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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated With Facts: Part 22 (Lipton reveals his method, not realizing what he is admitting to)

January 17, 2018

I’ve probably written about 35,000 words so far in this series, and we are only up to page 90 of Lipton’s book. There are only 110 more to go, so maybe I’ll be done in 50 posts. Lipton builds his case in such a chaotic manner, and piles on layer upon layer of extraordinarily stupid mistakes, that it is extremely difficult to even figure out what he is saying, let alone approach the book critically.

But in this post, it gets easier. Here, Lipton reveals the genius method he has been using to derive his conclusions — which he revealingly describes as “corollary insights”.

Last time, Lipton revealed to us his use of analogies as a kind of wedge to stick into reality and prise it open, so that he can pour in bucket loads of qualities and characteristics that hypothetically must be there, as a corollary of his method. He feels justified in doing this because he thinks these analogies are really homologies — a biological term that implies genuine one-to-one correspondences in particular organs between different species, that have arisen through evolution.

While biologists have good reason to trace out correspondences between, for example, the bones in a human’s arm and a bird’s wing, Lipton has no reason at all to insist that cells must have brains because humans do. This is because there are genuine connections between evolutionary homologues. But there are no such connections between analogues. And Lipton is using analogues and, as we saw last time, calling them homologues, and assuming all he needs to do is find all the remaining correspondences — brain-membrane, nucleus-gonad, and whatever else he has lined up.

And of course, being Lipton, he also gets the definition of homologue completely wrong.

The cell membrane was indeed a structural and functional equivalent (homologue) of a silicon chip!

(As just noted last time, a homologue is no more a “functional equivalent” than are the arm of a human and the wing of a bird functional equivalents. And, as @Lettersquash noted in the comments last time, the implied evolutionary sharing of a common ancestor between the cell membrane and a silicon chip is also unlikely to be an idea worth pursuing.)

Setting these objections aside, however, Lipton’s unexpected thesis has already been confirmed! He continues his story:

Twelve years later an Australian research consortium headed by B. A. Cornell published an article in Nature, which confirmed my hypothesis that the cell membrane is a homologue of a computer chip. [Cornell, et al, 1997]…

The abstract of this paper is here.

Just to be fair to Lipton, I will quote the full passage, as he seems to describe it clearly enough.

The researchers isolated a cell membrane and attached a piece of gold foil under it. They then flooded the space between the gold foil and the attached membrane with a special electrolyte solution. When the membrane’s receptors were stimulated by a complementary signal, the channels opened and allowed the electrolyte solution across the membrane. The foil served as a transducer, an electrical pickup device, which converted the electrical activity of the channel into a digital readout on a screen….

Lipton seems quite at home with such details. He looks like a scientist, and sounds like a scientist, but then follows it up with this this:

This device, created for the study, demonstrates that the cell membrane not only looks like a chip but also functions like one.

Factual error #1:
A cell membrane does not “look like a chip”

Factual error #2:
A cell membrane does not “function like a chip”

Factual error #3
The study does not “demonstrate” anything of the sort.

Cornell and associates successfully turned a biological cell membrane into a digital-readout computer chip.

A better word here would be “effectively”, not “successfully” — by analogy, the cell was effectively turned into a computer chip. And Cornell was not trying to do this, as Lipton implies. He was trying to extract information from it and convert it into something a computer can read.

And please remind me that Lipton thinks a cell can be turned into a computer chip the next time he starts griping about “mechanistic science”.

So what’s the big deal, you ask?

Nope, we are asking what in god’s name are you talking about?

The fact that the cell membrane and a computer chip are homologues…

You keep using that word…

….means that it is both appropriate and instructive to better fathom the workings of the cell by comparing it to a personal computer.

Not only a factual error and logical howler, but also a full admission of guilt.

I confess I was really not expecting this from Lipton. I have repeatedly said he must be using some scatter-brained methodology like this behind the curtain, but I wasn’t expecting to find him proudly explaining each step of it in detail. 

What’s more, he is even saying it far more concisely than I have been able to. So, let me just add a word or two to the above sentence and we have a clear statement of fact.

Because Lipton thinks that the cell membrane and a computer chip are homologues, he also thinks it is both appropriate and instructive to better fathom the workings of the cell by comparing it to a personal computer.

God only knows why Lipton thinks he his logically permitted to do this. By this logic, we can use our homologies with birds to deduce that humans lay eggs and birds have off-shore banking scams.

And why does he even want to do it, for heaven’s sake? He started off saying the membrane is a brain, and grants it perceptions, awareness and intelligence. Now he has suddenly veered off into insisting the entire cell is a personal computer — which, of course, is nowhere near as complex as a brain!!!

Lipton always gets lost switching between scales, (and that is where all his most important arguments take place). The brain is 100s of trillions of times more complex than a cell membrane; and a PC is way less complicated than a cell. Yet he is navigating this territory as if it’s a stroll in the park, rather than intergalactic pole-vaulting..

The first big-deal insight that comes from such an exercise is that computers and cells are programmable.

Factual error.

Just because computers can be programmed doesn’t mean cells can be. That is just plain stupid.

The second corollary insight is that the programmer lies outside the computer/cell.

Factual error.

Actually two factual errors for the price of one. He’s missed out a step here. The “second corollary insight” should have been the deduction that because cells can be programmed, they must have a programmer. Instead of trying to establish this point, he has leapfrogged straight to the conclusion that the programmer of a cell must also be outside the cell.

Here we find Lipton diving back into his peculiar strain of environmental determinism that is so fanatical it would make B.F. Skinner blush. This is so an enormous and complicated knot of errors I had to deal with it earlier in a separate post.

The whole point of this book is to deny that genes have any influence over cells, and that you can re-program your own cells to do whatever you want them to do. Somehow…..

