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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 6 (Lipton ascribes Darwin’s ideas to Lamarck)

September 23, 2017

I apologize to any readers who don’t want to hear any more about the mad Dr Lipton, but I am going to continue, because this book is a bestseller. For comparison, Richard Dawkins’ book on evolution, The Greatest Show on Earth, is ranked at 54,865 on Amazon’s sales ranking.

Amazon details for The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

Lipton’s 10th anniversary edition of Biology of Belief is ranked spectacularly higher at 3,962.

Amazon details for The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton

As yet no biologist has offered a serious or lengthy critique of Lipton. They are all too busy with Creationists to notice what this one of their own is doing to the public understanding of their field. And Lipton’s readers assume they are getting both straight science from Lipton, and a cure for cancer.

So if biologists won’t take on Lipton, someone has to.

Anyway, we are still in Chapter 1, on p. 41, about one fifth of the way through the book.

Lipton is still talking about Lamarck, and is about to land his audience in the middle of an obtuse discussion about the history of science. Then he will suddenly veer off into a discussion about evolution in microbes.

But first, to Lipton’s pointless discussion of biology in the early 1800s.

Before dealing with Lipton’s ranting, we can inform readers that Lamarck is perhaps unfairly identified exclusively with the idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics. He took the idea for granted, as did many if not most of his colleagues. It is for historians of science to discuss how he came to be associated with the idea, and whether or not the attribution is fair. Lipton’s audience really don’t need to be dragged into this, but Lipton is going there, so we must follow.

Lamarck had a highly complex theory of how new species develop: over many generations, creatures effectively adapt themselves to their environment. Two inherent forces are active: a “complexifying” force which drives physiology to become more refined over many generations; and an “adaptive” force, which causes organs and tissues that are used more regularly to be retained over generations. Those that are rarely used will atrophy and eventually disappear.

Not surprisingly, given the state of biology in the early 1800s, Lamarck posited no physiological mechanisms for these processes.

Now, back to Lipton.

Lamarck’s theory was an early target of the Church.

Factual error.

Neither Lamarck (a Catholic), nor his theory was attacked by the Church.

The notion that humans evolved from lower life forms was denounced as heresy.

Two factual errors.

The Catholic Church has never denounced this as heresy. Lipton has clearly invented this. And Lamarck never specifically addressed human evolution. It was of course Darwin who most famously copped flack for this from the clergy as well as from other scientists. He faced far more opprobrium than Lamarck, and still is even today, from people like Lipton.

Lamarck was also scorned by his fellow scientists who, as creationists, ridiculed his theories.

Misleading. Virtually all scientists (including Lamarck and the young Darwin) were creationists until Darwin published the Origin. And Lamarck was not scorned. This paper notes — “while it is true that Lamarck endorsed the idea of the inheritance of acquired characters and made use of it in his evolutionary theorizing, neither Lamarck nor his contemporaries treated this as Lamarck’s “signature” idea. Certainly he did not claim the idea as his own. Instead, he treated it as commonplace, which it was. He believed it was so transparently obvious that it needed no assemblage of facts or trial by experiment to confirm it.”

A German developmental biologist, August Weismann, helped propel Lamarck into obscurity when he tried to test Lamarck’s theory that organisms pass on survival-oriented traits acquired through their interaction with the environment.

Misleading statement. As we saw in the previous post, August Weismann discovered in 1892 that sex cells are separated off from the rest of the cells in the body very early in embryological development, demonstrating why acquired characteristics are not passed on. (This used to be termed the “Weismann barrier“.) This discovery meant that Lamarckian inheritance was no longer tenable. He did not “try” to test Lamarckism.

In one of Weismann’ s experiments, he cut off the tails of male and female mice and mated them.

Correct!!! Well done, Dr Lipton.

Weismann argued that if Lamarck’s theory were correct, the parents should pass on their tail-less state to future generations.

Factual error.

Weismann was explicitly not testing Lamarck, but rather testing popular claims of “inherited mutilation” — animals being born with missing limbs from an amputee parent. More importantly, this experiment was not the work of Weismann’s that decisively led to the demise of Lamarckism — that was the Weismann barrier. Lipton has not told his readers about this at all, but that is what they need to know about, and he is avoiding it here.

The first generation of mice was born with tails. Weismann repeated the experiment for 21 more generations…

Factual error. Weismann only did it for five generations.

…but not one tail-less mouse was born, leading Weismann to conclude that Lamarck’s notion of inheritance was wrong. But Weismann’s experiment was not a true test of Lamarck’s theory.

Misleading, as noted above.

Lamarck suggested that such evolutionary changes could take “immense periods of time,” according to biographer L. J. Jordanova. In 1984, Jordanova wrote that Lamarck’s theory “rested on” a number of “propositions” including: “…the laws governing living things have produced increasingly complex forms over immense periods of time.” [Jordanova 1984, page 71]

Completely irrelevant.

The Weismann barrier is the issue here. And not merely Weismann’s work on it in 1892, but all the subsequent work done on the issue over the last 125 years as well!

Maybe Lipton will deal with this at some point, but for now we must follow Lipton down this pointless rabbit hole….

Weismann’s five-year experiment…

Factual error. It was five generations. Pure laziness and carelessness.

…was clearly not long enough to test the theory.

Again, Weismann wasn’t testing Lamarck’s hypothetical system for gradual evolution.

An even more fundamental flaw in his experiment is that Lamarck never argued that every change an organism experienced would take hold.

Lipton is still wrong about the experiment, but he is in fact right in saying that Lamarck postulated that only some characteristics are passed on.

Lamarck said organisms hang on to traits (like tails) when they need them to survive.

Factual error.

Lipton is attributing one of Darwin’s key ideas (survival value) to Lamarck. Lamarck did not tie retention of traits to survival value — he would have truly preceded Darwin had he done so. Rather, as noted earlier, Lamarck tied it to the use or non-use of a characteristic.

We can also note here that even if he doesn’t know where it came from, Lipton is approvingly using one of Darwin’s key discoveries.

Although Weismann didn’t think the mice needed their tails, no one asked the mice if they thought their tails were necessary for survival!

Factual error and very silly statement.

Weismann did not assume that the mice didn’t need their tails because he wasn’t testing Lamarckism. But most importantly, Lipton is claiming that the mice retained their tails not because of the Weismann barrier, but because tails have (Darwinian!) survival value.

Despite its obvious flaws, the study of the tail-less mice helped destroy Lamarck’s reputation.

Factual error repeated, and followed by a misrepresentation of science.

What was destroyed — by the discovery of the Weismann barrier and not by this rather frivolous experiment — was the idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics. Lamarck’s reputation is irrelevant to everyone except historians of science…….

…..And irrelevant to all those except anyone who wants to say that it was only Lamarck’s “reputation” that was destroyed by vindictive dogmatic scientists, and not his ideas.

One reason some scientists are taking another look at Lamarck is that evolutionists are reminding us of the invaluable role cooperation plays in sustaining life in the biosphere.

Factual error.

As shown in the previous post, there is nothing “cooperative” about Lamarckism.

Scientists have long noted symbiotic relationships in nature. In Darwin’s Blind Spot [Ryan 2002, page 16], British physician Frank Ryan chronicles a number of such relationships, including a yellow shrimp that gathers food while its partner gobi fish protects it from predators, and a species of hermit crab that carries a pink anemone on top of its shell. “Fish and octopuses like to feed on hermit crabs, but when they approach this species, the anemone shoots out its brilliantly colored tentacles, with their microscopic batteries of poisoned darts, and sting the potential predator, encouraging it to look elsewhere for its meal.” The warrior anemone gets something out of the relationship as well because it eats the crab’s leftover food.

Well and good, but that is routine co-evolution of the kind Darwin himself described in 1859. This is classical Darwinian evolution and clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with Lamarck.

And as biologist Mark Ridley points out in his review of Ryan’s book, “Both symbiotic evolution and nonsymbiotic evolution depend on [Darwinian!] natural selection.” Ridley points out that half of Ryan’s thesis is non-controversial and accords with modern evolutionary theory, and the half spuriously imagines opposition from “Darwinians”.

