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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 11 (Two distinct styles & punked by Darwin again)

October 16, 2017

And now back to this marathon of wading through Lipton’s bestseller. We are still in Chapter 2, It’s the Environment, Stupid!

I will start quoting a few of Lipton’s more technical passages. I’ve been leaving these out so far and only indicating their contents, as they are often uncontroversial and sometimes irrelevant or too detailed for a popular work. But it is perhaps worth quoting them sometimes though, just to show how striking the contrast is between ‘Technical Lipton’, who explains normal biology in normal terms, and ‘Lipton the Destroyer’ who has it in for the whole of genetics and biology.

I am certain that ‘Technical Lipton’ simply copies and pastes passages from his old biology essays from university. He often opens such passages with a snide but nevertheless vague attack on modern genetics or Charles Darwin, then pastes part of an old essay, (which frequently in fact support the very ideas he is trying to attack); and then ends the paragraph with a sudden switch back to vague but livid invective from ‘Lipton the Destroyer’ for a closing sentence.

Maybe I am being unfair by guessing he’s copying and pasting old essay content, but two very distinct styles are plainly visible.

‘Technical Lipton’ explains the discovery of the structure of DNA.

In 1910, intensive microscopic analyses revealed that the hereditary information passed on generation after generation was contained in chromosomes, thread-like structures that become visible in the cell just before it divides into two “daughter” cells. Chromosomes are incorporated into the daughter cell’s largest organelle, the nucleus. When scientists isolated the nucleus, they dissected the chromosomes and found that the hereditary elements were essentially comprised of only two kinds of molecules, protein and DNA. Somehow the protein machinery of life was entangled in the structure and function of these chromosome molecules.

The understanding of the chromosome’s functions was further refined in 1944 when scientists determined that it was DNA that actually contained hereditary information. [Avery, et al, 1944; Lederberg 1994] The experiments that singled out DNA were elegant. These scientists isolated pure DNA from one species of bacteria— let’s call it Species A— and added the pure DNA to cultures containing only Species B bacteria. Within a short time. Species B bacteria began to show hereditary traits that were formerly seen only in Species A….

That seems fairly straight forward to me. Well structured, and clearly explained. The style is remarkably different from both the vocabulary and syntactical structure that ‘Lipton the Destroyer’ uses when he suddenly starts attacking Darwin and hectoring his former colleagues.

The way he cites sources as if for an academic paper makes me think he is simply pasting in stuff from his old essays. Obviously, in a science book for a popular audience there is no reason to interrupt the text with citations to support a noncontroversial historical event that is quite irrelevant to his topic. I’ve never seen any science writer, even in specialized books, cite things in this way before. But it is the standard referencing style for university essays.

And in this case, like every other case in this book it’s pointless. No one doubts that Avery did this in 1944, nor do they care that Lederberg wrote a paper to honor them 50 years later, but there it all is, cited in the text and referenced in the bibliography:

Avery, O. T., C. M. MacLeod, et al. (1944). “Studies on the chemical nature of the substance inducing transformation of pneumococcal types. Induction of transformation by a deoxyribonucleic acid fraction isolated from Pneumococcus Type III.” journal of Experimental Medicine 79: 137158

Lederberg, J. (1994) Honoring Avery, MacLeod, And McCarty: The Team That Transformed Genetics. The Scientist 8: 11.

This is why Lipton’s fans have left comments on other posts here insisting that his claims are well supported in his book. They haven’t realized that the only thing Lipton has bravely supported here is the fact that Avery did groundbreaking work in genetics in 1944.

And then, the very next sentence from Lipton is this:

….Once it was known that you needed nothing other than DNA to pass on traits, the DNA molecule became a scientific superstar.

And with that, ‘Technical Lipton’ is again replaced with ‘Lipton the Destroyer’. The entire book alternates between these two modalities. No substantive effort is made to connect the hyperbole to the sensible content, beyond blank assertions that geneticists think that DNA is now the superstar.

He continues the snarky style for the opening sentence of the next paragraph:

It was now left to Watson and Crick to unravel the structure and function of that superstar molecule….

This is the hyperbolic intro to some more of his sensible sounding Bio 101 essays.

….DNA molecules are long and threadlike. They are made from four nitrogen-containing chemicals called bases (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine or A, T, C and G). Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA’s structure led to the fact that the sequence of the A, T, C and G bases in DNA spells out the sequence of amino acids along a protein’s backbone [Watson and Crick 1953]. Those long strings of DNA molecules can be subdivided into single genes, segments that provide the blueprint for specific proteins….

He adds a slightly hyperbolic sentence to end the paragraph:

…The code for recreating the protein machinery of the cell had been cracked!

(This refers to an earlier description of “protein as a machine”, which I didn’t include last time.) Then more Bio 101 notes.

Watson and Crick also explained why DNA is the perfect hereditary molecule. Each DNA strand is normally intertwined with a second strand of DNA, a loosely wrapped configuration known as the “double helix.” The genius of this system is that the sequences of DNA bases on both strands are mirror images of each other. When the two strands of DNA unwind, each single strand contains the information to make an exact, complementary copy of itself. So through a process of separating the strands of a double helix, DNA molecules become self-replicating…..

Note the way this praises “the genius of this system”, and is entirely free of his usual invective and sneering. Then he tacks the usual vague, inaccurate and snarky final sentence onto the end:

….This observation led to the assumption that DNA “controlled” its own replication… it was its own “boss.”

Despite the quote marks around “controlled” and “boss”, Lipton is not citing Watson & Crick, or any other geneticist. This is because the sentence is devoid of meaning. Geneticists don’t use such vague terms.

The “suggestion” that DNA controlled its own replication…

Again, no one suggested or even with nonsensical scare quotes “suggested” this. At least no one except Lipton. Note too, how Lipton presents Crick and Watson as anthropomorphizing DNA.

…and also served as the blueprint for the body’s proteins led Francis Crick to create biology’s Central Dogma, the belief that DNA rules….

This is just weird. Crick didn’t think along these lines. The idea is meaningless. Note that Lipton has not once clearly told his readers what the “Central Dogma” is, despite referring to it repeatedly and making its refutation his central issue.

We may as well note here too, that when Crick jokingly made up the term Central Dogma, he didn’t know what a dogma is. Being ignorant of church customs, he thought it meant law. Had he chosen a better label, he probably would have saved everyone a lot of pointless arguments.

