Introductions to Published Books
Introduction to Mavericks of the Mind
The term “paradigm shift” was coined by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1961. It was an attempt to describe the changes that occur in the Belief Systems (BS for short) of scientists, concerning how they interpret their data, and how scientific models evolve. Paradigms are the glasses that one sees through which color how and what we see. When they shift, so does the world. Today it’s almost a cliché to speak about new paradigm shifts occurring. Paradigms are shifting kaleidoscopically these days. This makes sense in light of the fact that–according to the latest reports from quantum physicists–we inhabit a universe that is composed of undulating vibrations, oscillating in continuously and infinitely varied rhythms and frequencies. The universe is filled with ambiguity and mystery. It is a shifting cascade of relativistic perspectives, where nothing is really quite solid, and we exist as mostly empty space and waves of possible probabilities. Our beliefs are the brain’s attempt to freeze the flow of matter and energy into fixed states, so we can grasp onto something familiar and tangible in a shifting sea too grand for us to ever fully comprehend.
Paradigms originate from, and exist only within, the framework of the human mind, but they lead to technological progress and social transformation in the material world. In your hands is a collection of in-depth interviews with some of the extraordinary minds from whom these new world views, and ultimately new world and social structures, are emerging. Within these pages we meet with some of the most creative and controversial thinkers on the intellectual frontiers of art and science – the mavericks, those who have stepped outside the boundaries of consensus thought, sometimes risking their careers, always risking ridicule. These are experts from various fields who have seen beyond the normal and traditional view, who are concerned with the problems facing modern day society, and who have traveled beyond the edges of the established horizons to find their answers. In questioning old belief systems these remarkable individuals have gained revolutionary insights into the nature of consciousness, and with intelligence, clarity, and wit they offer some enlightening proposals for the potential future of humanity.
Inside these maverick minds we tiptoe along the fringes of reason, exploring the realms of morphic fields, chaos theory, virtual reality, quantum philosophy, the possibilities of time travel, extraterrestrials, nanotechnology, and out-of-body experiences. We discussed such general themes with them as technology, ecology, God, psychedelics, death, and the future evolution of consciousness. We learned a lot from doing these interviews, but most importantly we got a very strong sense of optimism and hope from these people. In a world infested with pessimism, fear, and doubt, these individuals offer fresh perspectives and possibilities. Taken together, common underlying holistic themes emerge in these interviews of new world views that are at once analytical and intuitive, compassionate and wise, practical and imaginative in their perspectives.
“Inspiration,” Allen Ginsberg told us? “means to breath in.” The original inspiration for this book partly grew out of our desire to meet with people whose writing had had a great impact on us. Wild late-night philosophical discussions that Rebecca McClen Novick and I had on the nature of reality and exploration of consciousness provided the alchemical ignition that got the fire burning. Why not, we thought in a grandiose moment of audacious innocent inspiration, seek out some of the most brilliant brains and illuminated luminaries around, and see what they have to say on the subject. We wanted to somehow tie them all together, into a larger, grander, more comprehensive view.
We figured that as a man/woman team we could interview these people from a more holistic perspective than any single person. It was very interesting that when Rebecca and I would collaborate on questions, we would usually brainstorm separately, then share ideas and mutually arrange the sequence of the questions later. Almost every time we both thought that we had covered the spectrum of important points ourselves, and we were astonished to discover that we had relatively unique lists of questions with suprisingly very little overlap. This demonstrated to us the biases of our own perspectives, and could be suggestive of the inherent difference in how male and female brains differ in their thinking.
Our central source of fascination was the timeless mystery of consciousness. It is our very sense of self–the most mysterious and mundane aspect of existence, the most essential part of us–and yet we don’t know what it is, where it comes from, or where it’s going. It is all around us in many forms, and yet when we try to define it–that is, to draw a boundary around it and distinguish it from the rest of the universe–it suddenly becomes extremely elusive. Alan Watts told us that the paradox that we experience when trying to understand consciousness is like an eyeball trying to see itself (without a mirror), or teeth trying to bite themselves. We are our own blind spots.
How does consciousness arise? Can consciousness leave the body? Is it limited to human brains, or does it exist elsewhere in other forms? What is consciousness made of! What changes it? How and why? What happens to consciousness after physical death? What do quantum physics, chaos theory, sociobiology, neurophysiology, and morphic field resonance suggest to us about the nature and potentials of consciousness? Where are we when we’re lucid dreaming? Do intelligent extraterrestrials exist? What is consciousness evolving into? How does the world change when consciousness changes? These are some of the questions we–with the help of some extremely gifted thinkers–try to take on in this ambitious book.