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated With Facts: Part 21 (Lipton gets another central idea completely wrong)

January 14, 2018

This post deals with the next in a long list of extremely straight forward concepts that Lipton completely messes up without realizing it and then uses as the foundation of his entire argument.

This time it’s about Lipton’s habit of introducing analogies as explanatory tools, and then switching to using them as fact. So a cell receptor “perceives” things in its environment. This is already a poor analogy to start with, but before we know it, the quotation marks have disappeared and Lipton is stating it as a fact that cells have perceptions.

Until now it’s been unclear whether:

a) this is deliberate deception on Lipton’s part;
b) Lipton has forgotten that he is merely using an analogy and starts believing it himself;
c) Lipton doesn’t know that analogies are by definition not to be taken literally; or
d) he is doing something so extraordinarily stupid that neither I nor any reader here would have thought it possible.

In today’s text, Lipton himself clears up this question. (Spoiler alert…… it’s d.)

That Lipton should be so confused about how to use an analogy is very odd. As a biologist he must have already encountered the distinction between a homologue and an analogue. Homologues are physiological structures in different species that have a shared evolutionary history. They may appear quite different and often serve very different functions, but one-to-one correspondences can be traced between them.

The human arm and the wing of a bird, for example, are homologues: their divergent forms have been shaped and modified by evolution to grasp or to fly.

(Source)

This is distinct from biological analogues. These are structures that appear similar, but have in fact arisen independently of each other. They have been shaped (by convergent evolution) to fulfill similar functions. Insect wings, for example, are analogues of bird wings. They share a function, but did not develop from forelimbs.

Outside of biology, analogies are of course a common explanatory device. And the distinction between mere similarity and fact is just as clear. A plane is said to have wings, but if you find yourself using this analogy to argue that planes fly by flapping them, you have committed a peculiar logical fallacy. (One that should really be named after Lipton.) You are using the analogy too literally and have transferred too many qualities from one to the other.

This is really not complicated. Yet, Lipton has spent this whole book happily sliding about in the space between analogy and literal truth.

With that said, let us now pick up the text from where we left it. Next up, a new heading suddenly appears out of nowhere:

The Secret of Life

Lipton begins to recount another personal story of a “eureka moment” (or for everyone else, a face-palm moment).

In 1985, I was living in a rented house on the spice-drenched Caribbean island of Grenada teaching at yet another “off-shore” medical school. It was 2 A.M….

Lipton rattles on like this for a while, and then revisits that analogy he used earlier about the olives in a sandwich standing for the receptors in a cell membrane. Then he suddenly decides that crystals are a better analogy than sandwiches.

By definition, a structure whose molecules are arranged in regular, repeated pattern is defined as a crystal.

I’m already suspicious about where he heading with this. Then he starts talking about liquid crystal, which flows without losing its crystalline structure.

The phospholipid molecules of the membrane behave in a similar fashion. Their fluid crystalline organization allows the membrane to dynamically alter its shape while maintaining its integrity, a necessary property for a supple membrane barrier….

It sounds to me like rather a stretch to say that phospholipid molecules in a membrane literally have a “liquid crystal organization”, rather than something analogous. But as I lack a background in science, I will have to let it pass.

Lipton then gets to his eureka moment:

….So in defining this character of the membrane I wrote: “The membrane is a liquid crystal.”

Does he mean this rhetorically, as an analogy, or literally, as part of the ‘secret of life’? It’s not clear. He follows it up by adding some more technical details, noting that the membrane keeps some things out and lets some in.

So I continued writing my description of the membrane by adding: “The membrane is a semiconductor.”

He continues:

Lastly, I wanted to include in my description the two most common kinds of IMPs [integral membrane proteins]. These are the receptors and a class of effectors called channels because they provide the all-important means for the cell to let in nutrients and let out waste matter. I was about to write that the membrane contains “receptors and channels” when I realized that a synonym for receptor is the word gate. So instead I completed my description by writing: “The membrane contains gates and channels.”

A gate is a poor analogy. (And an even worse synonym.)

The standard analogy in the text books for a cell receptor is a lock and key, with the key standing for the fitting molecule. This gives an idea of the complex form of the lock/receptor fitting the complex form of the key/molecule. A gate simply lets through anything that’s small enough and thereby misses an important aspect of what Lipton wanted to describe.

Given that Lipton has already overloaded the reader with complex details about electrical charges making molecules twist and turn, why doesn’t he build on and reinforce the reader’s knowledge here, and stick with the usual lock and key analogy?

I sat back and reviewed my new description of the membrane: “The membrane is a liquid crystal semiconductor with gates and channels.”

He gets even more excited, when, after a long-winded description of himself sitting in a chair, he opens the manual for his computer and — he claims — finds the same definition for the computer chip as he just dreamed up for the membrane:

“A chip is a crystal semiconductor with gates and channels.”

Well, that is extraordinary, isn’t it. We can almost hear Lipton’s readers saying “There are no coincidences.”

He has simplified the usual metaphor of lock and key, reducing it to a gate with a channel. And he reduced the complexity of the molecular structure of a membrane to a simple crystalline pattern. With these clumsy and wasteful analogies all he has achieved is to somehow get the sacred New Age word “crystal” into his text.

For the first second or two I was struck by the fact that the chip and cell membrane shared the same technical definition.

Factual error. They don’t share the same technical definition.

Chip: integrated circuit or small wafer of semiconductor material embedded with integrated circuitry.

Cell membrane: a double layer of lipids and proteins that surrounds a cell and separates the cytoplasm (the contents of the cell) from its surrounding environment. It is selectively permeable, which means that it only lets certain molecules enter and exit.

Lipton’s readers don’t realize that the only place you’ll find Lipton’s “technical definition” of a membrane is in Lipton’s book.

