What the Bleep do We Know?

What the Bleep Do We Know!? is a fun movie that is part story and part documentary.  It features two of my favorite scientists, Candace Pert – the person that discovered the opioid receptor, and William Tiller – a Standford physicist that presented an obscure proof at a conference I once attended.

The movie is colorful and presents good information about addictive processes, especially how our body reacts to outside triggers.  It demonstrates how habitual patterns of feeling sorry for ourselves or craving the rush of sexual energy can set us up to create situations in our lives to supply the chemicals our body produces, much like a drug addict getting a fix.  No need to inject, we make our own chemicals.

This is powerful example of how habitual patterns create our reality in a subtle way.  The underlying message is a common spiritual theme.  To be free of conditioned responses we need to break free of the limiting beliefs or programs that our system continues to run in the background.  Breaking free allows for true choice in our actions.

Along with the great discussion of physiology the movie does a nice job of talking about how quantum physics explains our reality.  Yes, we are really not touching the ground when we stand on it.  The things we think are solid are not really solid.  We, and the things are mostly space.  We can consciously create our reality (and we already unconsciously create it).


Denial means the act of declaring something is not true.  A simple enough word, but the way people use the word has become somewhat of a pet peeve for me.  I find that people use it in a derogatory way when they are judging another person’s actions and/or their stage of change level.  As commonly used, if I say you are in denial, what I am really saying is that I have the only truth.  And, perhaps, I know your truth better than you.

I’m not sure where our use of the word got off track.  It feels quite neutral to say that someone denies something, e.g. for many years I denied that eating saturated fats and eggs caused heart disease.  However, to say one is “in denial” feels charged, e.g. I was in denial that eating saturated fats and eggs caused heart disease.  “Being in denial”, inherently means I’m wrong, when it should just mean I don’t agree with something.

Consider the saturated fats and eggs example.  For many years, the mainstream thought that these items needed to be avoided for a healthy heart.  I denied this reality and, despite heart disease running in my family, continued to have the best cardiovascular system in my family.  Now, the mainstream has come around to my way of thinking.  Would I say they were in denial all those years?  Doesn’t that seem like a silly use of the term?  Perhaps they would have disagreed (denied) that my way is healthy, but it would seem strange to say they were in denial.

The “authorities” had taken all the available information and come to a different conclusion than me.  Then the mainstream had followed their advice. (I started to say they followed it “mindlessly” but realized that would be adding a judgement. Let’s just say they followed it without examining it further.)   In some traditions (Buddhism), this would not be called denial, but ignorance.  “Everybody” in my saturated fat example was simply ignorant of the truth.

The word ignorant rubs me wrong as well.  Inherent in the way it is commonly used, it suggests a mental deficiency, instead of just a simple and temporary not knowing. I prefer the term awareness.

Sometimes one is not aware that something is really a problem because no time has been taken to examine the situation objectively. This is the case when people accept things at face value, or accept information from people that they trust without examining it personally.

Other times people may be aware they are having a problem, but they ignore it because they cannot imagine an alternative or they think this is just how it is.  This is the case of the alcoholic/drug user that is surrounded by others that are drinking, using, getting DUIs and calling in sick to work due to hangovers.  It just doesn’t seem like a problem because it is normal.  I wouldn’t call that person in denial, they are just not aware of the alternative and/or aren’t looking for an alternative because they are already “normal”.

I think Socrates may sum it up best…

The unexamined life is not worth living.


Drug Addiction is Like Heart Disease

I was just asked, “How is drug addiction is similar to heart disease”, on a Foundations of Addiction’s homework assignment and was surprised at how similar they are.  Here are my thoughts:

Both drug addiction and heart disease start with behaviors that ultimately lead to the development of the condition. With drug addiction this is the use of drugs in an experimental or social pattern. With heart disease this is the unconscious eating of food, refraining from regular exercise, and other behaviors such as smoking cigarettes.

In neither case does the person believe that their actions could lead to a problem, and even if they have some forethought, there is a tendency for them to minimize the possible consequences in their mind.  A friend, who is studying the effect of time on decision making at Wharton School of Business, reminds me that the further off the possible consequence the less value the consequence has.  With drug use, most early users do not even entertain the possibility of becoming addicted, while with people making poor diet and lifestyle choices the consequences are so far in the future they also seem like an improbability.

Both diseases have a genetic component as well. Addiction and heart disease tend to run in families. This predisposition means that the same type and level of use in the future addict or cardiac patient may not result in the development of disease in others when they use at that level. This reality, coupled with the time delay in the progression of the illnesses, contributes to the ability of a person to deny that their behaviors are creating problems.

In addition, both diseases are multifaceted. Heart disease results from a combination of factors including behavioral, genetic, environmental, and social.  In addition, since food addiction and cigarette addiction are risk factors for heart disease, the same psychological issues that lead to any addiction can contribute to heart disease.

We also know now that some addictions lead to hard to reverse changes in how the brain works, much like the damage of a heart attack tends to be permanent. The organs affected may be different, but the seriousness of the illnesses are the same.  Although, I would be remiss not to mention that some addictions lead to cardiovascular issues such as heart failure and stroke.

Indeed, it appears that the two diseases in terms of fundamental etiology, are more similar than they are different.