A Critique of Bruce Lipton
This article is building on the RationalWiki entry on Bruce Lipton, and is unfinished.
I wonder if I by now ought to create some short expression of the constant flow of USA based biologists who want to be philosophers instead of the philosophers? Anyway, I will let it rest for now, and just present, and debunk, another one: Bruce Lipton.
Bruce Harold Lipton is an American developmental biologist best known for promoting the controversial idea that genes and DNA can be manipulated by a person's beliefs. Already here we have the obvious fascist beginning, which is so tempting for biologists who wants their own discipline to be the central explanation of everything; in Lipton´s case: spirituality. He is the author of the bestselling book, The Biology of Belief, and is a former researcher at Stanford University’s School of Medicine (see the Matrix Dictionary entry The Matrix Conspiracy Fascism).
The term controversial is a positive designation within New Age pseudoscience. It means that the one who is controversial is an advocate for a “paradigm shift” which everybody else within the traditional scientific community hasn´t got the brains to understand. Lipton is just one of the thousands of thousands of “alternative scientists” from New Age, who are claiming to be “revolutionary” bridge-builders between science and spirituality (see my Matrix Dictionary entry on Bridge between Science and Spirituality).
On his website Lipton is presented like this:
Bruce H. Lipton, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in bridging science and spirit. Stem cell biologist, bestselling author of The Biology of Belief and recipient of the 2009 Goi Peace Award, he has been a guest speaker on hundreds of TV and radio shows, as well as keynote presenter for national and international conferences.
Dr. Lipton began his scientific career as a cell biologist. He received his Ph.D. Degree from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville before joining the Department of Anatomy at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine in 1973. Dr. Lipton’s research on muscular dystrophy, studies employing cloned human stem cells, focused upon the molecular mechanisms controlling cell behavior. An experimental tissue transplantation technique developed by Dr. Lipton and colleague Dr. Ed Schultz and published in the journal Science was subsequently employed as a novel form of human genetic engineering.
In 1982, Dr. Lipton began examining the principles of quantum physics and how they might be integrated into his understanding of the cell’s information processing systems. He produced breakthrough studies on the cell membrane, which revealed that this outer layer of the cell was an organic homologue of a computer chip, the cell’s equivalent of a brain. His research at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, between 1987 and 1992, revealed that the environment, operating though the membrane, controlled the behavior and physiology of the cell, turning genes on and off. His discoveries, which ran counter to the established scientific view that life is controlled by the genes, presaged one of today’s most important fields of study, the science of epigenetics. Two major scientific publications derived from these studies defined the molecular pathways connecting the mind and body. Many subsequent papers by other researchers have since validated his concepts and ideas.
Dr. Lipton’s novel scientific approach transformed his personal life as well. His deepened understanding of cell biology highlighted the mechanisms by which the mind controls bodily functions, and implied the existence of an immortal spirit. He applied this science to his personal biology, and discovered that his physical well-being improved, and the quality and character of his daily life was greatly enhanced.
Dr. Lipton has taken his award-winning medical school lectures to the public and is currently a sought after keynote speaker and workshop presenter. He lectures to conventional and complementary medical professionals and lay audiences about leading-edge science and how it dovetails with mind-body medicine and spiritual principles. He has been heartened by anecdotal reports from hundreds of former audience members who have improved their spiritual, physical and mental well being by applying the principles he discusses in his lectures. He is regarded as one of the leading voices of the new biology.
Dr Lipton’s work summarizing his findings, entitled, The new updated 10th Anniversary Edition of The Biology of Belief, (Hay House Publishing, softcover, ISBN 978-1-4019-4891-7). His second book, Spontaneous Evolution, Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There From Here. (Hay House Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4019-2580-2) and his third book, The Honeymoon Effect, The Science of Creating Heaven on Earth. (Hay House Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4019-2386-0)
Lipton remains on the sidelines of conventional discussions of epigenetics, basically ignored by mainstream science, which by followers are seen as a proof that he is a “paradigm changer.”
Lipton has been specially criticized by surgical oncologist David Gorski.
One of the most popular video clips of Lipton is called "The New Biology: Where Mind and Matter Meet".
Some specific claims Lipton makes are:
The cell as a microcosm of the human body (from RationalWiki):
“Lipton's whole argument relies on making the listener draw a parallel between the body and a cell: that you can understand how a cell works by making analogies with how a body works. He states:
With all the magnificent machinery that we call the human body, there is no new function that's present in your human body that's not already present in every single cell. You have a digestive system, a respiratory system, etc, so does a cell.
