Pioneering research on brain functions by the eminent neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield provides scientific evidence for the existence of a spirit.
A few decades ago Dr. Penfield was attempting to identify the source of epileptic seizures by stimulating regions of patients’ brains. His did this by exposing the brain and delivering mild electric currents (shocks) to the conscious patient's surface neocortex. By this process he hoped to identify areas of the brain that triggered epileptic seizures. If the seizure location in a patient could be identified he would consider removing the tissue to prevent future seizures. By repeatedly stimulating brain regions in conscious patients and noting the effects, Penfield was able to construct a remarkably detailed map of localized functions in the brain, a map showing which areas of the brain controlled sensations and movements in the body.
In all his work on searching for epileptic trigger sites, Penfield noticed something very interesting. He noted that he could not locate the mind, the thing that regulates conscious decision making, reasoning, sentience, and agency.
When Penfield carried out his investigations, patients would report all sorts of sensations, memories, and movements, but these were things that happened to the patients. You see, his electrode could not stimulate patients to make a choice, to believe something, or to reason, the very things associated with the human mind.
Does this mean that the human mind was not evident in his research? On the contrary, the human mind was present. It was present in the patients’ reports of what Penfield’s electrode caused them to do and feel. For example, when the electrode caused a patient’s hand to move, the patient often said, “I didn’t do that, you did” (i.e., the patient’s mind reflected on how Penfield made his or her hand move). The patient did not say, “I wanted to move my hand (something which would indicate that Penfield stimulated the mind). Penfield concluded that “The patient’s mind, which is considering the situation in such an aloof and critical manner, can only be something quite apart from the neuronal reflex action [brain].”
When Penfield began his studies of the human brain, he had hoped to discover how the brain causes the mind, something that we are continually reminded of by atheists (i.e., there is no agentic mind/spirit, just brain neuronal activity). However, because no one has been able to find the physical areas of the brain that control the mind, we are left to wonder, where is the mind?
Penfield wrote that “it will always be quite impossible to explain the mind on the basis of neuronal activity in the brain.” Unable to find the mind in the brain, yet ever aware of the presence of the mind during his research, Penfield determined that something else must be causing the mind. And what was that something else? He declared, “What a thrill it [was] to discover that the scientist, too, can legitimately believe in the existence of the spirit!”
The apostle Paul prophesied that the Spirit of Truth would be poured out upon the earth in the latter days. This Spirit has moved science forward at an impressive rate. We regularly witness discoveries in medicine, technology, physics, chemistry, and biology. Discoveries in these and other fields of science bring blessings of truth, hope, healing, comfort, and the ability to accomplish things in a manner unfathomable to previous generations.
Yet in our fast paced, high tech world we must not lose sight of the blessings the Lord has already given us. Take herbs, for example. We’ve all heard and read claims that herbs are great for common ailments, but if you are like me, you are skeptical. It would be nice if there was rigorous testing of medicinal herbs, similar to the rigorous testing of pharmaceuticals. The inability to patent a natural substance makes widespread, rigorous testing of herbs unlikely. Whether we like it or not, rigorous testing of medicinal remedies is made possible by financial returns on patentable medicinal substances.
Do herbs have medicinal properties? Yes. How do I know? I have taken a few herbal remedies but cannot point to any particular instance where they were clearly effective; so I have no personal experience to assert that herbs effectively treat ailments. I’ve also perused books on herbal remedies, but the research the authors cite on herbal medicinal properties are scant and lack rigorous clinical control; so there isn’t even an impressive body of research to support the claim that herbs are clearly effective. Well then, how can we be sure that herbs work? Because the Lord said they work.
Consider the following scriptural verses.
1. Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment . . . are made for the benefit and the use of man . . . to strengthen the body (Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-20).
2. And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food (D&C 42:43).
3. And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate (Alma 46:40).
4. And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man (D&C 89:10). (Note that constitution, as the word is used here, refers to bodily strength and stamina.)
Modern medicine is great, but sometimes I wonder if we are missing out on another area of healing by not researching herbs as rigorously as we research modern therapies. It would be great if companies would aggressively research the efficacy, side effects, and proper dosing of herbs. Because natural remedies are not patentable, there is no financial incentive to conduct such research. Thus we are left in the dark on how and why herbs work.
