BOOK REVIEW: Mind Over Medicine by Lissa Rankin

Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal YourselfMind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book is one of many that challenge the conventional approach to medical care in which a patient is a passive character who just goes to the doctor and does (or ingests) whatever the doc tells them to. In the vein of works by Deepak Chopra and Bernie Siegal, this book is written by medical doctor who has different beliefs on healing. So what’s the niche of Mind Over Medicine, given that there are already a number of prominent medical doctors preaching the same message? That message is that your body is a healing machine and will do MOST (not ALL, none of these individuals advocates abandoning modern medical science) of the heavy lifting of healing, if you create the right conditions. Rankin presents results from scientific studies as the thrust of her book. I’m not really that familiar with Siegal, but you’ll find Rankin’s work a great deal less spiritual and more scientific than the works of Deepak Chopra.

There’s a lot of scientific interest in understanding why some people experience spontaneous remissions from the most lethal of ailments while others succumb to diseases that most people weather with ease. While many people will chalk it up to divine will or chakra nudging or having one’s demons expunged, these aren’t satisfying answers for the scientifically minded individual. However, neither is the extreme skeptic’s suggestion that these are just randomly distributed flukes of nature—and it’s a waste of time to try to explain the outliers. The latter being unsatisfying because phenomena like the placebo effect are well documented.

So what conclusion does Rankin draw from the scientific literature. As suggested earlier, the conclusion is that the body is extremely good at healing what ails it, but it has to be in the right mode to have this healing take place. What’s the right mode? It has to be in relaxed mode, or, in scientific parlance, the parasympathetic system must be engaged. The problem is that when a person is under stress, the body switches into a fight or flight mode. Humanity hasn’t really come to grips with the fact that work deadlines, fears about ailments, or fears that our spouse may be cheating aren’t really the same as our ancestor’s experience of being chased by a saber-tooth tiger. When that ancestor was being chased by a tiger, his or her body shut down everything that wasn’t germane to immediate survival (e.g. digestion is interrupted, blood isn’t evenly distributed but goes to lungs and skeletal muscles, etc.) The tiger chase is over shortly, and the body returns doing its regular at-rest functions (e.g. digesting, healing, etc.) However, if we let our stressors kick us into that immediate survival mode–and just having a disease can be stressing enough in itself–then our healing can be severely or completely curtailed.

Can faith healing, karma cleansing, chakra fluffing, or sugar pills contribute to healing? Sure, but not in the way that the faithful thinks. These systems–each of which has proponents who’ll swear they witnessed first-hand the power of faith or magic or invisible energy (and they are probably not lying)–work because the person who firmly believes in these therapies is able to relax and let their bodies can do what they do.

Does this mean that those who don’t believe in religion or cosmic energy manipulation are out of luck? No. You just skip the middleman and engage in activities such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or breathing exercises that allow you to put the body in a relaxed state. Secular meditation works just fine if practiced consistently, and particularly if one confronts, addresses, and eliminates the long-terms stressors in one’s life.

At the heart of the book is a discussion about how to go about performing one’s own diagnosis and writing one’s own prescription. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t about cutting the doctor out. In this case one is diagnosing one’s stressors and prescribing activities to eliminate them. This doesn’t mean one should pass up medical treatment or doctor’s advice. However, it may entail switching doctors if you have a doctor that firmly believes you are incapable of getting better—you don’t need any doubts about your body’s ability to do its thing being foist upon you.

I’d highly recommend this book for scientifically-minded individuals interested in learning how they can help their bodies get into a state conducive to healing.

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BOOK REVIEW: Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes by Deepak Chopra

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes: Harnessing Our Power to Change the WorldThe Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes: Harnessing Our Power to Change the World by Deepak Chopra

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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This is Deepak Chopra’s attempt to capitalize on society’s fascination with superheroes. By “capitalize” I’m not necessarily saying to “make money off of,” but perhaps to “use to his advantage in conveying his lessons.” [I’ll leave it to the reader to make judgments about the former.] There are books on the physics of superheroes, the philosophy of superheroes, and the mythology of superheroes, so why shouldn’t there be a book on the spiritual life of superheroes?

