An empty shell

Today’s doctors study anatomy in great detail, aided by constant improvements in microscope technology, electronic scanning and, in recent decades, computers. But what exactly are they studying?

If you want to see what a human body looks like with its mental and emotional energies taken away, look out for Professor Gunther von Hagens’ travelling Bodyworlds Exhibition. Here you will find real human bodies displayed in all their glory (or stripped of their dignity, depending on your point of view).

The Professor is a controversial figure. In the 1970s he developed a technique called ‘plastination’, which removes the moisture from human and animal bodies and enables him to preserve them more or less indefinitely.

I found the Bodyworlds Exhibition a powerful educational experience. Waiting to greet me were over two hundred exhibits. Some were simply displays of body parts, including both male and female brains sliced like ham, a smoker’s black lungs opened up and compared with a non-smoker’s, and the tubes inside a scrotum drawn out to their full length, about a metre or so.

Others displayed complete cadavers with their skin removed, their bones, muscles and internal organs arranged in a variety of poses, each designed to demonstrate different anatomical features. A variety of athletic poses illustrated the use of muscle systems; there were plastinates riding a plastinated horse, playing basketball, kneeling before a cross and so on.

Juan Valverde

One stood proud, holding his skin in one hand like a blanket and unashamedly revealing his internal organs, mimicking a similar pose on an anatomical plate dated 1559 by Juan Valverde de Amusco in which a man holds a knife in one hand and his own skin in the other.

Another opened his arms like a pope to reveal all the organs of his stomach and chest cavity and another the torso of a pregnant woman sliced vertically in half to show the womb and foetus in situ.

It is easy to see why von Hagens is accused of publicity seeking. Indeed, press reports in 2009 that he was planning a sex show featuring plastinates attracted hundreds of complaints. Politicians and churchmen lined up to label it revolting and unacceptable, and a short video about the exhibit was banned in several countries.

But despite the protests, the Professor insists that his work is educational. Visitors see the structure and inner workings of the human body and the long-term impact of diseases and are brought face to face with the effects of poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, drugs and excessive alcohol consumption.

I certainly learned a lot, and my occasional discomfort never turned into offence. But as I left the exhibition, one thought kept recurring. I had not been looking at whole human beings at all: whatever had kept them alive and made them human – their very humanness – was no longer there. 

Without our non-physical attributes – what some philosophers call the ghost in the maching – we are nothing but an empty shell.

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.7.2018

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The Nature of Creative Intelligence

The religious powers-that-be describe the qualities and characteristics of their particular deities in various ways. For example, the supreme being of Islam, Allah, and the ‘Father God’ of Christianity are loving, fair and merciful, but mete out stern justice to non-believers in the afterlife. These beliefs are a matter of faith and rely solely on ancient ideas captured in scripture written long ago.

G_d

I don’t believe in this kind of g_d, but I do believe that there is a Creative Intelligence underpinning and infusing everything. Many quantum physicists – including Einstein and Max Planck – agree. This Intelligence is certainly not a person, but a ‘presence’ or ‘principle’.

Its qualities can be inferred from science, experience and common sense. The world around us provides plenty of evidence that intelligence is at work. It has beauty, order, meaning and intent. What kind of power could produce these effects? Only a positive, bountiful and constructive life force. What would life on Earth be like if this were not so? Could we exist? How long would we survive? Could life on this planet, where everything is in perfect balance, have been created by a malevolent power? A negative life force would surely destroy its own creation.

Since Creative Intelligence is inherently good and it flows through everything, then everything must in essence be inherently good. Only human ignorance and stupidity disturb the balance of nature. Imagine if we were to disappear like the dinosaurs millions of years ago; the Earth would soon be returned to its natural state of harmony.

If humans were to raise their consciousness, rise above their destructive behaviours and work together to create a perfect world, who knows what would be possible?

©David Lawrence Preston, 23.7.18

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The Secrets of Healing

The secrets of healing have long been known but it’s taken science a long time to catch up.

There’s an old story about a group of eminent scientists climbing the mountain of knowledge. They scramble up to the top of a steep slope, only to see an even higher peak in the distance. They climb the next peak, only to see yet another beyond that. They climb that and….. guess what? There’s yet another. Finally, exhausted, they pull themselves over the final rock, only to be greeted by a group of healers and metaphysicians who had been sitting there for centuries!

