what Lehrer mentions should be obvious. As I have written before on this site, the point is not that one style of medicine is superior in every respect to the other. The point is that both styles of medicine emerged out of different epistemologies, which is to say, out of different ways of interpreting the same sets of facts. Kaptchuk believes there is valuable information to be gained from both. The TCM way of seeing the health of the human organism, though, emphasizes the mind-body connection as fundamental. They have metaphorical ways of talking about it, as you would expect from a healing tradition descended from ancient times. But what they’re talking about surely can be explained, eventually, in Western scientific terms, though we may not yet know how to do so. Worth exploring anyway, don’t you think?

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