The dogma is so fundamental to modem biology it is essentially written in stone, the equivalent of science’s Ten Commandments.

Factual error. The central dogma works — that’s why, despite constant challenges by hotheaded biologists who charge at it like a wounded elephant, it is still on the books.

What Lipton needs to do is show why it is wrong. And of course he doesn’t. He can’t do that if he doesn’t know what it is.

In the dogma’s scheme of how life unfolds, DNA perches loftily on top, followed by RNA.

Factual error.

Here is the original diagram from Crick’s 1958 paper.

Crick: (left) possible paths of flow of chemical “information”, and (right) actual flow

Lipton is wrong to say the diagram indicates primacy or bossiness of DNA. The first triangle shows all possible flow paths of information between three elements. The second shows the flow paths which he held (correctly) to be the actual ones. Lipton wrongly claims that Crick meant it as a power hierarchy where DNA “has primacy” or is the “boss” of all subsequent chemical reactions that supposedly occur ‘under’ the DNA.

RNA is the short-lived Xerox™ copy of the DNA. As such, it is the physical template encoding the amino acid sequence that makes up a protein’s backbone. The Primacy of DNA diagram provides the logic for the Age of Genetic Determinism.

Factual error.

As we saw this is not the “logic” of anything in genetics. Lipton has simply not understood the diagram and is making false accusations against his “stupid” colleagues.

And worse, he is insisting again on his stunningly stupid error that the central dogma is genetic determinism. As Wikipedia would have told him, genetic determinism is “the belief that human behavior is controlled by an individual’s genes”. It is not the central dogma, and only looks like it is if you don’t know what the central dogma is. Note too that wikipedia has no problem dismissing it as a “belief”, whereas Lipton implies it is central to all of biology.

Because the character of a living organism is defined by the nature of its proteins, and its proteins are encoded in the DNA, then by logic, DNA would represent the “first cause” or primary determinant of an organism’s traits.

Factual error.

This is not how science is done. There is no idea that DNA must logically have primacy over the rest of the organism in this vague manner that Lipton imagines. He is misleading his readers here.

Then Lipton suddenly veers off to talk about Copernicus and the Church, and the human genome project. We need not follow him down this rabbit hole, but we can note the point he was trying to make. The human genome project found that humans have fewer genes than some researchers expected. Some saw great significance in this, and some, including Lipton, still do. It is however insignificant and irrelevant, so we will ignore it. Anyone interested in the issue Lipton’s is excited about can read this on the topic.

After this pointless detour, it’s suddenly back to the central dogma again. And Lipton is about to finally about tell his readers exactly what the central dogma is…. And of course he gets it wrong.

The Central Dogma. The dogma, also referred to as the Primacy of DNA, defines the flow of information in biological organisms….. [T]he flow is only in one direction, from DNA to RNA and then to Protein.

Factual error.

As we saw in the diagram above, a dotted line runs from RNA back to DNA — in other words, in two directions. We covered this in Part 1, but you can read a real biologist explaining it all here.

The DNA represents the cell’s long-term memory, passed from generation to generation.

Correct!!!! Even the analogy!!!!

No new “information” flows from outside the DNA back in…. But this is exactly what the central dogma says. And despite what Lipton just wrote in the previous sentence, he now suddenly agrees with it — maybe because he is copy and pasting from an old essay.

RNA, an unstable copy of the DNA molecule, is the active memory that is used by the cell as a physical template in synthesizing proteins. Proteins are the molecular building blocks that provide for the cell’s structure and behavior.

Ok, but note the use of the word “behavior”, with its metaphorical meaning.

DNA is implicated as the “source” that controls the character of the cell’s proteins…

Factual error.

DNA is not the “source” of proteins. It determines which proteins are manufactured, out of chemicals in the cell.

This is not science. And all these words, source, controls, character, behavior, are too slippery to describe processes that are well understood. We already know that Lipton wants to anthropomorphize all this. He can if he wants to argue for it, but he can’t do it and call it the Central Dogma of genetics.

…hence the concept of DNA’s primacy that literally means “first cause.”

Factual error.

There is no “concept of DNA’s primacy” in genetics. Lipton has invented this and ascribed it to the science of genetics. Is he deliberately lying to his readers? The only hits google turns up are for either Lipton or people quoting him.

Lipton is giving his readers false information about science and then “correcting” it with even more false information.

Then Lipton suddenly veers back again to the Human Genome Project finding fewer genes than expected. It’s not an issue (see earlier link), but Lipton insists that this is inexplicable for science.

We can no longer use genes to explain why humans are at the top of the evolutionary ladder.

Factual error.

There is no evolutionary ladder. And any idea of humans being at the top of such a thing was blown out of the water in one decisive hit by the very scientist Lipton has cited and attacked more often than any other.

That book, of course, demolished the notion of some species being superior to others, and instead defined ‘fitness’ as relative to an organism’s particular habitat. Had Lipton read and understood this book he would have spared himself a great many errors. Instead, he finds himself yet again getting punked by Charles Darwin.

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 10 (Lipton blows up his central thesis)

October 8, 2017

In this post Dr Bruce Lipton finally gets specific about a central claim of this book.

Lipton has made the extremely bold claim that geneticists have made basic and fundamental errors, due partly to poor lab technique and partly due to getting distracted. This has led them to draw mistaken conclusions about the nature of DNA, and this has in turn affected the behavior and life decisions of the general public. The cause of their distraction was Crick and Watson’s discovery of, as he wrongly claims, the “genetic code”. (Of course, what they discovered was not DNA’s code but its structure.)

Lipton promises the world a “New Biology” of which he himself is a founding father.

For his fans, this frontal assault by a cell biologist on the neighboring field of genetics no doubt sounds compelling. Lipton has bombarded his readers with details from university level cell biology, and cited dozens of highly technical scientific papers, which, unfortunately, his readers will have no access to unless they have access to a university library. And even if they did, there is no way they would understand any of it unless they already have a strong background in biology.

What his readers will not have realized, is that these papers have so far not supported, nor even in any way related to his assault on genetics. Nor are they likely to know enough genetics to realize that Lipton himself does not know enough genetics to make these claims either. (Hence his basic errors, like thinking Crick and Watson discovered the “code” of DNA.) Nor is it likely to have registered with them that he has still not named a single geneticist or referred to any specific piece of genetics that is actually wrong.