This analogy was not lost on Einstein. ‘Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place,’ he wrote. ‘It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting points and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.’

Every year, while most scientists continue to circle the base of the mountain, some climb a little higher. Enormous advances have been made in the last couple of decades, some of which has yet to reach the general public.

Healing and Consciousness

The healing methods applied in societies throughout history have always been closely related to the consciousness of those societies and its individuals. They have depended on how they saw the nature of the human body and its relationship with the environment in which we live. At some point in history, humans woke up to the fact that they could do something to heal themselves when they were injured or ill, and not merely alleviate discomfort. Previously, like the animals, they would have crawled into a cave or clearing and waited until they felt better before leaving it – or died.

Then at some stage those early humans realised that even death could be postponed by applying certain healing methods. They discovered that certain plants could help and that healing ceremonies and rituals could speed up the process. The earliest healers were shamans; evidence of shamanic healing goes back over fifty thousand years. Shamans studied the relationship between humans and their natural environment. They tried to harness the laws of nature to initiate health and bring about healing.

Around two and a half thousand years ago, healing became more scientific. The Greeks, worshippers of the healthy body and surely one of the most progressive and cultured of all ancient societies, began using a more systematic approach based on observation and reason. They used animal and human dissections to improve their understanding of how the body functions. By New Testament times, Greek doctors already had a good idea of the functions of the main organs and had mapped the circulatory system.

As early Christendom sank into a deep mistrust and contempt for the physical body, the next great era of anatomical research in the West took place when Muslim doctors added to earlier knowledge and explained the workings of the muscles and digestive system. I say ‘in the West’ because on the other side of the world, the Chinese were already far ahead in their healing techniques.

In the Middle Ages and beyond, Western medicine remained largely in the grip of the Greek physician often referred to as the ‘Father of Medicine’, Hippocrates, and his followers. This led to some strange practices. Hippocrates believed that there were four types of fluid in the body, which needed to be in perfect balance if health were to be maintained. So, for example, if you had a fever, you had too much blood and would be subject to leeches and other purging methods to reduce blood levels. The patient would often be so weak afterwards it would take weeks to recover. Bizarre? Yes, but won’t some of our 21st Century medical practices seem equally bizarre in the future?

In the past three hundred years, great strides have been made in the medical field – yet almost every great pioneer in most fields of medicine was ridiculed by the ‘experts’ of their day. Some of the great pioneers were accused of ‘humbug!’ and called ‘quacks’ by their contemporaries.

Today, in the early years of the 21st Century, global medicine is in the group of one particular school of thought, a view of the body perpetrated by those who see humans mainly as thinking machines ruled by our biochemistry. I say ‘global’ because even societies, like China and India, with rich healing traditions of their own, are succumbing to the power of the pharmaceutical mega-businesses that straddle the planet. But the medical/pharmaceutical establishment will one day give way as a new holistic paradigm is rising. They are so worried that they spend huge sums specifically to discredit holistic medicine, discouraging the public from ‘wasting’ their hard-earned money on ‘unproven’ healing systems and techniques. Anything outside the realms of chemicalised, mechanized, industrialised medicine is roundly condemned.

Medical history is like a parade of innovators who were far ahead of their time and dismissed as cranks in their day. Some lived long ago; some are still alive today. To appreciate them requires the willingness to critically all our beliefs about healing. We must forget what we’ve been told about what can be healed, what can’t be healed, who can heal, who can’t heal and how healing takes place.

The healing methods employed in any society say a great deal about its beliefs about what humans are and how we relate to the universe. All too often we go round in circles as we head up the mountain of knowledge. As T.S. Elliot pointed out:

‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’

©David Lawrence Preston, 4.7.2018

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Guilt – A Useless Emotion

Mae West: ‘For a long time I was ashamed of the way I lived.’

 Interviewer: ‘Did you reform?’

 Mae West: ‘No, I’m not ashamed any more.’

Guilt is anger turned in on yourself. It is one of the most common emotions, and one of the most disabling. It is also one of the most useless.

