Think for a moment about your high school or college biology classes. What were you taught about cells-the basic units that make up all of life? What part of the cell is the brain of the cell?
I'll tell you in a minute. First, I want to introduce the author who caused me to rethink the answer to this basic question. Bruce Lipton is an APPPAH member whose talks at conferences have been stimulating, thought-provoking, lively, and popular ones, causing us all to expand our minds about the cellular basis of pre- and perinatal psychology. In his new book, The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles, Lipton is engaging us on the printed page, shaking up long-established truths, asking us again to expand our thinking. This time he is doing so with a description of his explorations in his professional field of cell biology, with large portions of quantum physics and metaphysics thrown into the mix.
So, if you answered that the brain of each cell is its nucleus, you are in good company. Probably most of us grew up with that explanation of how cells work. However, according to Lipton, that truth doesn't hold up in the laboratory. When he teases the nuclei out of cells that he is studying, the cells don't die, they keep on doing what they are supposed to be doing for a lengthy period of time. However, when he removes the membrane from the cells, they collapse and die, incapable of carrying out their functions for even short periods of time. Thus, Lipton tells us, he has come to understand that the cell membrane is the brain of the cell. Without the membrane, no cell can function.
The membrane not only directs the integrity and function of each cell, it dictates which environmental substances it will allow in and out of the cell. Bathed in nutrients, gases, or toxins, the membrane is the functional brain that commands how it responds to its environment.
That was my first wow in reading The Biology of Belief.
My husband emphasized the second wow. Lipton proposes that the placebo effect is actually a form of healing in itself. If indeed belief can create a change in the body chemistry, then the belief that a certain treatment will help a person recover from a malady actually creates the physiologic conditions that will lead to that person's recovery. Lipton believes that the placebo effect should be taught in medical school for its ability to bring about healing. Instead, it "is quickly glossed over ... so that students can get to the real tools of modern medicine like drugs and surgery ... because of their conviction that the body and its parts are essentially stupid and that we need outside intervention to maintain our health" (pp. 137-138).
My next wow involved Lipton's discussion of how quantum physics, as opposed to Newtonian physics, more aptly describes his growing understanding of the workings of the cell membrane. First, a few simple defining explanations:
1 - Newtonian physics: the principal branch of physics embraced by the physical sciences. It defines the world as made of matter, operating within absolute laws that make our physical world definable, quantifiable, and concrete. It describes how matter interacts with other matter.
2 - Quantum physics: the less familiar branch of physics that describes how matter interacts with matter on the plane of subatomic particles. When dealing with these tiny particles, the rules of Newtonian physics break. Instead of the ordered patterns of Newtonian physics, quantum physics explores realms that are filled with probabilities and organized chaos, and defines the world as made up of energy, which is not necessarily definable because there are no absolutes. In the quantum world, a subatomic particle might be matter or it might be energy, depending upon how it is observed.
3 - Metaphysics: the branch of physics that goes beyond the physical. It describes those states of being that transcend matter, to encompass the nature of being. Some "downgrade" metaphysics to philosophy rather than science because it is unprovable.
Those of us who function in the world of health care are increasingly aware of the mind/body connection. Emotions, and the thought processes-beliefs-that give rise to them, create chemical molecules that travel throughout the body (including the body of a pregnant woman). These emotional chemicals, or neuropeptides, bathe the cells of the body and cause chemical changes capable of creating wellness or illness. Thought processes are forms of energy. So energy contributes to physical states.
Now, if energy creates actual changes in our cells, then the nonabsolutes of quantum physics have a great deal to say about how we can best look at, define, and treat the human body. Lipton immerses us in a world that promises a better understanding of how to enlist our highest selves in the service of our own health.
Lipton takes a risk in laying out what he calls his newfound spirituality and provides us with a travelogue through the seminal moments on his journey that brought him to the conclusions described in his book. (Those seminal moments bear some similarity to chemist Kekulé's famous daydream about the structure of the benzene molecule.) There are skeptics among us (I know-I'm married to one of them!) who will scoff at the ongoing personal journey that Lipton describes because it is not the stuff of science. While they might be unable to discount his work with cell membranes and his redefinition of the cell's brain as being its membrane, his forays into less provable realms of metaphysics might slow science's acceptance of his ideas.
Personally, reading Lipton's informative and conversational story, I was constantly brought to thoughts of my own work. Midwifery is a balancing act of maximizing the ways in which I work with energy, emotion, and spirit in the context of a medical world which wants us to quantify scientifically every aspect of a pregnant woman's care. Lipton's theories support midwives who strive to make the psychospiritual sides of perinatal care the hallmark of being with mothers and babies.
Yet, I seem to have witnessed belief that hasn't necessarily translated into the expected biology. Certainly most women who believe that they carry the innate ability to give birth will do so with strength and health. However, I also have seen women who seemed to believe deeply in their ability to give birth but who have end up with deeply troubled births. And I have seen women who were masses of psychosocial conflict, poor lifestyle choices, and ill health give birth with grace and speed. Professionally, I cannot ignore the difficulties that arise when we try to depend solely on belief to guide us-not that Lipton suggests we should.
Lipton touches on this discrepancy briefly in an addendum to Biology of Belief. It comes across to this reader as an afterthought, or as the attempt by someone who is trying to make sense of his own new truths. I hope Bruce, in his next book, will explain more about what happens in biology when belief seems to fail.
With flair and humor, Bruce Lipton has given us a valuable, insightful, fascinating, enjoyable, warm, conversational, and accessible look at the workings of science, of academia, of innovation, and of the unprovable. He invites us on his journey of discovery. APPPAH's members should find it a journey well worth joining, full of revolutionary, breakthrough information about how our thoughts and our consciousness are crucial elements of wellness.
JOURNAL OF PRENATAL AND PERINATAL PSYCHOLOGY AND HEALTH publishes research and clinical articles from the cutting edge of the science of prenatal and perinatal psychology and health. The journal, published quarterly since 1986, is dedicated to the in-depth exploration human reproduction and pregnancy and the mental and emotional development of the unborn and newborn child.