Instead, he has been attacking the popular press for its portrayal of genetics. But he is not going to revolutionize biology by making vague attacks on the Daily Mail.

We are on page 51, in Chapter 2, It’s the Environment, Stupid. Next subject heading– Protein: The Stuff of Life

It is easy to understand how genetic control became a metaphor as scientists with ever-greater excitement zeroed in on the mechanisms of DNA.

No, it is not easy to understand, because Lipton has merely asserted that this is what happened. The 1990 paper by Nijhout that Lipton cited last time, did not say this. It will simply have to stand as a blank assertion from Lipton.

And how on earth can “genetic control” become a metaphor? A metaphor for what? Lipton is talking about a belief in a literal, real world, mechanistic process. Lipton doesn’t seem to know what the words he is using mean.

Then he suddenly lurches again into basic high school cell biology:

Organic chemists discovered that cells are made up of four types of very large molecules: polysaccharides (complex sugars), lipids (fats), nucleic acids (DNA/RNA) and proteins. Though the cell requires each of the four molecular types, proteins are the most important single component for living organisms. Our cells are, in the main, an assembly of protein-building blocks.

He continues with some basic teaching about amino acids and proteins, comparing acid molecules to beads on a pop bead necklace.

Each bead represents one of the twenty amino acid molecules used by cells.

Factual error. Twenty two amino acids create proteins, not twenty. Inconsequential mistake, but lazy. He should know this.

And to be even more accurate, you should know that the amino acid necklace, which forms the “backbone” of the cells’ proteins, is far more malleable than a pop bead necklace, which falls apart when you bend it too much.

This is a bad analogy. Amino acids are not the “backbone” of a protein: they are a protein. It’s like saying the wagons form the backbone of a train. This might sound picky, but I already know the games Lipton plays with analogies, so I am noting his lack of clarity.

Also, I want to note this odd formulation: “forms the “backbone” of the cells’ proteins”. One backbone for all the cells? It’s a deliberate usage of the possessive plural of cells. But what does he mean?

The structure and behavior of the linked amino acids in protein backbones…

Now it’s getting really weird. A moment ago amino acids were the backbone of a protein; then they were the collective backbone of all the proteins in all the cells. And now proteins themselves are backbones — and note that the quotation marks have disappeared. What is going on here?

….better resemble that of a snake’s backbone.

This is just weird. A pop bead necklace wasn’t a good enough analogy for Lipton because it would break if twisted around like a chain of amino acids. But now a snake’s backbone is better?

Myoglobin — just like a snake’s backbone, according to Lipton

And why is he insisting on backbones?

The spine of a snake, made up of a large number of linked subunits, the vertebrae, is capable of coiling the snake into a wide variety of shapes, ranging from a straight rod to a knotted “ball.”

Okay, if you insist, but it still seems like a weird analogy.

The flexible links (peptide bonds) between amino acids in a protein backbone enables each protein to adopt a variety of shapes. Through the rotation and flexion of their amino acid “vertebrae,” protein molecules resemble nano-snakes in their ability to writhe and squirm.

Now amino acids have turned into “vertebrae”, which at least gets rid of the previous error about amino acids being “the backbone of a protein”. But vertebrae don’t lock into each other in the crazed way that amino acids do. Nothing like it. In the previous post we saw Richard Dawkins likening it to a bead necklace made of odd shaped magnets that latch onto each other and slot into each other’s nooks and crannies” at all kinds of awkward angles. That is nothing like a segments of a spine, which, anyway, is made to bend by muscles, not by the vertebrae themselves.

Lipton has presented all this extremely poorly and chosen a bad analogy with snakes and vertebrae.

Then it gets far more complicated, with Lipton going into detail about positive and negatively charged regions of molecules that attract or repel each other. This is all fine, but unnecessary for his purposes and he keeps switching back and forth between the necklace, backbone, snake backbone and vertebrae analogies. It looks very much he’s been cutting and pasting his lecture notes and adding in comments here and there.

We can skip over most of it, but I will highlight this odd sentence:

Improperly folded proteins, like people with spinal defects, are unable to function optimally. Such aberrant proteins are marked for destruction by the cell; their backbone amino acids are disassembled and recycled in the synthesis of new proteins.

What a strange sentence from someone who has been raging against the ‘Darwinian struggle for life’. Is it even relevant to his topic?

Then he suddenly and inexplicably leaps to this — (I swear, this is the very next sentence!)

Living organisms are distinguished from non-living entities by the fact that they move; they are animated.

What in God’s name has this got to do with protein-backbone-vertebrae-amino-acid-snakes? And what has it got to do with “It’s the environment, stupid”? But ok, we can go along for the ride. Though, let’s just rephrase that sentence more accurately:

Living organisms are distinguished from non-living entities by the fact that they are alive.

Lipton recounts a lot more of this complicated lecture notes stuff, and then abruptly stops in the middle of nowhere, and announces a new section.

The Primacy of DNA

He opens it with what is supposed to be a zinger.

You’ll notice that in the above section I didn’t discuss DNA at all. That’s because it is the changing of the proteins’ electromagnetic charges that is responsible for their behavior-generating movement, not DNA.

Well who ever said it was?????????????

Show me any text-book in any language that claims that DNA itself actively and directly causes the twisting and turning that is caused by chemical properties of proteins. That DNA determines the specific amino acids and therefore their chemical structure, is clear. But no geneticist has ever said that DNA keeps on influencing them once they’re constructed.

How did we get to the widespread and often-cited notion that genes “control” biology?

How did we get there? Easy — we aren’t there! The only people I can find on google who use this “often cited” term — “genes control biology” — are Lipton, and people who are quoting Lipton. He is trying to revolutionize biology by attacking a belief that literally no biologist holds or has ever held.

In the Origin of Species, Darwin…..

WHAT?????????????????????????

This again??????????????????????

Lipton says the whole of genetics is wrong and has cited not one single geneticist nor one single paper or study to support this stupid claim. Not one. Instead he has criticized the media and the public. And the closest he comes to attacking his actual target — genetics — is to attack Charles Darwin who died in 1882!

…..suggested that “hereditary” factors….

Factual error. Darwin never once used that term, but Lipton has been using it repeatedly.

