The Biology of Belief book is now available in Porteguese by Butterfly Editora Ltda in Brazil. The following interview was done with Mônica Tarantino & Eduardo Araia for Planeta Magazine, May 2008. For the Porteguese translation, see Entrevista, Edição 428 – Maio/2008, at www.revistaplaneta.com.br.
1 You are one of the most important voices of a new biology. What are the differences between the traditional biology and your version?
When I first introduced the concepts that I collectively I refer to as the “new biology” in 1980, almost all of my scientific colleagues ignored these new ideas as unbelievable and some even went as far as calling it a scientific “heresy.” However, since that time, conventional biology has been undergoing a profound revision of its basic beliefs. The new revisions of biomedicine are leading traditional science toward the same conclusions I had twenty-five years ago. The funny part is that when I first presented public lectures on the “new biology” in 1985, my scientific peers walked out on my lectures considering the ideas as flights of fantasy. Today, when presenting the same information, research scientists are quick to respond, “So what is it that you are saying that is new?” Indeed, our biological beliefs are evolving.
While leading edge science has acquired a different view of how life works, the general public is still being educated with the outdated beliefs. Scientists know that genes don’t control life, yet most media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines) are still informing the public that genes control their lives. People are still primarily attributing their deficiencies and illnesses to genetic dysfunctions. Since we are taught that genes “control” life, and as far as we know we did not select our genes nor can we change them, then we perceive we are powerless in controlling our biology and behaviors. The beliefs about genes cause the public to perceive of themselves as “victims” of heredity.
Yet today there are still some very significant differences between the views of conventional biology and the insights offered by the “new biology.” Firstly, traditional biologists still acknowledge that the nucleus (the cell organelle that contains the genes) “controls” biology, an idea that emphasizes genes as the “primary” controlling factor in life. In contrast the “new biology” concludes that the cell membrane (the “skin” of the cell) is the structure that primarily “controls” an organism’s behavior and genetics.
The membrane contains the molecular switches that regulate a cell’s functions in response to environmental signals. For example, a light switch can be used to turn a light on and off. Does the switch “control” the light? Not really, since the switch is actually “controlled’ by the person that turns it on and off. A membrane switch is analogous to a light switch in that it turns a cell function or the reading of a gene on and off…yet the membrane switch is actually activated by an environmental signal. So the “control” is not in the switch, it is in the environment. While conventional biologists are now recognizing that the environment is an important contributor in regulating biology, the “new biology” emphasizes the environment as the primary control in biology.
Secondly, conventional biomedical science emphasizes that the physical “mechanisms” that control biology are grounded in Newtonian mechanics. In contrast, the “new biology” acknowledges that the mechanisms of the cell are controlled by quantum mechanics. This is a major difference in perspective for the following reason: Newtonian mechanics places emphasis on the material realm (atoms and molecules), while quantum mechanics focuses upon the role of the invisible energy forces that collectively form the “field” (see The Field by Lynne MacTaggart).
Medicine sees the body as strictly a mechanical device composed of physical biochemicals and genes. If the operation of the body is dis-eased, medicine uses physical drugs and chemistry to heal the body. In the quantum universe, it is recognized that invisible energy fields and physical molecules cooperate in creating life. In fact, quantum mechanics recognizes that the invisible moving forces of the field are the primary factors that shape matter. At the very leading edge of biophysics today, scientists are also recognizing that the body’s molecules are actually controlled by vibrational energy frequencies, so that light, sound and other electromagnetic energies profoundly influence all the functions of life. This new insight about the power of energy forces provides an understanding of how Asian energy medicine (e.g., acupuncture, feng shui), homeopathy, chiropractic and other complementary healing modalities influence health.
Among the “energy” forces that control biology are the electromagnetic fields that are generated by the mind. In conventional biology, the action of the mind is not really incorporated into the understanding of life. This is very surprising in that medicine acknowledges that the placebo effect is responsible for at least one third of all medical healing, including surgery. The placebo effect occurs when someone is healed due to their belief (action of the mind) that a drug or medical procedure is going to heal them, even though that drug can be a sugar pill or the procedure a sham. Interestingly, the influence of this very valuable healing ability is generally disregarded by conventional allopathic medicine and even “despised” by the drug companies that prefer to see drugs as the only remedy for disease.
The “new biology” emphasizes the role of the mind as the primary factor influencing health. This is an important difference because it acknowledges that we are not necessarily victims of the biology, and that with proper understanding we can use the mind as a power that controls life. In this reality, since we can control our thoughts, we become masters of our biology and not victims of hardwired genes.
Thirdly, the “new biology” emphasizes that evolution is not driven by the mechanisms emphasized in Darwinian biology. While the “new biology” still recognizes that life evolved over time, it suggests that it was more influence by Lamarckian mechanisms than Darwinian mechanisms. (This answer is discussed in more detail in the Darwinian question below.)
