"Science and Belief...

Posted by
Sparrow on Jan 20, 2002 at 18:31
27.a.arbros.nb.net (

...are like apples and oranges." (Richard Stover, quoted from below.)

[Hmmm...at least we're in the same fruit bowl! (GBG)]

I might be more sympathetic to this biased belief (YES!, it really IS!) if it weren't so easy to argue against, and perhaps disprove. The sections cited below are from a paper of mine that was published in a peer-reviewed journal 5 years ago. To save some of you the reading of it, I'm saying that when we are discussing organisms, their experiences and consequent beliefs controls the systemic response of the total organism, under the rules of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), Hans Selye's seminal thesis. Each person's beliefs channels the further activities and responses of the person and their systems (insofar as their genetic endowment permits -- their genetics may offer some individuals far greater resiliance and resistance than other individuals). Changing one's beliefs DOES lie outside the domain of the "hard sciences", but there is very little question, in my opinion, that beliefs do affect living organisms. (For further reading along this line, you may wish to consider "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" by Robert Sapolsky)


Stress Response

Selye4 proposed that there is a two-stage reaction to any stimulation, either physical or psychogenic. First, there is a specific response that is directed at the targeted tissue: inflammation, allergic response, and metabolic changes. These are "pro-body" changes, needed to limit damage and to start repair. The second response is a generalized one, and tends to be "anti-body", because anti-inflammatory agents are released which affect not only the target tissue, but virtually every tissue in the body. He named this two-stage process the General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S.).

As described, the G.A.S. causes a cluster of organic changes that occur -- without exception -- when the body is distressed:

1) The adrenal glands enlarge.
2) The thymus gland shrinks.
3) The lymph glands shrink.
4) Ulcers are produced.

The stress response occurs in three stages: The Alarm Stage, a preparation for action and repair; The Resistance Stage, for repair and vigilance; and the Stage of Exhaustion, when overt disease or death ensue. The G.A.S.'s response to stress can either sensitize or desensitize a tissue's further response to the hormones of stress. In tissues directly affected by stress, a local adaptation can occur. Called the Local Adaptation Syndrome (L.A.S.), it can trigger the G.A.S. if the activity in the strained part does not stop.

The "...selective exhaustion of muscles, eyes, or inflamed tissue all represent final stages only in local adaptation syndromes..."4(p.81) and are responses to alarm signals sent out from the directly stressed tissues to the C.N.S., then on to the endocrine system. Thus, each of the many local stress reactions has a chemical voice and adds to the extent of the counterstress measures that are taken. These measures can be very appropriate when the stress is real, but may be very inappropriate when the stress is a psychic phenomenon, a merely expected threat and not one actually presented to the organism.

Uniqueness of Stress Responses

Since perceptions leading to distress vary, an individual's stress response can be profoundly influenced because of three variables:

1) Our unique genetic endowment: parents cannot be chosen. (Nature.)

2) Our unique experiences: especially the early ones, creating a fund of prior response patterns. (Nurture.)

3) Our apperception of stimuli: conscious, emotionally-charged responses to an experience, built from each one's prior experiences, nurture, and conclusions. (Beliefs.) [Emphasis added for this 1/20/02 discussion. MDB]

These factors alter the preferential release of specific hormones. An individual's personality thus becomes the determinant of the type, the strength, and the length of the reaction. Aggressive, competitive personalities have been reported to have more acute, larger vasomotor responses and produce more norepinephrine which enhances the body's response to epinephrine. Sustained epinephrine release is associated with anxiety and helplessness, and elevated cortisol (hydrocortisone) levels have been correlated with reduced, negative performance and fear in humans.10


The Stress-Modified Response:

The normal stress response is upset by emotional stimuli. These can be real, imagined, or merely apperceived symbols of prior threats and demands. Once set into motion, there is little that can be done to significantly modify an individual's H-P-A response. Indeed, if it were possible, it would almost certainly require a resetting of the customary attitudes leading to the individual's choice of response. It may be possible to influence the response behaviorally, but this lies outside the domain of biological and physiological sciences.13

Sapolsky discovered that the number of events that occurred to the animals he studied was less important than their reaction style and how they perceived and coped with the stressors.11 As Hans Selye has said:

"...both on the cellular and the interpersonal level, we do not always recognize what is and what is not worth fighting."6(p.41)

Back to younz!

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