He soon follows this with another of his homespun definitions — and this one males it clear what has been going on in his brain while he has been messing about with analogies throughout this book (emphasis added):

I spent several more intense seconds comparing and contrasting biomembranes with silicon semiconductors. I was momentarily stunned when I realized that the identical nature of their definitions was not a coincidence. The cell membrane was indeed a structural and functional equivalent (homologue) of a silicon chip!

Factual error.

A homologue is not a functional equivalent. It could be an analogue, but it is definitively not a homologue. Not any more than a bird’s wing is the functional equivalent of the human hand.

And while a homologue does, by definition, have plenty of one-to-one correspondences between the respective elements, an analogue — again by definition — does not. Lipton reverses these, getting it exactly wrong.

So that’s where all his confusion been coming from. He thinks an analogue is a homologue and therefore implies a heap of one-to-one correspondences between them, even though he should know the correct distinction from his biology training.

Now he is spreading this anti-knowledge to his readers, and will soon be convincing them they can cure cancer, by using the healing power of analogies.

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated With Facts: Part 20 (The bait, the switch, and the 3 billion distractions)

December 31, 2017

In the previous post, we learned from Dr Bruce Lipton that the first 3 billion years of evolution consisted of cells varying only in size. Nothing else changing during these 3 billion years — just balloon-like cells (as he describes them) inflating and deflating themselves through geological time-spans.

When the cell membrane reached that critical size, the evolution of the individual cell reached its limit. That’s why for the first three billion years of evolution, single cells were the only organisms on this planet.

Evolution, for Lipton, is driven exclusively by internal forces and processes, and not by natural selection.

But even so, the model of evolution that Lipton uses here is unusual for him. The differential survival of smaller cells that don’t explode is Darwinian rather that Lamarckian, and Lipton is a fanatical Lamarckian. (Though as we’ve seen, he also gets Lamarck completely wrong as well, the useless fucking dropkick.)

Why doesn’t he think evolution in this case should have been driven by a Lamarckian striving to develop a thicker membrane and then pass this on to offspring? Lamarck would not have proposed such a thing, but in Lipton’s version of Lamarckianism this should happen. Why has he suddenly dropped his Lamarckianism?

(Update — In fact he hasn’t dropped his Lamarckianism. He thinks differential survival of deliberately acquired characteristics is Lamarckian. But Lamarck had developed traits being inherited. It was Darwin who figured out the significance of differential survival.)

It can’t be because he thinks the cells were too simple, as cells for Lipton are conscious. He continues:

In order to get smarter, cells started banding together with other cells to form multicellular communities through which they could share their awareness.

They were, according to Lipton, already “smart” enough to band together to get even smarter. So why weren’t they “smart” enough to want a thicker membrane and develop it? Why did they just blob around in the oceans, inflating and deflating themselves for 3 billion years, for heaven’s sake? Instead of an answer to that, we get this:

To review, the functions required for a single cell to stay alive are the same functions required by a community of cells to stay alive.

What???? (I’m quoting this whole passage unbroken. These are all sequential sentences.) Where did this come from????

First, that is not a “review”. It is leaping entirely off topic and introducing an entirely new idea. And the idea is one of the more stupid ones in the entire book. (I dealt with it briefly at the end of the previous post.)

But cells started to specialize when they formed multicellular organisms. In multicellular communities, there is a division of labor. That division of labor is evident in the tissues and organs that carry out specialized functions.

Again, this really is the next sentence in this bizarre passage.

I guess we are back on topic, kind of, after that brief one sentence long insertion of an entirely new and unrelated and completely stupid and pointless idea under the title of a “review”.

Ok, so these cells suddenly switched to Lamarckian evolution “to get smarter” and began the division of labor, in a manner straight out of any good marxist sociology text-book.

Rather than explaining the evolutionary process by which they achieved this, we get another barrage of copy-paste Biology 101. In the blink of an eye, Lipton has skipped from a childish vision of balloon-like cells spending 3 billion years inflating and deflating themselves, to this technical babble:

For example, in the single cell, respiration is carried out by the mitochondria. In a multicellular organism, the mitochrondrial equivalent for respiration are the billions of specialized cells that form the lungs. Here’s another example: in the single cell, movement is created by the interaction of cytoplasmic proteins called actin and myosin. In a multicellular organism, communities of specialized muscle cells handle the job of generating motility, each endowed with massive quantities of actin and myosin proteins.

Why is he doing this? …..He tells us:

I repeat this information from the first chapter because I want to emphasize that while it is the job of the membrane in a single cell to be aware of the environment and set in motion an appropriate response to that environment, in our bodies those functions have been taken over by a specialized group of cells we call the nervous system.

Lipton dragged us through 3 billion years of evolution to tell us that? Something he’d already told us?

Though we’ve come a long way from unicellular organisms, I believe, as I’ve mentioned before, that studying single cells is an instructive way of studying complicated multicellular organisms.

I spent the first dozen posts or more complaining that he kept promising to use “the cell” to teach us about human physiology, without ever getting around to doing it. Three billion years later, he still hasn’t done it but is insisting that it would indeed be instructive if he ever actually gets around to it. This is the whole point of the book. Is he actually going to do this at some point or not?

In fact, he’s done the opposite. He’s projected human characteristics like consciousness and perception onto “the cell”.

And if “the cell” is such a great model for humans, why did they spend 3 billion years incapable of doing anything but inflating and deflating themselves?

Even the most complex human organ, the brain, will reveal its secrets more readily when we know as much as we can about the membrane, the cell’s equivalent of a brain.

It should be clear now exactly what Lipton’s trick is here. Yes, he is going to use the simple cell as a model for understanding the more complex functions of human beings; but before doing this, he will carefully project complex human characteristics onto the cell, for good measure.

All the pointless screeds of copy-and-paste Bio 101, all the sudden 3 billion year leaps, all the weird ideas that seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear again just as fast, are all just the conjurer’s misdirection and distraction from the initial act of forcing a reluctant rabbit into a magician’s hat.

