Today I was listening to Dr Bruce Lipton on my iPod. He is famous (well pretty famous in the field of complementary medicine, esotericism, etc.) because of his book on how thought affects cellular operations. He demonstrated that our lives are not totally controlled by genetics, as a lot of us are led to believe, but that thought has a major impact.
Basically he was the pioneer of the field of epigenetics. This says that although genes do drive certain characteristics in our development they are controlled, to some extent, by proteins that surround them and these proteins are affected by our thoughts. In other words if we think in one way the gene will activate and ‘cause’ the disease and if we think in another way the gene will remain dormant and we will not succumb to the disease.
I’d like to wager that most people are totally unaware of this and believe that if they have a cancer or heart disease gene they are doomed to suffer that disease. It is a ticking time-bomb, a suspended sentence. I also don’t believe that it is accidental that the science of epigenetics is so little known. If our lives are controlled totally by our genes it makes us feel powerless. However if we know that our thoughts can control our development it gives the power back to us as individuals. What the ‘ruling powers’ hate is for us to have control over our own destinies so it is in their interests to keep us in the dark. It also keeps us in a state of perennial fear, which is such an important facet of the controlling system. I will come back to this in a later chapter.
NLP (or Neuro Linguistic Programming), which was developed prior to the science of epigenetics, works on the basis of changing the way we think, in order to change our world. There are several ways of looking at this, but one of them is that our thought changes our internal ‘state’. If we think negative thoughts it causes our internal state to become negative – which is a downward spiral. If we think positive thoughts then our internal state becomes positive which tends to cause us to achieve better results in life and become happier which then reinforces the positive mental state in an upward spiral.
One of the key aspects of NLP is to change people from being victims into being in control. Most people tend to blame circumstances for the situation they are in. They may say I’ve been unlucky or I haven’t had the right opportunities or I could never do such and such. The NLP philosophy is very much about taking back control of one’s life – getting back in the driving seat and one of the key methods for this is to be able to control our internal state by controlling our thought processes. Some of this is done by psychological techniques that reach down into the subconscious and some is done through purely rational approaches – mental exercises that we can follow to regain control.
The work of Bruce Lipton made an important link between mental processes and physiological conditions in the body. Our internal physiological state, or at least the way we feel (e.g. happy, sad, anxious, fearful, etc.) is largely controlled by our endocrine system and chemicals called neuropeptides. Lipton discovered the mechanism by which thought controls these neuropeptides. It can be demonstrated that the shape of proteins in our body is influenced by our thoughts and the shape governs the chemical behaviours of these proteins. This actually takes us right back to the quantum physics discussions we had earlier on. In other words physical reality changes in accordance with the ‘observer’.
Many people believe that the way they feel at any moment is governed by external circumstances – these people are the victims. However, NLP, and other approaches, give us techniques that we can use to control our internal mental state which in turn affects our internal physiology making us feel good. This means that we are in total control, at all times, of our internal state, and therefore the way we feel.
There are a couple of important aspects to this – and to the whole of the field of positive thinking, whether related to psychology or spirituality. One aspect is that we don’t actually change anything in the world outside, all we change is the way that we perceive it. This is the approach that basically says every cloud has a silver lining. Christians would say that it’s all part of God’s plan and therefore it will work out in the end. This is what is called ‘reframing’. What this means is that we just consider the same situation in a different light – we look at the positive aspects rather than the negative. Reframing is one of the NLP techniques and there are several specific linguistic techniques one can use that are very useful in therapy. This reframing approach is very effective and is readily accepted by people within the psychological mainstream and many outside it.
The other aspect is that we do actually change the world around us through positive thought. This is where we would tend to lose mainstream psychology as it is drifting into the realms of magic and metaphysics. Whereas the changing perception technique can have an instant effect it takes much longer, generally, for our thoughts to actually make a material change in the world around us.