One thing for sure about consciousness is that–like matter and energy, time and space-it changes, flows, and there are varying degrees of it. Some people, neurobiologists for the most part, think consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, which evolved over a 4.5-billion-year evolutionary struggle 4 to survive and reproduce. Others, dubbed mystical (or kooks) by the former, think consciousness creates the brain. Chicken or egg? Mind in body? Or body in mind? Some think consciousness is the brain. Behavioral psychologists, such as B.F. Skinner, have claimed that consciousness does not even exist, while others, Zen Buddhists for example, say that consciousness is all that exists.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fascinating models for consciousness have sprung out of the human mind. Numerous esoteric mystical disciplines claim to have used techniques to alter and heighten consciousness since the beginning of written history. Lao-Tzu reminded us that it all comes from and flows back into the great Tao. Buddha contributed one of the first maps of human psychology, and some of the most enduring methods for changing brain states. Aristotle believed that consciousness was not constrained by physical processes. Descartes divided the mind from the divine. Darwin gave us the evolutionary perspective, and the mechanism of natural selection.
Wundt tried to make the study of consciousness a science through disciplined introspective techniques. Pavlov taught us about the roles of excitation, inhibition, and associative learning in the nervous system. Konrad Lorenz revealed the biological secrets of neural imprinting. Freud pointed out that part of us is conscious, most of us is unconscious. Jung went further claiming that all of the human species share a common rneta-cultural collective unconscious, full of genetic dreams, myths, and legendary archetypes. Does this imply the potential for a collective consciousness? Is the process of development and evolution one in which the unconscious is being made more conscious?
From William James we learned that consciousness is not a thing, but a process, and that there is a vast multitude of mostly uncharted, potential conscious states. Aleister Crowley integrated many of the esoteric mystical traditions of previous centuries with the scientific method, wedding them into a single system. Albert Hofmann discovered the explosive psychoactive effects of LSD in 1943, vastly multiplying the questions of spirit and matter. Neuroscientists, such as Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga, are discovering that the brain is actually composed of many submodules, each like a miniature brain in itself, making each of us a multitude of potential personalities. Where these people leave off is where this book begins.
Charles Tart, a psychologist at UC Davis, has pointed out that the ways in which scientists theorize about the complex interplay between the brain and consciousness is highly flavored by the prevailing technology of a particular time in history. For instance, in the beginning of the century Freud built his model of consciousness in accordance with the technology that was popular in his day – the technology of the steam engine and the science of hydraulics. We can see this clearly in many of his concepts. There is reference to the idea of how drives build up pressure, which needs to be released, and how fluid-like energies such as the libido need to flow. The symbolic release of libidinal tension in a dream then, is seen as functioning like a safety valve for libidinal build-up-so the system doesn’t explode–like the safety valve on the boiler of a steam engine. The safety valve is there so if the pressure reaches a certain threshold, it just bleeds steam off in a harmless hissing. When the biological drives of the id become too strong, then dreams bleed off that excess drive in the form of hallucinatory gratification.
Then when the telephone came along, with it came the switchboard operator models of consciousness. My first undergraduate psychology textbook had a full-page illustration of how the brain functions like a giant switchboard with telephone-like connections to all parts of the body. John Lilly was the first to apply the computer as a metaphor for understanding the brain in his book Programming and Metaprogramming the Human Biocomputer. When I was an undergraduate studying psychology, the computer metaphor was just beginning to be entertained on the fringes of academia. Our brains could be seen as the hardware, and our culturally conditioned BS, language, and other memes would be the software. Since then cognitive psychology and cognitive science have adopted the model of the computer as a metaphor for how the brain functions, and this has now become the standard and accepted model.
All of these models help to shed some light on how the mysteries of the brain and mind interact, but they are also quite limited, and can be dangerously misleading. The brain is not a hydraulic system, a telephone switchboard, or a computer. But, as models, these metaphors give us a partial grasp of something that is otherwise too complex to comprehend. When we interviewed John Lilly he told us that he thought a human brain can never fully understand itself, because a simulation that modeled and mapped the entire brain would take up all the space in the brain, filling it to capacity. It would take a larger brain to understand our brain, and then that brain couldn’t fully understand itself.
The newest technology to act as a metaphor for the brain and consciousness is Virtual Reality technology. VR allows us to control the sensory input that channels into our nervous system and to determine what our experience of reality is. People like Timothy Leary, who prefers the term “Electronic Reality,” and Charles Tart have begun to see VR technology as a metaphor for the brain. Computer-generated simulations in Virtual Reality become acceptable to the brain as reality. This leads to the understanding that all we ever really experience of reality are simulations created by our brain out of the influx of sensory signals that we receive from our senses. We already live in fabricated realities. We each live inside a reality-generating apparatus called the nervous system. Timothy Leary dubbed this understanding “neuro-electric awareness’-the understanding that we are creating reality out of the sensory signals that we perceive. Buddha called this understanding “enlightenment.”
