12 March 2004

Think positively - it does help

It often seems that, while human beings have tried to explain the physical world around them, their understanding of how things work has become more and more confused.

It often seems that, while human beings have tried to explain the physical world around them, their understanding of how things work has become more and more confused. Galileo endeavoured to make us believe that two balls of different sizes dropped from the leaning tower of Piza would hit the ground at the same time. He also taught us that the earth is round and that it circles round the sun.

Newton's theories followed with many of the fundamentals of modern day physics. He explained that, had Galileo been able to remove the effects of friction on the two balls dropped from the tower, they would indeed have hit the ground at the same time.

Newtonian physics is by and large what is used to calculate the amount of rocket fuel to get a space shuttle into flight; to operate various safety mechanisms in cars and to determine our understanding of how most aspects of the human body work. It is also Newtonian physics which has resulted in the unfortunate trend of reductionism in our thinking.


Reductionism is the belief that by studying the various parts of a complex system piece by piece as separate entities (as in the case of the human body) an understanding of the whole can be achieved.

The first person to challenge much of the reductionist components of Newtonian thinking was Einstein. In simple terms his relativity theorem showed that simple things such as the length of a ruler would vary, depending on where the person measuring the ruler is standing relative to it.

In other words, some fundamental theories of Newton which were considered to be well established, were in fact relative. It was all down hill from there for those of us who like things to be constant and predictable.

Quantum physics came along and postulated (with good proof) that, amongst other things, substances exist only in certain energy states and that when changes took place between these states they seemed to disappear magically only to reappear at the new energy state!

Without discussing the logic involved, an inevitable consequence of the current state of quantum mechanics is that, in order for the equations to balance, each time something changes from one energy state to another, a separate and parallel universe is created in which just the opposite happens.

Some serious physicists actually believe this - that there are multiple parallel universes round about us with some very odd things happening in them. All of the physics up to this point assume predictability. If enough is known about a system then one can predict the effect of a force changing that system.

Chaos theory

Enter stage left: Chaos Theory (and at last the link between the history of physics and health!). The first people to begin to suspect that there is a mathematical and physical basis for unpredictability (or chaos) were those people who tried to forecast the weather (so who is surprised?).

They discovered that, in running their computer simulations of the weather, the tiniest (and in most instances unmeasurable in the real world) changes in the initial figures that are used, could result in massive differences in the computer simulated weather a few days later. This they called sensitive dependence on initial conditions and resulted in the often-quoted hypothesis that the flap of butterfly wings in Beijing can cause a hurricane in New York.

By using the mechanisms that the meteorologists developed in the sixties it is possible to show that all dynamical systems that exist far away from a state of equilibrium exist in fact in a state of chaos, or are sensitively dependant on initial conditions.

In other words the human body (a dynamical system) can and does respond to the tiniest changes and forces applied to it. In a Newtonian sense these responses to tiny forces are unpredictable, but using the logic of the Chaos Theory it is possible to predict the outcome of these changes.

During the 1970s, as the World Health Organisation was setting about on its successful campaign to eradicate smallpox from the world, there was a sudden surge in the number of cases of reported smallpox.

Everybody assumed that there had been a breakdown in the immunisation programme - Africa was blamed for not observing the proper procedures and a renewed effort was applied to implement the programme in Africa properly. In retrospect, it is possible to show that, using Chaos Theory logic, the surge in the number of smallpox viruses in humans was simply an "unpredictable" response of a dynamical system to an outside force.

Understanding the human being (including the body, mind and mystical components - the soul) as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts, is the first step in developing a theoretical framework for the understanding of how many "alternative" medical interventions work. (Incidentally, the word 'holism' - spelt in that way - was first coined by our very own General Smuts in his book of that title).

The whole human being is a dynamical system. It is a dynamical system that exists far away from a state of equilibrium and is consequently extremely sensitive to the tiniest forces and changes in it. Contrary to the Newtonian view, these tiny changes can be amplified throughout the system resulting in dramatic effects.

These tiny forces and changes may be immeasurably small, such as those found to be influencing the weather. Chaos provides the scientific basis for how an immeasurably small amount of a chemical in a homeopathic remedy could be of benefit to a sick person.

The tiny (but measurable) changes caused by the insertion of an acupuncture needle can have dramatic and distant effects in the body and still remain within our current understanding of the physical world.

The miniscule observable chemical changes which result from "positive thinking" can have a profound impact on the physical body. The field of Psycho-Neuro Immunology (PNI) received much publicity recently with a television programme detailing a cancer patient who healed herself by positive thought.

I have been trained as a scientist. It is a relief to me, that, in the face of thousands of such cases, the millions of people helped by acupuncture, and the growing numbers of people turning to homeopathy, there is a scientific explanation of how these things work.

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