But today’s understanding of cooperation in nature goes much deeper than the easily observable ones. “Biologists are becoming increasingly aware that animals have coevolved, and continue to coexist, with diverse assemblages of microorganisms that are required for normal health and development,” according to a recent article in Science called “We Get By With A Little Help From Our (Little) Friends.” [Ruby, et al, 2004] The study of these relationships is now a rapidly growing field called “Systems Biology.”

Yup. Non-controversial textbook ‘Darwinian’ stuff, unrelated to Lamarck.

Ironically, in recent decades, we have been taught to wage war against microorganisms with everything from anti-bacterial soap to antibiotics. But that simplistic message ignores the fact that many bacteria are essential to our health. The classic example of how humans get help from microorganisms is the bacteria in our digestive system, which are essential to our survival. Tire bacteria in our stomach and intestinal tract help digest food and also enable the absorption of life-sustaining vitamins. This microbe-human cooperation is the reason that the rampant use of antibiotics is detrimental to our survival. Antibiotics are indiscriminate killers; they kill bacteria that are required for our survival as efficiently as they kill harmful bacteria.

What???? Hello????

What has this got to do with Lamarck and the Weismann barrier?

Recent advances in genome science have revealed an additional mechanism of cooperation among species. Living organisms, it turns out, actually integrate their cellular communities by sharing their genes. It had been thought that genes are passed on only to the progeny of an individual organism through reproduction. Now scientists realize that genes are shared not only among the individual members of a species, but also among members of different species.

Please note, this is all about microorganisms and not about giraffes. Or mice. Or humans. Giraffes, mice and humans do not and cannot exchange genes with one another! Forget the Weismann barrier — this would involve crossing the species barrier, as well as some legal barriers. This seems to have escaped Lipton’s attention.

The sharing of genetic information via gene transfer speeds up evolution since organisms can acquire “learned” experiences from other organisms. [Nitz, et al, 2004; Pennisi 2004; Boucher, et al, 2003; Dutta and Pan, 2002; Gogarten 2003]

Amidst all of this tumult spanning centuries, giraffes, mice, microbes, co-evolution, antibiotics and August Weismann, have Lipton’s readers noticed that Lipton has not even tried to demonstrate how “learned experiences” get transferred to DNA?

And, incidentally, the first paper cited, Nitz, et al, has been retracted as it seems to have misrepresented its findings. The others are highly technical works on microbes. Why is he listing these in the body of a popular work for a lay audience who are completely unfamiliar to the subject? He wouldn’t be trying to impress them with his learning, would he? Or implying that the papers cited support his irrelevant assertions?

Given this sharing of genes, organisms can no longer be seen as disconnected entities; there is no wall between species. Daniel Drell, manager of the Department of Energy’s microbial genome program told Science in (2001 294:1634): “…we can no longer comfortably say what is a species anymore.” [Pennisi 2001]

Again, this is about microbes. Even non-biologists are right to note at this point that microbes have strikingly different anatomies and ways of reproduction from humans and giraffes and mice. Therefore, their evolution will also be strikingly different.

This sharing of information is not an accident.

Sudden switch of language. Lipton has stopped using clear and careful scientific terms and switched to the colloquial again.

It is nature’s method of enhancing the survival of the biosphere.

Lipton has now stepped right back from his teleprompter and is riffing again. After using seven citations to hammer home an obscure and so far utterly irrelevant fact about microbes, Lipton suddenly blurts out that “nature” engages in long term planning.

And then he drops the subject completely and switches to this:

As discussed earlier, genes are physical memories of an organism’s learned experiences.

Factual error.

Genes are no such thing, and Lipton has not even tried to argue that they are, beyond asserting it. Each cell (except red blood cells and gametes) have a complete copy of an organism’s genome. Alterations to switches for DNA (and other highly complex stuff) are recorded locally and not passed to cells in areas which don’t need to record these them. And even if they did, the Weismann barrier would stop the changes from being passed on to off spring.

In any case, let us simply note here that Lipton is claiming that an organism’s “experiences” alter its DNA. This remains — despite a few dozen references to highly technical papers way over the heads of his readers — a blank, unsupported, unargued, unreasoned, assertion.

He claims to have climbed over the Weismann barrier, without even telling his readers of its existence, let alone explaining how he did it.

Part 7 is here.

Posted by Yakaru

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 5 (Lipton & Lamarck vs Darwin)

September 20, 2017

The only people who attack Darwin today are those who understand neither Darwin, nor evolution, nor how science works. For anyone living after about 1920, there is no point in doing it whatsoever. It’s like claiming that modern aerodynamic theory is wrong, and beginning by attacking Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Had there been no Darwin, evolution would still have been discovered and the theory of it would be more or less exactly what it is today.

Anyway, we are about to see Lipton argue that Darwin got evolution wrong. But Lipton doesn’t tell his readers what evolution is — and maybe that’s good, because he doesn’t know what it is himself. Nor does he know the history of the science before or after Darwin, and leads his readers astray. So we need to clear a few things up before proceeding.

It was already clear to scientists before Darwin that some kind of evolution, or transmutation of species, occurred somehow. Comparative anatomy revealed similarities between species that clearly could not have arisen by chance. But scientists didn’t know how such transformations could arise.

Comparison of the skeleton of humans and birds in Pierre Belon’s Natural History of Birds, 1555. (Source)

Uniquely, Darwin (in 1859) proposed a combination of two elements:

(a) natural selection, which acts upon

(b) variable (and heritable) characteristics within a population.

By selecting certain variants better suited to survival and/or reproduction, nature essentially does the same thing as a farmer, who chooses stock for breeding. Darwin was fairly certain he was right about natural selection; and that the selected traits must be heritable. But he didn’t know how new variable traits could arise in the first place.

Today, biologists bluntly state that variation is pretty much exclusively the result of genetic mutation. But this was of course unknown in Darwin’s time. New variants could, hypothetically, arise in so many ways, and Darwin lacked the conclusive evidence for evolution that we have today.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck had supposed 50 years prior to Darwin’s Origin that evolution occurred through the inheritance of ‘acquired characteristics’. So, according to Lamarck, a short-necked giraffe-like creature that stretches its neck will pass on its elongated neck to its offspring, until, some generations later, we get a bona fide giraffe.

Darwin, ever cautious about his claims, even conceded in the sixth edition of the Origin, that such Lamarckian inheritance might indeed occur.

In any case, while natural selection became widely accepted in the decades after Darwin’s death, the cause of variation was still unclear.

Eventually, August Weismann developed idea at the end of the 19th century that clarified the matter. Weismann noticed that the reproductive sex cells (gametes) develop very early in the embryo and are separated off from the cells of the rest of the body (somatic cells). Thus, while somatic cells may eventually come to embody “new” characteristics like larger muscles, the genetic material in sex cells remains stable (bar some shuffling) and do not pass on such new characteristics to offspring. This was the end of Lamarckism.

(We can preempt an objection here: it has recently been discovered that sensitivity to stress (an acquired characteristic) can indeed be passed on “epigenetically” (i.e. not via alterations in DNA sequence) in a few species under certain conditions. This effect disappears after a generation or two, and therefore likewise cannot play any role in evolution. It makes an interesting footnote, perhaps, to the Central Dogma, but that’s all.)

Most importantly for our purposes, however, is that right or wrong, Lipton hasn’t really understood the implications of Lamarck’s ideas. He believes Lamarckian evolution would somehow be “less aggressive” than Darwinian evolution. But inheriting acquired characteristics would clearly lead even more swiftly to the development of even more aggressive and ruthless traits in predators.