But to fully understand this concept we must actually experience it. We almost always forget that our perception of what we call the physical world is a simulation and not “reality itself.” William Blake understood the concept that we create our own reality when he stated, “That which appears without, is within.” When I had my first LSD trip at the age of 16, among other things I realized that the brain entirely creates what we experience as reality. I realized it by experiencing it. Everything that we think is the external world is actually a neurological simulation fabricated out of complex chains of sensory signals by the human brain. On that psychedelic experience it appeared to me as though all of reality was composed of points or monads, and that our perception of reality is like those connect-the-dots games that we play as children. The possible ways of connecting the dots are far more varied than I had thought, and can be done in countless different ways.
Carl Jung coined a term that helps to explain this called “Constellating
Power,” based on how we create constellations in the sky out of the massive tangle of stars. Once a pattern has organized itself in our mind’s “I,” it becomes hard then not to see it that way. Since the Virtual Reality created by the perceptual simulation process is one’s “reality experience,” it is difficult to not completely identify with the Virtual Reality as the “real” reality. Part of the motivation for putting this book together stemmed from our understanding that since we are responsible for creating reality-individually and jointly–what then are the most fabulous and interesting realities that we can experience?
Reality is defined as that which is real, and it is created through a blend of belief and experience. Several years ago, Virtual Reality pioneer Jaron Lanier told me that he thought that there were three levels at which one can change or create “reality”: (1) at the neurological level of the brain through neurochemistry; (2) at the sensory level through Virtual Reality simulation; or (3) in the external world through the atomic reconstructional possibilities of nanotechnology. But we can also change our perception and interpretation of the world through intention and will. Intentionally changing one’s attitude can dramatically shift one’s perspective and social relationships. Dreams also open up a frontier for exploring the possibilities of reality fabrication. When we asked Stephen LaBerge, lucid dream researcher at Stanford University, about using VR as a metaphor for lucid dreaming, he said that lucid dreaming was like “high-resolution VR.”
A basic premise that we had for this book was that–through cosmological time, biological evolution, personal development, and cultural transformations-consciousness evolves. From atoms to galaxies, amoebas to neurons, the evolution of consciousness seems an endless adventure. Terence McKenna told us that he thought the ultimate goal of human evolution was a “good party.” One thing is for sure. It is on the expanding edge of the horizon, where reality intersects the imagination, that we will forever find our new beginnings.
David Jay Brown,
Introduction to Voices from the Edge
We are currently witnessing an extraordinary shift in the evolutionary winds of history. Poised on a bridge between worlds, our species swings between crisis and renaissance. Never before in the human adventure have there been so many reasons to rejoice and celebrate, yet also, paradoxically, so many reasons to re-evaluate and re-navigate. Wonderful advances in science and the interface between high technology and the creative imagination have spawned forms of artistic expression with a sensory richness inconceivable to previous generations. The imagination has never been more tangible. And yet, sad to say, never before has our own extinction via our own ignorance–hovered so close.
Within the pages of this book, through conversations with some of the most far-reaching cultural innovators of our day, we explore a variety of exciting new options made available by the cultural renaissance that is upon us and examine some possible solutions to our impending global crisis. When Rebecca McClen Novick and I finished the first volume of Mavericks of the Mind, there still remained many extraordinary individuals whom we had wished to include. In addition, friends flooded us with recommendations for potential interviewees. If that were not enough, every time we did a lecture or book-signing, we would meet people who had yet more recommendations. A number of individuals whom I did not even know called me and recommended themselves as candidates. Upon consideration of all this, we decided to do an additional collection, which you now hold in your hands. And a third volume is in the works.
In 1988, Christian theologian Matthew Fox, the Dominican priest we interviewed for this volume, was silenced for a year by the Vatican. Instead of preaching about our Original Sin, he was doing this rap on our “Original Blessing.” After a full revolution around the sun, during which he supposedly contemplated his sins in silence, the very first words that he uttered were, “As I was saying … ” It is in that spirit that this book begins. As with our first volume, the people we chose to interview represent the mavericks of their fields, the engineers of evolution, the messengers of our future those remarkable and brave individuals who stand at the front-line of the cultural frontier, taking the storms of change full in the face. However overlooked, misunderstood, ridiculed, or punished they may have been by society at large, these men and women have persevered to the point where they are now viewed as revolutionary leaders in their fields.