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated With Facts: Part 19 (Lipton’s theory of evolution)

December 27, 2017

Despite what I wrote in the previous post, we have in fact already started on Chapter 3, and had in fact burrowed a fair way into it. So many issues started stacking up that I wanted to deal with a few of them separately, hence the previous two posts on general issues. It is extremely difficult to decide which of the strands in Lipton’s convoluted frenzy to follow.

Anyway, already in Chapter 3 we uncovered his first blatant lie — that a properly conducted peer-reviewed study had determined that:

“Biological behavior can be controlled by invisible forces, including thought…. a fact that provides the scientific underpinning for pharmaceutical-free, energy medicine.”

In fact, the study he cited had argued that electromagnetic signals (not thought) “may” be involved in cell to cell communication. (This is the reason why pseudo-scientists routinely give faulty publication details — to make it harder to uncover lies like this. Lipton hasn’t woken up to this trick yet. He needs to hang out with Gregg Braden or Dean Radin.)

Lipton concealed the “may” from his readers and presented it as fact; and he lied to them that it was about “thought” rather than electromagnetic signals. Given that he will be using this lie in the service of peddling a quack cancer cure, this is simply fraudulent.

….And we also dealt with his hilarious demolition of his own central argument, when he claimed that the membrane must be the cell’s brain, because “When you destroy its membrane, the cell dies just as you would if your brain were removed.” But as shown in the link above, cells don’t necessarily die when the membrane is removed, so by Lipton’s own standards, the membrane cannot be the brain of the cell. (And of course, cells don’t have brains, but who’s keeping a tally here?)

No matter, we pick up both these threads again, on page 83, as Lipton draws out the implications of cells of having brains, and the membrane, with its “scientifically proven” telepathic powers, being that brain.

To exhibit “intelligent” behavior, cells need a functioning membrane with both receptor (awareness) and effector (action) proteins. These protein complexes are the fundamental units of cellular intelligence. Technically they may be referred to as units of “perception.”…

Notice how he is stacking up metaphors as if they were building blocks. In fact they are stepping-stones forming a convoluted garden path up which we are being metaphorically led.

The definition of perception is: “awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation.”

Misleading statement. Lipton is using this dictionary definition as if it refers not only to human experience, but also to what happens inside a single cell. Ok, but by that standard your stomach is also perceiving whatever it is digesting at the moment.

The first part of the definition describes the function of receptor IMPs. The second part of the definition, the creation of a “physical sensation,” sums up the role of the effector proteins.

Step by step, Lipton is building his case that cancer cells have perceptions. His readers who believe in the law of attraction will already be getting excited about the implications of this.

By examining these basic units of perception, we have engaged in an ultimate reductionist exercise, taking the cell down to its fundamental nuts and bolts.

Factual error.

Lipton sarcastically thinks he is following “reductionistic” scientific protocol here. But what he is really doing is the exact opposite of reductionism. He is projecting properties from a higher, more complex level onto a lower level, not the other way around. He always gets confused whenever he crosses from one order of magnitude to another. Here, he forgets which direction is which.

In this regard it is important to note that at any given time there are up to hundreds of thousands of such switches in a cell membrane.

And in the human brain there are hundreds of trillions of switches at the hundreds of trillions of neural connections between hundreds of billions of brain cells. That kind of thing gives rise to perception. Lipton is talking about perception occurring in just one cell!

And again, he is brought undone by the cross over between two different scales.

Consequently, the behavior of a cell cannot be determined by examining any individual switch.

Which is why biologists zoom in and zoom out and compare what happens at the various levels. This is something Lipton is especially bad at. He gets lost instantly and simply ascribes all the functions from a higher level onto each lower level. He even carries the terminology directly over, (intelligence, perception, awareness, etc.), as if they correspond one to one, literally, with chemical reactions within a cell.

The only place he ever gets something right is when he sticks to one level and repeats minute particulars out of a text-book ad nauseam. As soon as he tries to draw out the implications for other levels, it goes completely haywire.

The behavior of a cell can only be understood by considering the activities of all the switches at any given time. That is a holistic— not reductionist— approach…

Or to put it another way, it’s common sense and you’ll find it in any good biology text-book.

At the cellular level, the story of evolution is largely the story of maximizing the number of basic units of “intelligence,” the membrane’s receptor/ effector proteins.

I don’t know why he suddenly leaps to evolution in the middle of all this. Rather than go into any detail about all that is wrong with what he says here, I will simply describe his working definition of evolution here as a factual error.

Cells became smarter by utilizing their outer membrane surface more efficiently and by expanding the surface area of their membranes so that more IMPs could be packed in.

Nope. “More complex” is the correct phrase here, not “smarter”. And of course, “more complex” might also be an evolutionary disadvantage, depending on the environment. (Despite all of Lipton’s ranting against scientists who supposedly discount environmental influences, these are missing entirely from his understanding of evolution.)

In primitive prokaryote organisms, the IMPs carry out all of its fundamental physiologic functions including digestion, respiration and excretion. Later in evolution, portions of the membrane that carry out these physiologic functions go inside, forming the membranous organelles that are characteristic of eukaryotic cytoplasm.

That was a brief factual interlude, which he quickly puts a stop to with this:

That leaves more membrane surface area available to increase the number of perception IMPs.–

“Perception IMPs” (integral membrane proteins) is of course terminology that Lipton has made up, to describe a phenomenon that doesn’t exist, but which his readers will soon be believing can cure cancer.

In addition, the eukaryote is thousands of times bigger than the prokaryote resulting in a tremendous increase in membrane surface area, i.e. a whole lot more room for IMPs.

Another brief factual interlude, again ending swiftly with this howler:

The end result is more awareness, which translates to greater survivability.

Factual error #1: It does not translate into “more awareness”, (unless you think your large intestine is also aware). All it translates into is greater complexity.