There are many different schools of thought that have discovered empirically (i.e. through their own experience) that our thoughts do change the world around us. There are two key reasons why this is not accepted by mainstream psychology. Firstly because it cannot be tested using the scientific method because the effect of thought cannot be isolated from myriad other effects and therefore the usual counter argument to it is that it is just coincidence or retrospective thinking or it would have happened anyway through the individuals own efforts, etc. The second reason it is not accepted is, I would suggest, simple arrogance on the part of the scientific community. Because our ancestors thought this way 100’s and 1000’s of years ago it must be primitive thinking and we, as an intelligent race, have evolved beyond it. So they tend to look down on people who believe that thoughts can change things as superstitious simpletons, in spite of the fact that many who do believe this are extremely intelligent and have spent many year looking into it and, for them, the evidence is conclusive.
We can break down the ‘thought changes things’ concept into two broad categories – again one that is more readily acceptable and one that isn’t. The distinction here is changes brought about by our own actions contrasted with changes which appear to have happened without any influence on our part at all (what some may call coincidences, lucky breaks or acts of God/angels).
In the first case we might include top sportsmen who use sports psychology techniques – basically positive thinking – although very sophisticated. We find it much easier to accept that we can change our internal attitude towards something through this type of thinking which then makes us more determined, more ready to practice, etc. This keeps it nicely in the rational domain. However there is also a more subtle unconscious effect which many would claim to be true. Programming our unconscious, as we have mentioned above, allows us to perform at levels that go beyond our normal conscious abilities. Sportsmen use the term of ‘being in the flow’ when they achieve their peak performances in a state in which they are not consciously controlling what they are doing – they are driven by something unconscious to achieve ‘superhuman’ feats. Sometimes afterwards they cannot explain exactly what has happened. I am very keen on Formula 1 and there is a classic example concerning Ayrton Senna, who many believe was the greatest driver in the history of the sport. He describes a situation at Monaco when he drove a stunningly fast lap. He says that during the lap he actually felt himself outside his body looking down and watching himself driving. It was not his conscious self that was driving the car it was his unconscious self – or some other entity that had taken over control and was driving his car. Although this is a strange concept – it is still within the individual’s control and therefore we can more easily see that his thoughts controlled his actions, albeit at an unconscious level.
The second category of thought controlling things is where there is no direct contact between the thought or actions of the thinker and external circumstances that appear to be caused by the thought. There is a large body of anecdotal evidence that supports this. I’m sure you’ve heard these cases where individuals, for example, are in desperate need of money and a cheque suddenly drops through the letter box. Or there is devout prayer that causes a miraculous healing. Or someone visualises a particular car that they want and they suddenly have an opportunity to buy one cheap or a long lost relative decides to give it to them. Now any one of these example in isolation could easily be explained away by sheer coincidence or over exaggerated claims, as it usually is by ‘rational’ people. However if you take the time and trouble to read into this topic you will find countless examples in all sorts of circumstances about all sorts of situations – small and large.
This inevitably brings us to a discussion of science and what is a good scientific approach. Many people who think that they are good scientists will look at a few of these claims and say that there is no scientific theory to support this – and no possible mechanism by which it could occur and leave it at that. They do not, generally then, even bother to read further into it because they would consider it a waste of time. Their view would be either that these are coincidences, often identified in hindsight, or that individuals are mistaken or dishonest in their reporting of such events.
An alternative scientific approach, and one that I would argue is a true scientific approach, is to look at the evidence, with an open mind, and then seek a theory, or a hypothesis that can explain it. All new discoveries in science are based on this latter approach. The discovery of penicillin is a classic example or observing something that ‘shouldn’t have happened’ but instead of ignoring it it was investigated leading to one of the most influential discoveries in history. An unfortunate consequence of our ‘advanced’ civilisation is that we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that all the major discoveries that there are to be made have already been made and that we understand how the world works. Our closed mindedness as a society is tighter than it has ever been – although it has been getting progressively tighter particularly over the last couple of hundred years. There was the famous statement by the president of the Royal Society, the leading world scientific body, in the 19th century to the effect that all the major discoveries had been made already. That preceded the whole realm of radiation and quantum physics – two of the most profound and life changing scientific discoveries in the history of the world.
Fortunately there are many scientists who do have a sufficiently open mind to consider the body of evidence relating to ‘thought changing things’ and have written copiously on it and are developing scientific hypotheses to explain it. Many of the books in this area are simply practical guides on how to do it without any real attempt at a scientific explanation, such as the Secret. But there are others that attempt to propose mechanisms of how it may work referring to quantum physics and other scientific principles. However this is a tough nut to crack, largely because it is virtually impossible to set up experiments that conclusively prove it.