On September 25, 2006 President Bush used his veto powers for the first time. What did he veto? A bill allowing federal funds to be used for embryonic stem cell research. (I wish he had used his veto powers on big spending bills, but that is another story.) The veto was a welcome blessing for many religious folks, but seen as a curse for many folks stricken with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple Sclerosis. At the bill signing ceremony, children who started out life as frozen embryos designated “to be discarded” were brought to the center stage. The image of President Bush and parents holding these precious kids tugs on your heart strings and makes you glad that the kids were given a chance at life instead of being tossed into the bio-trash bin. But as usual we need to set emotions aside and rely on research and reason when seeking a clearer understanding of what is going on.Most people, including Christian folks, don’t have issues when couples with fertility problems use in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization involves fertilizing an egg (ovum) with a sperm outside of the womb. One approach is to inject a sperm directly into an egg (called intracytoplasmic sperm injection). The fertilized egg, called a zygote, is then placed in an incubation chamber and cultured until it reaches the embryonic stage of development, at which time it is transferred to a woman’s uterus.Because embryos fail during the incubation phase, or fail later after being transferred to a uterus, multiple embryos are created. Why go to all the trouble and expense of creating a single embryo that might fail? It seems reasonable to create multiple embryos. But what happens to the extra embryos when a pregnancy is successful, assuming the parents want no more children? They are discarded.Where is the uproar over discarding embryos? There really isn’t any. If there isn’t a fuss over discarding unwanted embryos, then why the fuss over using ‘unwanted’ embryos for stem cell research? It seems to me that people opposing embryonic stem cell research should also be opposing discarding embryos with equal fervor, but they aren’t. Are we, as a society, morally obligated to give every frozen embryo a chance at life? Does tossing out an unwanted embryo translate into a spirit not having a chance at life? I think most Mormons would say no. Wouldn’t it be great if every unwanted embryo were given to adoptive parents? Yes, but that does not always happen for one reason or another. If it is acceptable to discard unwanted embryos created for birth, then why not use them for stem cell research?Good news: Adult stem cell research is proving much more promising that embryonic stem cell research. This will hopefully prevent the creation of embryonic stems cells for research purposes and minimize the use of unwanted embryos in research - a win win situation for everyone, inlcuding people who may one day be adopted as embryos.
What do all these events have in common?Copernicus’ book “On the Revolution of Celestial Spheres” (1543)Newton’s book “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” (1687)Einstein’s Relativity (1907)Alexander Fleming’s Penicillin (1928)The Human Genome Project (2003)They are all scientific discoveries and advancements that have had a major impact on the world, yet when the discoveries were made, life went on as usual. Consider that on a certain day in 2003 when the Human Genome Project was declared finished, you woke up and went about your daily affairs as though nothing of huge importance happened. Yet on that day Francis Collins and his colleagues completed a major genetics project that has greatly advanced science and human health and will continue to do so into the future. When major discoveries are made, life tends to go on as usual. There are exceptions to this rule, however. Our parents or grandparents likely remember the great excitement that resulted when Jonas Salk (not to be confused with the Jonas Brothers, younger folks) introduced a safe Polio vaccine in 1955. Or they remember the excitement that arose when, in 1922, two physicians from Canada walked onto a hospital diabetes ward full of grieving parents and dying children, gave the children injections of their newly discovered hormone called insulin, and quickly brought the comatose children back from the clutches of death.Did you know that a major medical discovery was made over the last year, a discovery that will likely go down in the history books as having a significant impact on heart health? As the discovery unfolded, you and I probably went about our daily affairs as though nothing hugely important occurred. Interesting, isn’t it? Here is what happened.Researchers at the University of Utah and other locations discovered that stem cells taken from the bone marrow of heart failure patients, incubated in a bio-reactor, and then inserted into failing hearts, rejuvenated heart muscle. Researcher Dr. Amit Patel said that the inserted stem cells "send out little chemicals that go to all the local heart muscle, and throughout the body . . . recruit[ing] other cells to the heart [that] work together to actually rebuild and remodel [the heart]." Dr. Patel described the remodeling and rebuilding process as “very dramatic." The procedure is not yet a cure, but it is prolonging lives and giving heart patients and their loved ones new hope. The Lord is the benefactor of great latter-day scientific discoveries. The apostle Paul testified that in the last days, God would pour out His spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:17). Joseph Fielding Smith taught that that spirit, the Light of Christ, inspires men to “invent and discover the great truths which, until now, the Lord has seen fit to keep hid from the inhabitants of the world.” The Spirit of the Lord will continue to bless us with scientific discoveries just as the apostle Paul testified nearly 2000 years ago. We might not know when breakthroughs occur, but they are happening, thanks to the Lord.
When Rudy Giuliani was running for president he cited data comparing healthcare in England and the United States. This is the essence of what he reported:
In Britain about 44% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer were alive 5 years later. On the other hand, in the US about 81% men diagnosed with prostate cancer were alive 5 years later. So Giuliani concluded that the 5-year survival rate for prostate cancer in the US is nearly double what it is in England (44% for England vs. 82% for the US). He was wrong. The risk of death from prostate cancer is virtually the same in both countries.
In the US most prostate cancer screening involves looking for prostate-specific antigens (PSA). British doctors do not rely on PSA testing near as much as their American counterparts. In England most prostate cancer is identified through symptoms. These different approaches to diagnosing prostate cancer are key.
