Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated With Facts: Part 47 (Lipton gets wrong spiritual ideas wrong again)

January 19, 2019

I really do have some posts on other subjects in the works which will be up “soon”. I just noticed that this post is my 200th post here. It is also, I’m a little embarrassed to note, the 47th on Bruce Lipton. In my defense I can note there is no other critical coverage of this dangerous quack beyond the occasional single post from skeptics who rarely get past a cursory glance and statement that his work is flawed, before backing away from it slowly and then bolting for the exit.

Again, we will only get through a couple of sentences today. Unfortunately Lipton gets himself in such a muddle that I will have to step in and explain the idea that I think he is trying to explain, before turning to the string of bizarre and baffling statements he makes on the issue.

Lipton wants to say that in the 17th Century, Descartes declared that the body is a machine. Humans have a soul that exists in a divine realm that is entirely non-material. Animals, having no soul, are mere machines, and nature is a realm that is utterly separate and alien to the divine. Similarly, Newton’s theory of universal gravitation conclusively demolished the old Aristotelian idea that the heavens were governed by different laws than those on earth. Such explanations made it possible to conceive of a universe where God played no active role in the day to day running of things. They had effectively banished God, or ‘the divine’ from nature.

From there it was but a small step to deny the existence of God or any divine or supernatural forces altogether.

It was not that the existence of divine beings or ‘supernatural’ forces had been disproven by science, but rather, there was simply no place for them in the world conception wrought by Descartes and Newton. The instruments of science are simply too blunt, it is argued, to detect the presence of anything divine.

That is what Lipton, as far as I can tell, has been trying to say.

And now, to his attempt to say it. I will quote the next passage, and then go over it step by step by misstep by pole-vault from the back of a motorbike into toxic sludge.

The non-physical mind envisioned by Descartes was popularly defined as the “Ghost in the Machine” by Gilbert Ryle fifty years ago in his book The Concept of Mind. [Ryle 1949] Traditional bio-medicine, whose science is based on a Newtonian matter-only universe, embraced Descartes’ separation of mind and body. Medically speaking, it would be far easier to fix a mechanical body without having to deal with its meddling “ghost.”

Lipton displays a truly remarkable gift for conciseness here. Few people — and I mean this sincerely — could manage to pack so much error and confused misunderstanding into such a tightly worded statement.

But Lipton is also doing something really weird here. Ryle did indeed publish The Concept of Mind in 1949, and did indeed coin the term “ghost in the machine” to describe Descartes’ conception of the soul. But Ryle argued that this conception was wrong. In other words, that mind and body are not separate. And medical science seems, in general, to have agreed. In other words, medical science did not “embrace Descartes’ separation of mind and body” as Lipton weirdly claims. And nor, as Lipton implies, did Ryle.

Having wrongly stated that medical science embraced Descartes’ ghost in the machine, in the very next sentence, he says medical science rejected it.

I’m tempted to write “Go figure”, but that would be a lazy capitulation. Instead, I will make the assertion that Lipton is simply babbling randomly about half-remembered ideas that he has picked up from somewhere.

Then he accuses medical science of rejecting this idea (which they also embrace) purely out of laziness and dogma. Coming from a lazy, dogmatic and irresponsible numbskull like Dr Lipton, this is really a bit much.

The second sentence:

Traditional bio-medicine, whose science is based on a Newtonian matter-only universe…

We can calmly note here:

Factual error #1: the ridiculous term “traditional bio-medicine” is meant sarcastically by Lipton — he means to imply it is based on dogmatism. (Of course, if it really was based on tradition, like Chinese Medicine, he would be praising it.)

Factual error #2: Newtonian physics was not “matter only”; at least not in the sense Lipton means it. It was Descartes, not Newton, who had a theory of matter that saw atoms as being kind of “matter only”, like billiard balls cannoning randomly off each other; all reactions depending on the dynamics of direct contact. But Newtonian gravitation occurs without any need for direct contact of the kind prescribed by Descartes. For this reason , this ‘spooky action at a distance’ was roundly rejected by adherents of Descartes’ physics.

Moreover, in what ways does Lipton think modern medicine is “based” on Newtonian physics? Does he mean medicine is based on gravity? I’d count that as a plus, personally. Does Lipton object to the wave theory of light, or the use of calculus? (Or maybe the reflecting telescope has upset him — who knows?)

Newton was also a fanatical Christian, at least in private, and thought that God intervenes in the universe to give the solar system a push or a knock when it starts to get out of whack. In short, Newton used a ‘God-of-the-gaps’ to take care of the anomalies in his calculations for planetary movements. I doubt Lipton would object this approach, given how often he uses it himself.

And the sentence isn’t finished yet:

…[traditional bio-medicine…] embraced Descartes’ separation of mind and body.

This is especially stupid from Lipton. Firstly, Descartes’ did not talk about ‘mind’, but rather, a disembodied, non-material and immortal *soul*. Descartes designed his entire system to accord with Catholic philosophy, while also trying to keep a door open to science in a manner that wouldn’t get him burned at the stake. I really don’t think Lipton means to imply that modern medicine believes that the soul is immortal. But this is what he has wound up saying.

Medically speaking, it would be far easier to fix a mechanical body without having to deal with its meddling “ghost.”

Does he mean that medicine accepted the existence of this ghost and then decided to ignore it? He clearly hasn’t bothered to check anything or even to try to get his story straight before starting to babble.

All I can do here is just repeat that science did not embrace Descartes’ dualism; rather it demolished it. And quite swiftly. Descartes said that the pineal gland is supported by fine threads, which enable to buzz and vibrate according to the ‘winds of the spirit’, a little, perhaps, like a spider in the middle of its web swaying in the breeze. But anatomical studies had already demonstrated that the anatomy of the pineal is not like that at all. Descartes just hadn’t been keeping up with the research, and was a poor anatomist himself.

Likewise, Descartes said only humans have a pineal and therefore only humans have a soul. Had he looked a little more carefully he would have found what others swiftly detected: many animals have a pineal gland.

Furthermore, the conception of billiard-ball-like atoms cannoning randomly off each other was quickly supplanted by the foundational ideas of modern chemistry. Atoms were found to be not inert and reactive as Descartes imagined, but possessing forces and properties of their own — an idea whose origins could be found in alchemy.

It is in fact Lipton who has adopted not only the mind/body split inherited from Descartes, but even the atomic theory of Descartes, that was never widely accepted, and was swiftly rendered untenable by science at least 300 years ago.

Comments welcome, but please try to address the issues raised in the article!

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