When putting this book together, we operated under the premise that most cultural advance is accomplished by a certain type of individual: those who resist adherence to any particular group or belief system and have an interdisciplinary approach to their work. These were the people we sought out to discuss the basic philosophical issues of life, to ponder the Big Questions: How did we get here? Why are we here? Where are we going? But while our previous collection approached these questions primarily from a decidedly scientific viewpoint (with several notable exceptions), our new collection gathers a perspective from a wider cultural arena. And though our pool of interviewees has broadened, the theme of the new volume remains the same: exploring the evolution of consciousness. Also, our approach matured. Rebecca and I became bolder in our interviewing style, and we are perhaps a little less naive than when we set out to do the original collection.
Although the collection spans a diverse spectrum, there are many areas where boundaries overlap. From the emerging gestalt, a vision of our future begins to take form, perhaps providing us with a glimpse into the twenty-first century. We discuss possible solutions to the hunger and ecological crises gripping our planet, new computer and multimedia technologies as vehicles for enhanced communication and artistic expression, future directions of psychedelic drug research, the reclamation of our bodies and our connection to the divine through more expansive forms of sexual expression, the revival of the Goddess, and the reformation of religion. These and other spiritual issues are pondered in depth, always with thoughtfulness, often with humor.
After the publication of the first volume of Mavericks, when Rebecca and I hosted a series of events at UC Santa Cruz and UCLA, we brought together individuals from the book and encouraged them to discuss and debate various controversial issues, such as the relationship between technology and the mind. As we sat there on stage, surrounded by all these great minds and their often conflicting perspectives, we realized repeatedly just how relative truth really is. No one has the answer, yet everyone makes a point and contributes a perspective to help create a more encompassing whole.
One of the topics we explore in this book is the mystery of what happens to consciousness after the death of the body. When I posed the question to environmentalist John Robbins, he replied without pause, “I think it celebrates.” Ironically, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead told us he thinks it probably dies with the body.” Cultural historian William Irwin Thompson said he thinks we move into “subtle bodies,” which “are woven into this larger angelic formation.” There is perhaps no greater mystery than death, and infinite mystery will spawn infinite theories.
This is not the first time that crisis and opportunity have danced together arm in arm, and as we evolve through time, this dynamic will most likely be encountered again and again. This is part of the Great Mystery at the center of existence, which inspires art, science, philosophy, and the spiritual quest. Stating the obvious here is powerful. There is simply no escape. Life is mostly mystery, and the mystery only deepens with time and “understanding.” A moment’s reflection will confront us with the fact that the foundation of every belief rests upon an assumption made in faith. Life is a journey through our own dream fabric.
When I was in graduate school I was amazed to discover that the majority of my professors thought that science had solved about 99 percent of the fundamental mysteries of the universe and that it would not be long before we would have the other one percent figured out. I was completely dumbfounded by this, and by the fact that much of the world appeared to follow suit with my professors. As a consequence of my commitment to the exploration of consciousness, my world view was the reverse: 99 percent mystery, one percent (or less) figured out.
The universe is an infinitely mysterious place, where consciousness and physical phenomena interact in largely unknown ways to form the adventure of our existence. Because of this fundamental truth, Matthew Fox suggested that we adopt the perspective that “mystery is not something you’re ever going to solve, it’s something you live!” John Alien poetically reminded us that “beauty attracts, but mystery … lures.” After contemplating the nature of God and other timeless philosophical questions with us, Ram Dass asked about our “relationship with the mystery? Are you defending yourself from it? Are you making love to it? Are you living in it?” How we respond to these questions is significant. One of the few things we can state with any certainty about this grand and ambiguous universe we inhabit is that although the phenomena of the physical world will come and go, the mystery lurking at the heart of existence is forever here to stay.
David Jay Brown
Ben Lomond, California
Introduction to Mavericks of Medicine
By David Jay Brown
As with science, the history of medicine reveals that knowledge often advances through the ideas of maverick thinkers–ideas that were initially greeted with disbelief or even mockery. For example, in 1847, when the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis started making the claim that puerperal fever was contagious, and that poor sanitation was responsible for spreading the illness from one new mother to another, his fellow physicians thought that he was crazy. “Wash your hands!” he shouted in the hospital maternity wards of Vienna, while the other doctors laughed.
Likewise, in 1628, when British physician William Harvey first proposed that the heart might be a a pump at the center of a closed circulatory system–rather than a “heater” for the blood, as was thought at the time–he was ridiculed by his medical colleagues who thought the idea ridiculous. Then, in 1718, when Lady Mary Wortley Montagu insisted that live smallpox culture be introduced into her son’s veins as an inoculation against the disease, her contemporaries thought that she was worse than nuts. Yet, with time, the ideas of these courageous individuals were vindicated, and history simply abounds with examples of how eccentric individuals–that were initially regarded as quacks–helped to advance science and medicine.
