Motivational Biology with Dr Bruce Lipton, Cancer QuackNovember 25, 2012
Commenters on my previous posts about Dr Bruce Lipton have often complained that the material I selected was not a representative sample of his ideas. So by “popular demand” I have decided to review a lecture which was kindly suggested by one such commenter. The lecture goes for two and a half hours, and this post will only cover the first hour of it.
Having watched it, I am not surprised that those who previously commented here in favor of Lipton, felt that they had really received something of substance from him. Lipton does seem to have a genuine desire to share his ideas with people. He doesn’t merely push a string of products at his audience in the manner that has become standard for New Age teachers. He comes across as a friendly, enthusiastic chap who I’m sure bears no ill will to anyone. This is not about judging his character or his personal beliefs, nor about idly “contemplating the interface between science and spirituality”. Lipton claims, seriously and scientifically, to have a cure for cancer. I take that claim seriously, and will examine it in relation to the science he claims supports it.
Lipton presents some reasonably complicated cell biology, and as far as it went, I think he did a fair job of explaining a couple of basic concepts. Unfortunately, these basic concepts do not support his central argument. I expect his fans may be a little surprised when I present his basic concepts stripped of the scaffolding that he surrounded them with in the lecture.
Obviously, I am not impressed with what Lipton offers his audience, but I intend to present his views as fairly and accurately as I can. Comments are open for anyone who wishes to correct any errors they feel I have made in my presentation of his ideas.
I am going to leap straight into the lecture at about the one hour point, quote Lipton summing up his central thesis, and then retrace the steps he used to get there.
The New Biology: Where Mind and Matter Meet by Bruce Lipton Ph.D
It’s your belief about the environment that adjusts your physiology. And your beliefs become most important because your beliefs are connected to your genes.
And the expression* that you have is related to what you have going on in your head. Think about it. Maybe think about a time when you were really sick and you said “Oh I can’t get up” and then somebody said “Look you gotta come to work right now, you gotta do something. You have to change your belief.”
What happened? You changed your belief, you got up, you got dressed and you did the job just fine, until you were able to go home and say “I think I can go home and be sick now again.”
And so the issue is this, that the point is the truth: perception selects genes, but perceptions may not always be right. And therefore perceptions by definition are called beliefs. And therefore when I put that back into the equation, you are not controlled by genes, you’re controlled by belief.
(*I guess I may as well point out that he is completely misusing the term gene expression. It doesn’t refer to your day to day feelings or activities. He talks about “expression” all the way through the lecture without ever telling the audience what it means.)
So that should give an impression of the kind of terrain we are about to head into. In order to understand how Lipton climbed that mountain I will focus on Lipton’s teachings about the nature of cells; about the role of DNA in both human and cell behavior; and finally about the nature and effects of perception, as defined by Lipton.
The first core concept that I will deal with, is the idea that each cell in the human body shares the same attributes (functions and organs/organelles) with the individual cells in our body. In other words, or rather in my words….
1. “The cell is a microcosm of the human body”
With all the magnificent machinery that we call the human body, there is no new function that’s present in your human body that’s not already present in every single cell. You have a digestive system, a respiratory system, etc, so does a cell.
He doesn’t go into detail about this, but does offer a long explanation about proteins and the way they react to chemical “switches”, by changing their structure. I thought he did quite a nice job of explaining all this. But then he suddenly, and without any good reason decides that this change in structure can be defined as behavior. He implies a continuum from this kind of “behavior” to our behavior. So the statement that your beliefs affect your behavior is suddenly deemed to mean that your beliefs affect the “behavior” of your cells as well. One might argue for specific scenarios where such an explanation might hold, but he does not suggest any such scenarios, nor provide any other evidence beyond this blunt assertion.
He also explains that the string of amino acids which determine protein structure, could be said to form the spine of the protein.
This is of course another metaphor which he attempts to force into reality by the power of assertion.
Then he pushes things even further: humans live in communities; and in biology, multicellular organisms (including humans) are sometimes described as “colonies of cells”. There is a good biological basis for describing a human as a colony of cells, but there is no reason at all to believe that cells share the same emotional dramas as humans do in their communal existence. But Lipton’s reasoning takes him there and, completely without reason or even any attempt at a justification, suddenly leads him to deduce the cause of cancer:
If a cell doesn’t listen to the community’s voice, then the cell is not part of the community. cancer cells have withdrawn from the community. They’re still in there but they’re not listening to the voice of the community. They’re doing their own thing. Why would some cells get out of the community? And the answer is why are people homeless? Why are people out of work, or why are people out of work or why are people suffering? If their community is not supporting them at some point the cells recognize at some point “My God what do I want to be in this for?” So there’s a point that cancer starts to recognize as a result of break down of the community.