Many people fret needlessly over things which they could have done little to change. Others feel guilty even when they know they’ve done nothing wrong. And others spend their whole lives punishing themselves for not being the person they (or their parents) think they should be.

Guilt looks to the past which is, of course, impossible to change. But we can change what we think about it. Dwelling on something that can’t be changed is energy consuming and self-esteem destroying. Everything that happened happened for a reason. Look for the lesson. Don’t keep repeating the same mistakes.

However, a twinge of guilt can trigger a positive response if it’s handled well. It can motivate you to put things right.

If you feel guilty about something:

  1. Reflect on the situation. What message is the guilt trying to convey? Why are you punishing yourself in this way? Did you really err? Is someone else trying to manipulate you into feeling guilty? What are you trying to achieve? You may find you had no reason to feel as guilty in the first place.
  2. If your guilt is not justified because you have done nothing wrong, or couldn’t have prevented what happened, let it go.
  3. If you genuinely did make a mistake or could have done better, let the other person know  and apologise. Then do what you can to put it right and make a commitment not to do it again in the future.
  4. Then forget it at move on. If you can do nothing more about it – either because events have moved on or you’ve lost touch with the other person – you’ve nothing to gain by dwelling on it, and neither have they.

Give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change,

The courage to change what I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

©David Lawrence Preston, 3.7.2018

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A life force flowing through us

In surveys, when people are asked if they believe in a Higher Power, many say they do, but when asked what they mean by this, they can’t say.

Perhaps there’s a scientific explanation. Anyone who watches a flower bloom, holds a new-born baby, gazes at the night sky or contemplates the ocean senses a life force flowing through us, an energy field of which we are all a part. But to explain why, our intellect is of little use. As Max Planck, Nobel Prize winner for physics, wrote:

‘Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.’

My logoHow can a finite being possibly understand the Infinite? Should we even try? Isn’t human intelligence too limited to encompass anything so vast? Muslims understand this completely. Allah, the creative force, is beyond description. Allah can’t be seen or heard, has no shape or form and no gender, but has always existed, will always exist and knows everything that can be known.

The creative force can’t be detected through our five senses. It can’t be seen or heard and has no smell, taste or texture. It can only be inferred through advanced mathematics and sophisticated scientific instruments.

Much of the physical world is beyond the range of human sensory parameters. Dogs can hear and smell things we can’t, eagles have much better sight, bats sense radar-like vibrations we cannot, and we know from looking into a microscope that there are infinitesimal organisms living on our skin and in our bodies which we can never see with the naked eye.

If so little of the material world falls within our sensory parameters, how much harder is it to visualise intelligence or an energy field! Take electricity. We can’t see, hear, taste or smell it, but we know it exists. We can put it to good use. Similarly, we can’t detect a creative force through our senses but we can observe the effects. When we appreciate that there is more to life than meets the eye we have taken a big step towards grasping our spiritual nature.

There is only one prevailing power in the universe, the one that set off the Big Bang and brought our universe into existence. It flows through every atom and every cell of every living thing, through our bodies, activating our minds.

There is no absence of life, potential or intelligence anywhere, fortunately, for we are dependent on it for everything, including our very existence.

©David Lawrence Preston,21.6.18

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Getting High In Bournemouth

I lived for a while in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba. Photographs taken fifty years ago show a pleasant, open town dominated by attractive Portuguese colonial architecture, centred on a series of squares with green spaces, trees and a traditional cathedral. Go there now and it’s quite different. A wall of concrete stretches as far as the eye can see, look upwards and you can only see a small fraction of the sky, and the lovely old buildings lie hidden and overwhelmed by twenty of thirty stories of ugly skyscrapers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking at Bournemouth today, where I have lived for the most of the last thirty years, I shudder at what I see. Heading towards the town centre from Meyrick Park, the lovely old buildings around the Square are obscured and in shade, Horseshoe Common is dominated by a new block of flats, and the walk from the Square to the pier is becoming a gauntlet of concrete and glass.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As for Lansdowne, the cranes tell their own story. Wall after wall of concrete reach up to the sky. The buildings are inseparable to the eye, just one huge block. Charming old buildings are obscured in the shade.