….were passed on from generation to generation…

Exactly — he merely “suggested” and did not assert this, because he wasn’t certain how it happens. This is what sensible people do when they are unsure of something. Only liars, cheats and idiots don’t do that.

….controlling the traits of the offspring.

Factual error.

Darwin did not say anything of the sort. What does this even mean — “controlling the traits of the offspring”? All traits? All the time? Utter rubbish. Darwin did not talk like that, and this is all completely irrelevant, as he had no influence on genetics.

Darwin’s influence was so great…

Factual error.

Darwin had no influence whatsoever on genetics. None at all. I don’t really know how to illustrate how stupid, how wrong and how made up from start to finish this all is. All I can do is indicate wikipedia’s entry on genetics. In 12,000 words it mentions Darwin once, and that is under pre-Mendelian theories, and only to say he got it wrong.

…that scientists myopically focused on identifying that hereditary material…

Factual error.

This is pig ignorance and utter stupidity from Lipton. His PhD should be revoked for this sentence alone, and he hasn’t even finished it yet.

Rather than recount the history of biology in the twentieth century, I will simply note one area: population genetics. Darwin did indeed have a profound influence on this field, but not on the genetics aspect of it. Darwin contributed the notion of natural selection — aka the environment — which shapes the genetic composition of whole populations.

In other words, the only influence that Darwin had on the field of genetics was to ram home the profound and decisive influence of the environment on the genome of every creature and every species on the planet. Lipton is making a screaming idiot of himself here.

…which, they thought, controlled life.

Factual error.

As we saw above, no geneticist claims that, and no one apart from Lipton even uses that vague and utterly stupid phrase.

Two sentences; five factual errors. Each of them howlers. And those two sentences form a central pillar of Lipton’s entire thesis.

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Science and Spirituality – Conflict and Cultural Change

October 6, 2017

Two statements:

Statement 1 — Behind that hill is a stream with good water that you can drink.

Statement 2 — The moon travels across the sky because it is being drawn by a giant, divine horse.

Each of these statements asserts a fact; but each seems to belong to a different category. With Statement 1, its truth or falsehood is most important. It could be a matter of life or death, and any continuing relationship between the giver and the receiver of the information will be strongly affected by its accuracy.

Statement 2, while clearly also a fact claim, has a completely different feel to it. No great existential consequences imminently depend on it. Belief or disbelief is not really the point. It just feels qualitatively different, and sits comfortably in a different category.

This was the status quo for the vast majority of human history: statements like our two exemplars comfortably occupied two distinct categories, governed by two distinct sets of rules and customs…. Until Galileo, Kepler and Newton suddenly figured out that actually, no, the moon moves according the laws of inertia and gravity. And with that, Statement 2 was very suddenly and unceremoniously pulled from its mythological category into that blunt “true/false” category also occupied by Statement 1.

And there it sits: harmless enough, but irrevocably exposed as a falsehood.

It is easy to overlook just how new this shift is.

Earlier in human history, a member of a tribe whose cosmology had Statement 2 embedded in it might encounter another tribe that believed a different version — maybe that the moon is being hunted and eaten by a large divine bird. The two groups might fight about it; or merely find it curious, and move on.

But one thing they would never have done, is resolve it. They lacked the scientific means.

Now, suddenly, there it is, resolved. A new reality. This is the kind of thing that can happen to beliefs like Statement 2 these days. There’s no point in being angry with Newton about it. He didn’t intend to stop people anyone believing in divine horses. It just happened as a side effect of the progress of science.

Science and Cultural Change

So how to deal with a fact claim like Statement 2 that is embedded in a widely held or much loved set of ideas? Culturally speaking, we still have figured a satisfying or widely accepted approach to it.

There is a fear that allowing Statement 2 to be torn from its previous context and exposed to the harsh light of scientific inquiry, will lead to everything in that culture being treated in this manner. People are, (understandably, I think), wary of opening the door to science. Often they don’t quite understand what just happened, or what it was about Statement 2 that made it vulnerable to such a fate. What else is suddenly going to get sucked into that other category? Ethics? Cultural identity? Family values? Everything?

In a society that is at least partially scientifically literate, this makes for a tricky dynamic in public discourse. People don’t like it that scientists suddenly seem to know more about certain aspects of their beliefs or cultural identity than they know themselves. An uncomfortable hierarchy in the relationship results, where scientists happily try to share their findings, while their less informed audience experiences it as a personal affront.

Add to this the fact that spiritual and religious teachers often build their authority squarely on claiming the literal truth of their ‘Statement 2-like’ ideas. This sets them on collision course with science (though in previous centuries they had no way of knowing this), and has the knock on effect of making it appear as if scientists are trying to usurp their power, and set themselves up in their place.

Strategies Used for Opposing Science

Not only spiritual and religious movements, but also spiritually oriented academics and public figures feel uncomfortable with the perceived threat of science (or as they often term it, ‘scientism’) gaining power in areas of society and culture. Rather than learning science and engaging with scientists, they often revert to a number of avoidance strategies. The following is a brief survey of these.

Political Suppression

The most obvious tactic, perhaps, is to try to suppress the new knowledge. The Church tried this with Galileo, by refusing to look through his telescope, banning his book, and locking him up. But they couldn’t stop other people looking through a telescope, and had to watch as science progressed elsewhere in Europe but no longer Italy. The Islamic world has been suffering the same fate for five centuries.

Wall of denial

A somewhat softer strategy, especially where suppression is not possible, is to build a wall of denial so high that the science disappears behind it. Creationism attempts this, by producing and distributing masses of fake biology text books. New Age esoteric spirituality has achieved exactly this in relation to quantum physics, by flooding their own market with so much Chopra-esque quantum fables that one could read a thousand or more such books without ever encountering any genuine physics. Same with spiritual ‘epigenetics’.

Scientists really have no other option than to just blast away at these walls. Engagement is simply not possible with insincere interlocutors. But this can make scientists seem far more bullish than they actually are, and effectively invite opponents of science to proclaim that scientists are “just as dogmatic as fundamentalists.”

‘Scientific dogmatism’

This leads to another avoidance strategy: claiming that science is governed by dogma, and that spurious ideas have been elevated to the status of truth. The scientific establishment, so it is claimed, is suppressing new technologies and cancer cures, and excludes successful spiritual ideas from the journals and text books.