Again, this is not a simplification to explain a carefully developed theory grounded in cell biology. This IS the theory. It’s an assertion which has simply been presented as fact.
He spends quite some time considering the “command center” of the cell. He quotes a journal article which uses that term, but instead of acknowledging that the term is a metaphor, he makes it look as if biologists have in fact been searching for an actual “brain of the cell”. As if this idea of the cell as microcosm of the individual is a common concept in biology. It isn’t. He’s borrowed the idea from mystical teachings. But that doesn’t stop him spending ages and ages explaining why science has supposedly reached the conclusion that the cell nucleus must be the “brain of the cell”.
Science, he notes, is male dominated; men think with their testes, and that’s why scientists concluded that the cell nucleus, full of genetic material like the testes, must be the “brain of the cell”. The audience laughs, but is of course unaware that science concluded nothing of the sort. Nor does it approach the cell in such an unscientific manner.
Lipton, by the way, thinks that the brain of the cell is the cell membrane. He’s pointed out elsewhere that the word even contains “-brane”. We will come back to this idea of the membrain when we look at perception. Now on to the second core concept.
2. “You’re not controlled by DNA. You’re controlled by environmental signals”
Lipton’s fans have often insisted to me that the above statement is true; that Lipton has done the research and proven it; and that science refuses to accept it.
First, science does not make any such claim, and second, Lipton goes totally overboard in the implications he draws about environmental control of DNA.
Lipton gives, I think, a fairly good description here of the way a stretch of DNA is switched on or off by the action of proteins.
And he is indeed right in saying DNA can’t switch itself on or off by itself — this is standard, normal, mundane science. At least for normal scientists it’s normal science. But for Lipton it’s a chance for his favorite type of switch: the bait and switch. And this is a bit complicated……
Having convinced the audience that scientists believe the nucleus is the brain of the cell, Lipton boldly sets out to disprove that (nonexistent!) proposition. He argues that this can’t possibly be the case, because cells can live for months in a dish after they’ve had their nucleus taken out. He thinks this is a triumph, because, as he explains, if you remove the brain in a human, what happens? Death. But remove the nucleus of a cell, and the cell doesn’t die. Therefore, scientists are wrong when they claim the nucleus — with all that DNA — is the brain of the cell.
The cell can live for two or more months without any genes in it at all. It’s not sitting there, it’s moving around, it’s eating, it’s growing, it’s meeting other cells and communicating with them. It recognizes toxins and avoids toxins. In other words I did not change the behavior in one way whatsoever by taking out all the genes. What does that mean? Think of the logic, what does the logic mean? Can the genes control the brain of the cell, yes or no. (Audience: No!)…
He is very excited about this, but he shouldn’t be, and neither should anyone else. Science doesn’t predict that all chemical reactions will cease as soon as the nucleus is removed. There are many reasons why science doesn’t claim this, including, I guess, the fact that science does not claim that the nucleus is the brain of the cell.
On the other hand, however, if the cell continued to divide after the removal of the nucleus, that would probably cause a bit more interest. Lipton must have been snoozing when the role of the nucleus and DNA in cell division was being explained. This is actually a rather important concept in biology! How did he miss it??????
Having failed to disprove a nonexistent theory, Lipton turns his attention to an even more important non-existent theory: The “Primacy of DNA”.
In 1953 when Watson and Crick found the secret of the DNA code, the hypothesis was made that genes control biology.
I’ve never encountered the term “The Primacy of DNA” in anything I’ve read or heard in biology, but maybe I missed something. But then why is it that all the top items on Google are a bunch of articles in New Age journals?
I do, however, recognize this “DNA>RNA>Protein” sequence and I even know it’s an early model of information flow from genetics. Lipton is right in that this model has been superseded. It is also, apparently, still commonly used, despite causing some confusion. However, the new improved version of this model, does not support Lipton’s views any more than the old model did. Sorry, even if I was capable of going into more detail, this is not the place to attempt to correct Lipton’s errors. The real science described succinctly here on a blog article by Larry Moran, author of a text book on molecular biology.
But just for the record, this is the current model.
The dotted arrows are the new additions. Lipton needs an extra arrow to go from protein back to DNA. There isn’t one. And this absence demonstrates that Lipton’s ideas, especially those presented in the next section, have no basis in biology.
(Please also note that the addition of the dotted arrows refers to very specific exceptions to the rule, not wholesale re-writings of the whole of mammalian physiology. This revision happened while Lipton was still at university. Why is he having his science corrected by a hot-headed blogger with no background in science?)