Both science and medicine are inherently conservative. Scientists and physicians are trained to always lean toward convention and to be suspicious of new ideas. This tendency to test new procedures carefully, and to make new declarations cautiously, is partially why science and medicine have been so successful and have such reliable track records. However, it is also why the conventional or mainstream core of established scientific and medical institutions–such as the American Medical Association–always advances much more slowly than the peripheral research frontiers, where eccentric individuals are experimenting with unorthodox possibilities that sometimes conflict with conventional thought.
While the right amount of skepticism can be healthy, and it’s certainly necessary for science and medicine to advance, it can also stand in the way of progress. Unrestrained skepticism can mutate into neophobia–the fear of novelty–if it isn’t properly balanced with open-mindedness and curiosity. Neophobia prevents the unbiased experimentation with new possibilities, and, in its more extreme forms, even causes conventional scientists and physicians to ridicule new ideas simply because they are unconventional. Having a proper balance of open-mindedness and skepticism is essential for science and medicine to properly advance.
While maverick thinkers certainly aren’t always right, without these courageous individuals all scientific and medical progress would stagnate. The history of medicine reveals that during every time period there has been maverick thinkers who were ridiculed by their colleagues for having unconventional ideas that were later vindicated. This means that right now–in the historical epoch in which we currently find ourselves–this scenario is most likely taking place. So then, with this illuminating insight in mind, let us now consider who some of the promising maverick thinkers of our time might be, and what their ideas about medicine might mean.
Conversations on the Frontiers of Medical Research
In your hands is a collection of interdisciplinary interviews that I did with some of the most brilliant and controversial medical researchers and practitioners of our time. This collection of interviews with eminent physicians and cutting-edge researchers explores innovative work in the areas of life extension, cognitive enhancement, improved health and performance, integrative medicine, stem cell research, novel pharmacological and nutritional therapies, prosthetic implants, holistic and traditional medicines, mind-body medicine, euthanasia, and the integration of medicine with other fields of science.
As with my three previous interview books–Mavericks of the Mind, Voices from the Edge, and Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse–the people who I chose to interview are those creative and controversial thinkers who have stepped outside the boundaries of consensus thought and seen beyond the traditional and conventional view. I chose highly accomplished people who dare to question authority and think for themselves because it is often this capacity for independent thought that lies at the heart of their exceptional abilities and accomplishments. In questioning old belief systems, and traveling beyond the edges of the established horizons to find their answers, these unconventional thinkers have gained revolutionary insights, and they offer some unique solutions to the problems that are facing modern medicine.
Some of the questions that I will be discussing with these brilliant and courageous individuals have profound implications. What are some of the biggest problems with the way that medicine is practiced today, and what can be done to help improve the situation? What role does the mind play in the health of the body? How can people improve their cognitive or sexual performance? What are the primary causes of aging? What are currently the best ways to slow down, or reverse, the aging process and extend the human life span? How long is it possible for the human life span to be extended? What are some of the new medical treatments that will be coming along in the near future? Do we have the right to die? What role does spirituality play in medicine? Speculating on these important questions can help us to understand our bodies better, improve our health, enhance our performance, and live longer happier lives. Let’s take a look at some of these questions more closely.
What’s Wrong With Modern Medicine and How Can We Improve It?
Almost everyone agrees that something is wrong with modern medicine. I recently attended a talk given by Andrew Weil, and when he announced his prediction that the healthcare system in America would soon collapse, everyone in the room vigorously applauded. However, although most people agree that something is wrong with modern medicine, not everyone agrees as to what it is and what to do about it.
On a most basic level, many patients simply feel that their physicians can’t relate to what they’re going through and that they’re treated like a statistic. As a way to help remedy this situation, mind-body physician Bernie Siegel told me, “One simple suggestion would be to put every doctor into a hospital bed for a week as a patient. Put them in a hospital where they are not known, and have them admitted with a life-threatening illness as their diagnosis. Then let them stay there.”
Another big problem with modern medicine is expense. The skyrocketing costs of healthcare, and the lack of healthcare insurance by many, is a serious problem. According to Larry Dossey, the author of Space, Time, and Medicine, “We’re nearing fifty million people in this country who don’t have health insurance.” So what does Dr. Dossey suggest? “We need government-financed, centralized healthcare for everybody,” he said.
However, not everyone that I spoke with agrees that socialized healthcare is such a good idea. When I spoke with life extension researcher Durk Pearson he said, “The most dangerous possible thing I can think of–other than having a complete police state like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia–is to have a national medical program. Because, believe me, they are not going to be acting in your interest–they’re going to be acting in their interest. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. When you have a government health system, you have a bunch of bureaucrats telling you when it’s time to die. The reason is very simple. They’ll never collect back from you as much tax money as they spend taking care of you, so it’s time for you to die. Read up on Nobel prize-winning economist James Buchanan’s Public Choice Theory.”