Great White Shark (Source)

And even if acquired characteristics could be inherited, Darwinian natural selection would still inevitably act upon the various forms. Indeed it would cull those who had inherited detrimental characteristics. Sick or wounded parents would pass on their wounds and and illnesses to their offspring, who would of course be disadvantaged from the start and be culled far more swiftly without ever knowing what it is like to have a sound body and the chance to run away. The iniquity of the fathers would be visited upon subsequent generations. Life under Lamarckian evolution would be even more nasty brutish and short than it is now. Some acquired characteristics suck. I don’t know why modern fans of Lamarck don’t realize this.

Lamarckian evolution would, however, be far easier to observe and test, than real evolution is. So if it were indeed true, evidence for it would be accessible in the space of one generation…. One fruit fly generation. So where is Lipton’s evidence? We shall see….

When we left Lipton, he was misquoting Darwin. He continues:

Couple that with Darwin’s notion that evolution is random…

Factual error.

Darwin said the exact opposite. That was the whole point of it. Natural selection involves, um, selection, which by definition is not random. It is only genetic mutation that is random. (How can a biologist get that wrong?)

…and you have a world, as poetically described by Tennyson that can be characterized as “red in tooth and claw,” a series of meaningless, bloody battles for survival.

And just what does Lipton think nature is like? Nearly every animal in the wild dies a horrible death. The ones who get shot by a hunter are probably the lucky ones. They don’t starve or freeze or get burned alive in a forest fire, or eaten by their own parent, or contract some horrible disease, or fall in a hole, or get their foot stuck in something and never get free…..

That would all still happen whether there is evolution or not. It has nothing at all to do with Darwin. All Darwin did was manage to make some sense of all this misery.

Evolution Without the Bloody Claws

This is stupid. Is Lipton trying to say that evolution does not really involve bloodshed? So, lions don’t eat gazelles?

Though Darwin is by far the most famous evolutionist, the first scientist to establish evolution as a scientific fact was the distinguished French biologist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck. [Lamarck 1809, 1914, 1963]

Factual error.

Lamarck did not establish evolution as a fact. He got heredity wrong, and missed out natural selection completely.

Even Ernst Mayr, the leading architect of “neo Darwinism,” a modernization of Darwin’s theory that incorporates twentieth-century molecular genetics…..

Correct statement! That’s what Mayr did!

…..concedes that Lamarck was the pioneer.

Factual error.

Mayr said no such thing. See below.

In his classic 1970 book Evolution and the Diversity of Life, [Mayr 1976, page 227] Mayr wrote: “It seems to me Lamarck has a much better claim to be designated the ‘founder of the theory of evolution, as indeed he has by several French historians… he was the first author to devote an entire book primarily to the presentation of a theory of organic evolution. He was the first to present the entire system of animals as a product of evolution.”

The book is correctly cited, and the quotation is correctly reproduced, but Mayr is talking about something totally different — the pre-Darwinian history of the idea of evolution. He was not “conceding” that Lamarck’s ideas supersede those of Darwin or subsequent biologists in any way at all.

Mayr in fact called the previously mentioned August Weismann (and not Lamarck) the “second most notable evolutionary theorist of the 19th century”, so Lipton’s appeal to Mayr’s authority has failed here.

Not only did Lamarck present his theory fifty years before Darwin, he offered a much less harsh theory of the mechanisms of evolution.

Erroneous.

As argued above, a Lamarckian shark would be even more of a killing machine than it already is, if it could inherit the finely developed musculature of its parents.

Lamarck’s theory suggested that evolution was based on an “instructive,” cooperative interaction among organisms and their environment that enables life forms to survive and evolve in a dynamic world….

Factual error.

Lipton needlessly introduces another technical term, an extremely obscure and abstract one, (instructive), without explanation, and then gets it wrong. (You can get an idea of its usage from here. Note that it is merely one descriptive model for one aspect of evolution in the immune system– not at the giraffe level.) Instructive evolution could hypothetically be Lamarckian, but it is not cooperative. A giraffe that stretches its neck to eat high leaves is not cooperating with the trees, but trying to eat them! Nor is it cooperating with other giraffes who can’t reach the leaves, but rather competing with them, in a bitter — and very Darwinian — struggle for survival.

Lipton has missed this aspect of Lamarckism completely.

Interestingly, Lamarck’s hypothesis about the mechanisms of evolution conform to modern cell biologists’ understanding of how immune systems adapt to their environment as described above.

Factual error.

The immune system is not an example of Lamarckian evolution, but rather neo-Darwinian evolution. (This is why it is often mentioned in text books as an example of evolution, and is even conceded as such by Creationists.) The previous link showed that “instructive” evolution is only one possible way of modeling what happens in the immune system anyway — “The same process may be ‘instructive’ from a holistic, ‘selective’ from an atomic perspective.” (This is all highly specialized. I don’t know why Lipton subjects his readers to such highly specialized abstractions for so little gain.)

According to Lipton’s version, a Lamarckian (instructive) system would have a section of DNA using an invading virus as a template to ‘instruct’ itself how to adapt — in the same metaphorical way it could be said (according to Lipton) that a giraffe is being “instructed” by the environment when it stretches its neck to reach leaves. But in the immune system a gene does not stretch itself like a giraffe stretches its neck to fit the environment; rather many DNA segments are spat out as random variables which are selected from, in a quintessentially Darwinian manner.

Or, as one cell biologist puts it:

“By randomly [i.e. not “instructively” or cooperatively, or Lamarckianly] assembling and recombining these DNA segments, immune cells create a vast array of different genes…”

That is Lipton’s own description of this process, quoted in the previous post!

So, did I get him? Is this all over?

Part 6 is here.

Posted by Yakaru

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Speaking ill of a dead cancer quack — Louise Hay

September 12, 2017

Louise Hay, unlike some other cancer quacks, probably did not die of cancer. At least there is no evidence she died of cancer…. No evidence, in fact that she ever even had cancer at any time in her life.

Louise Hay said she had cancer in 1977 or 1978 — she can’t remember which. She said her doctors thought it would kill her. And she said she cured it herself. But she can’t remember the doctors’ names, and can’t remember what stage the cancer was at when she “cured” it.

But Louise Hay had already published her first book, You Can Heal Your Life, in 1976. So she published a book listing a hundred or more diseases from leprosy to cancer, listed a “metaphysical cause” and a “healing affirmation” for each, and then a year or two later, “got cancer” herself. She promptly “cured” it — the perfect vindication of her book — but didn’t keep any documents and can’t remember even the most basic details about it.

Or none of that happened, and she was lying.

Lying, and believed by her customers because people don’t usually lie about that kind of thing. And then watched as millions of customers bought her “cancer cure” and tested it on themselves.

The husband of one such customer left a comment here earlier this year:

Thanks to her unshakable belief in the teachings of this lady, and her refusal to follow a real treatment, which repeatedly drove a wedge into our happy married life, my beloved wife died last month, age 47. I miss her tremendously.

What Hay certainly knew is that cancer sufferers make great customers. They are already emotionally invested in the product’s success, and better still, they need a great deal of support and reassurance from others around them — so they will be promoting the product to these people too. If their cancer by chance goes into remission, then that’s  a success story for Louise Hay.

And if they die, it means they’re not hanging around anymore to warn people that the product doesn’t work. And, if they die, chances are they would not end their life blaming Louise Hay and warning others, but die instead condemning themselves for their failure to rid themselves of negativity as Louise Hay said she did.

Or their death is blamed on something else. As in the case of the cancer quack Bill Henderson who got cancer, and was foolish enough to test his quackery on himself rather than on his customers. And the quackery worked — it was said, but…

The problem was that Bill also had thrombophlebitis, which resulted in blood clots in his legs. According to the physician who was treating Bill, it was a combination of heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary embolism in the wake of a blood transfusion which took his life. It was not due to cancer.

Or, as the oncologist David Gorski explains:

Um, no.

Bill Henderson died of cancer. If he didn’t have cancer, he wouldn’t have needed a blood transfusion, and wouldn’t have had the heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary embolism….When cancer kills, it is usually not the cancer itself that kills, but rather complications caused by the growth of the cancer.