With all the scientific discoveries that have been made in history to date it has been possible to define, using mathematics or other accepted representation, a hypothesis or a set of equations that can be used to predict certain behaviours. An experiment can then be designed to test the hypotheses. Unless a new concept is able to proceed in this manner it cannot be accepted into the official body of scientific knowledge. The scientific method, laid down a couple of hundred years ago, is the gateway through which all scientific knowledge must pass if it is to be accepted by the scientific community. What we find with the thought changes things idea is that it cannot be proven by the scientific method because it is too subtle and can be influenced by too many external factors that cannot be excluded from the experiment.
In spite of the above there are, in fact, many experiments that have been conducted that show that thought can influence things at a distance, such as the randomness of random number generators. It has been shown, by controlled experiments, that random number generators no longer produce random numbers under the influence of certain controlled thoughts. However these have not found any traction in mainstream scientific thought for several reasons. Firstly for some of the reasons given above: The closed minded person will consider that the whole of this realm is superstitious nonsense believed in only by simple minded individuals. The experiments I just mentioned show marginal, but real, results based on statistical analysis. In other words they seem to be insignificant compared with suddenly making a cheque appear through the letter box. Scientist may be ready to accept that a minor statistical effect can be achieved, but they probably would qualify it by saying that there was probably a fault in the experiment because it just can’t happen, there is no mechanism to explain it. So they remain in their ivory towers.
Another big factor in these experiments being ignored is simply fear of loss of reputation. If you consider yourself to be a scientist then your personal credibility with your peers is very important if your work is to be considered for publication. If you let it be known that you are starting to believe in ‘pseudoscience’ such as ‘thought change things’ then your credibility rapidly erodes and you would lose your respect, and possibly you chance of progression in the scientific community. As with all human endeavours there is a fear of what other people may think that holds us back. This can be very real. There is a group-think mentality in any human group that defines certain things that are acceptable to think and certain things that aren’t. Academics are amongst the worst for this, along with religions. The things that you are allowed to think are defined by the community. In the case of a religion it is often from a religious book as interpreted by a ruling elite of priests. Thinking outside the prescribed bounds makes you a heretic and consigns you to hell. People are understandably afraid of this. In the academic community it is more of an issue to do with achieving the right amount of learning, like an apprenticeship. Take Egyptian archaeology. The basic timeline was defined by an academic over 100 years ago. Now, according to David Rohl an archaeologist who is not afraid to challenge the establishment, this timeline is wrong. He describes exactly where the original analysis was flawed, and yet because the original timeline was established so long ago and so much other work has been built on it there is enormous resistance to considering his alternative as a viable possibility. There is just too much invested and it would be too unsettling for the whole discipline of Egyptian archaeology. I think it is highly likely that if the traditional theory were being developed now alongside David Rohl’s then Rohl’s would be accepted. But the weight of history sides with the original theory and it stands like a great marble statue – unshakeable. Another example of this is Barbara Thiering’s alternative view of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament which sheds an entirely new light on the life of Jesus (in my view a much more likely one which I will mention in a later chapter).
One final thought on this topic before I close is whether there is a vested interest in concealing the fact that thought changes things. It comes back to empowerment of the individual which is not in the interests of the ruling elite. So let’s just consider how you would feel if you were in charge. You want to keep the population under control so you can continue to exploit them. If it were really true that they could change their situation simply through their thought and you knew it – would you want them to know? Would you be able to control such a population? Control is about restricting the power and freedom of the controlled. You don’t want the people you are trying to control to realise that their thought can set them free. Therefore you subtly influence the communications and the group-think mentalities of the middle ranking doers (the professors, the editors, and the like) and the topic remains nicely hidden away from the vast majority of people.
In summary I believe that thought changes things – both within the individual and in the world around. But what is the mechanism for it. Well we did talk about it a bit earlier so now we can expand on it a bit in a slightly different context. But that may not be in the next chapter… We’ll see.