The book uses both the superheroes of mythology—i.e. Indian, Greek, Judeo-Christian, Muslim, and others—as well as the superheroes of comic books. While Chopra’s knowledge of the former is considerable, he enlists the co-authorship of his son Gotham (not named after Bruce Wayne’s hometown) to offer insight into the latter.

This book is also intended to capitalize (again, take that as you see fit) upon Chopra’s best-selling book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, but without rehashing the same laws. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes format is as straightforward as its title. There are seven chapters, each corresponding to one of Chopra’s laws. Said laws address balance, transformation, power, love, creativity, intention, and transcendence.

As I read the book, there was something that rubbed me the wrong way about the writing. It wasn’t that I had major disagreement with Chopra’s ideas, but rather the way he was stating them. At first I thought this was the use of gratuitous assertion. He often began chapters with detailed statements about what superheroes are, do, believe, and understand without much—if any–substantiation of these claims. However, as I got into the first chapter I noticed that he would put one section in each chapter that discussed an example in-depth, offering at least anecdotal support for his claims.

This still left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. It was because he used general statements like “superheroes know…” and “superheroes understand…,” and then provided a solitary example that fit his statement well, but leaving a vast cast of heroes that didn’t. It seemed a low form of inductive reasoning. In other words, he was attributing an enlightened way of thinking and acting to characters like Hulk and Wolverine.

Chopra and his supporters might make the claim that saying, “The Hulk understands X [insert any of the laws here]” doesn’t necessarily mean he understands them as an intellectual exercise, but rather that he shows this understanding through his behavior. Let me give a story that may make my meaning clearer.

An economist is giving a lecture on consumer behavior. Someone in the audience says, “Professor, how could consumers possibly behave in the way you suggest? Your theory requires complex Lagrangian optimization mathematics, which very few of them understand?”

The Professor replies, “Most of them don’t understand Newton’s work either, but they obey the Law of Gravity without fail.”

I thought about Chopra’s statements from this perspective, but concluded that his point was probably something entirely different. As an author of self-help books about the mind, when Chopra says “Superheroes understand X,” he’s not saying “Each and every superhero understands X,” but instead he’s saying, “If you want to be a superhero, you need to understand X.”

Accepting that that’s what Chopra meant, only one more qualm with the book remained. Laws can be clearly stated (OK, perhaps not tax law, but laws of physics—which seem to be more the kind of law he seeks to emulate), but Chopra’s discussion of his “laws” is vague and ill-defined. Each chapter begins with a large-font italics statement. I don’t know if this is supposed to be “the law” or not. It usually begins with a definition (some vaguely stated) and then statements that superheroes comport themselves in accordance with said definition. Maybe the unstated laws are supposed to be, “Superheroes live a life of balance,” and so on for the other chapters. As one trained as an economist, I’m well-aware of the wide-spread overuse of the term “law,” and maybe the ill-defined nature of Chopra’s laws is a recognition of this.

This book is written for Chopra’s usual audience of seekers of enlightenment. I don’t know that it’ll do well with hard-core science fiction or comic fans, and I don’t know that the Venn intersect of “spiritual self-help readers” and “comic book fans” is as big as Chopra would like. (But, I could be wrong.) Some of Chopra’s ideas about the potential spiritual ramifications of “quantum entanglement” are quite popular with sci-fi fans, but I’m not sure that that offers this book a clear audience. (It might. Chopra is a trained physician, and has some scientific bona fides—unlike many who share shelf space with him and who exist in a spiritual plane entirely unrelated to the world as we know it.)

All this being said, there are some thought-provoking ideas in this book, and the superhero and mythological examples help entertain and—in doing so—become the spoon of sugar that makes the medicine go down. Another testimonial is that I read most of this book in a single sitting, and I tend to jump from a chapter in one book to another book unless something really holds my interest.

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