Another deceased cancer quack is Hulda Clark. She got rich off her string of bestsellers, The Cure for All Diseases, The Cure for All Cancers, and, (in case the latter didn’t work), The Cure for All Advanced Cancers. And then she died of an advanced cancer, but not before killing an unknown number of her customers. (Read about one such victim here.)

Another was Jerry Hicks, husband of Esther Hicks, the originator of the “Abraham” channeling and law of attraction scam. He made a career out of telling people that illness is the result of negative thoughts and emotions. A former follower quotes his wife as saying “You could have every deadly disease known to man, within you, today, and if you chose different feeling thoughts tomorrow, they would all leave your body.”

So how did Jerry Hicks react when he discovered he had “manifested” leukemia for himself? He “started immediately with aggressive chemotherapy treatments. Something they have always claimed is that modern medicine of any kind is something that you don’t need.” He explained his hair loss with a convoluted story about a spider bite. Eventually they admitted it was chemo, and spun a spiritual yarn about how going along with the doctor’s recommendation was “the path of least resistance”.

Fear suddenly smells different, when it’s your own.

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 4: (Cells seeking comfort)

September 9, 2017

Welcome back to this series investigating whether or not Bruce Lipton has founded a “new biology” and discovered a cure for cancer, as he claims.

We ended last time with Lipton stating that the organelles within a cell,

are the functional equivalents of the tissues and organs of our own bodies.

This is the central claim of the book. Lipton’s whole case stands or falls, depending on how much is revealed by any parallels between the function of organs in the body, compared to the functions carried out by organelles. Lipton draws tremendous meaning here, but so far he has only asserted this as a fact, and offered nothing to back it up.

He continues.

I taught my students that the biochemical mechanisms employed by cellular organelle systems are essentially the same mechanisms employed by our human organ systems. Even though humans are made up of trillions of cells, I stressed that there is not one “new” function in our bodies that is not already expressed in the single cell.

Lipton is stating that you can draw direct lines from

{Cell Function A} to {Organ Function A};

{Cell Function B} to {Organ Function B}…

…and so on, all the way through the entire list of organ functions.

(He is, by the way, using the biological term “expressed” wrongly. It doesn’t refer to function.)

Each eukaryote (nucleus-containing cell) possesses the functional equivalent of our nervous system, digestive system, respiratory system, excretory system, endocrine system, muscle and skeletal systems, circulatory system, integument (skin), reproductive system and even a primitive immune system, which utilizes a family of antibody-like “ubiquitin” proteins.

Lipton is also using the term eukaryote rather lazily. (It usually refers to a whole organism, not a single cell). But at least it is a good clear thesis for a book. It should be fairly easy to see whether or not these lines of comparison are as distinct and meaningful as Lipton claims.

But Lipton doesn’t get into specifics now. Instead he veers off course again, to introduce two extraordinary new claims that are completely unrelated to the matter at hand. Ok. We must follow him.

I also made it clear to my students that each cell is an intelligent being that can survive on its own….

Whoops!!!! What????

….as scientists demonstrate when they remove individual cells from the body and grow them in a culture.

No. Look, we have to stop here. Being able to “survive on its own” is not a good criterion for ascribing intelligence. A leech can “survive on its own” but is it really useful to use the word “intelligence” to describe its level of functioning? It makes the word meaningless.

Secondly, if a scientist removes a cell from an organism and grows it in a culture, then that cell is very clearly not “surviving on its own”. So even by Lipton’s unacceptably lax definition of intelligence, such a cell is not intelligent, as it is not surviving on its own.

….Is it?

As I knew intuitively when I was a child, these smart cells are imbued with intent and purpose…

Nope. Intuition does not generate scientific facts. This is clearly not science from Lipton.

…they actively seek environments that support their survival…

Again — Lipton fails to distinguish inference from what is actually observed. You can see an an amoeba retracting from an irritant, or moving towards a food source, but that is not to observe it “seeking an environment that supports its survival”.

And anyway, what kind of cells is he talking about here? Does he mean a cell in the human body? Does he mean that when you use a cheek swap, the detached cells scurry off in search on an environment that supports their survival?

…while simultaneously avoiding toxic or hostile ones. Like humans, single cells analyze thousands of stimuli from the microenvironment they inhabit.

Again, Lipton not done anything to show that cells have the capacity to analyze things. He has simply asserted it as fact, and expects the reader to take his word for it.

Through the analysis of this data, cells select appropriate behavioral responses to ensure their survival.

Same again. This is not science.

Single cells are also capable of learning through these environmental experiences

Maybe Lipton is using learning as a metaphor here. That might make this sentence read like a normal sentence from a text-book. If not, he is playing this assertion-as-fact game again, as above.

And why use a fuzzy term like learning, when what he is referring to is a specific type of change in a cell? There are more accurate terms for that — like a change in action potential of neurons for example. But even for brain cells, “learning” would be a bad metaphor for what happens.

and are able to create cellular memories which they pass on to their offspring.

Same again. Is “memory” a metaphor used for the reader’s benefit to avoid using a technical term? Or is he being literal without offering anything to support the assertion that cells have a memory?

Lipton then veers off again into a lengthy and highly technical description of the immune system. He uses this as an example of “learning” and “memory”.

The change in style is so abrupt that I initially (perhaps unfairly) suspected him of plagiarism. I can only assume he is lifting this straight from his own notes or essays.

Note how he suddenly loses his shyness about using technical terms. Where a moment ago he preferred vague metaphorical terms — learning, memory — instead of more accurate terms for specific processes, now he hits his readers with terms like somatic hypermutation, and uses language that carefully distinguishes metaphor from fact; observation from inference.

For example, when a measles virus infects a child, an immature immune cell is called in to create a protective protein antibody against that virus. In the process, the cell must create a new gene to serve as a blueprint in manufacturing the measles antibody protein. The first step in generating a specific measles antibody gene occurs in the nuclei of immature immune cells. Among their genes are a very large number of DNA segments that encode uniquely shaped snippets of proteins. By randomly assembling and recombining these DNA segments, immune cells create a vast array of different genes, each one providing for a uniquely shaped antibody protein. When an immature immune cell produces an antibody protein that is a “close” physical complement to the invading measles virus, that cell will be activated.

Activated cells employ an amazing mechanism called affinity maturation that enables the cell to perfectly “adjust” the final shape of its antibody protein, so that it will become a perfect complement to the invading measles virus. [Li, et al, 2003; Adams, et al, 2003] Using a process called somatic hypermutation, activated immune cells makes hundreds of copies of their original antibody gene. However, each new version of the gene is slightly mutated so that it will encode a slightly different shaped antibody protein. The cell selects the variant gene that makes the best fitting antibody. This selected version of the gene also goes through repeated rounds of somatic hypermutation to further sculpt the shape of the antibody to become a “perfect” physical complement of the measles virus. [Wu, et al, 2003; Blanden and Steele 1998; Diaz and Casali 2002; Gearhart 2002]

The sudden use of quotation marks for “close”, “adjust” and “perfect” correctly indicates metaphorical use. So he can do it. Lipton, having suddenly transformed himself into a highly technical and scientifically adroit writer, continues…

When the sculptured antibody locks on to the virus, it inactivates the invader and marks it for destruction, thus protecting the child from the ravages of measles. The cells retain the genetic “memory” of this antibody, so that in the future if the individual is again exposed to measles, the cells can immediately launch a protective immune response. The new antibody gene can also be passed on to all the cell’s progeny when it divides. In this process, not only did the cell “learn” about the measles virus, it also created a “memory” that will be inherited and propagated by its daughter cells. This amazing feat of genetic engineering is profoundly important because it represents an inherent “intelligence” mechanism by which cells evolve. [Steele, et al,1998]

Wow — more correct use of quotation marks for metaphors. And note the referencing — confirming that this is well established science.

I want to emphasize that point. This is all standard, non-controversial, well established science that is perfectly in accord with the Central Dogma of molecular biology, as well as with modern evolutionary theory — another of Lipton’s bugbears. (The description of random mutation of genes throwing up variants is at point here.)