….So our belief in the primacy of DNA says this. Who you are, what you are, is predetermined in the blueprint, the DNA. So you become a read-out of the DNA.
This also completely and utterly wrong. Biology has not reached any such conclusion, as can be seen by glancing at any field of biology at all. And anyway, the above mentioned “rule” has nothing to do with behavior.
3. “You’re not controlled by environmental signals after all. Instead, you’re controlled by your perceptions”
Having attacked a string of beliefs which science doesn’t hold about the function of DNA, Lipton is ready to move on to his next core belief.
But then that leaves us with the important question, If the genes aren’t controlling the cell, what is controlling the cell?….
His answer is “perception”. I’ve used inverted commas because Lipton means the chemical interactions that take place at the cell membrane. He has relabeled this “perception” because of the way the cell wall can “read” which molecule is present, and either open or close a channel as it approaches.
Again, he describes this complicated process fairly well as far as it goes, but as always, follows it up with vast leaps from one idea to the next without informing his audience that he has stopped talking science. He seems not to perceive the distinction himself.
At this point we enter the realm of Lipton’s cancer quackery, so it is important to follow the line of his thinking, as he starts from normal accepted science and moves through a series of transformations until he arrives at the desired end point: the idea that by changing our beliefs we can can cure cancer.
He does this by a very simple technique: he takes an accepted scientific term, gives a complicated scientific explanation of its meaning, and then pushes that word through a series of redefinitions. Each of these steps is justified by the idea of the cell as a microcosm of the human being — that any attribute a human being has, must also be found in a cell.
So we start with activity at the cell membrane.
You will notice the word “self” appearing in the inside of the “cell-f”, because as we have seen, the cell must also have a self.
…The membrane is like a barrier that separates the outside from the inside because water can’t go through the middle of the membrane and carry information across. So the Self on the inside is separated from the environment on the outside.
Lipton goes through a fairly elaborate description of receptors on the cell membrane. He suggests that we also have receptors: the sense organs. So just as Lipton redefined the term “behavior“, to refer to chemical activity in a cell, now we get the activity of receptors being redefined as “perception”, of course with all the implications involved in human perception.
He has already “established” that cell behavior is not controlled by genes (again, no one ever claimed it was); and now he has “established” that cell behavior is controlled by this process of “perception”. You can probably already see where he’s going with this: that because cell behavior is “controlled by perception” then our behavior must also be controlled by perception.
At this point, he does something startlingly stupid, even by his own standards.
He sets about demonstrating that perception is based on beliefs, and that beliefs can be wrong. His demonstration actually doesn’t establish this at all (he uses maps of the world — don’t ask!) And from all this he draws a string of staggeringly stupid conclusions. That perception is determined entirely by ones belief system; and that “perception” in cells is also entirely determined by the cell’s belief systems; that our mental perceptions-belief-systems hook up directly with the perception-belief-systems of each cell in our body…….
…..and concludes therefore that our belief systems control our _______.
[Fill in the blank]
For me, the obvious answer is “cells” — The belief system controls the cells. Surely that’s the conclusion that any cancer quack would love to reach, isn’t it? Not Dr Bruce. This is the correct answer:
Our belief systems control our DNA.
Of course, this means that our beliefs cause any medical problem we might have of a genetic nature, and likewise our beliefs can heal such problems. This is coming from a man who spends a lot of this lecture bashing mainstream science for supposedly thinking genes “control everything”. Science does not hold such a reductionist, one dimensional and idiotic position. But Lipton does. All he has done is replace a non-existent belief in the primacy of DNA with a vastly more stupid, and sadly very existent and very dangerous belief in the Primacy of Belief.
I honestly have absolutely no idea why Lipton wants to reach that conclusion. He has already said that DNA doesn’t control cell “behavior”, so what in God’s name he is going to make of this I don’t know. I really don’t.
All of this is sunk by the lack of that arrow in the diagram above leading from protein back to DNA. Protein has never been found to transfer information back to DNA and alter it. But on Lipton’s account, this is not only possible for protein, but for beliefs! But these are not just any old beliefs. These beliefs have made a special magical journey. They started out as the simple chemical reactions on a cell membrane, and then they turned into perceptions. From this state they turned magically into beliefs, and rose magically into the brain, or something. Who knows…. We don’t need to know because this is a magical story. And from there they made the great journey back home where they rebuilt the bridge from protein to DNA that was knocked down by the naughty Crick and Watson, and crossed the mighty chasm into back into the cell nucleus….. Where they lived happily ever after.
Or what? Does anyone else have a clue how this is supposed to work? More will be posted on this topic.