Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The tangled webs we weave…

Some of the more fascinating observations in medicine have to do with perception and interpretation. How patients and doctors cognitively process experiences can have rather huge implications toward the type of health choices they make. For example, some doctors can become easily convinced he or she might possess some innate healing power simply by talking and touching patients (fallacy of charisma). This can lead to other even less reality based practices. In the same way, a patient can perceive an improvement in their malady as associated with some other event (That fever went away when I drank that green pea soup- therefore green pea soup cures fevers…).

All humans innately create pattern associations as a natural matter of survival and this quality has deep evolutionary roots beyond the hominid line. That Homo sapiens have become so successful as a species is a tribute to the exquisite effectiveness these pattern associations have had in creating such social tools as language and culture.

In essence, humans are the children of non biological pressures (i.e., technology and social interaction) as much as they are of the biological ones (i.e., environmental pressures including climate change). One of the theories for our particular brand of intelligence and consciousness describes the inter play of pressures between ever more demanding technological advances and progressively more complex brain structure.

Whatever the case may be, the point here is that there has been a historically tenuous balance between the reality of the world around us and the “imagined” world we see in our heads. As time progresses, it seems humanity has been slowly tipping this balance in favor of realistic perceptions of reality over imagined ones.

That is, as information about the natural world accumulates and comes together in a larger “jigsaw” of associated pieces, humanity is being more careful of how it interprets perception. On the other hand, a tremendous chasm is growing between those who understand these realities and those who don’t.

So it is today in medicine. Whether we are doctors or patients, we tend to create a mishmash of imagined and real interpretations of disease and treatments. By understanding this and seeking out palpable realities- those put together through the laborious and careful work of so many- we can “keep our feet on the ground” and reduce the confusion between hope and false hope, effective healing and false healing. Even when there is little hope, authentic acknowledgement, companionship, and bonding will go much farther than anything our imaginations can muster.

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