In conclusion, the intention of the “new biology” is not so much directed toward the scientific community (which has already begun revising its belief system) as it is intended for the public (lay audience) that is still being mis-educated with old, outdated and limiting beliefs. The public needs to be aware of the new science for it represents knowledge that will allow them to have more power over their lives.
This is new knowledge is about “self.” Since knowledge is power, than “knowledge of self” directly means self-empowerment, exactly what we need during these troubling times for the planet.
2 Do you experience any kind of pressure because of your ideas? If so, what sort of pressure?
Not really. Most conventional scientists simply ignore my ideas and instead favor maintaining conventional beliefs, in spite of the fact that medicine has become the leading cause of death in the United States (see statistics for iatrogenic illness). However, since 2000, I have noted that more and more scientists are beginning to acknowledge that there is indeed a real theoretical basis for the “new science” I present. On a daily basis, newly published scientific research is continuously confirming the ideas presented in The Biology of Belief book.
For example, Chapter 2 in my book is about how the environment programs the genetic activity of cloned cells. I titled this chapter It’s the Environment, Stupid. Four months after the book was published, the prestigious scientific journal Nature had a lead article on how genes in stem cells were being programmed by the environment. They titled their article It’s the Ecology, Stupid! I was excited because they were verifying what I wrote and even used the exact same title. (There is an old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest from of flattery,” an indeed, I was flattered by their article!)
It is very difficult for scientists to let go of established beliefs they have been trained with and use in their research. When new insights of science come into their field, many scientists stubbornly prefer to hold on to their outdated views. I believe that science is unintentionally holding back from acknowledging necessary advances we could use in keeping our world from crashing because of the difficulty in releasing limiting beliefs. Yet the new science insights account for what we already know while providing explanations for many of the unexplained observations such as miraculous healings and spontaneous remissions.
3 How does your theory contest the Darwinism? Could you describe and explain these main aspects?
Firstly, people confuse evolution with Darwinian theory. Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck scientifically established evolution in 1809, fifty years before Darwin’s theory. Darwinian theory is about “how” evolution occurred. Darwinian theory offers two basic steps: 1) Random Mutation- the belief that gene mutations are random and not influenced by the environment. Simply, evolution is driven by “accidents.” 2) Natural Selection- Nature eliminates the weakest organisms in a “struggle” for existence. Simply, life is based upon competition with winners and losers.
New scientific insights offer a different picture. In 1988, research established that when stressed, organisms have molecular adaptation mechanisms to select genes and modify their genetic code. Simply, organisms can change their genetics in response to environmental experiences. Consequently, there are now two types of genetic mutations: “random” and “adaptive.” In accepting “directed” mutations as an evolutionary mechanism, logic would select that process as highly probable in shaping the evolution and beautiful organization of the biosphere. While it could always be argued that life arose through “accidental” random mutations, it would be highly improbable that this mechanism would be the primary drive force behind evolution.
Conclusion: the order of life implies we are not likely accidents of random evolution, for we evolved from, and are totally connected to, everything on this planet. This new vision reveals that human influences in destroying the environment are actually leading to our own extinction. Humans were truly meant to be the gardeners in the Garden of Eden.
Darwinian theory further emphasizes that life is based upon a “survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence,” implying that it is a “dog-eat-dog” world where we must struggle to stay alive. This idea of “struggle” was originally based upon Thomas Malthus’ theory that predicted: “Animals reproduce so quickly that there will come a time when there will be too many animals and not enough food.” So life will inevitably result in a struggle and only the “fittest” will survive the competition. This idea has carried over into human culture so that we see our daily lives as one long competition driven by the fear of losing the struggle. Unfortunately, Malthus’ idea was found to be scientifically incorrect, consequently the competitive character of Darwinian theory is basically flawed.
New insights offered in biology are now revealing that the biosphere (all the animals and plants together) is a giant integrated community that is truly based upon a cooperation of the species. Nature does not really care about the individuals in a species; Nature cares about what the species as a “whole” is doing to the environment. Simply, Nature does not care that we have had an Einstein, a Mozart or a Michelangelo (examples of humanity’s “fittest”), Nature is more concerned about how human civilization is cutting down the rain forests and changing the climate.
The “new biology” emphasizes that evolution is 1) not an accident and 2) is based upon cooperation, these insights are profoundly different than those offered by conventional Darwinian theory. A newer theory of evolution would emphasize the nature of harmony and community as a driving force behind evolution, ideas that are completely different than today’s notion of life/death competition.
4 Could you tell us how you have concluded we can command and modify our cells and genes? You were part of the beginning of the researches about stem cells. Was it from that experience that you concluded the characteristics and behavior of the cells reflect their environment and not their DNA?
My first scientific insights were based upon experiments I started in 1967 using cultures of cloned stem cells. In these studies, genetically identical cells were inoculated into three culture dishes, each having a different growth media (the cell’s “environment”). In one dish the stem cells turned into muscle, in the second dish the genetically identical cells turned into bone cells and in the third dish, the cells became fat cells. The point: the cells were genetically identical, only the “environments” were different. My experimental results, published in 1977, reveal the environment controlled the cell’s genetic activity.