Ironically, many people also seriously question the safety of modern medicine–and for good reason. Dr. Dossey also told me that, “The death rate in American hospitals from medical mistakes, errors, and the side-effects of drugs now ranks as the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer.” Although some people who have studied the statistics that Dr. Dossey is referring to disagree with this figures, they don’t disagree by much, as even the most hard-nosed skeptics rank medical errors and drug side-effects as the fifth or sixth leading cause of death in American hospitals. Not a very comforting thought.
So the lack of trust that many people have toward modern medicine is understandable. However, an even greater cause for concern is that many people think that the medical establishment and the federal government are deliberately impeding medical advances that might divert profits away from pharmaceutical companies. For example, life extension researcher Durk Pearson–who won a landmark lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), charging the government agency with unconstitutionally restricting manufacturers from distributing truthful health information that could save people’s lives–told me that he thought that the FDA was “the biggest barrier between life extension and people.”
Pearson told me that this is simply because many people in the FDA are financially intertwined with the pharmaceutical companies. According to Pearson’s partner, life extension researcher Sandy Shaw “…right now the FDA favors drug companies. There’s no doubt about it. The drug companies are in bed with the FDA. The FDA is in bed with the drug companies.” What this means is that the FDA generally supports patented drugs over natural dietary supplements–regardless of the scientific evidence–because the drug companies can’t profit off them.
Pharmaceutical companies are seen by many as being motivated primarily by profit, and a lot of people are concerned that this motivation adversely effects their research agendas and marketing strategies. To help solve this problem, retrovirus researcher Peter Duesberg suggested that we “Generate a free market for scientific ideas in which funding depends on logic, scientific principles, and useful results, rather than on approval, or better yet the blessings of “peer-review.” Since the “peers” represent the established scientific monopolies their self-interest demands “science” that confirms and extends the status quo–rather than innovation, which threatens their considerable scientific and commercial investments.”
When I spoke with natural medicine advocate Jonathan Wright he offered some insight into why the research agendas of the pharmaceutical companies might be off track to begin with. He said, “So far as medicine in general goes, our very biggest mistake…started in the early part of the twentieth century, and it continues to this day–and that is, relying on patent medicines to heal the body. This has been an enormous mistake, because the condition necessary to patent anything says that it can not occur in nature. But out bodies are made of materials that are entirely natural…The best it’s going to do is suppress symptoms, and yet the medical profession has gone along with this for over a century.”
However, Dr. Wright told me that he thought that the solution to this problem was very simple. He said, “Everything we need to do can be summed up in these two words: copy nature.” For example, research has shown that when engaging in hormone replacement therapy it is essential that one use hormones that are biologically identical to those found in the human body, if one wishes to avoid the potentially deadly side-effects from taking patented synthetic hormones. The scientific evidence certainly suggests that we should avoid that which is unnatural to the body, and that an important secret to health and longevity is simply to mimic what nature does. Others point out that this is a good place to start, but that we can also significantly improve upon nature.
Our conventional medical system is entirely oriented toward the treatment of disease, illness, and injury. Little attention is given to making healthy people healthier and for improving physical, sexual, and cognitive performance. However, there are now many drugs, herbs, and nutrients available that have been shown to improve physical endurance, cognitive abilities, memory, and sexual performance. In the pages that follow, I discuss these drugs and dietary supplements with Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, Jonathan Wright, Ray Kurzweil, and others.
These performance-enhancing supplements appear to compensate for some of the decline in performance caused by aging. If cognitive and sexual performance can be enhanced in the elderly then perhaps other consequences of aging can also be reversed. Understanding and reversing the aging process is another important theme in this book.
Reversing the Aging Process and Life Extension Research
Although there are some good theories of aging, and a lot of progress has been made in terms of understanding why we age, the aging process is still largely mysterious. Some of the most important theories of aging–such as the free radical and cross-linking theories–are discussed in this book, along with proposals for how we might halt and reverse the aging process.
When I spoke with Leonard Hayflick, the microbiologist who discovered that healthy somatic cells can only divide a finite number of times (now known as the “Hayflick limit” ), he defined aging as “…the random systemic loss of molecular fidelity, that–after reproductive maturity–accumulates to levels that eventually exceed repair, turnover, or maintenance capacity.”
British biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey told me that he thinks that there are seven primary reasons why aging occurs. He said, “These are intrinsic side-effects of metabolism, of being alive in the first place, and they are things that build up throughout life. Although these side-effects are not the cause of aging, they start to become harmful once they get to a certain level of abundance. Once there’s enough of them around the body starts to suffer from them and eventually it suffers seriously.” Dr. de Grey believes that this process is reversible, and he has assembled a master plan for doing so that a substantial number of other life extension researchers are taking seriously. In the pages that follow, Dr. de Grey speaks with us about this.
Perhaps the most compelling reason why radical life extension is possible is because not all animals age like we do. In fact, it appears that some animals don’t age at all. When I interviewed John Guerin, director of the Ageless Animals Project, he told me about rockfish caught off the coast of Alaska, that were hundreds of years old, healthy, and fertile. Whales have been known to live for over two hundred years without showing any signs of aging. A male whale that was over a hundred years old was harpooned while it was in the midst of having sex. Guerin believes that by studying these types of animals we can learn why they live so long without losing vitality or fertility and then apply that knowledge to extending the life span of human beings.
Technology theorist and inventor Ray Kurzweil spoke to me about how nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and robotics will eventually allow humans to live for indefinite periods of time without aging. Dr. Kurzweil thinks that “nanobots, blood cell-size devices that could go inside the body and keep us healthy from inside” will be available in about two decades. So, Dr. Kurzweil believes, if we can just stay alive for another fifteen or twenty years we’ll be able to live forever.
Nanotechnology would not only allow for radical life extension, but also for a dramatic improvement in all physical capabilities–including brain functions. Dr. Kurzweil believes that the line between biology and technology is going to completely blur together in the decades to come, and that nanotechnological brain implants will substantially increase our intelligence and dramatically expand the power of the human mind. The power of the mind, and it’s relationship to medicine, is another important theme in this book.
When I was in college during the early Eighties, my maverick mentor Russel Jaffe told me that the most effective tool discovered by modern medicine was being overlooked by the majority of physicians. Dr. Jaffe was, of course, referring to the placebo effect, the power of the mind to effect the health of the body. Numerous studies have demonstrated that what we believe about a medical treatment dramatically effects how we respond to it. This is why when pharmaceutical companies develop a new drug it is always tested against inactive sugar pills–placebos–that are known to improve symptoms and facilitate cures simply because the patient and/or the physician believe that the new drug might work.
However, ironically, when I studied psychobiology at USC and NYU, I was taught by most of my professors that the placebo effect was simply something to be controlled for in experimental or clinical trials. In other words, it was like a nuisance that interfered with our understanding about the effects of a new drug or procedure, and most researchers and healthcare practitioners simply shrugged the placebo effect off as simply irrelevant. This was in the days before we really understood that what we believe not only directly impacts how we feel, but it measurably effects our physiology as well. We now know that the mind and body are simply two parts of the same inseparable system, and each dramatically effects the other.
Candace Pert, the neuroscience researcher who discovered the opiate receptor in brain, (and who I interviewed for my previous bookConversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse), brought about a paradigm shift in modern medicine by pioneering research that revealed an intimate relationship between the mind and body. Her interdisciplinary research into the relationship between the nervous system and the immune system demonstrated a body-wide communication system mediated by peptide molecules and their receptors. Dr. Pert believes this to be the biochemical basis of emotion and the potential key to understanding many challenging diseases. Dr. Pert’s research provides a basis for understanding why cancer patients can measurably reduce tumor growth through the process of visualization, and why placebos can cause measurable physiological changes.
In his practice as a general and pediatric surgeon, Bernie Siegel began recognizing common personality characteristics in those patients who did well and those who didn’t. In his bestselling book Love, Medicine, and Miracles, Dr. Siegel describes how exceptional cancer patients survive because of their attitude and beliefs. When I spoke with Dr. Siegel he told me, “You can’t separate thoughts and beliefs from your body. In other words, what you think, and what you believe, literally change your body chemistry.”
Studies confirm Dr. Siegel’s observations. For example, a PET scan study conducted at the University of Michigan showed that people who believed that they were receiving a pain killer actually produced more pain-killing endorphins in their brains and experienced less pain.
A relatively recent branch of medicine known as mind-body medicine addresses this fascinating and important topic of how the mind influences the body. In this collection, I speak with Bernie Siegel, Andrew Weil, and Larry Dossey about how we might be able to use this understanding to improve our health. I also speak with psychopharmacology researchers Raphael Mechoulam and Rick Strassman about the therapeutic potential of cannabis and psychedelic drugs. Many hallucinogenic plants–such as peyote and ayahausca brews–have a long history of shamanic and medicinal use in healing practices around the world, and may enhance the strength of the placebo effect (i.e., the power of the mind) because of their consciousness-changing abilities.