Factual error #2: Greater complexity does not necessarily lead to greater survival chances (otherwise all simple organisms would have gone extinct a billion years ago).

Factual error #3: Evolution does not occur through simply stacking up properties. It requires reproduction (not just survival), as well as variation and selection.

Again we see that Lipton does not know any of the most basic information about evolutionary theory. This is not difficult stuff, but Lipton continually muffs it.

Through evolution, the cell membrane’s surface expanded…

Factual error #1: not all cells expanded, and expansion was not the only thing that happened. (And Lipton continually talks of “the cell” as if there is only one kind and everything he says about it applies to all cells.)

Factual error #2: What Lipton is describing, even in as much as it did happen, is not necessarily evolution, but rather the appearance of variation.

…but there was a physical limit to that expansion.

In a long-winded passage, he uses the analogy of a balloon being inflated to bursting point.

When the cell membrane reached that critical size, the evolution of the individual cell reached its limit. That’s why for the first three billion years of evolution, single cells were the only organisms on this planet.

Factual error #1: Again he skews evolution to mean something that occurs only due to internal forces. Rather than indicating the gradual appearance of variations upon which natural selection acted, Lipton imagines cells just inflating until they burst. He is describing physiological limits, not evolution.

Factual error #2: Limits to the size of cells was not the reason why there were only single cells for the first billion years. Where is he getting this stuff from?

In order to get smarter, cells started banding together with other cells to form multicellular communities through which they could share their awareness

Factual error #1: They didn’t do this “to get smarter”.

Factual error #2: They also didn’t get smarter.

Factual error #3: They could not “share their awareness” — a practical use of the deliberate lie mentioned at the top of this post.

Factual error #4: Lipton thinks that cells deliberately banded together because they got smart enough to do that. Teleology (seeing evolution as purpose-driven) is a trap even for some spiritually oriented biologists, but Lipton has transcended that spectacularly here. He doesn’t think it’s God or an intelligent designer, but the cells themselves doing it.

He follows it up with this howler monkey with a megaphone:

To review, the functions required for a single cell to stay alive are the same functions required by a community of cells to stay alive.

Factual error. And one with far-reaching implications for all that follows in this stupid book. To state the obvious, no, the functions required for a single cell to stay alive are not the same functions required by a community of cells to stay alive.

A cell may survive in a glob of goo. Larger colonies of cells like mammals cannot. Regardless of how smart they are.

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated With Facts: Part 18 (The Law of Attraction for Amoebas)

December 25, 2017

Before moving on to Chapter 3 of Lipton’s book I want to look at a major recurring issue that is too complicated to deal with each time it appears. I am referring to Lipton’s notion of consciousness.

Lipton, as we have seen, thinks that amoebas are conscious. They move about by themselves, toddling up to some things and back-peddling from other things, just like we do. So they are conscious, just like we are. The reason this so excites Lipton is not because of the implications of this idea for the way we should conceive of or encounter our fellow creatures, but rather because this means that the life, and fate of every amoeba must therefore obey what many spiritual folk will know as the Law of Attraction.

Short Rant on the Law of Attraction

The law of attraction (capitalized or uncapitalized, depending on whether or not you think Esther Hicks should have won her court case about copyrighting it) is considered an immutable natural law, “as real as the law of gravity” (even though if it was indeed real it would contradict the law of gravity). This idea which originated as a combination of Christian prayer and a get rich quick scam, has morphed into a full blown pseudo-scientific program, using quantum physics instead of the power of Jesus.

It has become the — the — central idea of much alternative medicine, which is why Lipton generates so much interest. And it is a scammer’s wet dream. It holds that your fate is determined entirely by the thoughts you think and the feelings you feel, meaning if you ruin your life trying to implement this non-existent product, it is your fault for having the wrong the thoughts, not the fault of the scammers. 

Thoughts, it is believed, are entities whose neurological structure somehow embodies their mental contents in a literal rather than symbolic way, so that a thought corresponds ‘one to one’ with real objects. Further, a thought creates real objects. A thought forms some kind of core around which atoms are forced to coagulate, as surely as a stone falls to earth. You visualize a car or a barking dog and you literally draw those things towards you or cause them to exist. You don’t believe it? Fine, go on destroying your life.

The universe is like a supermarket, which you can simply stroll through and grab whatever you want. It’s all about you. Or for lazy people, it’s a giant mail order catalog, as one scammer in The Secret described it.

Elsewhere on this blog I’ve dealt with the problems with this “law”. (It doesn’t exist, it’s dangerous, and it’s unethical. It blames victims and very exactly simulates the frame of mind of a psychopath — something its adherents either aspire to or find distinctly reassuring.)

Lipton hasn’t got there yet, but this is where he is heading. Despite his constant outrage at the idea that “genes control our fate” (an idea he wrongly ascribes to geneticists), he is well on the way to telling us that it is our thoughts that control our fate.

You create your own reality….. And so do amoebas…… Somehow.

He will probably leave it vague, engulfed in his impenetrable fog of obscure concepts from cell biology and assertions about the law of attraction. He will probably not mention the latter by name, either for copyright reasons or because he won’t need to. His audience, already familiar with various forms of alternative medicine, will be familiar with one or other of its guises.
Thus the profound question of what the hell is consciousness anyway — a question that really does puzzle, and may always puzzle scientists — is not only ignored, but rendered incomprehensible.

Brief Rant on Consciousness

Is consciousness without some kind of focus on, or attachment to an external stimulus or object possible? What is the difference between meditative awareness and normal waking consciousness? For meditators the difference is a matter of clear subjective experience; real but impossible to describe exactly.

And what of the “self” — the “I”? It is an illusion that disappears when observed directly, but why does this particular collection of flesh still feel like “me”? Do animals experience the fact of their own consciousness in a similar or perhaps clearer or even more profound way?