This accusation, though staggeringly popular, can be immediately dismissed. One example for how scientists treat potentially ‘heretical’ ideas will suffice: neutrino incident. A small group of scientists thought they had found particles that travel faster than the speed of light, thereby overturning a vast swathe of physics. The findings weren’t suppressed, but treated seriously, if skeptically, and dominated headlines worldwide for a week or so, until it emerged that a faulty cable was the cause.

Many narratives

Instead of building a wall, is to shift the boundary of that mythological category (where Statement 2 initially resided), so that it now includes science.

This is probably the most popular and most effective evasion tactic. Post modernism is one way that academics do this. Science becomes but one ‘narrative’ among many. So while scientists might insist that there is no moon-pulling horse, others are free to judge that narrative according to other standards: Newton was a privileged white male who didn’t like horses. And surely all this will be wiped away with the next paradigm shift.

…And what is “truth” anyway? ….And boy is there a lot of philosophical mileage in that gambit! Scientists usually walk straight into it too, with talk of “provisional truths”. They are perfectly right to say that, but once you let someone climb that tree, there’s no getting them down again.

The ‘Sliding Scale of Certainty’

When spiritual folk and academics pull this trick with “truth” and “paradigms” etc., they are missing something vitally important about science. We can avoid the philosophical difficulties of works like “truth” and “fact” and refer instead to a “sliding scale of certainty”.

Certain   —   probable   —   likely  —   possible   —   speculative

Down the dark end of the scale are things that are so certain that it would be a waste of time to test them again. There’s no dogmatic law against retesting them. Rather, they have been tested and re-confirmed so often that we can use them as a basis for new research.

Pseudo-science can be instantly recognized by the misapplication or more often complete absence of this scale.


The difficulty for non-scientists is that encountering science inevitably means slogging through a lot of stuff from that ‘dark end’ of the scale. By definition, that is what text books consist of (or should do). Science teaching is often too didactic, with little opportunity for students to encounter real problems or be challenged with open-ended tasks that require critical and creative thinking.

Add to this a serious problem with schooling in general. The condition of “not knowing” — a condition absolutely crucial to understanding and appreciating science — is nearly always experienced  in school as a failure. The words “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” are a shameful admission of failure. And far too often a failure involving humiliation before classmates. Where in school do people experience the feeling of not knowing as inspiring instead of threatening?

One of the big selling points (and arguably a genuinely valuable aspect) of New Age spirituality has been to free people from an overbearing “inner critic”, internalized in part from bad schooling. And clearly, when a spiritual teacher attacks science as soulless and authoritarian, their followers can’t recall anything from their science education that would contradict this.

It is only possible, however, to engage meaningfully with science if you are comfortable with this condition of “not knowing”. No one can understand science unless they first clear some ground for it. This almost inevitably involves letting go of some egotism, and letting go of attachments to certain ideas. All statements with the character of Statement 2 in this post, should have red warning lights flashing around them, as they are vulnerable to disproof. Learning to recognize these kinds of statements in advance, is not only a first step in clearing some ground for science; it is also an interesting way to clear out spiritual detritus and protect oneself from spiritual fraud.

Posted by Yakaru

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 9 (With a lesson from Richard Dawkins on embryology)

October 3, 2017

Before starting Chapter 2, we can review a little real science from Richard Dawkins.

The following is from his utterly mind-blowing and brilliantly written chapter on embryology in The Greatest Show on Earth.

Text books repeat time and time again that DNA is a ‘blueprint’ for building a body. It isn’t. A true blueprint of, say, a car or a house, embodies a one-to-one mapping from paper to finished product. It follows from this that a blueprint is reversible. It is as easy to go from house to blueprint as the other way around, precisely because it is a one-to-one mapping… If you take an animal’s body, no matter how many detailed measurements you take, you can’t reconstruct its DNA.

Dawkins, who is MUCH easier than Lipton to summarize, talks of an embryo “self-assembling”, likening it to origami that folds itself.

In the field of development, self assembly occupies a position analogous to natural selection in evolution, although it is definitely not the same process. Both achieve, by automatic, unplanned means, results that look, to a superficial gaze, as though they were meticulously planned.

Dawkins describes this process as “verging on the miraculous (but never quite getting there) in the fact that a single cell gives rise to a human body in all its complexity.”

He contrasts this with “top-down” design.

An architect designs a cathedral. Then through a hierarchical chain of command, the building is broken down into separate compartments, which break down further into sub-compartments, and so on until instructions are fiunally handed out to individual masons, carpenters and glaziers…

Dawkins recounts a myth that the great cathedrals of Europe were built without a plan, by devout workers who simply set blindly to work. Her notes that termite mounds and anthills are built bottom up like this — and so too is the development of an embryo.

The metaphor of a recipe is then considered. “Unlike a blueprint, a recipe is irreversible.” He then considers the metaphor of a sculptor, and finds it

mostly way off the mark…. There is, admittedly sharp resemblance to one particular process in embryology, called apoptosis. Apoptosis is programmed cell death, and it is involved, for example, in the development o fingers and toes. In the human embryo, the fingers and toes are all joined. In the womb, you and I had webbed feet and hands. The webbing disappeared (in most people: there are occasional exceptions) through programmed cell death…

Dawkins has just spent the previous seven chapters discussing natural selection, so the idea is now clear enough for his readers to be able to easily see the analogy between natural selection (which kind of sculpts the genes of a population over generations), and apoptosis. (Notice too that Dawkins managed to use that highly technical term twice in a row, thanks to an intervening full stop, to familiarize his readers to the word.)

Dawkins shifts easily between scales of magnitude, showing how sheets of cells appear to twist themselves into new forms, and then diving down into the cell, to the level of amino acids. Building these is what genes do in a fairly straight forward one to one correspondence for a triplet of base pairs to an amino acid. Amino acids build a protein, (my summary is doing great violence to Dawkins’ description here).

The auto-origami by which protein chains fold themselves is ruled by the laws of chemical attraction, and the laws determining the angles at which atoms bind to one another. Imagine a necklace of curiously shaped magnets…. becoming tangled up as the magnets latch onto each other and slotted into each other’s nooks and crannies at various points along the length of the chain.

Dawkins notes that the chemical processes inside cells can be enormously sped up by the catalyzing effects of enzymes: specific enzymes speed up very specific processes, making them go a million or even a trillion times faster. This results in a choreography that is extraordinarily complex viewed on a larger scale — so extraordinarily complex that it would be barely possible to design it. But it all happens according to local rules that are in fact deceptively simple.