When I interviewed Dr. Weil he told me about how he had become completely cured of a lifelong cat allergy during an LSD session when he was twenty-eight, and that this experience had a profound influence on his medical perspective. He said that he would use psychedelics in his medical practice if they were legal. Dr. Weil said, “I think they’ve been a very profound influence. I used them a lot when I was younger. I think that they made me very much aware, first of all, of the profound influence of consciousness on health…Psychedelics can show you possibilities…I think they’re potentially tremendous teaching tools about mind-body interactions and states of consciousness.”
Perhaps even more fascinating than mind-body medicine is a transpersonal phenomenon known as “remote healing.” It seems that what we think may not only effect our own health–it may also directly effect the health of others. When I interviewed Dr. Dossey he told me about numerous controlled, double-blind studies demonstrating that “prayer” can have measurable health effects. The effects of directing positive intention have been demonstrated in dozens of controlled laboratory studies–in people, animals, and even bacteria. Dr. Dossey also told me about studies that demonstrated health benefits from engaging in religious practice, and spoke about the integration of medicine with spirituality. Reflecting on the integration of medicine with spirituality brings one to the notion that sometimes healing the essence of who we are, and reducing suffering, may mean letting go of the physical body.
The Right to Die
Just because medical technologies give us the ability to live forever doesn’t mean that we have to do so. The late psychologist Timothy Leary was one of the first people to start promoting ideas about life extension; he began doing so in the late 1970s. Attaining physical immortality, he believed was one of the “goals” of biological evolution. Dr. Leary’s enthusiasm inspired longevity researchers and helped to popularize ideas about how science would soon conquer the aging process and allow us to virtually live forever.
However, when Dr. Leary was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer at the age of 76, he said that he was “thrilled and ecstatic” to hear that he was going die. As much as Dr. Leary loved life, he not only accepted death–he embraced it. In the end, he even decided to forgo his plans for cryonic suspension. I think there is an important lesson in Dr. Leary’s dying process about the importance of facing the mystery of death with the same openness and sense of adventure that one faces life.
In other words, attaining physical immortality in a human body may not be the final stage for evolving consciousness in this universe. Numerous spiritual traditions–such as Hinduism and many forms of shamanism–assert that healing the spirit sometimes involves transcending the body and moving on to whatever is after death. However, regardless of whether or not consciousness survives death, not everyone may wish to hang around until the final collapse of the universe, and certainly people who are in chronic pain, or who are suffering greatly, should be given the option to leave if they wish.
When I asked Dr. Weil about his views on the controversial issue of euthanasia he said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for doctors to be involved in that, although I think patients should be able to discuss that issue with doctors. I think that for people with overwhelming diseases, for whom life has become really difficult, that they should have that choice, and that there should be mechanisms provided for helping them with that.”
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, on the other hand, believes that physicians should be able to perform euthanasia, and he is currently in prison for second degree murder because he assisted with the last wish of a patient who was suffering from ALS. When I interviewed Dr. Kevorkian about voluntary death I learned that, despite the U.S. government and medical establishment’s opposition to euthanasia, eighty percent of the public support a patient’s right to die and one in five physicians has admitted to practicing euthanasia at some point in their career. Why, then, is euthanasia illegal? “I think that the U.S. government, medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies are opposed to euthanasia for monetary or financial reasons,” Dr. Kevorkian said, “To help correct this situation there has to be an organized public response and outcry–which I believe is now occurring.”
While the goals of contemporary Western medicine are healing disease and treating injuries, the goals that one aspires to in the pursuit of optimal health are much larger and more encompassing. This may involve developing an immortal, nanotechnologically-proficient, self-repairing super-body of our own design, or it may involve gracefully transcending this world entirely and discarding our body like a pile of used clothing–but, either way, I think that the primary goal that medicine should aim for is the reduction of human suffering. I think that if we make the reduction of human suffering our number one priority, then the future of medicine does indeed appear very bright.
The Future of Medicine
We are living in truly astonishing times. Although our current healthcare system appears to be crumbling around us, we are simultaneously witnessing a rapidly-advancing biotechnology revolution that promises to forever change the course of human history. New possibilities are emerging everywhere we turn, and there is enormous cause for hope. When we look out onto the frontiers of medicine we see an incredible vista blossoming with possibilities that stagger the mind and border on the miraculous. New advances in medicine promise to help humanity end countless generations of suffering and deliver us into a golden age where disease and aging are merely subjects that we learn about in history class, and the boundaries of our physical capacities are limited only by our imaginations.
The following interviews shed some light on where modern medicine may be evolving. They provide a treasure-trove of practical suggestions that anyone can use to improve their health today and they offer an exciting vision of what’s to come. These mavericks of medicine provide us with bridges to awe-inspiring possibilities, and they offer us the hope that we can all live longer, healthier, and happier lives.