These are all real questions that can be only be approached indirectly by science, but can be confronted directly through subjective awareness. Meditators may be more aware of this kind of thing than non-meditators. Or at least they are more likely to notice it and blab about it. But probably everyone encounters such things too, in the normal course of life — either by chance, or practice, or in the face of some unusual “waking up” experience, perhaps involving sudden awareness of one’s mortality and fundamental aloneness.

But these are not issues for Bruce Lipton or any other believer in the law of attraction. Consciousness is simply a practical tool that you can use or be a victim of, in the shadow of either fear or greed, but always with that peculiar feeling of smug superiority that true believers can never resist.

This is the difference between pseudo-science and spirituality. Conflating the two makes spirituality entirely dependent on magical thinking and the supernatural. This of course opens the door to authoritarians, scammers, and marketeers. It sets the bar so low that the most cynical scammer can wander through this zone undisturbed and unimpeded.

Worse still, the scammers begin to set the standards as well as the entire tone for discourse. This is modern esoteric spirituality. It didn’t need to be this way, but it is. Lipton, who does not seem to be a cynical, calculating scammer by nature (he’s too dumb for that), winds up acting like one. It is simply normal behavior for spiritual folk to just blab out whatever sounds good to them without submitting it to any form of verification whatsoever. For professional spiritual teachers, quality control is simply taken care of by market forces. Otherwise there are no standards whatsoever. If it sells, it’s spiritual.

And now on to chapter 3….

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 17 (Lipton is an extreme environmental determinist)

December 5, 2017

Before returning to the many hornets’ nests of errors that Lipton has placed throughout this book, it will be worth considering in isolation a couple of Lipton’s more foundational errors. Chapter Three is a complex of several extraordinarily complicated knots of factual errors, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings that it is impossible to unpack them in the sequence that they appear without going on long excursions up entirely pointless garden paths. So the next two or three posts will deal in isolation with a specific foundational problem.

This post will consider Lipton’s extreme version of environmental determinism. Lipton’s position here reflects many of the errors of the mid-20th century ideology that posited that humans are born as a blank slate, free of instincts and in-born propensities, to be “written upon” by their surroundings. More fanatical of theorists in this area, especially the Behaviorist school, saw the tabula rasa of childhood as an opportunity to inscribe upon the central nervous systems of the young, whatever they pleased. Marxist, communist and even some religious theorists and cults see the training of the young as the foundation stone of the ideal society. Disasters have generally followed.

Lipton, as we shall see as we go through this book, has decided that adults are capable of re-writing not only their own behavioral ‘programs’, but even reconstructing their own physiology to an extraordinary degree. This leads directly into his cancer quackery.

Lipton presents his case as a reaction to the supposed “genetic determinism” which he wrongly thinks is the norm for scientists, and — with breathtaking ignorance — equates with the’Central Dogma’ of genetics. (The jokingly named ‘Central Dogma’ holds that DNA is not altered by the proteins it creates. Genetic determinism is an ideology that deals with behavior.)

In order to fabricate a “debate” in science between the extremes of “fate” being written genetically in stone, and the supposedly blank slate of human nature, Lipton has resuscitated the old “nature vs. nurture” controversy of the 20th century. This highly polarized debate still draws people into accepting a position on a spectrum.

As neurobiologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky has pointed out in his recent book Behave, advances in science, more abundant and more accurately collected data have, in recent decades rendered the distinction between nature and nurture largely irrelevant. However the debate has continued in the popular imagination. Unfortunately this debate promotes misunderstandings and precludes or prevents a correct understanding of genetics and development. Genetics is a weird subject, and requires a new way of conceptualizing biology. Neither the nature, nor the nurture pole has a corridor that leads to understanding it. Genetics itself, has transcended the debate, and made it irrelevant.

As Sapolsky has put it, even talking of genes and environment “interacting” is too polarizing. “The problem with “a gene-environment interaction” is the same as asking what height has to do with the area of a rectangle, and being told that in this particular case, there is a height/length interaction.”

Lipton in Chapter Three:

Once I understood how IMPs [Integral Membrane Proteins] worked, I had to conclude that the cell’s operations are primarily molded by its interaction with the environment, not by its genetic code.

Here Lipton is claiming that geneticists — read “genetic determinists” — think that DNA governs all the chemical reactions that occur within a cell. But not even the most fanatical genetic determinist has ever believed such a thing. DNA creates cells so that cells can act independently. That is kind of the whole point of life.

Yet Lipton accuses all scientists see genes as omniscient, all powerful dictators. All who believe them wind up being mere puppets of DNA, and the only possible remedy for this non-existent situation is to assert that environmental effects overrule the effects of genes. He talks as if any role at all played by non-genetic factors is a devastating blow to the supposed “genetic determinism” of modern science, even when the effects he cites in his laborious “Biology 101” cut-and-paste sections of the book are the routine conclusions of textbook biology.

Moreover, when geneticists relate a specific gene — deterministically — to the production of a specific protein, they are not engaging in genetic determinism. Rather, they are clearly defining limits for determinstic “genetic” influence. Once a gene has led to the manufacture of a specific protein, that protein is on its own.

This also avoids the misunderstanding that genes are intrinsically “for” some complicated illness or highly complex behavior.

And surely it is not that hard to comprehend that building a particular kind of body, with wings or fins or hands, has an effect on behavior. And that different versions of such genes (alleles) lead to variable tendencies in behavior. In the case of humans, having a hand that is capable of making a fist, and glands that are capable of producing adrenalin, clearly means that genes affect behavior. But genes also produce a big brain that is capable of learning, meaning genes also free us from being “puppets of our genes”.