But instead of returning to the “functional equivalents” of organs and organelles, Lipton starts a new section:

The Origins of Life:

Smart Cells Get Smarter

Oddly, this does not deal with the origin of life, but with the evolution of life after the appearance of the first protozoa, and up to the present day.

It is another barrage of highly technical terms, which we don’t need to quote. Again with nothing controversial or exceptional, apart from Lipton’s insistence on describing increasing complexity as “cells getting smarter”. He presents organisms as colonies of cells (a standard metaphor in biology). Everything is fine until we suddenly hit another speed bump. Inexplicably, he brings Darwin into it.

Unfortunately, we conveniently “forgot” about the cooperation necessary for evolution when Charles Darwin emphasized a radically different theory about the emergence of life.

Factual error #1 Darwin did not speculate about the emergence of life.
Factual error #2 Darwin did not “forget” about cooperation.
Factual error #3 Subsequent scientists didn’t forget about it either.

For Darwin, struggle and violence are not only a part of animal (human) nature

Misleading statement. Darwin did not reduce either human behavior or evolution to mere violence; and he used “struggle” as a metaphor for a process that takes place over very many generations.

but the principal “forces” behind evolutionary advancement.

Factual error.

Darwin’s insights into how natural selection works demolished at a stroke all abstract notions of “advancement” in nature. His great insight was that all species may be related in a tree of life, and not the hierarchy that the Church believed in.

Tree of life

Darwin’s ‘Tree of Life’ (Source)

In the final chapter of The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection, Or, The Preservation Of Favoured Races In The Struggle For Life, Darwin wrote of an inevitable “struggle for life” and that evolution was driven by “the war of nature, from famine and death.”

Lipton quotes Darwin’s entire, scary title with its ponderous Victorian English and portentous use of “favoured races” and “struggle for life”; but then Lipton cuts Darwin off in mid-sentence.

You can count on it:

The First Law of Creationist Arguments:

For every quote used by a Creationist,
there is an equal and opposite rest of the quote.

 

I give you the complete sentence from Darwin:

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows….

It says something quite different to what Lipton is implying.

We can end this post by allowing Darwin to continue, with the closing paragraph of the book that ushered in the greatest paradigm shift in the history of science. (A paradigm shift that Lipton has completely missed out on.)

….There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

(Photo credit: Chris Harshaw)

Part 5 is here.

Posted by Yakaru

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Donald Trump and the Law of Attraction

September 7, 2017

Norman Vincent Peale, get-rich-quick scammer and author of The Power of Positive Thinking, was pastor to Donald Trump when Trump was a young man. Trump held the connection until Peale’s death in 1993 and often spoke warmly of him.

Peale & Trump (sorry for blanking the face, but this is my blog. You can still tell it’s him.) Source

Peale’s philosophy is part of a wider tradition that started in mid 1800s in the US, and perhaps best known today from the 2006 feature-length advertisement, The Secret, and known as the Law of Attraction. It is a form of Christianity obsessed with miracle-working. (It is also at the heart of much alternative medicine — Louise Hay’s cancer quackery lies squarely in this tradition too.)

This has been given some coverage in the media, as affecting his positive thinking, his egotism, and his lying,  but I argue here that Peale’s influence is profound, and may be at least one key to understanding a great deal of Trump’s behavior; especially behavior that is often otherwise inexplicable.

According to some of Peale’s (and Trump’s) Christian critics, Peale

reduced Christianity to a checklist of behaviors that, if followed, would guarantee pragmatic benefits. As he proudly stated, “We have made the mistake of thinking that Christianity is a creed to be recited. On the contrary, it is a power to be tapped”. It was a faith in the effects of faith.

It is indeed as much a program for behavior as it is a philosophy: habits of thought that are to be internalized and acted out until they become second nature to the practitioner. It is unclear whether or not Trump has indeed internalized this program and is acting out a kind of atrophied version of it. But his behavior — including those aspects that commentators find most baffling — is exactly what would be expected from a practitioner.

Trump’s declaration that John McCain is not a war hero “because he got caught” not only shocked but above all baffled nearly everyone. But it would be entirely unsurprising for a practitioner of positive thinking or the law of attraction. (They might not put it as harshly as Trump, but it follows logically that McCain, no doubt by indulging in fearful thoughts, manifested getting captured — there is nothing admirable in that. They would also think he manifested his cancer now too.)

This is what Esther Hicks, an initial creator of The Secret, said recently of Trump, seemingly unaware that Trump was already in this game when she was still selling Amway to her fellow Mormons:

Have you ever listened to Donald Trump talk? Do you ever hear him say “I hope it works out”? What do you hear him say? This is a juggernaut. This is a massively wonderful idea…. This is the best building that’s ever been built… I hire the best people and I get the best results and things always go well for me.” In other words he does not allow himself to talk about what went wrong or may not go right. He’s trained his vibration, and because he’s trained his vibration, things work out well for him, relative to the vibrations that he’s trained… Anybody who has succeeded at anything came to a place of expecting success. So the question is, how do I expect success in a venue where I have never had any experience? …Or how do I expect success when I haven’t been trained in that particular arena? And we say, You train yourself into expecting it… And you only intent is to take an emotional journey that feels really good. And before you know it… you start getting ideas; you start feeling inspiration that’s such perfect timing that when you make those phone calls things line right up. The universe organizes circumstances and events to accommodate you, but you’ve got to line up the energy first, or nothing happens in action that will please you.

Positive thinking is not merely an attitude that leads to success; it is believed to be an actual force that is set in motion by thought. Thought itself is a power that forces certain events to occur.

A central idea to this is the notion that “we create our own reality“: that by setting ourselves inside a bubble of our own positivity, we create a reality for ourselves that consists exclusively of success and happiness.

As one Law of Attraction teacher (apparently a “former high school psychology teacher”) says in an article titled Donald Trump: Law of Attraction Master:

we each get to create our own realities regardless of what anyone else is doing

This teacher, however, says she is not interested in politics, because:

I don’t see my government or my politicians as having any control over me anymore, so how they choose to conduct themselves doesn’t really matter to me.

The teacher continues:

I think we can all learn a thing or two about deliberate creation from Donald Trump.

This bubble must be maintained, however by the positive power of affirmations. Again, Trump’s demand that his staff provide him twice daily with a folder of ‘positive’ media coverage, including shots of him looking powerful, is exactly in accordance with Peale’s teachings. (These days they would call it a vision board.)

As one critic of Peale writes,

The mastery Peale speaks of is not the mastery of skills or tasks, but the mastery of fleeing and avoiding one’s own “negative thoughts.

Trump’s relations to policy advisors often appears bizarre, yet is also exactly what one would expect from a practitioner of Peale’s teachings. If you believe you can create your own reality, then why bother with experts? You can manifest everything you want just as you visualize it. Don’t listen to doubters and critics with their complicated thoughts and weighty fears. Just do it. You know more about ISIS than the generals, believe me.

According to The Art of the Deal, Trump doesn’t plan or prepare at all. He simply walks into a meeting and ad libs. (Note that this book was not written by Trump, but is rather his ghostwriter’s interpretation of Trump’s behavior.) This might seem like a recipe for disaster — as indeed it is, as shown by Trump’s catastrophic business failures. But in the short-term, it is effectively identical to a very confident bluff. This is especially so if others in the room are not expecting anyone to be bluffing, and assume that everyone knows what stakes are and cares about the outcome.

This would leave a practitioner free to focus on simply maintaining dominance on an interpersonal level, without regard for strategy or what gets destroyed in the process. Such a practitioner is also free to come back tomorrow and assume he has a clean slate and nothing that he said yesterday is valid.

Such behavior is also likely to cause great chaos, and chaos suits this kind of actor perfectly. While everyone else is trying to stop everything from going up flames, our protagonist, with his assured belief in his ability to create his own reality can appear like he is the only with any control — unburdened as he is by concerns about long-term consequences. (Needless to say, trusting such an actor with access to and power over the vast resources of the most powerful state on earth is not likely to end well for anyone.)

