Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Longest darkest night of the year

I have this week and next almost all to myself. Such a treat. Life, on the whole, is getting better as time goes by, I'd say. For such a lot of years it got nothing but worse, and I used to simply ignore by what extent it was getting worse, and just carry on.  I speak of my own seasonal affective disorder.
This time round, things are upswung: I'm half way to the arbitrary weightloss goal I set back in September, when I started exercising, and I can actually feel some ab strength. So that's nice. I almost have my new place to work at set up, so that's nice too. The new year will freshen the page.

Most stuff just floats by in this flood called life and the way it interacts with my soggy winter brain, but once in awhile something sinks in and leaves an impression;
Lately on FaceBook a dustup occurred on my page, to do with craniosacral treatment. The pattern of kuffuffle that ensues with alt-meds has become predictable. I take no offense anymore, just wait for it to blow past and be over. Each time this happens more and more people seem to come out of the woodwork and identify themselves as anti-woo, so that's good. 

The first link, the one that upset a few folk, was to a post by Mark Crislip at ScienceBased Medicine, about craniosacral therapy: Alas poor Craniosacral. A SCAM of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy, was pointed and funny and skewered CST completely and deserved more publicity. I posted the first FB link without comment, and moved on. But before long, there were 83 comments.

Deciding to continue with the topic I posted a second link to a report from a few years ago, about an infant who had died while undergoing "craniosacral" treatment. That one got 107 comments. 

I put up a third link to a very fair objective overview of it all written by a massage therapist, 

A case of moral distress: defending counterfactual anatomical claims in CST

 It's still perking right along. 

None of this is novel, so it doesn't interest me as much as the perspective offered by Mark Changizi, in his recent blogpost, "How not to get Absorbed in Someone Else's Abdomen". 
"Synposis: Anglerfish are metaphors for how creative communities can eat your brain and kill your creativity."  

That's what happens to us, as humans. Exactly. You could even say the world humans have created has become one big abdomen with many entry points into which we dive willingly for safety and so we don't have to think anymore, and can let our brains resorb. 
"Communities of people have bulls-eyes on them that are irresistible to us humans." 
Read it! It's a great blogpost. Changizi compares the behaviour of the anglerfish (the male one, anyway) to the way humans (neotenous apes that we are) need to have approval and feedback and support and eyes on us for every little thing we do in the world. Our need for external approval overwhelms our need to stay connected to our own cognitive linkages; all too easily are we severed from them, led into believing whatever somebody says is true, whatever nonsense they might be selling. We default straight to trust. We believe purveyors of nonsense, because they said it was science-based and why wouldn't we accept what they say? They're the teachers, right? 

And I saw this: "Doctors disagnose diseases as if recognizing objects", by Mo Costandi. It stuck in my head for some reason. I figured out, oh, it stayed in my head because they (doctors) are themselves lost in the abdomen of their own profession. Ah. No wonder we're in such trouble, us PTs who try to balance all the biomedical whatnot with our own whatnot. Because, what about pain? It has to be diagnosed, but it isn't "objective". It's not an "object". It's biopsychosocial. It's not physical. Pain science is the keen edge of the knife separating us from that abdomen we thought was "real" and "safe" but instead is a big (biomedical) fish net capturing health care dollars. We need to be discerning. We need to know what's useful for us, compared to what's useful for them. Not get mixed up about our role. Swim outside that big medical belly our profession seems to like to mix it up with. But never ever get sucked into/attracted toward other nice-looking abdomens. 

That default move (diving into a pre-existing conceptual abdomen) is not the best default move, but it's the quickest, and it's understandable: Why? Because we have huge, probably mostly unmanageable brains. Our executive function (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) isn't even fully myelinated until we're close to thirty years old, then it takes awhile after that before we learn how to use it properly. Seth Grant says, 
"it has been said the number of synapses in the human brain is about a million billion, but something we’ve discovered about the molecular composition of the synapses, is that they have over 1000 different proteins within this, and we have done sort of a back-of-the-envelope calculation about the computational power of the human brain, based on what we know about the molecular circuits and these neuronal circuits, and we’ve come up with this very simple estimate: and it is that one human brain is more powerful than all computers on the internet put together, times one hundred."
That's a lot to keep any sort of handle on, seems to me. Seems to me, insecure humans diving for the nearest collective conceptual abdomen is like iron filings diving toward magnets - automatic, pretty much irresistible. Not to excuse those who lazily persist, who don't learn to resist the compulsion.


Finally, on a seasonal note, I read and very much liked Less Wrong's solstice celebration blogpost: Ritual Report: NYC Less Wrong Solstice Celebration. 

It sort of puts the whole thing into a bit more perspective. The whole notion of sharing stories and candles going out until only one candle was lit, enough light to read the last story, dredging up enough collective courage to face what could be a long hard winter. 

"We honor those people, those first astronomers, and all the laborers and scientists and revolutionaries who have come since, for creating the world we have today.
And then we look to our future. Tiny stars in the distant sky, unimaginably far away, surrounded by black seas of infinity.
We will stare into that Abyss, and the Abyss will stare back at us. But we will go crazy-meta and challenge the Abyss to a staring contest and win the hell at it, because we’re aspiring rationalists and good rationalists win."

And, to tie all this in once again to craniosacral therapy, I leave you with this video, which reminds us all of how vertebrates are often extraordinarily kind to one another and anything with sensitive paws can do cranial effectively - it isn't necessary to imagine a lot of complicated implausible mechanisms, when you care enough to want to do something helpful with another nervous system you can sense is not very happy with itself. 

Have a nice smooth holiday, an uneventful exit from this year to the next; may your next trip round the sun also be uneventful or maybe even growthful. 


Anonymous said...

"This time round, things are upswung: I'm half way to the arbitrary weightloss goal I set back in September, when I started exercising, and I can actually feel some ab strength. So that's nice. I almost have my new place to work at set up, so that's nice too. The new year will freshen the page."

Good job Diane. It's good to hear.

Jon Newman

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jon. All the best to you this year/next year.