And of course, variations in the way adrenalin is processed at the level of the cell can lead to variation in behavior. One version of a receptor for adrenalin in one type of brain cell may allow more adrenalin to enter a cell than other versions of that receptor. Thus more adrenalin flows through the central nervous system of one organism than happens for its compatriots. Thus a single gene that builds that cell receptor can influence behavior. But how that will play out depends on a multitude of variables at every level above that single gene.

Here we hit a fairly obvious (though easily overlooked, even by researchers) next level of influence. One might be tempted to assume that increased adrenalin levels will lead to increased aggressive behavior. But that would depend on a multitude of variables external to the adrenal system. To start from the most external: the way the person’s particular culture deals with aggression in general will affect a person’s behavior. If they are born in a culture which (at the time) values disciplined athleticism, a hot-head might find themselves getting beaten up so often that they become passive and withdrawn; in a more passive culture, they might become a tyrant. The person’s physical characteristics — a strong or weak body, for example — will obviously have a profound effect too; as will their propensity for learning and self control. The other characteristics and tendencies of the person’s nervous system; their early childhood experiences; even their experiences while still in the womb will all affect development and behavior.

And this des not even begin to consider the multitude of environmental triggers that switch genes on and off, and which Lipton seems to think scientists instantly forget about once they have discovered them.

There is nothing mysterious about this. It is all good old clunky, materialist, reductionist science, and it explains why no credible scientist today would say that “genes are fate” or that we are “puppets of our genes”, as Lipton claims mainstream scientists do. A case could be made that a particular scientist has over-emphasized the role of genes in a specific instance, (James Watson has been credibly accused of this — accused by other other geneticists), but such debate occurs well within the bounds of mainstream science. If Lipton’s teachings were the only thing standing between us and genetic determinsim, we would really be in a pickle.

Just how extreme Lipton’s environmental determinism is will become clearer in subsequent posts….. but not the next one, because that will deal with another foundational error that needs to be dealt with separately. (It concerns Lipton conflating life itself with consciousness, and thereby missing one of the most important, and perhaps genuinely spiritual, questions about the nature of human existence.)

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Modern esoteric spirituality is built on Christian foundations laid by Descartes

November 13, 2017

It is common for spiritual teachers to rant against “materialist reductionist science”, that reduces living beings to mere machines. Those of an academic bent usually trace the origins of this “dogma” back to the age of Newton and Descartes, and see modern science, especially biology, as simply an extension of Descartes’ mechanistic philosophy from the mid 1600s.

Their criticisms of Descartes — that he saw animals as machines and simply ignored basic questions about what life is and how complex animals arose — are in fact well justified. Or at least, well justified in relation to Descartes. They are in fact identical to the objections that were raised against Descartes in 1650. But modern biology is not simply an extension of Descartes’ ideas. the history of science shows, in fact, that modern biology developed not only the genuine advances that Descartes made (such as conceiving of living creatures as self contained ‘mechanical’ systems), but also took on and developed ideas from his most trenchant critics.

Here we could broadly mention alchemy as holding a door open to a conception of chemistry wherein atoms have dynamic qualities (in contrast to Descartes’ clunky “billiard ball” conception of atoms); and vitalism which treated the nature of life itself as an issue worthy of serious inquiry. (Descartes ignored this issue almost entirely.)
Today, we would consider vitalism as a ‘spiritual’ idea, but for many centuries, the possibility of a ‘life force’ (similar to the recently discovered electricity and magnetism) was scientifically plausible and in need of serious investigation. Spiritual teachers astutely ignore the centuries of hard scientific labor that were devoted to investigating this question.

This is ironic, as this is an area where ‘spiritual’ (and even supernatural) ideas made important contributions to scientific progress. The story belongs as much to the history of spirituality as to the history of science. But by refusing to acknowledge the way that scientific progress transformed vague ideas into testable hypotheses and eventually into working, factual parts of scientific theory, spiritual teachers also ignore the contributions to science of some of their greatest heroes.

(Paracelsus, for example, predated Descartes, but had a more modern and more empirical approach to chemistry than Descartes. The famous alchemist van Helmont seriously investigated vitalism, and speculated that chemical reactions may underlie all of life. Both made considerable contributions to science, but as science built on and surpassed the ideas they contributed, this contribution is erased from spiritual history. Paracelsus, in fact, was more empirical than many of his modern fans in alternative medicine, having argued that miners’ lung diseases were caused by silica dust, rather than by mountain demons. His view that the metabolic processes of the human body are akin to what happens in an alchemist’s lab, is far more modern than the ideas of Louise Hay or Bruce Lipton.)

Authoritarian Christianity

Even more ironic is that by denying both the history of science and spirituality’s contribution to it, modern spirituality has failed to develop beyond the *foundations* laid by Descartes, in the religious topography of the 17th century. To a very large degree, modern spirituality is Cartesian, not only in its dualistic ideas about the ‘body/mind split’ (borrowed directly from Descartes), but also its conception of chemistry as consisting of the study of billiard ball-like atoms crashing off each other. (It is against this backdrop, and not that of modern chemistry that the excitement among spiritual teachers about quantum physics is set.)

It might seem odd to call this materialist atomism ‘deeply Christian’, but it plays directly into the idea that living creatures cannot arise “merely by random chance”, and that they need some higher power to organize them, or boss them about. The authoritarian power structure implicit in Church theology was also implicit in Descartes’ scientific conception.

This power structure is a little more difficult to recognize in modern esoteric spirituality, but it is certainly there. I’ve covered the way Neale Donald Walsch smuggles it into his sales pitch, and in the way that James Arthur Ray deliberately presented himself as a god-like authority.

It’s not as malicious as in the Church, but it’s good marketing practice to present yourself as an authority, and use it to trigger instinctive submissive behaviors.

Descartes

Rene Descartes was born in 1596 and died in 1650. He was a brilliant mathematician as well as brilliant and influential philosopher and ‘scientific’ researcher. He appears to have been rather vain, arrogant and extremely ambitious. (It was probably these qualities that led to his demise. He accepted a position as tutor to a Swedish princess and moved to Sweden. Unfortunately she wanted her classes at 5 am. Having to get up so early was too much for the habitual late riser, and he died.