Then he pushes things even further: humans live in communities; and in biology, multicellular organisms are sometimes described as "colonies of cells". There is a good biological basis for describing a human as a colony of cells, but there is no reason at all to believe that you can learn about cells from drawing analogies with human societies.” This is a typical reductionist trick. Richard Dawkins is doing the same with his concept of the Meme (see my article A Critique of Richard Dawkins and the Committee for skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and especially in the Matrix Dictionary update on Richard Dawkins.
Such reductionist claims are where Lipton's reasoning takes him, when he goes on to deduce the cause of cancer:
If a cell doesn't listen to the community's voice, then the cell is not part of the community. Cancer cells have withdrawn from the community. They're still in there but they're not listening to the voice of the community. They're doing their own thing. Why would some cells get out of the community? And the answer is why are people homeless? Why are people out of work, or why are people out of work or why are people suffering? If their community is not supporting them at some point the cells recognize at some point "My God what do I want to be in this for?" So there's a point that cancer starts to recognize as a result of break down of the community.
This is not a simplification to explain a carefully developed theory grounded in cell biology. This IS the theory. It's an assertion which has simply been presented as fact, and the entire proof relies on the listener accepting the analogy as proof.
The brain of the cell (from RationalWiki):
He makes it look as if biologists have in fact been searching for an actual "brain of the cell", thus setting up a straw man argument. Science, he notes, is male dominated; men think with their testes, and that's why scientists concluded that the cell nucleus, full of genetic material like the testes, must be the "brain of the cell".
Having convinced the audience that scientists believe the nucleus is the brain of the cell, Lipton boldly sets out to demolish that straw man. He argues that this can't possibly be the case, because cells can live for months in a dish after they've had their nucleus taken out, but human bodies die without a brain. Therefore, scientists are wrong when they claim the nucleus is the brain of the cell.
Science doesn't, in fact, predict that all chemical reactions will cease as soon as the nucleus is removed. Lipton must have been snoozing when the role of the nucleus and DNA in cell division was being explained.
The primacy of DNA (from RationalWiki):
Having failed to disprove a nonexistent theory, Lipton turns his attention to debunking an even more important non-existent theory: The "Primacy of DNA". Note that all the top items on Google for this search are a bunch of articles in New Age journals. This is how he describes it:
So our belief in the primacy of DNA says this. Who you are, what you are, is predetermined in the blueprint, the DNA. So you become a read-out of the DNA.
This also completely and utterly wrong. Biology has not reached any such conclusion, as can be seen by glancing at any field of biology at all.
You're controlled by your perceptions (from RationalWiki):
Lipton thinks that the brain of the cell is the cell membrane, since it's through the membrane that the cell gets messages from the environment, which ultimately originate in our beliefs. (He's pointed out elsewhere that the word even contains "-brane".)
He "demonstrates" this by a very simple technique: he takes an accepted scientific term, gives a complicated scientific explanation of its meaning, and then pushes that word through a series of redefinitions. Each of these steps is based on his idea of the cell as a microcosm of the human being — that any attribute a human being has, must also be found in a cell.
He relabels chemical interactions that take place at the cell membrane as "perception". He relabels chemical interactions that take place inside the cell as "behavior". Then he jumps to the conclusion that the cells' perceptions and our perceptions are linked, and since our perceptions depend on our beliefs, then there is a chain of causality from our beliefs to cellular activity.
This would imply that our beliefs cause any medical problem we might have of a genetic nature, and likewise our beliefs can heal such problems. According to Lipton, by changing our beliefs we can even cure cancer.
This is coming from a man who spends a lot of this lecture bashing mainstream science for supposedly thinking genes "control everything". Science does not hold such a reductionist, one dimensional position. But Lipton does. All he has done is replace a non-existent belief in the primacy of DNA with a vastly more flawed, and sadly very existent and very dangerous belief in the Primacy of Belief.
Note that he actually goes through the motions of discussing biochemistry in front of his audience, with the purpose or making his presentation sound really sciency. His listeners are left with the impression that they understand science, and that science says that all that complicated cell chemistry basically boils down to the analogy cell-body, to the simplistic causality chain: beliefs => perceptions => cell behavior.
He is a promotor of the usual Berkeleyan idealism seen in connection with New Thought ideas about positive thinking. He is also a promotor of the simulation theory (see the Matrix Dictionary entries on A Course in Miracles (ACIM) and Simulation Theory).
