Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated With Facts: Part 30 (The attack on modern medicine begins)

February 13, 2018

Lipton is going to use quantum physics (or what he thinks is quantum physics) to attack modern medicine (or what he thinks is modern medicine), which he thinks is based on Newtonian physics (or what he thinks is Newtonian physics).

His version of history has physicists in the early 20th century opening their minds to a new universe with the advent of quantum physics (which he wrongly equates with relativity theory); while all biologists (except for him) continue blindly along the same track that Newton supposedly set them on 350 years ago.

His attack on modern medicine is going to be extremely stupid and, unfortunately, extremely dangerous.

Worst of all, Lipton will be tapping into the bizarre, often fanatical loathing many spiritual people have for modern medicine. Many such people will gleefully cite Lipton’s Ph.D status, but absolutely none of them — literally none — will ever explain exactly what Lipton’s ideas are. This is, of course, because none of them have ever been able to make head or tail of anything Lipton says, apart from “I have a PhD.”

The attack begins:

The awareness that such profoundly different mechanics control the structure and behavior of matter should have offered biomedicine new insights into understanding health and disease.

Lipton seems completely unaware that medical technology already uses quantum physics in medical imaging. This has revolutionized the way many diseases are both diagnosed and treated. I don’t know why he hasn’t noticed this.

He has mentioned previously that a physics professor in 1893 had arrogantly said that physics was nearly complete. Had he read a bit more widely than just Gary Zukav, he might have learned that the first discovery that woke physicists from such complacency was the discovery of X-rays in 1895. X-rays were of little practical consequence to physics, but the resulting technology had a vast impact on medicine. Does Lipton really not know this, or has he just failed to think long enough about it?

…even after the discoveries of quantum physics, biologists and medical students continue to be trained to view the body only as a physical machine that operates in accordance with Newtonian principles.

There are a lot of assumptions packed into that; all of them wrong. As this kind of claim is extremely popular among spiritual folk, I will try to unpack at least part of it.

The idea that medical practitioners treat the body as a machine is widespread among spiritual people. There is some real historical background for this, but I am not sure where Lipton got the idea of blaming Newton for it.

The ‘mechanical philosophy’ of Rene Descartes did indeed see all living organisms (except humans) quite literally as machines. Although Descartes granted humans a soul, (making them machine-body + soul), some of his followers later discarded it and saw humans as mere machines.

For this they were roundly criticized. Apart from being just intuitively repellent, the ‘mechanical philosophy’ didn’t even attempt to address the question that Descartes’ contemporaries were beginning to seriously posit: What exactly is life?

From the 17th to the 19th century it was quite reasonable to suspect that life itself might be the product of a life force, similar to the newly discovered forces of magnetism or electricity. Vitalism, as this view came to be called, was eventually discarded, not because it didn’t fit with “mechanistic dogma”, but because the concept failed to produce any useful or meaningful results.

(It is always worth noting that not only was the vitalism, so beloved of spiritual folk discarded, but so too were thousands upon thousands of mechanistic ideas discarded for the same reason. There was no witch hunt in science against non-mechanistic ideas.)

Furthermore, it was never common in biology to consider the body as a machine in such crass terms, and the mechanical philosophy remained a relative outlier from the time of its inception.

Descartes’ work did, however, lead to significant advances in the study of anatomy. It was the first time that the body had been conceived of as a largely self-contained, autonomously functioning purely physical system, acted upon by naturalistic forces rather than supernatural ones.

As it happened, this approach eventually combined very nicely with an idea from alchemy, conceived of by Paracelsus 150 years before Descartes, which conceived of the metabolism as being something like an alchemist’s laboratory. This idea would have seemed alien and mystical to Descartes, but it is closer to modern biochemistry than the clunky mechanical physics that Descartes believed in.

Oddly (or rather, stupidly), Lipton seems to be ascribing Descartes’ mechanical philosophy to Newton. Lipton has gotten this completely wrong.

Descartes thought particles interact only by bouncing off each other; the various actions and reactions of chemicals being caused by the odd shapes of the particles. The particles themselves were inert. It is inconceivable that such ball-bearing-like atoms (in Lipton’s terminology) could organize themselves into complex forms.

Descartes had, therefore, postulated that the whole universe had been created and set in motion by a (ultimately Platonic) demiurge (whom he identified as the Christian God). All particles are simply clunking and cannoning their way about, having been wound up like a clock by God.

(It is true that some of Descartes’ later followers excluded the ‘god’ part of this equation, but came up with no alternative answer about how it all started.)

Newton’s universal law of gravitation, on the other hand, had gravity acting at a distance, without contact. This disturbed those enamored of the mechanical philosophy, and has baffled plenty of others since; but the math worked.

Thus, it was not quantum physics but Newtonian physics that contradicted, and eventually overturned the ‘mechanical philosophy’.

In any case it is this the “ball-bearing universe” of Descartes that Lipton thinks biologists believe in. But it was never widely held by scientists — not even in the 1600s, to say nothing of today.

Furthermore, the “ball-bearing view of atoms” was ultimately demolished by chemistry long before quantum physics. In particular, the notion of atoms being dynamic substances, capable of combining to make new substances, is an idea originating in alchemy. Chemistry, of course, developed out of alchemy, with alchemist-chemists like Robert Boyle freely considering, testing, and rejecting or transforming its mystical, fanciful and speculative ideas.

But where biology discarded the ball-bearing model of atoms, Lipton and many spiritual believers today are still using it!

They still consider it baffling how atoms can organize themselves into an orderly fashion complex enough to embody life. (This is exactly the objection that was justifiably leveled against Descartes in 1650.) It can’t just be random chance, they implore. There must be a higher organizing principle.

And indeed there is — it’s called the laws of physics and chemistry.

Modern science, including biology and medicine, happily accepted ideas from alchemy where these bore fruit. Spiritual believers and alt med practitioners who attack science as “materialistic” and “mechanistic” have instead clung to the original ideas like those of Paracelsus, and refused to accept that some of these were adopted and developed by science. 

It is weird to see people demanding that science consider ideas that science has in fact already considered, thoroughly investigated and in many cases even adopted. It is even weirder to see the same people denying that the original ideas that appear so spiritual today did in fact make important contributions to science and human well being.

Such people complain about biologists not keeping up with quantum physics, but they haven’t yet made it out of the 1600s thhemselves.


  1. Indeed Yakaru, why do so many people buy crap that was so long ago disproved, debunked and shown to be totally wishful shit?
    Lettersquash and I actually began exchange after such an encounter.
    You had posted about just such a concern and one of my examples stirred protective emotions in him which led to polite debate which ended is us both being glad that we had discussed it and got to know each other a bit. each respecting the valid thoughts of the other.
    It’s true, I’ve been caught myself in the past, commenting as if with shown support when I had not even actually examined the evidence that supported my foe’s attitudes.
    Are we not all guilty?
    Who keeps up with the findings of science as well or currently as they would like to believe?
    Not I.
    Yet … some folks, like this fucking Lipton, don’t have nearly the class of someone like Lettersquash, can’t wish to exchange and learn with someone who appears to think differently.

    Thanks Yakaru,
    Thanks Lettersquash,
    I have gained so much satisfaction from our digital, factual and philosophical exchanges.
    All the best,

  2. I’m happy to read all of that, Woody…

    Actually I was aware of using an idea in the above post that was sparked by an exchange with Lettersquash — that it wasn’t just spiritual ideas that were rejected by science in the past, but also materialistic ideas; many more of those in fact.


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