Such behavior would have political commentators scratching their heads and trying to discern which political strategy the practitioner is using. They may, after eight or ten months throw up their hands and declare there is no strategy. But there is. He is trying to create his own reality.

If Trump did indeed internalize this philosophy, there is every chance it has so much become second nature to him, that he has forgotten the ideas behind it and it has devolved into a set of habitual behaviors.

They might deem the practitioner mentally unstable, but he isn’t. They may ascribe a narcissistic disorder or psychopathy to the practitioner, and they may well be right, as such a psychology is well suited to success in business. But the power of positive thinking very effectively simulates a psychopathic mentality, where empathy is obliterated by the idea that victims have themselves have caused all their own suffering, and shows of sympathy are merely a sop to lame social conventions.

Words are seen as creative powers in themselves. For Peale, this is the power of God, the power of the Word. Put to service in this manner, words become more like blank checks than indicators of a common reality. Lies cease being lies and turn into affirmations of creative intent. To the outside world — to non-believers — this looks very much like lying. Yet it isn’t quite, and the subtle non-verbal clues that usually accompany a lie are confusingly absent. For a comparison, compare Trump’s calm, assertive demeanor while lying, to his son’s quite terrified performance on Fox News. (For a clip of Trump lying, google “Donald Trump”.)

Believing your own myth is not just a danger with this stuff; it becomes an attraction in itself. If you feel like you’re an expert, then you’re an expert. This is especially easy if you don’t really know what expertise looks like, and would have no way of processing expert advice even if you did hear it.

This is perfectly summed up a law of attraction teacher, and star of The Secret, James Arthur Ray. (Ray, convicted of three counts of negligent homicide for cooking his victims to death by confining them in a fake sweat lodge under false pretenses, is also a compulsive and semi-literate twitterer.)

James Arthur Ray: “If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it.”

With this mentality, a practitioner could easily wind up explaining that the person he consults with most on foreign policy is himself. “I have a very good brain.” Such an expert be eminently qualified to simply open his mouth and see what comes out, when pontificating in the knowing tones of the expert, that yes, he would have a deportation force to round up 11 million people; he would punish women who have an abortion; he would allow Saudi Arabia to have nuclear weapons; and yes, indeed he did fire the head of the FBI to stop the Russia investigation…. and so on.

Anyone who has ever met a dedicated fan of The Secret or the law of attraction, will have noticed this person does seem to live in a fantasy world or alternative reality. It is indeed a kind of cult. Unlike, say, Scientology, followers are overtly forbidden social contact with non-believers, but the nature of the belief itself isolates them from those who don’t share their beliefs. This is exacerbated by their fear of those who indulge in “negative” thoughts and emotions. They are indeed encouraged to exclude such negative energy sources from their life. Similarly, critics find these teachings instantly repellent and exclude themselves. Interaction gets swiftly polarized.

A similar dynamic appears with Trump’s followers. For them, what comes across from Trump is not a policy agenda or promise of a better life. What they get is the feeling of winning. and they have won, and will be getting drunk off it for the next four years, if not for the rest of their lives. The media keep waiting for “his base to crack”, but they won’t. Nor are they a “base” — which implies something will be built on top of it. what they are is followers, and though they would not perceive it so, they inhabit Trump’s alternative reality with him, and it’s great in there. They are still winning, exactly as Trump promised, only much better. And they won’t be getting sick of all that winning any time soon.

Posted by Yakaru

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ – Annotated with facts: Part 3 (Metaphor & Projection)

September 3, 2017

Before returning to Lipton’s book — Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here — we will need to clear up a very straight forward practical matter which Lipton is about to inexplicably get wrong.

Metaphors are used to illustrate a complicated idea by comparing it to something simpler or more familiar. They are a standard intellectual tool, not only in science classes and popular books, but even in technical papers.

At some point all metaphors break down. You just have to take care not to extend it too far and transfer too many qualities from the metaphor onto the concept being taught. You might, say, compare the nerves in the body to the electrical wires in a building. That might give an impression of the anatomy, but it would not work for describing how nerves develop in the embryo.

I am completely baffled as to why Lipton, as we will see, gets confused about this.

Anyway, we can plow back into Lipton’s introduction. After a bit more ducking and weaving, Lipton, gives a precis of the book, and offers a challenge to his readers:

Are you ready to use your conscious mind to create a life over-flowing with health, happiness and love without the aid of genetic engineers and without addicting yourself to drugs? Are you ready to consider an alternate reality to that provided by the medical model of the human body as a biochemical machine? There is nothing to buy and there are no policies to take out. It is just a matter of temporarily suspending the archaic beliefs you have acquired from the scientific and media establishments so that you can consider the exciting new awareness offered by leading-edge science.

Let us underline a few key phrases here:

alternate reality — some readers will probably have skipped over that phrase, having failed (understandably) to make sense of it

archaic beliefs — Lipton is indeed asserting that modern biology is really a set of archaic beliefs

scientific and media establishments — this is an odd combination

the medical model of the human body as a biochemical machine — this is the model he will be both portraying for his readers, and attacking. Will he do it fairly?

leading-edge science — how Lipton sees the contents of his book.

And now we get to Chapter 1.

LESSONS FROM THE PETRI DISH: IN PRAISE

OF SMART CELLS AND SMART STUDENTS

Lipton is in the Caribbean, on the island of Montserrat, teaching a university class of students who failed to get into medical school in the US. Before Lipton’s arrival several other lecturers had started and then left and the students had learned little. Lipton needed to teach them a lot in a short time.

Rather than just memorizing facts and figures, I promised they were going to gain an understanding of cells because I would present simple principles on top of simple principles.

This sounds good!

I had been fascinated by the idea that considering cells as “miniature humans” would make it easier to understand their physiology and behavior.

This seems like an unusual choice of metaphor, as humans are incomprehensibly different to cells, in both physiology and behavior. Surely a simpler macro-organism would be better. Maybe a tadpole? And the cells in a human body are of course identical or similar to cells in most other animals so there is clearly no reason why humans should especially be a good model for illustrating them.

As I contemplated a new structure for the course, I got excited. The idea of overlapping cell and human biology rekindled the inspiration for science I had felt as a child.

So he is going to use cells to explain human anatomy and physiology and vice versa — using each as a metaphor for the other. He will be comparing bits of human anatomy with bits of cell anatomy, and explaining them both at the same time. As a pedagogical strategy, this will only work if Lipton can find very many similarities between the respective elements.

I was prone to thinking of cells as human-like because, after years behind a microscope, I had become humbled by the complexity and power of what at first appear to be anatomically simple, moving blobs in a Petri dish. In school you may have learned the basic components of a cell: the nucleus that contains genetic material, the energy-producing mitochondria, the protective membrane at the outside rim, and the cytoplasm in between. But within these anatomically simple-looking cells is a complex world; these smart cells employ technologies that scientists have yet to fully fathom.

This all sounds fine.

The notion of cells as miniature humans that I was mulling over would be considered heresy by most biologists.

Huh? Metaphors are routinely used by everyone who teaches anything. Why would anyone have a problem with that? Lipton has chosen an especially tricky one — a double metaphor in fact — but it will sink or float according to how well he can make the respective maps fit each.

Trying to explain the nature of anything not human by relating it to human behavior is called anthropomorphism.

Factual error.

Lipton has got the wrong term for what he is describing. Anthropomorphism is “the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities.” What Lipton says he is doing is — in his own words — is “explaining” the nature of cells “by comparing it to human behavior.” That is clearly a metaphor, not an anthropomorphic projection.

What is going on here? Lipton has explicitly proposed using a metaphor to explain cells — a tool any teacher would use and no one could possibly have any objection to. But he has called this an anthropomorphism — which would involve attributing human qualities to cells.

So what is Lipton going to do? Explain cells using a metaphor, or arbitrarily ascribe human attributes to cells without any justification?

“True” scientists consider anthropomorphism to be something of a mortal sin and ostracize scientists who knowingly employ it in their work.

