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Elliot Rabinowitz's picture

I find many areas of our

I find many areas of our discussion from class last week and thoughts expressed throughout the previous posts to be quite intriguing – Professor Grobstein’s original comments at the beginning of this thread are particularly thought provoking. I agree that the intimate relationship between physiology and psychology is not as clearly recognized as maybe it deserves to be. This has huge implications for the treatment of physical and mental health. I also agree with the point made about symptoms as the brain’s understanding of the body’s state:

“ALL ‘symptoms’ are in fact ‘in the head’. Discomfort and pain are not ever simply effects of disease or other disturbance of the body outside the brain. They are ALWAYS interpretations by the brain and so may or may not have origins in the body outside the brain.”

However, I think that this statement is strikingly different than “ALL symptoms originate in the brain”. This is what Liz picked up on, suggesting numerous good points. Some diseases (at least) do seem to originate outside of the brain. Physiological differences first occur. Then, our perception of these changes follows suite, which of course requires brain power. But what truly seems important to focus on is rather that our brains are commanding tools that we can use to alter the perception of our bodies. Maybe this requires trained practice (e.g. using real-time fMRI data to help patients control cluster headache pain) or brain “trickery” (e.g. using placebos), but either way our brains/minds can generate immense changes in our body (and vice-versa). However, recognizing how powerful and effective our brains can be, I still think there are obvious limitations. Maybe it can work for some forms of pain perception, but maybe not others. Also, could it work to stop invading pathogens or cancer? Maybe the brain can, but I am skeptical as to what extent it may be successful without the aid of drugs. I do think incredible research goes into understanding the biological effects of pharmaceuticals in our bodies, and this research should not be completely denied simply because we cannot completely explain it yet. Sure, some treatment may be due to the placebo effect. But I doubt all of it is, for every symptom, for every disease, for every person.


On a lighter note, I found the mirror therapy for phantom limb pain to be awesome. I realize it’s still in preliminary phases, but I just think it’s so cool. It shows how being creative can truly pay off in science – a field in which research seems all too often consumed by high-tech gizmos and complicated technology. One thing I thought about in relation to our placebo discussion is whether a more expensive, designer, custom-made, platinum mirror would work better than a $10 plastic one from the local store. I obviously don’t know, but I’m sure the results would provide even more interesting data to add to this discussion.


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