The overall effect of this auto-origami is likened to the way starlings swarm about. They look almost like an individual body: the density of birds is the same at the edge as in the center, but beyond the edge, the density is zero.

 

A bunch of flocking starlings

To simulate the behavior of this flock, it would be next to impossible to write a program to coordinate the movements of the whole flock. But programming the behavior of a single bird — taking cues for its flight paths from the birds around it — would be enough.

The key point is that there is no choreographer and no leader. Order, organization and structure — these all emerge as by-products of rules which are obeyed locally and many times over, not globally.

The important point here is that there is no central designer, planning it all out; no central scrutinizer checking that each enzyme is entering the designated niche.

We can add into this the notion of gene switches. There is a good minute long video here explaining it.

Genes are switched on and off, during embryological development and for the rest of an organism’s lifetime, by signals external to the DNA. Sometimes external to the cell; sometimes external to the organism itself — air-borne pheromones trigger the production of various sex hormones, being but one striking example. These triggers come from what Lipton would call “the environment”.

I hope something of the power and clarity of Dawkins’ writing has made it through the fog of my summarizing. This is the book mentioned in Part 6 as being ranked on Amazon bestsellers as 50,000th compared to Lipton’s book here ranked 3,000th.

Anyway, this gives some context for what follows from Lipton. And now on to Chapter 2.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 8 (Chapter One: An Accounting)

October 1, 2017

Now that we have finished Chapter 1, we can take stock of Lipton’s performance so far.

He claimed that “a cell’s life is controlled by the physical and energetic environment and not by its genes”.

He tries to support this idea with the claim that the “Central Dogma” of genetics is wrong. He announces an attack on this central pillar of biology, and proclaims himself to be the herald of a “New Biology”. Unfortunately, as we have seen, Lipton thinks the central dogma is “the belief that genes control life”. It isn’t.

Lipton is in fact talking about genetic determinism, which he wrongly thinks is the central dogma. He explicitly equates the two, even though they are easily distinguishable. And the attack is completely pointless, as genetic determinism has already been demolished, not only by research into the neurobiology of behavior, but also by research by geneticists themselves. Environmental triggers have been found to switch genes on and off, making even gross physiological development highly influenced by the environment, to say nothing of learning and culture in later life. Yet repeatedly throughout the chapter Lipton refers to geneticists “believing that genes control life”.

So how will this play out? Lipton hasn’t gotten specific yet about what exactly he sees wrong with the central dogma, but he has promised us that a revolutionary and devastating attack on it is imminent. How will he do this if he doesn’t know what it is?

And how will it go, if the thing he is really attacking — genetic determinism — has already been demolished by the same geneticists he thinks he opposing?

Then come the attacks on Darwin. Lipton thinks Darwin said life is merely random chance. But he didn’t — natural selection involves selection, which is not random. Lipton also says that biologists have dogmatically followed Darwin in thinking life is merely random, but how could they if he didn’t say it?

Lipton thinks Darwin said the environment “plays no role”. But he didn’t — natural selection is done by nature — the environment — and plays a central role in evolution.

Lipton thinks Darwin saw nature only as an aggressive struggle for life, and ignored cooperation. But Darwin wrote extensively on cooperation. And altruism and cooperation are entirely in accord with ‘Darwinian’ evolution.

Lipton thinks Darwin ignored evolutionary interactions between species. But he didn’t — indeed Darwin’s great revolution in biology was seeing nature as a whole interdependent system.

Lipton thinks Darwin recanted later in life and admitted he had placed too little emphasis on “the environment”. But Darwin was only talking about inheritance, and not generally about the environment, as Lipton had it. And Darwin’s concession that maybe Lamarckian inheritance is real was itself an error — an error which Lipton himself is repeating.

Lipton thinks Lamarck’s system involved the inheritance of only those characteristics that have survival value. But Lamarck didn’t say that — that idea was Darwin’s.

Lipton claimed that Lamarckian inheritance (of acquired characteristics) was wrongly dismissed by biologists on the basis of one experiment in 1894. If such a significant and pervasive idea had been dismissed purely on the basis of a single experiment, Lipton would be right to complain about it. But it wasn’t.

Worse, the experiment that Lipton is referring to was not even intended to test Lamarck’s theory. The researcher who did the experiment was indeed responsible for finding the crucial flaw in the idea of Lamarckian inheritance, but Lipton does not tell his readers anything about this at all.

In other words, Lipton not only avoided mentioning the crucial flaw in his own theory, but also seems to have deliberately concealed it from his readers. Instead of telling his readers about the ‘Weismann barrier’ (and all the subsequent 120 years of research confirming it!), Lipton gave his readers Weismann’s name and directed them to the wrong piece of research.

Maybe this is not the deliberate deceit it appears to be. I hold it for entirely possible that Lipton is not mentally capable of evaluating his own ideas well enough to recognize and conceal their most critical weaknesses.

In any case, this is another devastating failure for Lipton’s argument.

Another central claim is that genes are “memories” in a literal sense — whereby DNA records life experiences. For this to be true, Lipton would need to demonstrate that the central dogma is wrong. Despite all his bluster he has not even attempted to do this yet. And as we just saw, he avoided the problem completely when he failed to address the ‘Weismann barrier’.

This is a third devastating failure for Lipton’s case. He can’t go anywhere with his Lamarckism until he deals with this problem.

He attempts a further attack on both Darwin and the central dogma by talking about evolution and gene sharing across different species of microbes. He implies that this can be transferred to the level of mammalian evolution, including humans, but fails entirely to address the rather obvious fact that microbes and mammals have enormously different anatomies and methods of reproduction.

Furthermore, although evolution in microbes is very different to humans (we do not transfer genes across species boundaries — not even in Tasmania), this evolution is not Lamarckian. It is still standard ‘Darwinian’ evolution. It does not establish that evolution might occur by non-Darwinian means, nor that DNA records life experiences.

So this is a fourth devastating failure by Lipton: another crucial door to Lamarckism that he has failed to open.

Another central claim of the book is that the organelles of a cell correspond quite exactly with the organs of a human individual. Lipton seemed several times to be on the verge of spelling out these correspondences, but so far has not done it. This is indeed a central theme of the book, but again, it is hard to tell where he wants to go with it. It remains unresolved.