I regret what the planners and developers are doing to our city. Stop! It’s too late to turn back the pages, but not too late to draw a line under what’s already been done and draw a halt. No doubt someone is making a lot of money out of these developments – what a shame these people hold all the power to wreck our town. And, as always, ordinary people get no say.

Remember the waterfront complex? It’s happening again.

©David Lawrence Preston, 21.6.2018

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What holds it all together?

Scientists tell us that matter is made from atoms and atoms come from waves and particles – but that the particles that make up the atoms don’t really exist! What, then, holds it all together? According to Max Planck (1885-1947), the theoretical physicist who originated Quantum Theory and who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the atom:

‘All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.’

What is this force? What is this ‘Mind’ that is the matrix of all matter? Is there really a creative intelligence from which all energy and matter originates?

The human mind is so limited we can only ever see a small part of the picture. All we can do is try to make sense of the evidence and be willing to amend our ideas when new evidence becomes available.

Mahatma Gandhi said,

‘Whilst everything around me is ever-changing, ever-dying, there is underlying all that changes a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and re-creates. That informing power or spirit is God.’

Of course, the word ‘God’ has negative associations and is very off-putting to many people. Read the words of J. Krishnamurti, a distinguished 20th Century teacher educated in both Eastern and Western traditions. He urged us not to be put off the idea of a Creative Intelligence by worrying about what we call it:

‘I am not going to use the word ‘God’. I prefer to call this Life.’

Frankly it doesn’t matter what you call it. ‘God’ is just the personification (or symbol) of this omnipotent and omnipresent power. I prefer to avoid this term. I refer to it mainly as Creative Intelligence because this conveys precisely what it is.

If there was a ‘God’, don’t you think he/she/it would find the descriptions given to it by humans laughable?

D0 you have a preference? Do you accept the notion of a Creative Intelligence, which is endorsed by many scientists, but don’t know what to call it?

Are you put off by any particular term? Why do you think that is?

Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

©David Lawrence Preston, 19.6.18

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Science and Christianity

Christianity has always had an uneasy relationship with science. Many scientific discoveries have appeared to question the very basis of this religion.

The problem for Christians is that some of the statements in the Bible are just plain WRONG. For example, at the time the Genesis creation stories were written, the Hebrews believed that the Earth at the centre of the universe, it was flat and covered by a dome above which were ‘the waters’. Occasionally the dome leaked (it rained). The sun and stars were fixed to the inside of the dome, and below the ground was the place of the dead, portrayed by the ancient Greeks as Hades.

It’s hardly worth stating that we know better now.

In the Middle Ages, scientists were harshly treated for publishing theories which were perceived to contradict Biblical teachings. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) published an astronomical model in 1543 which had the sun at the centre of the universe and the Earth and the other planets rotating around it. He did not attract the censure of the Catholic Church at the time, but Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) was not so lucky a century later when he propounded a similar view. The church declared his findings false and contrary to scripture and forbade him to promote his theory.

Galileo later defended his views in his ‘Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems’, which angered the Pope and the Jesuits, both of whom had supported him up until this point. He was tried by the Holy Office, found guilty of heresy and forced to recant. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It took 359 years to rectify this wrong. In 1992, Pope John Paul ll acknowledged in a speech that the Catholic Church had erred in condemning him.

For several hundred years, science and religion staged an uneasy standoff. Scientists avoided making contentious statements about religion and vice versa. Then came Charles Darwin, the author of ‘The Origin of Species’. He was declared ‘an enemy of God’ for daring to advocate a theory that refuted the church’s view of creation. Even so, he never lost his belief in a creative force behind the universe. He wrote, ‘When I wrote The Origin of Species, my faith in God was as strong as that of a bishop.’

Some pioneers of science had no difficulty seeing science and religion as compatible. Albert Einstein was viewed as a heretic by the church, yet he had a profound belief in a universal mind, spirit or creative intelligence that transcended the universe and was beyond our comprehension. He and many others, including Sir Isaac Newton and the ‘Father of Quantum Mechanics’, Max Planck, shared a sense of humility and awe at what they discovered in the natural world and gave the credit to this creative intelligence.

