Segregation between Mind and Body
this columnist closes his eyes to meditate, he 'feels' clearly that his mind is
located in the prefrontal cortex, the mantle of nervous tissue just behind the
forehead. The mind is what this cortex does and that the equivalent brain
portion of non-human mammals, much smaller in size, cannot do. Everything that
is mental - thoughts, feelings, desires, perceptions, memories, reasoning and
consciousness of the self - is performed in or by the prefrontal cortex. Is it
number of phenomena imply that not all mental tasks totally occur in the brain.
This note refers to four of such phenomena, bizarre examples of the complexity
of human nature: the placebo effect, the nocebo effect, the psychological
problems resulting from an overactive immune system, and the influence of the
intestinal flora in mental states.
placebo effect is the healing outcome of inert substances or sham procedures in
patients with real health problems. Numerous experiments have confirmed the
effectiveness of illusory drugs or fictitious treatments in the handling of
many diseases; sorcerers know this quite well. Successful outcomes are not
consistent. Harvard psychologist Irving Kirsch found in a meta-analysis of
actual drugs versus placebos that the power of these is more positive when, as
it happens in depression cases, both recoveries and declines are more in the
head than in other parts of the body.
nocebo effect, the reciprocal of the placebo effect and also real, is the
harmful sequel to the health of people with negative expectations around
innocuous substances or harmless circumstances. People with asthma are frequent
victims of the nocebo effect. Recent research by the Monell Research Center,
Philadelphia, PA, concluded that the mere possibility that a smell is harmful
can increase inflammation of the airways during the following 24 hours (or even
for a longer time) after the exposure. "Asthmatics are always concerned
about essences and fragrances. If they believe a smell is harmful, their bodies
react as if it were", says Dr. Cristina Jaén, Director of the study.
arising from non-existent infections have been documented by Dr. Erich Kasten,
Professor of neurophysiology at the Medical School Hamburg in Germany.
According to Dr. Kasten, an overactive autoimmune system may confuse the
harmful consequences of stress (the mental state resulting from physical,
job-related, social or financial factors that tend to alter equilibrium), with
bacterial or viral infections that do require corrective actions. Cytokines are
messenger molecules generated by the immune system when it detects danger of
infection. Cytokine generated inflammation, an important mechanism in disease
prevention, also causes tiredness and apathy similar to those present in many
diseases. When the immune system overreacts to non-pathogens (such as stress)
or to harmless stimuli, it generates unnecessary alarming cytokines that lead
to mood downfalls followed eventually by melancholy or depression.
fourth 'extra-cerebral' phenomenon, and probably the strangest, refers to the
trillions of bacteria, foreign to the human body (they exceed in number our own
cells), that make up the gut flora. Those bacteria are rotatory commensals ever
present in our body. According to science writer Charles Schmidt, researchers
have now "a growing conviction that that the vast assemblage of microfauna
in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind. The gut-brain
axis seems to be bidirectional: the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune
functions that help to shape the gut's microbial makeup, and gut microbes make
neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters." Is this not amazing? It
gives sense to the expression ‘gut feeling’.
Our mind is in our head (we feel it) and the
head is part of our body (we know this). What is then the need of a mind-body
split? Such dichotomy comes from the inevitable categorization that social and
natural sciences require (good-bad, hot-cold, one-zero...), and directly
descends from the spirit-matter religious distinction. Yes, there is something
that is absolute in many categorizations. But the strange effects of placebos
and nocebos, the melancholy associated with infections and the anxiety
generated by intestinal bacteria, the mind-body segregation does not seem to be
an absolute one... At least, it should not be dealt so in health diagnoses.
Author of ‘INNER HARMONY through MINDFULNESS MEDITATION’
April 19, 2015