All the while Lipton has been filling up the text with large blocks of highly technical information that looks like it has been copied and pasted from his old biology essays. He cites dozens of highly technical papers from scientific journals. His readers would need access to a university library to read them, and even then they wouldn’t be able to understand them.

This is bad communication. Scientists, when writing for a popular audience avoid doing this….. Unless of course, they are trying to impress or intimidate their readers. Lipton’s fans who have commented here in the past have often insisted that Lipton’s books are better than his lectures and are backed up with research. I can now better understand why they say this.

The problem, however, is that these articles do not support any of Lipton’s central arguments. In fact they have even directly contradicted some of his claims. These blocks of technical information could easily appear in an introduction to genetics text, and be used to support the exact opposite of what Lipton is claiming — not a revolution in biology. In other words, Lipton’s claims are not supported by his data.

Another prominent thread that regularly appears and disappears in chapter one is criticizing the media for distorting the popular understanding of genetics. This is of course irrelevant to his thesis. He can’t revolutionize biology by attacking the Daily Mail.

Even more curiously, he claims that “Like the tabloids, biologists jumped on the gene bandwagon.”

This is in fact another central claim — that geneticists do in fact know that the genes are switched on and off by environmental triggers, but they have forgotten it.

This is extremely confusing, because it accords entirely with the (actual) central dogma. So if he wants to attack the central dogma using this, it means that he will be relying on standard genetics that accords with that very same central dogma. So he can’t claim to be the herald of a “New Biology”.

It appears to be horribly likely that Lipton is about to attack genetic determinism, thinking this to be an attack on the central dogma. His readers might be so befuddled and confused that they will believe that he has indeed attacked the central dogma. If this is really what we are about to witness, (and I don’t know if it is), it would explain why the only publisher willing to touch this revolutionary “New Biology” is the cancer quack Louise Hay’s publishing house.

Of course, we have only just gotten through chapter one. Maybe he will rescue himself from these devastating mistakes. Or maybe he will not even realize he has made them, and build a huge structure of blooming buzzing confusion based squarely upon them. We shall see.

Posted by Yakaru

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 7 (Lipton also misses Darwin’s ideas on coevolution)

September 29, 2017

In the previous post we found Lipton continuing his long unbroken string of straight forward factual errors. He repeatedly attacked Darwin while supporting Lamarck, but oddly advocated several of Darwin’s key discoveries — which he wrongly ascribed to Lamarck. He attacked a 19th century biologist, August Weismann and misrepresented his work, while ignoring the discovery (the ‘Weismann barrier‘) that ultimately sunk the idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics.

He then moved inexplicably to the topic of evolution in microbes, which — although Lipton didn’t realize it — occurs according to classical Darwinian evolution. Due to the inescapable fact that microbes have very different anatomies and reproductive processes from humans and other organisms, they have other possibilities for evolution which, though still ‘Darwinian’, are simply not available to creatures that reproduce sexually.

One of these is horizontal gene transfer, whereby a microbe can simply swap genes directly with its compatriots. Lipton seems, incredibly, to be implying this is also possible for humans to do with each other and with other species. If this is not what he means, he hasn’t given any other indication of what he is talking about or even why he suddenly switched to this topic.

We left him last time writing this string of assertions:

This sharing of information is not an accident. It is nature’s method of enhancing the survival of the biosphere. As discussed earlier, genes are physical memories of an organism’s learned experiences.

As shown in the previous post, Lipton has offered nothing at all in support of any of that. We continue:

The recently recognized exchange of genes among individuals disperses those memories…

String of compounded factual errors here.

“Experiences” do not alter DNA, nor do they get transferred or recorded by DNA. Lipton is talking as if he has already established that they do — in contradiction of the “Central Dogma” — but he hasn’t. He has cited dozens of technical papers which his readers can neither access nor comprehend, but not a single one of these papers supports these assertions.

Nor can these non-existent alterations to DNA be called “memories” any more than you could say that a rock remembers getting hit by a hammer because it still bears the cracks. (Especially if the rock hasn’t even been hit with a hammer!)

This sharing is not an intelligent process, guided by some kind of intentionality. It is classical Darwinian mutation and natural selection. Many random mutant forms arise (as Lipton himself has previously noted); some successfully transfer themselves to another organism as a virus and propagate themselves; others don’t, and decay. If this process were somehow intelligent, we would not see crappy ineffective mutants being generated. We’d only see successful ones, or ever-improving attempts.

…thereby influencing the survival of all organisms that make up the community of life.

Lipton’s readers can permit themselves to notice that the “community of life” of which Lipton so warmly speaks, includes Ebola.

Now that we are aware of this inter- and intra-species gene transfer mechanism, the dangers of genetic engineering become apparent………

Lipton suddenly veers off topic again, and again cites half a dozen highly technical papers to which his readers have no access and would not understand of they did. We don’t need to follow him, beyond noting that genetic engineering is indeed horizontal gene transfer, and that it is far safer than what nature does with its random spreading of plagues.

Genetic evolutionists warn that if we fail to apply the lessons of our shared genetic destiny, which should be teaching us the importance of cooperation among all species, we threaten human existence. We need to move beyond Darwinian theory, which stresses the importance of individuals, to one that stresses the importance of the community.

We hear from Lipton, as from many other Darwinophobes within and without academia, that Darwin ignored cooperation and community, and was fixated on the bloody and vicious ‘struggle for life’. This term is indeed the title of the third chapter in the Origin. But if we read that very chapter, we find Darwin discussing what is today called coevolution. (“Many cases are on record showing how complex and unexpected are the checks and relations between organic beings...)

In another book by the sadistic and brutal Darwin, on gruesome topic of The Fertilisation of Orchids, we find what is now called the Darwin orchid. This has a 30 cm tubule, with nectar at the bottom. Darwin predicted that a moth with a 30 cm tongue will have coevolved to fertilize it. Twenty years after Darwin’s death, it was found.

The moth that Darwin predicted

(Plants of course use nectar to attract insects, which then get pollen stuck on them while they are extracting it. A plant ‘wants’ an insect to spend enough time getting nectar to get sufficient pollen attached to them to fertilize other plants and thus spread the plant’s genes. But an insect wants to get nectar quickly, so an ‘evolutionary arms race‘ ensues, with plant variants that make it a little harder for insects to get nectar spreading more genes, and insects better at getting in and out quickly getting more nectar.)