As a young man, Descartes had written a vast philosophical text, his Treatise on the World, but decided not to publish it when he got news of the condemnation of Galileo in 1633, clearly fearing the same fate for himself. Rather than abandoning his aim of developing an all-embracing materialistic worldview, it appears he added two more goals: casting his philosophy in a form that would protect him from heresy charges, and to reinvent Christian philosophy in a form that would prevent the Church from rejecting the benefits of progress. In other words, protecting himself from the Church, and the Church from itself. (Bertrand Russell found reason to accept Descartes’ proclamations of faith as genuine.)

The result was a philosophical system that Robert Boyle later termed the “Mechanical Philosophy”. All living creatures, according to Descartes are machines — ‘earthen machines’ in his terminology.

I should like you to consider that these functions (including passion, memory, and imagination) follow from the mere arrangement of the machine’s organs every bit as naturally as the movements of a clock or other automaton follow from the arrangement of its counter-weights and wheels. (Descartes, Treatise on Man, p.108, quoted by Wikipedia)

By this measure, the difference between a clock and a dog is simply a degree of complexity. Pull out the works of a clock, and it stops working; same with a dog. Death is just stopping working. Life, in the case of an animal, is qualitatively no different from the ticking of a clock.

Humans are also earthen machines, but, unlike animals, we also have a rational, immortal soul. This soul looks out through the eyes, and is confronted by the soulless alien landscape of the world.

The soul is also immaterial. This throws up the problem of how it can influence the physical body. Descartes’ solution was the same one that has been tried by spiritual folk ever since: he declared a part of the brain as ‘the seat of the soul’.

According to Descartes’ reasoning, this is the pineal gland. This singular structure, unique, he thought, among the otherwise paired structures of the brain, sits between the hemispheres, held in place by fine threads. Thus the pineal is uniquely positioned to vibrate and dance to the winds of the spirit, like a spider web responding to a gentle breeze. The vital fluids in the brain can be directed by the pineal down the various pipes and tubules, to activate the levers and pulleys of the gross anatomy. Only humans have this structure, Descartes believed, and so only the human body can be moved by the soul. And only humans are truly alive — life meaning consciousness; meaning life is uniquely a soul property.

(This belief, incidentally, about the pineal as the seat of the soul was picked up by esoteric folks, and eventually made its way into Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy of the late 19th Century. Here it was associated with the 6th Chakra, an idea itself lifted from Hindu and Yogic philosophy, also known as the Third Eye. The association has become part of the furniture of modern esoteric ideas.)

Unfortunately for Descartes, studies by subsequent anatomists found that the pineal is not supported by threads at all. And many animals including mammals and birds and some reptiles also have a pineal gland. (By a quirk of evolutionary history, in some reptiles, including salamanders, a homologue of the pineal gland is indeed light sensitive — a genuine ‘Third Eye’.)

By separating soul and body like this, Descartes was probably hoping to hold the door open for the study of anatomy, having theologically fenced off a special place for the human soul in a realm impenetrable to the materialistic sciences.

Banishing God, founding science

However, as if often (rightly) pointed out by spiritual folk, this effectively banished the soul from nature, and left no role for God to play in the every day running of the world. God for Descartes had merely created everything, and effectively wound up animals and set them ticking along randomly, while He sat back and watched idly, with nothing else to do. It was only a matter of time before followers of Descartes simply removed God and the soul altogether. The Cartesian system functioned just as well, if not better, without God.

This is often assumed by spiritual teachers to be the foundational moment of modern science (especially biology). Scientists, they believe, simply continued from that point, studying the animal-machines in ever greater detail, and dogmatically refusing to ask where the complexity and diversity of the natural world came from, and denying the very existence of life itself.

Spiritual teachers have looked at this fossilized shell of a worldview with the soul — and mystery and wonder — driven out of it, and simply did the opposite. Instead of driving out the soul, they envisioned the soul descending into nature, and into the bodies of animals and trees, and into the whole of nature itself. This is certainly more aesthetically and emotionally pleasing; and also keeps certain paths of inquiry into nature open, that were closed to Descartes.

But by assuming that modern science is built largely upon this watershed moment, modern spiritual folk have missed not only important aspects of modern science, but also missed out on the scientific ideas of the Romantics. This late 18th and early 19th century movement (primarily in Germany) was not only profoundly spiritual, but also a powerful philosophical reaction against the materialism of the Newtonian (and Cartesian) worldviews.

Rather than seeing soul as alien to nature, the Romantics, especially Schelling and Goethe, saw the soul as a product of nature, and the inner life of the soul as a reflection of nature. Artistic genius was a necessary tool for the scientist to use in conceiving of nature; capable of creatively drawing truths of nature out of the inner world.

Much ranting and hot air could be spent on this idea, and its success could be deemed as limited, but it influenced the work of Alexander von Humboldt, a truly great scientist, whose methodology involved drawing on as many methods of investigation as possible, and using them to conceive of nature as a unified whole.

Humboldt in turn profoundly influenced the young Darwin, who read Humboldt during his voyage in The Beagle, and said he learned to see nature through Humboldt’s eyes. this approach, it has been convincingly argued, helped Darwin envision the unity of nature, and the possibility that all life forms are interrelated.

With one blow, Darwin demolished the idea that humans are somehow alien to nature, or not of this world; set atop an earthly hierarchy and granted dominion over nature by tyrannical God.

Why is it so normal for people of a spiritual or mystical bent to find Darwin’s extraordinary discovery of the transcendent unity of life such an abhorrent idea?

I can only trace it back to having inherited an implicitly Christian implicitly hierarchical, implicitly authoritarian worldview from Descartes.

Posted by Yakaru