Lipton is flat wrong to say that scientists would consider it a “mortal sin”. They would see it as a straight up error of reasoning, leading to an unjustified and probably wrong conclusion.

However, I believed though that I was breaking out of orthodoxy for a good reason. Biologists try to gain scientific understanding by observing nature and conjuring up a hypothesis of how things work. Then they design experiments to test their ideas.

Good. Now he’s back to using humans as a metaphor, in order to construct a hypothesis for how things work. (Though that is very definitely not breaking out of orthodoxy.)

By necessity, deriving the hypothesis and designing the experiments require the scientist to “think” how a cell or another living organism carries out its life. Applying these “human” solutions, i.e. a human view of resolving biology’s mysteries, automatically makes these scientists guilty of anthropomorphizing.

Factual error repeated and compounded. Scientists are not “guilty of anthropomorphizing” if they use a metaphor (which of course is human-centered), to illustrate a point.

Actually, I believe that the unwritten ban on anthropomorphism…

If anything, there is a written ban on anthropomorphism. To do it is to fail to follow scientific method.

…is an outmoded remnant of the Dark Ages when religious authorities denied any direct relationship existed between humans and any of God’s other creations.

Ok. We are not in the classroom anymore, and we are not going to get any cell biology for a while. Instead we are now in the Middle Ages, and Lipton is hopping away over the hill to discover where this “ban” on anthromorphism came from.

While I can see the value of the concept when people try to anthropomorphize a light bulb, a radio or a pocketknife, I do not see it as a valid criticism when it is applied to living organisms.

Now we are back out of the Middle ages. That sentence really directly followed the previous one quoted. Followed by this:

Human beings are multicellular organisms— we must inherently share basic behavioral patterns with our own cells.

This suddenly introduces a completely new and entirely unjustified assertion: that “patterns of behavior” must scale up and down between humans and cells, because humans are made of cells. Now there are cases where patterns scale up and down. A crystal displays the form of its atomic structure at the macro level, as its molecules form regular patterns.

But Lipton is not talking about molecular structure. Rather, he is talking about “patterns of behavior”. If you are currently swimming in a saline solution, sniffing objects in a glass tank, recoiling from unpleasant ones, and blobbering up to pleasant ones, then you will know exactly what Lipton is talking about. The rest of us though, are suddenly back in the Middle Ages again.

However, I know that it takes a shift in perception to acknowledge that parallel [between behavior of cells and humans]. Historically, our Judeo-Christian beliefs have led us to think that we are the intelligent creatures who were created in a separate and distinct process from all other plants and animals. This view has us looking down our noses at lesser creatures as non-intelligent life forms, especially those organisms on the lower evolutionary rungs of life.

Several misleading statements here. The idea of hierarchical “rungs of life” is not to be found in evolutionary biology. And, incidentally, it is extremely odd that Lipton should stick the word “evolution” into a sentence about the Middle Ages, especially when he’s not even talking about evolution. And he’s not talking about cells either.

….When we observe other humans as individual entities or see ourselves in the mirror as an individual organism, in one sense, we are correct, at least from the perspective of our level of observation. However, if I brought you down to the size of an individual cell so you could see your body from that perspective, it would offer a whole new view of the world. When you looked back at yourself from that perspective you would not see yourself as a single entity. You would see yourself as a bustling community of more than 50 trillion individual cells.

Why does Lipton assume that we would inevitably see ourselves as if in a mirror if we were shrunk to the size of a cell? And why not shrink us down further to amino acids? Does this reasoning still hold?

And why did we need the excursion to the middle ages? Is medieval Christian dogma preventing us from seeing ourselves as cells? This is a weird approach.

Now we are back in the Caribbean and Lipton is preparing his lesson comparing cells to humans.

Most of the cell’s structures are referred to as organelles, which are its “miniature organs” suspended within a jelly-like cytoplasm. Organelles are the functional equivalents of the tissues and organs of our own bodies.

I think we should stop here and unpack this very blunt assertion next time.

Part 4 is here.

Posted by Yakaru

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Bruce Lipton’s ‘Biology of Belief’ — Annotated with Facts: Part 2 (How genes “determine life”)

August 31, 2017

Welcome to Part 2 of our look at the bestseller written by Dr Bruce Lipton, who claims to have a cure for cancer, among other things. We examine how he constructs his argument, and whether or not he has got his facts straight.

Lipton repeatedly tells his readers that biologists think genes “determine life”. They don’t. And as we saw in Part 1, Lipton thinks the (so called) “Central Dogma” of genetics is genetic determinism. It isn’t.

But before diving back into Lipton’s book, let’s clear something else up. When Lipton vaguely says that geneticists believe that “genes control life”, what does he mean? Is he saying biologists think genes control specific forms of behavior? Growth? Illnesses? All of the above?

He is not specific, so let’s take a look at it in the broadest sense.

Genes do control embryological development — albeit in combination with triggers from the environment. (‘Environment’ here can mean anything external to the DNA itself — within the cell, within the fetus, or within the mother.) The spectacular cascade of events that is involved in growth is well known and well researched.

What genes don’t “control”, however, is death. (I am speaking in the most general terms here, not of genetics-related illnesses.) The mechanisms of conception, birth, growth, etc, have all been finely tuned by 3.4 billion years of evolution. This is so spectacular that it can easily appear as if it must have been designed. How such a degree of complexity could arise without some kind of intelligence designing it can seem incomprehensible, even to those with expert knowledge.

But look at death, however — on a purely physiological level — and we notice the appearance of design disappears. The exquisitely “designed” mayfly, for example, emerges from a water-borne egg, crawls onto land and matures to adult form, whereupon it seeks to mate. After copulation, a female lays eggs in the water and then collapses in exhaustion,  floating about on the surface of the water until a fish eats her. The male goes back onto land and stays there. It gets no further instinctive instructions from its genes, so it just hangs around until its organs cease to function.

Mayfly hanging around until its organs cease to function

That’s it, basically, for the mayfly…… and for everyone else on this planet too.

So, we can grant that genes do “determine life” in this broad sense. But they don’t give any guidance, or have any spectacular developmental program for a graceful or humane death. They don’t have any reason to. They only “want” to reproduce, and beyond that it’s up to the individual bodies in which they reside to make the best they can of a difficult situation — to make something meaningful of their lives.

I note all this, partly to indicate an important hole in the ‘argument from design’ that Lipton will no doubt soon be using; and also to broadly indicate the ways in which genes, according to modern biology, might indeed be said to “determine life” — to use Lipton’s vague terminology.

….So let us dive again into Dr Lipton’s prose…. We pick up where we left off in the Acknowledgements section, which he has, for some reason, decided is the appropriate venue to tell us his life story and outline the case he intends to make in the book.

….Though it took a sojourn outside of traditional academia for me to fully realize it, my research offers incontrovertible proof that biology’s most cherished tenets regarding genetic determinism are fundamentally flawed.

Factual error. As we have seen, genetic determinism is not cherished nor even accepted in modern biology. It just isn’t.

My new understanding of the nature of life not only corroborated my research, but also, I realized, contradicted another belief of mainstream science that I had been propounding to my students — the belief that allopathic medicine is the only kind of medicine that merits consideration in medical school.

Factual error. “Allopathic medicine” is not a biological or medical term, rather it’s a smear invented by homeopaths to misrepresent mainstream medicine.

By finally giving the energy-based environment its due, it provided the foundation for the science and philosophy of complementary medicine and the spiritual wisdom of ancient and modern faiths as well as for allopathic medicine.

I suppose we will find out what the “energy-based environment” is…. There follows some insignificant biographical details which we can leave out. Suddenly the “Introduction” appears out of nowhere, cutting across his bio. Ok, whatever. We now find him aged 7 and looking at a cell in a microscope.

In the innocence of my child mind, I saw this organism not as a cell, but as a microscopic person, a thinking, sentient being. Rather than aimlessly moving around, this microscopic, single-celled organism appeared to me to be on a mission, though what kind of mission I didn’t know.

This is a good sentence! A child could well assume a cell is behaving like an animal, with its own intentions and inner life. A child.

