Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In My Right Mind

The “Man of the Century,” Albert Einstein had a brain that was not much different than the ones us regular mortals carry around. His neuronal connections between the right and left brain were more numerous; he could synthesize, or integrate information much better than most people. Even though the brains of most remarkable people have not been studied like Einstein’s was, we are safe to assume that their brains were also better at synthesizing. Leaders like Buddha, Christ, Gandhi, Newton and many others probably integrated information between the right and the left brain exceptionally well.

As you know, the left brain is wired for logic, spatial orientation, linear thinking, and pretty much everything related to excelling in science and, in general terms, all the things that males are presumably more interested in. The right brain is better for visual tasks, art, music, cooperation, communication, loving and spiritual things; again, in general terms the right brain is more developed in females. Of course, both brains working together is best, as noted above. Integrators, then, seem to maximize their potential through networking their neural pathways better than the man in the street.

I didn’t know any of this when I was right handed in grade school. So, my decision to develop my left hand was motivated by vanity and practicality. After watching a right-handed classmate struggle with a cast on his right arm and fall behind in his school work, I began to use my left hand exclusively. Soon, I became an honorary lefty, even on the soccer pitch. After a few years, my interest in the spiritual world, already fairly strong, since I wanted to be a Jesuit priest while growing up, seemed to get even stronger. Several “otherworldly experiences” solidified my conviction that the unseen is much more important than the material world, often the former giving rise to the latter.

Now, as I look back on my life, having achieved a bit using my left brain, I wonder how much more active my right brain has been by forcing it to work harder since childhood, when I chose to be a lefty. It seems intuitive and logical, that emphasizing the left side of the body will strengthen the right side of the brain; after all, physics postulates that all relationships work bi-directionally.
While it is obvious I will not achieve the lofty heights attained by more advanced integrators, I would like to think that in a more humble manner, my brain did become more synthesizing. But, as much as I have loved and benefitted from science and logic, I choose my right mind to guide me, just like De Saint Exupery tells us: “It is only with the heart that one can see clearly; what is important is invisible to the eye.” (The Little Prince.”)

Our society has been ruled by logic with mixed results. “Learned men and women” have led us into wonderful technological achievements, but also into disastrous wars, economic messes and thorny social problems. Would our society be any different if we were lead by the right brain, and by our hearts? Would a people more given to cooperation, instead of competition be more fair and kind? Most of us would answer yes.

In that society we would achieve a better balance between “justice and mercy” thereby forgiving the “fallen” Salt Lake City Zen Master and would not have put him on an impossible pedestal in direct misunderstanding of his equalitarian teachings. We would also show more mercy towards Brandon Davies, the BYU basketball player or for that matter any student or person honestly engaged in learning ethical principles. We would focus more on teaching and less on punishment. And most importantly, we would rejoice in caring for the downtrodden, the homeless and otherwise disadvantaged to improve our society while “in our right mind.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Our Media and Health

Last week the BBC reported on Curcumin, the herb that has been a pharmaceutical product in India for quite a while, due to its amazing health-promoting properties. Researchers at Sinai Cedars Hospital in Los Angeles showed that Curcumin lowers the risk of strokes and improves the chances of recovering from one. Curcumin thins blood, much like aspirin does. It also heals the lining of blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Oh, it does a lot more, like lowering the risk of cancer and also allows one to walk on water… ok, it doesn’t do the latter. Still, the researchers concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to recommend it just yet: “more studies are needed.” Really; how about the studies carried out in India? How about the millenniums’ worth of natural testing on human beings consuming Curcumin on a daily basis with no ill effects?

But, never mind all that about Curcumin; the point I wish to make is that our American media, which is controlled by 5 corporations, did not make much noise about the Curcumin study. Why not? Could it be that those 5 conglomerates depend heavily on advertisements promoting Big Pharma’s agenda? Surely you have noticed that drug commercials take up a big chunk of all TV commercials. Could it be that our supposedly unbiased media cannot afford to upset Big Pharma with any hint of competition?

To make matters worse, proposed budget cuts in the USA may eliminate funding for PBS and NPR, the very venues that carry the BBC and other non corporate programming. Sure, we will need to make painful cuts to get past the financial crisis that grips our nation. All of us will need to tighten our belt. But, cutting back on education and news programming that may teach us to be healthy and make sense of the politics and economics that perpetuate our “Disease Care System” is neither wise nor economically sound in the long run.

But, the plot “sickens:” the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as US Senate Bill S.3804 intends to create an “off switch” on the internet. This means that our government, if it feels threatened, could just turn off the net, much like Mubarak did for a while in Egypt. This doesn’t sound good to me; but, considering that most people only “surf” the net and seldom “dive,” it may not be a big deal to block access; some may be upset that they would not be able to post pictures of themselves doing the laundry….
Of course, I am being facetious.

But, there is a grain of truth behind those tongue-in check comments. Great books like “The Dumbest Generation: how the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future,” by Mark Bauerlein and “Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other,” by Sherry Turkle do a great job documenting how Americans are at risk of abdicating our freedoms by relying too heavily on “mainstream media” and internet content. As presently established, they mostly to promote “bread and circus,” or cheap food and cheap entertainment, two of the main factors that lead to chronic diseases.

Surely you have seen the TV ads sponsored by “Nofoodtaxes.com.” “Get the government out of my kitchen,” they shout. The first thing we should ask about that “Consumer Advocate” organization is who funds them. Would you be surprised that it is the Soda Pop industry? The JAMA recently reported that too many corporations like Big Pharma are fronting such consumer groups without revealing their involvement. Why would they? Besides, said corporations own the American media.

OK, OK, let us argue that we should indeed “get the government out of our kitchen.” Fine; then let us eliminate the Farm Bill, which subsidizes the very crops (corn, wheat and soy) heavily used to produce cheap, refined, end empty processed foods. This is why poor people tend to be obese; they can only afford those foods, instead of veggies, a huge factor in chronic diseases. By the way, the corporations who own the media also own industrial agriculture and food processing businesses… and, perhaps, the politicians who vote for the Farm Bill. This is what is known as “Corporate Welfare,” with its beneficiaries loudly demonizing, in their media outlets, the working man for wanting a break….

While you read this our nation argues about our right to organize and express ourselves in Collective Bargaining, which our corporate-owned media covers with a biased tongue. Surely Fox News is not the only outlet whose reporters internally accuse each other of biases that influence their “objectivity” on these vital issues.

No, we cannot afford to cut funding for Big Bird.

1. “Few Advocacy Groups Disclose Grants From Drug Companies,” JAMA 2011;305:662