British scientist Timothy Lenton provides evidence that evolution is more dependent on the interaction among species than it is on the interaction of individuals within a species.

…As did Darwin, as demonstrated above; and discussed in his 1859 Origin of Species; and followed up by another 150 years of research.

From here, Lipton suddenly lurches into a fallacy about evolution called group selection, which is sometimes advocated even by reputable biologists. Lipton does not care to inform his readers that this idea is highly tenuous and rejected by most biologists, for good reason. Instead he kicks it further and invokes the popular idea of “Gaia”, which sees the earth as a single organism. Ok, but that idea is rhetoric that has added nothing whatsoever to science.

Then he talks about mass extinctions and how destructive humans are to the environment.

And then he suddenly jumps to this:

In my years of teaching in medical school, I had come to realize that medical students in an academic setting are more competitive and backbiting than a truckload of lawyers. They live out the Darwinian struggle in their quest to be one of the “fittest” who stagger to graduation after four grueling years in medical school. The single-minded pursuit of stellar medical school grades, without regard for the students surrounding you, no doubt follows a Darwinian model, but it always seemed to me an ironic pursuit for those who are striving to become compassionate healers.

As well as his ignorance of Darwin’s work on coevolution, Lipton demonstrates his ignorance of Darwin’s ideas on cooperation too. As wikipedia notes, “Prominent biologists, such as Charles Darwin….. have found the evolution of cooperation fascinating…..”

Lipton recounts that his students, under his influence dropped their supposedly Darwinian competitiveness and cooperated with each other. He says they were behaving “like smart cells” to do this.

I didn’t tell my students to pattern their lives after the lives of the cells, because I was still steeped in traditional, scientific training. But I like to think that they went in that direction intuitively, after listening to my praise of cells’ ability to group together cooperatively to form more complex and highly successful organisms.

This might be a nice metaphor in the eyes of some, but why bother? There is in fact a far more compelling example of how a group of individuals can band together as a community in pursuit of common goals and survive — of course, the story of human evolution.

Lipton closes the chapter with another attack on Darwin and “defeatist” modern genetics and proclaims himself as herald of a “New Biology”.

Part 8 is here.

Posted by Yakaru

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A Personal Memory

September 24, 2017

So there is me, I guess about 23 years old, attending the wedding of my first girlfriend. We’d remained friends after I’d unceremoniously dumped her. I genuinely loved and respected her, and kinda needed her, and gained her trust and then ended it. Neil Young’s song Down By The River sums up a lot of it.

I was relieved when she met someone else and they decided to get married. She introduced me to the guy — a really decent fellow — and she was relieved when I told her I thought he was really really great. (For some reason she’d gained the impression that I have very severe judgments about people…… Me?)

But I genuinely thought he was good fellow, and I was quite happy to attend her wedding. It really didn’t hurt. I really wanted her to be happy and was relieved I hadn’t ruined her life by leaving her. But I was also only 23, and was witnessing a great life event for someone I was close to. It was kinda intense.

Her brother (who was as mad as a hatter and quite violent and of whom I was a bit scared) was strutting about with a video camera (it was still considered gauche to do that in those days) and I was trying to kind of duck behind people to avoid being filmed. I didn’t what ever look was on my face to be preserved for eternity. (As it happened, some aunt of hers who later borrowed the only copy of the video cleverly taped an episode of a popular soap opera over it, destroying it for ever.)

After the ceremony, I asked my best friend for a cigarette, (I was a non-smoker). He seemed very glad to be able to help, and gave me one. I went off behind the church and had a smoke to calm my nerves. It really didn’t hurt, but I remember thinking it was like having a local anesthetic and watching someone cut your arm off. I doesn’t hurt, but….. holy heck!

Then she was walking towards me in front of the church, about to leave in the wedding car with all the streamers and everything. I embraced her and kissed her and wished her everything good. And then she got into the car with that guy and they drove off.

I could feel something like a band between us, connecting us, and wondered if she felt it too. I wondered if, while she felt herself being whisked away on a new path, into a new life, if she felt an old connection still…. and a band that was connecting me to her, that was stretching…. and tearing…. until it finally snapped.

I walked back to my car, through the graveyard. Tasmania is far enough south to have a long twilight, where it takes ages to get dark after the sun has gone down. This night was cloudless, and the sky was a stunning deep dark sapphire blue. As I walked, I gazed out into it.

I noticed that although stars were visible, I didn’t want to look at them like I normally would. I just wanted to look into that endless deep deep blue. All my thoughts and emotions were silenced by it. Until suddenly a line of a song I’d learned as a teenager suddenly popped into my head.

Blue blue windows behind the stars…

It’s from Neil Young’s Helpless. A song I’d played in my bedroom on the guitar a million times but had never thought about the words.

I guess Winnipeg, Neil’s hometown in Canada, must be about the same northern latitude as Tasmania is southerly. And Neil had seen that same deep sapphire blue, looked between the stars, and gazed endlessly into it. But he’d also found words to describe it: blue blue windows behind the stars….

I walked and just gazed, with that string of words in my head, in awe. Someone else has seen this too.

But the mind, being what it is, wanted to interrupt my reverie and bring me back to the world of prose. The next lines of the song wanted to crank through, and like all Neil Young songs, genius is always laid side by side with inexcusable cliche. I tried to stop it, but in trying, I’d lost that magical feeling of the infinite.

Ok, just let it wind through. Blue blue windows behind the stars, yellow moon on the rise. That’s stupid. There’s no yellow moon. It doesn’t fit at all. Not even meterologically. Stupid forced rhyme Neil. Big birds flying across the skies. Nope. None of them either. Throwing shadows on our eyes. Dreadful, cliched….

Leave us helpless, helpless, helpless…. Babe can you hear me now. The chains are locked and tied across the door. Babe, can you sing with me somehow?

…..So that’s what it was all about. The brain pulled all this up, because the song had resonated in a way I’d never consciously grasped. And it let me feel whatever weird mix of emotions it was, and I could just let it all out in tears. A nameless longing, a loneliness, mirrored not in the stars but in the windows behind them, just sailing out and out…. And a song putting it all into three or four lines, and even hiding it behind some cliches to protect it.

And the knowledge that another person had felt all this too.