Just about every ‘new age’ discipline seems to have astonishing claims for curing illness, especially cancer. Has science failed to tackle cancer; has it been looking in the wrong direction all these years?
New Age senior citizen Louise Hay has a masterful approach to changing the way people think by, well, directly changing the way the way they think. Her inspiration goes beyond mere positive thinking, and has touched the lives of many hundreds of thousands, some of whom are featured on the ‘Hay Ride’ movie You Can Heal Your Life.
One of the benefits which re-patterning the thoughts that flow through your mind can produce, it is claimed, is curing cancer. Somehow it seems as if every new age discipline these days has some such assertion. In Hay’s case, she claims to have healed herself of cervical cancer – a cancer cynics claim she has produced no evidence for ever having. A victim of sustained sexual abuse at a young age, she asks ‘where else would I put my negativity, where else would my cancer manifest?‘. According to her, the cancer, and we presume she is accurate in her claims of having had the condition, is long gone, due to the ardent restructuring of her way of thinking. Literally.
Her ‘clients’, whose therapy is to change the way they think, concentrating on love and forgiveness, back up her credentials with many similar claims of having ‘cured’, removed or controlled a variety of illnesses, most especially cancer.
New Age Therapies
There is nothing new in these kinds of claims – but should we credit them as being more beneficial and successful than conventional medicine? It seems that whatever lineage a new age fad or discipline is founded in becomes the basis for claims of curing cancers, and a host of other illnesses. Leading to a huge range of theories, especially regarding cancer:
- Hay’s therapy revolves around thoughts (though she acknowledged undertaking an extensive regimen of diet control, exercise, naturopathic medicines and more simultaneously).
- Peter D’Adamo is a popular author who has championed the idea that folks of different blood types should consume or avoid various kinds of food. Cancer to him, is primarily (or statistically at least) connected to blood type and diet.
- Acupuncturists claim a misbalance of the bodies meridians is to blame.
- Chemists look to chemical causes
- Environmentalists see our toxic, polluted surroundings as the cause.
- Biologists see the malfunctioning of cells as the problem, to be solved by adjustments in various cellular structures.
- Other people see emotions as the deep seated primal cause; the other lines of investigation only tackling the symptoms
- In the Guardian newspaper, in the ‘Bad Science’ section is some investigation into claims that electro-magnetic influences of majour power lines are causing cancer (suitably debunked)
- Surgeons look to their surgery as the best option. If people take up additional therapies, they might have a placebo effect, but it is the surgery that has affected the ‘cure’.
The list goes on. What ever line of practice/spirituality/physicality one follows, it is looked to as the ‘cause’ of so many diseases, especially cancer.
Cancer is a particularly beguiling disease. The causes are not known, and each type seems to behave in a different way. More importantly the types of cancer seem to vary enormously in the response to treatment. One man, father of a bhikkhu in the UK, has highly advanced prostrate cancer, which has spread deeply into his lymphatic system. The expert who is treating him (primarily with female hormones) cannot give even a rough estimate of if or when the cancer will kill the patient. “How long is a piece of string!” is his answer. Treatments vary, responses vary, remission comes and goes – it is very difficult to find clear patterns with this particular disease. Another monk, an American in his 70’s, had a golf ball sized tumour surgically removed from his prostrate, and is of fine health and energy 7 years later. He uses Dhammakaya meditation to maintain his remission. Prasert, a Thai man in his 70’s was on his death bed some 10 years ago with cancer of the stomach. Never interested in religion he did not take up any kind of spiritually based practice. At the point of only weeks to live, his condition vanished, and 12 years later he is still out on the golf course several times a week. An acquaintance of his, who never smoked or drank alcohol, is dying of lung caner at only 45 years of age.
Something strange is going on with this disease. It seems it can come and go, rapid decline and equally rapid remissions. Which makes the science hard to follow.
The causes are hard to pin down. Certain chemicals and toxins in the environment correlate statistically, but that is far from an understanding of the cause. For instance smoking increases the statistical susceptibility of lung cancer, yet we all know of non-smokers who died of this, and smokers who lived to a ripe old age. Gene expression, toxins, local abscess, faulty cellular function … so many things seem to play a part. The unpredictable nature of the disease opens the door for many claims of ‘cures’ that range from the fairly sensible, to the utterly bizarre.
There is a well documented expression of the way humans seek patterns in their behaviour – that is called the Fundamental Attribution Error. It means in brief that if something good happens to you, you attribute it to your own good qualities. If something bad happens you put it down to chance or circumstance that you cannot control. A thief for instance, will believe other thieves get caught due to their carelessness, and his own success is put down to his cleverness or skill. Until he too is caught of course, which will subsequently be put down to bad luck or circumstance. In relation to disease, if it recedes or vanishes, one puts it down to ones own actions (diet, emotional work, thought control, herbs, or whatever it is one has belief in). If the condition only worsens, one puts it down to external factors that are out of ones control. One woman, whose cancer disappeared (for some years so far) puts it down to chanting. She took up a daily chanting practise, and attributes the reversal to this. It is of course, bad science, as there could have been all kinds of factors involved that had nothing to do with the chanting. Many people look at his boxing wars to pinpoint the cause of Muhammed Ali’s advanced Parkinson’s, without any statistics linking boxing matches with the disease – if you can’t explain exactly how it happens, you at least need to produce statistical correlation with boxing and Parkinson’s.
Humans draw patterns in their lives. If X happens, we look for a Y as the cause. Mostly we get it wrong, as it is impossible to view ones own life in isolated factors; it is too hard to separate out what has an effect and what does not, especially when it comes to illness. Many people think that going to be with wet hair can give you a cold. Scientists tell us the cold is a contracted virus. Louise Hay attributes her cure of cervical cancer to her regimen of controlling and training her thought patterns. Yet she took up a whole host of practices and diets – so how to tell what the most important factors were?