Here is how different screening practices lead to different survival rates.
The US has a higher proportion of prostate cancer diagnoses because US physicians rely on PSA screening. PSA testing often identifies small tumors that grow so slowly they do not harm a man before he dies from natural causes due to old age. These are sometimes called nonprogressive cancers. Nonprogressive cancers meet the pathological definition of cancer but never cause symptoms during a patient’s lifetime. On the other hand, because British physicians rely more on symptoms to diagnose prostate cancer, they usually do not diagnose men with nonprogressive cancers.
So if PSA testing in the US identifies 3000 men with prostate cancer, 2000 of those may have nonprogressive cancer while 1000 may have progressive cancer. The 2000 nonprogressive cancer patients survive along with 440 of the 1000 progressive cancer patients. Thus the survival rate is 2440/3000 = 81%
If England relies on symptoms to identify prostate cancer, then it will miss the 2000 with nonprogressive cancer and just diagnose the 1000 with progressive cancer. Among the 1000 progressive cancer patients, 440 survive, just like in America. However, England’s survival rate is 440/1000 = 44%.
The upshot is that over diagnosing prostate cancers with PSA testing in the US is inflating survival rates. In reality, the risk of dying from prostate cancer is virtually the same in both countries. A 2001 report showed that there were 26 prostate cancer deaths per 100,000 men in the US and 27 cancer deaths per 100,000 men in England (Shibata & Whittemore).
The other dark secret of PSA testing is that it may be leading to unnecessary treatment. If PSA identifies a tumor then a man may choose surgery and/or radiation therapy. These treatments may be unnecessary if the tumor is nonprogressive, yet the man could be left with impotence and incontinence as a consequence of being treated.
If PSA testing identifies a cancer tumor, I think the next important question should be: "Is it progressive?" The answer(s) to this question and a thorough discussion between patient and doctor should inform one's decision to withhold or undergo treatment. (Source: Gigerenzer et al., 2008. Helping Doctors and Patients Make Sense of Health Statistics)
Recently there have been a number of advertisements claiming that drugs like Lipitor can cut your risk of stroke in half. Is this something to get excited about? It all depends on your risk of stroke. If your risk of stroke is low, say 2%, then Lipitor will cut your risk of stroke to 1%. Is that reduction worth the extra expense and potential side effects associated with taking the medication? On the other hand, if your risk for stroke is 20%, then Lipitor may cut your risk down to 10%. That sort of reduction would convince many people at risk to take Lipitor. In both scenarios there is a 50% reduction in risk, but the need to take the drug is different. It all depends on level of original risk. The same logic applies to screening and testing for health problems. With the recent death of Senator Ted Kennedy from a brain tumor, we may witness a phenomenon called the availability heuristic. Availability heuristic refers to people overestimate the future probability of an event occurring because of recent dramatic, publicized events. Thus some people may overestimate their chances of getting a lethal brain tumor because of Kennedy’s highly publicized death. If you are one of those people, there are plenty of places willing to give you a costly brain MRI even though you are currently asymptomatic (healthy) (www.brainscans.com is one such place). Well, if you are rich, then what is there to worry about? Why not get the screening done? The answer is that some tests can be harmful and others can lead to false positive results that may result in unnecessary additional testing and therapies.
Take, for example, those full body scanning centers that have recently popped up around the USA. Otherwise healthy people go to these centers to get scanned for diseases for which they are at low risk. Well, if they are rich enough to light their cigars with 100 dollars bills, then why worry, right? Wrong. Several of the scans utilize CT technology. CT scans typically irradiate at higher levels than traditional x-rays. For instance, a chest x-ray delivers a dose of approximately 0.06 mSv, while a chest CT scan can deliver anywhere from 2.0 to 8.0 mSv, depending on the type of CT scan. That's a major increase in levels of irradiation for healthy individuals.
Such tests are usually called for if a patient is symptomatic, has a history of disease, or has other risk factors. If none of these apply and a patient is in good health, the test may do more harm than good. Most physicians are aware of these issues, so check with your doc when considering screening tests.
How many times have you heard a claim like: Doing X increases your risk of getting disease A by 75%? Or how about a claim like: Taking supplement Y cuts your risk of getting a disease B in half? Such statements of relative risk can be very misleading. Here’s why.
In 1995, Britain’s National Committee on Safety of Medicines issued the following warning to women taking contraceptives: Rigorous studies have found that women taking 3rd generation contraceptives (contraceptives made after 1990) experienced a twofold (100%) increase in blood clots compared to a similar cohort of women who took 2nd generation (pre 1990s) contraceptives. In other words, newer contraceptives are doubling a woman’s risk of blood clots compared to older contraceptives.