These studies show that genes provide cells with “potentials,” which are selected and controlled by the cell in response to environmental conditions. Cells dynamically adjust their genes so that they can adapt their biology to the demands of the environment. My studies led me to the fact that the nucleus, the cytoplasmic organelle containing the genes, was not controlling the cell’s biology even though this is the belief that is still acknowledged in today’s textbooks.
I later found that the cell’s membrane (its “skin”) was actually the equivalent of the cell’s brain. Interestingly, in human development, the embryonic skin is the precursor of the human brain. In the cells and in the human, the brain reads and interprets the environmental information and then sends signals to control the organism’s functions and behaviors.
5 Later, you stated that the transformation of cells from the blood vessels in other tissues was related to signals sent by the central nervous system. So is it correct to say that it is possible to control the formation of the blood vessels from our mind? What is the physiological and mental path and the benefit of this power?
The structure and behavior of the blood vessels are highly regulated by the body so that the cardiovascular system can provide fresh oxygenated blood to tissues based upon their “needs.” If you are running away from a leopard you need blood to nourish your arms and legs as they run away from the threat, and when you have eaten dinner, you need blood in the gut to nourish the processes used for digestion. The point: different behaviors require different blood flow patterns. The body’s blood flow pattern is regulated by the brain that interprets the body’s needs and then sends signals to the blood vessels to control the function and genetics of the cells lining the blood vessel.
Blood serves as the provider of both the body’s nutrition and of the immune system. The blood vessels have different behavioral characters when they are involved with nutrition function (growth) or when they are engaged in an inflammation response (protection).
The functional and structural status of the blood vessel is based upon the body’s needs. The mind is the primary director of the body’s needs, so thoughts and beliefs acting through the nervous system directly results in the release of neurochemicals that influence the genetics and behavior of the blood vessels. Consequently, our mind can enhance our health by properly regulating vascular activity and can just as easily sabotage our health if the mind sends inappropriate regulatory signals to the body’s systems.
6 But for them to transform into a new type of cell isn’t it necessary for them to have a “multipotent” DNA? What can determine the changes in the tissues and in what way?
All cells in the body have the same genes (except the red blood cells that do not have a nucleus or genes). Every cell is endowed with the same genetic potential to form any tissue or organ. While most people think genes control the cell’s biology, genes are simply “blueprints” used in making the body’s protein building blocks. In early stages of development, all the genes in embryonic cells can be activated so these cells are truly “multipotential cells.” As development proceeds and cells differentiate into specialized tissue and organ cells, this maturation is accompanied by a “masking” of genes that will not be expressed by a particular cell. For example, when a cell differentiates into a muscle cell, the genes in its nucleus that can make nerve cells, bone cells, or skin cells are “inactivated.” The cell loses developmental potential as it matures.
Recently, scientists have found a way to “unmask” genes. They are able to reactivate gene programs that have been disenabled during development. In their study, they uncovered genes in a skin cell and reverted the mature, differentiated skin cell into a “stem cell,” a more primitive developmental state. New insights reveal that in response to certain environmental conditions (for example, the release of specific hormones and growth factors), cells activate or mask their genes in order to fine-tune their behavior and activity.
7 Did you test this model to show and replicate your theory to show the other scientists your point of view?
Back in the late 1970’s to early 1990’s, my research “conflicted” with the general beliefs held by cell biologists. Before I was able to publish research I did at University of Wisconsin or at Stanford University, my colleagues were consistently shown the results of these “strange” experiments, in order to give them a chance to critique my studies and be sure I was accurate in my interpretation of the results.
In fact, my last published research articles at Stanford University Medical School were delayed for almost a year until all those involved in the studies fully accepted the results and agreed on the interpretation of these unusual experiments. Even though they were intimately involved with these studies, the more conventional scientists in the group chose to ignore the results and consider them to be an “exception” to the established beliefs. Unfortunately, scientific principles cannot have “exceptions,” If a principle has exceptions, it simply means the assumed belief is incomplete or incorrect!
8 What are the consequences of this conclusion for the science? Does it represent the possibility of a change of paradigm?
When I first published my studies in the 1970’s, the results completely challenged the beliefs about genetics at the time. Many scientists totally ignored my research because it did not conform to conventional assumptions. However, the work was important for it revealed that our lives were not preprogrammed in the genes. The new science showed that we could actively influence our genetics. It showed how life experiences and education radically change the readout of our genome.
What was “heresy” when I first published this work is now becoming conventional belief in cell biology. In fact, today when I talk about my experiments and the strange results, many scientists say, “So what’s so new in what you are talking about!” We have come a long way since 1977! The paradigm has already changed and the important self-empowering principles of the new science of epigenetics are slowly making their way into the conventional world.