Later in life he looks through an electron microscope and says that it:

gave me an awareness of cells as sentient creatures

Whoa there!

A moment ago, it was an “innocent child’s mind” that thought cells were sentient. Now suddenly this childish fantasy has been elevated to the status of fact. Sentience is the result of coordinated activity of many billions if not trillions of brain cells. To argue that a single cell can also do that requires more evidence than just asserting it is so.

By correlating the cell’s microscopic anatomy with its behavior, I was sure to gain insight into the nature of Nature.

Note the word “correlating”. He is going to look at a cell’s behavior and then look for anatomical structures that he can “correlate” with it.

I had never lost my seven-year-old conviction that the lives of the cells I studied had purpose.

Correction. Correlate it with his interpretation of the cell’s behavior.

Note that Lipton has already decided that his idea as a 7 year old was correct and that all current and previous biologists are wrong. And he is setting out to demonstrate this, rather than check it.

I was after all a traditional biologist for whom God’s existence is an unnecessary question: life is the consequence of blind chance, the flip of a friendly card or, to be more precise, the random shake of genetic dice.

Factual error. While genetic mutation is, within parameters, random, natural selection is not.

The motto of our profession since the time of Charles Darwin, has been, “God? We don’t need no steenking God!……It’s not that Darwin denied the existence of God. He simply implied that chance, not Divine intervention, was responsible for the character of life on Earth.”

Factual error repeated. Natural selection is the central point of Darwinian evolution, and it is not a random process. (Note the second word in the term — selection!)

In his 1859 book, The Origin of Species,

True fact! 1859 is indeed the correct publication date!

Darwin said that individual traits are passed from parents to their children. He suggested that “hereditary factors” passed from parent to child control the characteristics of an individual’s life.

Factual error. Darwin did not say that. Rather he argued that habitat is often decisive in determining which variant of a characteristic is more likely to survive. Also, Lipton imputes his wrong version of the Central Dogma to Darwin.

The search came to a remarkable end 50 years ago when James Watson and Francis Crick described the structure and function of the DNA double helix, the material of which genes are made. Scientists finally figured out the nature of the “hereditary factors” that Darwin had written about in the 19th century.

Misleading. This discovery was closely tied to genetics — not to evolutionary biology. Also, Darwin never used the term “hereditary factors”.

The tabloids heralded the brave new world of genetic engineering with its promise of designer babies and magic bullet medical treatments. I vividly remember the large block print headlines that filled the front page on that memorable day in 1953: “Secret of Life Discovered”.

Fair statement, more or less. Such claims were clearly premature.

Like the tabloids, biologists jumped on the gene bandwagon.

Biologists are as susceptible to hubris and error as anyone. Lipton’s excoriation of them for jumping too swiftly conclusions and over-estimating the significance of their findings is duly noted. This is indeed something to be wary of. Isn’t it, Dr Lipton….

The mechanism by which DNA controls biological life became the Central Dogma of molecular biology, painstakingly spelled out in textbooks.

Factual error, as previously noted. And he still hasn’t said what exactly he means by “controls life”.

In the long-running debate over nature v. nurture, the pendulum swung decidedly to nature. At first DNA was thought to be responsible only for our physical characteristics, but then we started believing that our genes control our emotions and behaviors as well.

Factual error. Scientists did not “start believing” anything. They base their work on evidence and carefully sign-posted reasoning, or they get their butt kicked.

And, a misleading statement. This talk of “genes controlling our emotions” too vague. The autonomic nervous system is of course built up by genes, with some influence from environmental factors. Differences between gene variants (alleles) that code, say, for a protein that’s part of an adrenaline receptor, may lead to adrenaline being processed differently from the way another allele does — more or less adrenaline might be dumped into a neuron. But whether or not this makes a person more aggressive than someone with a different variant will depend on a billion other factors, including how the person decides to deal personally with aggression.

So if you are born with a defective happiness gene, you can expect to have an unhappy life.

Factual error. There is no “happiness gene”. And Lipton is operating on the wrong level here. Happiness is way too vast and nebulous a thing to be tied to a single gene.

Unfortunately, I thought I was one of those people victimized by a missing or mutant happiness gene.

Factual error repeated. This is the start of a long sob story to set up the inevitable “conversion story” that spiritual teachers always need to include. (This one is particularly lame. It involves having a window in his office broken. In deepest despair, he goes on holiday in the Caribbean.)

However, once I was immersed in the Caribbean’s rich ecosystem, I began to appreciate biology as a living, breathing integrated system rather than a collection of individual species sharing a piece of the earth’s turf.

Well, this is starting to sound a bit more Darwinian… Darwin too loved the tropics, having been turned on to the idea of traveling the world by Alexander von Humboldt. He trained himself to see the wholeness and harmony of nature as if through Humboldt’s visionary eye….

Detail from Humboldt’s tableau of the Andes with vegetation matched to altitude, geography, climate etc, for his newly developed field of bio-regional geography – a truly ‘holistic’ approach to nature. His approach of studying nature with input from all possible sources, including artistic/creative sensibilities, deeply influenced Darwin.

It was life’s harmony — not life’s struggle — that sang out to me as I sat in the Caribbean Garden of Eden. I became convinced that contemporary biology pays too little attention to the important role of cooperation, because its Darwinian roots emphasize life’s competitive nature.

Factual error. Darwin wrote extensively about cooperation as a driver of evolution. It is routinely studied in modern evolutionary biology. Lipton should know this.

To the chagrin of my U.S. faculty colleagues, I returned to Wisconsin a screaming radical bent on challenging the sacred foundational beliefs of biology. I even began to openly criticize Charles Darwin and the wisdom of his theory of evolution.

Factual error. Modern biology does not concern itself with “Darwin’s theory of evolution”. The modern synthesis is certainly a development of many of Darwin’s initial insights, but only because 160 years of research has in fact borne them out. Darwin’s errors have been rejected, and population genetics added in.

And another factual error — Lipton is using the wrong sense of “theory” here. Evolutionary theory is like aerodynamic theory. Evolution is as much a fact as is flight. The theory part involves figuring out how specific aspects of it occur.

In the eyes of most other biologists, my behavior was tantamount to a priest bursting into the Vatican and claiming the Pope was a fraud.

Lipton’s crime here is clearly professional ignorance rather than heresy.

I had come to question not only Darwin’s dog-eat-dog version of evolution…

Factual error repeated. (As noted, Darwin wrote of cooperation, as well as competition. But above all, he noted the effect of the habitat on survival chances. Lipton doesn’t mention this at all.)

but also biology’s Central Dogma, the premise that genes control life.

Factual error repeated.

That scientific premise has one major flaw— genes cannot turn themselves on or off.

Factual error. Genetics has in fact discovered the activity of genetic switches and studies them routinely. DUH.

In more scientific terms, genes are not “self-emergent.”

Factual error. Self-emergent is not a scientific term.

Something in the environment has to trigger gene activity.

But that is basic genetics. Lipton is not telling his readers this, and is instead claiming it as a ground breaking discovery for himself.

Though that fact had already been established by frontier science…

Huh? And now Lipton is confirming that it is basic genetics.

…conventional scientists blinded by genetic dogma had simply ignored it.

Factual error. They have not simply ignored it. It is Lipton who ignored it. In fact, this is entirely in accord with the real Central Dogma (not Lipton’s fake version).

My outspoken challenge of the Central Dogma turned me into even more of a scientific heretic.

Factual error. Lipton was not challenging the Central Dogma with this.

Not only was I a candidate for excommunication, I was now suitable for burning at the stake! In a lecture during my interview at Stanford, I found myself accusing the gathered faculty, many of them internationally recognized geneticists, of being no better than religious fundamentalists for adhering to the Central Dogma despite evidence to the contrary.

Factual error. Note that Lipton’s “contrary evidence” was in fact a part of the Central Dogma. He only thought it wasn’t because he thinks the Central Dogma is genetic determinism.

Part 3 is here.

Posted by Yakaru