It sounds like young women should avoid 3rd generation contraceptives because of the increased risk of blood clots, right?
Here are the hidden, yet important details on prevalence:
In reality, the contraceptive studies found that one out of every 7,000 women who took the 2nd generation pills had blood clots. This number doubled with 3rd generation pills where two out of every 7,000 women who took 3rd generation pills had blood clots. Hmm? So is a 100% increase from 1 to 2 blood clots in a sample of 7,000 women something to get deeply concerned about? Not likely.
If the prevalence rate of a disease is low, then a 2, 3, or 4 fold increase may not be important, unless you are among the few who get the disease.
This fallacy also works its deceptive magic the other way – in preventing disease.
What if I told you that vaccine A cuts your child’s risk of getting disease X in half? Hmm? Sounds good, eh? Wait a minute. What is disease X’s prevalence rate? The prevalence rate/risk of getting disease X is 2 in 10 million, or 0.00002%. Now if your child is vaccinated, the risk of getting the disease is cut in half to 1 in 10 million, or 0.00001%. Does this sound reasonable? Probably not. Think about it this way: we would need to vaccinate 10,000,000 children in order to prevent one child from getting disease X.
Should we spend millions to vaccinate children against a disease most will never get? To do so might be a waste of healthcare resources and dollars that could be utilized elsewhere.
So the next time you read or hear a result like “It increases the risk of disease X by 200%” or "It cuts the likelihood of developing disease X in half," look for the prevalence rate. As the prevalence in the population goes up, so does the significance of the risk. For instance, if the prevalence rate is 10% (10% of people are at risk for developing disease X), then a vaccination that cuts that risk in half to 5% is something to crow about.
(Source: Gigerenzer et al. (2008). Helping doctors and patients make sense of health statistics. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 8(2), 53-96.)
The Word of Wisdom (WofW) is a unique revelation in the sense that we are able to confirm it’s legitimacy with science. I dare say that 176 years ago when the WofW was given, people had a difficult time seeing the wisdom in it. To some pioneers living back then, the WofW must have seemed like a rule from heaven without justification (kind of like polygamy). I imagine some early Latter-day Saints said things like: “Why can’t we smoke?” or “What could possibly be wrong with drinking hot drinks like coffee and tea?”
But as the faithful know, when God commands, we should not ask “why”; we should go and do. Today no one is asking “why” questions about the Word of Wisdom. The answers have been provided in abundance by science.
The WofW says that drinking wine and strong drink is not good. Nothing drives this point home more than the fact that alcohol consumption causes about 24,000 deaths per year from alcohol-related car crashes in the US alone, and leaves another 500,000 seriously injured. Some people get all upset about 4000 US soldiers killed in Iraq – where is the outrage over the approximately 24,000 alcohol-related car crash deaths last year!? Alcohol consumption also costs about $90 billion in lost production and health care costs in the US. In short, alcohol consumption has had devastating effects on our modern society. It has affected us in ways that could not have been predicted 176 years ago.
The WofW says that tobacco is not for the body and is not good for man. The nicotine in tobacco is very addictive, so many people get hooked on smoking and are unable (or unwilling) to quit. The CDC’s national center for chronic disease reports that in the 1990s, smoking killed an average of 440,000 people per year in the US. More-freakin-over, smoking cost the nation about $92,000,000,000 in lost productivity between 1997 and 2001! Back in the day when the WofW was given, smokers who died of lung cancer just died - nobody knew why (there are few if any references to lung cancer in 19th century medical texts). However, today we fully understand the devastating cost of tobacco.
The WofW highly recommends herbs (vegetables), fruits, and grains. It should come as no surprise that vegetables, fruits and grains make up the bottom portions of our food pyramid. They are at the bottom of the pyramid because science has shown that they are the foods that we should consume the most to ensure good health. I am certain that early 1800’s science did not have extensive information on healthy eating habits. I don’t think that people living back then would have claimed that an apple was healthier than salted pork. In fact, the salted pork would have been more appealing to them because of its greater potential to satisfy hunger. However, nowadays we understand the importance of healthy eating.
And finally, the WofW counsels us to eat meat sparingly. The results of a recent research project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that “Americans who ate the most red meat boosted their overall risk of death by 30% during a 10-year period compared to those who ate the least.” The researchers claimed that “if the heaviest red meat eaters ate as little as the people who consumed the least, they could prevent 11% of deaths among men and 16% of deaths among women.” Now more than ever before we see the wisdom in the divine counsel to eat meat sparingly. (Note, neither this study nor the WofW tells us that we should become vegetarians. Red meat is a good source of iron and fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K, and antioxidants such as glutathione or carnosine.)
Indeed, as science progresses we are more fully realizing the wisdom in the WofW. God said that he was warning and forewarning us by giving the WofW – Now we know some of the reasons why.