So, Bruce Lipton is just another biological New Age reductionist. I have explained reductionism many times, and there are a lot of misunderstandings of it. Like Rupert Sheldrake, Robert Lanza, Ken Wilber, and a long line of other New Age biologists who want to be philosophers instead of the philosophers, Lipton doesn´t understand it, and thinks that it only applies to mechanistic models of the Universe. It sometimes does, but sometimes it doesn´t.
What is central in reductionism is that you reduce all philosophical questions to a single scientific discipline (physics, biology, sociology, history), and hereafter claiming this to be science. But reductionisms are philosophical worldviews, not scientific theories. Science can´t explain everything. In its nature it is concentrating about phenomena of a single type. And therefore reductionisms are ending up as philosophical shipwrecks, since they don´t use the philosophical virtue of the good argument, but instead are claiming the worldview to be true, alone on the claim that it´s science.
The so-called bridge between science and spirituality is in The Matrix Conspiracy all about a synthesizing of authority, hierarchy, race (or gender, as postulated by radical feminism – see my entry on Feminism as Fascism), eugenics, purity, unity, spirit, and reductionisms such as biologism, psychologism, sociologism and historism. “Spiritual eugenics” could be seen as the main propaganda therapy.
Authority? Hierarchy? Yes, the paradox is that when the New Age industry tells people, that they through self-improvement can become themselves, it opens the doors for its own built-in paradox. It promises people liberation and praises the responsible and self-leading human being – but creates at the same time people, who are dependent of continued therapeutic intervention. The more people are told, that they can treat themselves, the more they are in the risk of being made into uncritical objects for therapeutic treatment.
The widespread psychologized, emotionalized and therapized belief in the hidden aspects of humans (the unconscious) has not only given humans a new way of self-creation, but also a new outer definition of new authorities (self-help consultants, practitioners, clairvoyants, channelers, spiritual teachers, identity-experts, therapists, coaches, spin doctors), who are characterized by, that they neither want to be authorities or to be looked at as authorities. People in the age of authenticity will no longer suppress others or be suppressed from the outside, they want to express others and themselves be expressed from within. But the expression doesn´t come by itself; it has to be established in a self-help process, which builds on the idea that people have a chronically authenticity-problem and therefore are in need of treatment.
The New Age industry, and its belonging therapeutic techniques, thereby exposes the paradox, that the more resource-filled a human being is conceived to be, the more it has to be supported therapeutic. The more self-actualizing a human being becomes, the more it is in need of help to actualize itself. And the more responsibility a human being is said to have for its own life, the more this same human being, as a basic starting point, is considered as a victim, as non-authentic, and therefore as powerless.
What is wrong with Lipton´s “philosophy”? Besides the obvious distortion of science and philosophy in popular culture, then we know from history that the mix of biology and romantic religious mysticism based on idealism and feelings, is an explosive cocktail. The tendency is towards Fascism. And that is precisely what is happening.
First of all: Fascism is an ideology. And ideology altogether is a psychic disease. You are not in doubt about, that ideology is a psychic disease if you look at its collective manifestations. It appears for example in the form of ideologies such as Communism, Liberalism, Conservatism, National Socialism and any other nationalism, or in the form of rigid religious systems of faith, which function with the implied assumption, that the supreme good lay out in the future, and that the end therefore justifies the means. The goal is an idea, a point out in a future, projected by the mind, where salvation is coming in some kind – happiness, satisfaction, equality, liberation, etc. It is not unusual, that the means to come to this is to make people into slaves, torture them and murder them here and now.
That a thought-system has developed into an ideology shows in, that it is a closed system, which is shared by a large group of people. Such a closed system has especially two distinctive characters: 1) It allows no imaginable circumstance to talk against the ideology. 2) It refuses all critique by analysing the motives in the critique in concepts, which is collected from the ideology itself (an ideology always thinks black and white, and therefore always has an anti-ideology, an enemy image, which it attribute on to everyone, who don´t agree).
An ideology is therefore characterized by, that it is not able to contain, or direct refuses, rationality and critical thinking. We all know how dissidents have been killed, jailed and tortured under totalitarian ideologies.
The only thing that differs The Matrix Conspiracy fascism from traditional fascism, is the non-violent attitude. But there is certainly used psychic violence such as brainwashing techniques. I have shown that in the Matrix Dictionary entry on A Course in Miracles, which probably is the main text of the New Thought movement, which Bruce Lipton is proponent for.
Related in The Matrix Dictionary:
The Matrix Conspiracy Updates
The Matrix Conspiracy Fascism
Anti-intellectualism and Anti-science
Bridge between Science and Spirituality
The New Thought Movement and the Law of Attraction
The Matrix Conspiracy
The Fascism of Theosophy
The Matrix Dictionary