Nowadays the church is more comfortable with scientific research. The Catholic Church, for instance, employs ordained scientists to investigate such diverse subjects as the big bang, epigenetics and global warming, but their starting point is always the Bible teachings. They seek to fit the data to the Bible teachings, not find the best explanation that fits the data. We are without doubt gaining a greater understanding of how the material universe works, but are no nearer to understanding why the universe is as it is than were the ancient Hebrews or Greeks.

©David Lawrence Preston, 12.6.18

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10 years hiding in a room

A young friend of mine, Naomi, has spent the past ten years hiding in her room with the curtains closed, scared to go out because she dreads being seen in public. On the rare occasions she ventures out, she smothers herself in makeup and wears a floppy hat or balaclava, scarf and baggy clothing to conceal her features. A slim, pretty woman, she spends a disproportionate amount of time looking in a mirror.

Burkha

Naomi has been diagnosed with a condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD. BDD sufferers are obsessively preoccupied with thoughts about their appearance. They believe that some aspect of their physical makeup – usually the face, skin or hair – is so blemished they must take drastic measures to hide it.

Now in her early thirties, Naomi’s problems started in adolescence. She was teased for her red hair and puppy fat at school and became excessively shy and depressed. She left school without any qualifications and took a series of poorly paid jobs in shop and cafés before withdrawing from the world. Today she relies on social security handouts and her mother’s generosity to get by.

Nobody knows what causes BDD, although there are likely to be a complex mixture of genetic, developmental and social factors. In Naomi’s case, there is no history of childhood abuse or neglect and no major health concerns. She has always been an introvert. She has a narrow range of interests which she pursues with intensity. She is obsessed by ‘class’ and ‘style’ and is something of a perfectionist. Anything that attracts her interest fully engages her to the exclusion of all else, giving the impression of extreme selfishness.

Her obsession has led her to save up for laser treatment for her skin at an expensive London clinic. Local doctors and psychologists have tried to deter her, stressing that there is nothing wrong with her skin, but to no avail. Experience shows that cosmetic procedures have little hope of relieving her distress and every prospect of making it worse, especially if the treatment goes wrong. But you can’t tell her; she gets extremely angry if anyone points this out.

Clinicians estimate that around 2% of the population suffer from BDD, and it affects men and women equally. It is closely associated with other mental illnesses such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Anxiety Disorder and high levels of suicide. Quality of life is understandably poor – lack of natural sunlight can cause major health problems, as can social isolation, few career opportunities and lack of direction.

Diagnosis and treatment are currently problematic. BDD sufferers go to great lengths to conceal their condition and few general practitioners seem to recognise it. Some medications have been shown to help, especially the antidepressant group SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). Naomi has been resistant to psychiatric intervention, although Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has a reasonable track record at helping confront and reprogramming irrational fears.

Sadly, unless she decides to engage, there is little prospect of her getting better, placing additional pressures on her family. And sadly, diagnoses of BDD are likely to get worse as people are becoming more preoccupied with their image and appearance than ever before.

©David Lawrence Preston 8.6.2018

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What are you?

What are you? When you think, exactly who or what is doing the thinking? When you stare into a mirror, who is doing the looking?

There’s a story of a young philosophy student who went to see his professor. ‘Please help me,’ he pleaded. ‘There’s a question that’s been eating me alive. I can’t sleep through worrying about it. Tell me, do I exist?’

The professor turned to him with a withering look and replied, ‘Who wants to know?’

The question of what we are and why has always occupied great minds. Socrates, for instance, advised anyone who would listen to ‘know yourself’. Someone asked, ‘You tell others to know themselves, but do you know yourself?’ He replied, ‘No, but I do understand something about this not knowing.’

Nowadays, we know a great deal more than in Socrates’ day. Powerful microscopes reveal the building blocks of our physical form at cellular level and quantum level. We now understand the brain so well that we know which clusters of tissue house which types of mental activity. We can even predict whether an individual is at risk of certain diseases from their thought patterns and emotional make-up. And yet how many of us can truly say we know ourselves?

A human being is a complex organism made up a body, a mind, and an energising force that brings life to the physical form. This energising force – call it Spirit, soul or anything you like – is present in every atom and cell, and when it leaves, we die. That’s why we don’t become spiritual beings – we already are.

‘You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.’ (C.S. Lewis)

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.5.18

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