Heisenberg Was Right About the Theology of Frightened Warts

 

When I learned how to scare warts, my view of the whole world changed. The procedure is pretty simple. A patient comes in and asks me to remove a wart from his hand. I’m busy or don’t want to deal with cryo or surgery that day, so I frown at the wart, stroke my chin, and say, “Yeah, well, sure, but to remove that is a very painful procedure that takes a long time. We don’t have sufficient time in the schedule today for it. Come back in six weeks. We’ll do it then.” The patient comes back in six weeks, and the wart is gone. It’s called scaring a wart. I was taught this in my post-graduate training, and I used the technique (It often works!), I just didn’t understand how it worked. Because what that means, is that if your brain really wants to get rid of that wart, it can. But how?

One of my board certifications is in Clinical Lipidology, which is sort of the study of the underlying biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology of atherosclerotic plaque deposition and rupture. I was at a Lipidology conference some years ago when a researcher brought up scaring warts. This seemed like an odd topic for a cardiovascular conference. But he had been researching the scaring of warts for years. (He must have been fun at cocktail parties: “…no, I don’t actually scare warts, I study the molecular biology which allows for the scaring of warts…” * …pretty girl slowly backs away with a frozen smile on her face… *)

Anyway, he would isolate the particular white blood cells which attack the particular viral particle which causes that particular type of wart on that particular person’s hand. Then he found a way to mark these particular cells with radionucleotide tags. He would then scare the wart, and perform serial radionucleotide scans to track the movement of these cells around the body. Simple experiment, although the details are a little tricky.

He found that these cells were pretty evenly distributed around the body, as one might expect, until he scared the wart. And then a huge majority of these cells would go directly to the wart in question. They would not go to other warts. Only the wart in question. Now think about that for a second.

That means that one of those particular white blood cells is drifting around the body, minding its own business, until it receives some sort of signal from the brain. Then, in response that signal, the cell will come to an intersection in an artery, and choose right or left, and choose again at the next intersection, and again and again and again, until it completes an extremely complex journey through a convoluted system of arteries, arterioles, and capillaries, until it gets to a very specific location on the person’s hand. And then it starts kicking some viral butt.

Now how on earth does that cell know where it’s going? How does it propel itself (or how do the arterial walls propel it) down a certain course? How does the signal from the brain work – does it use some system like GPS coordinates? Apparently blood does not flow around your body like water in a stream. It seems to be an organ which intelligently distributes resources to where they are needed at the time. Or something like that.

How on earth?

We have no idea. Not a clue.

But we spend a lot of time researching this because if we ever figure out exactly how this works, we’ve just cured cancer. We could give someone chemo, tag it to go only to the pancreas, and give enormous doses of chemo with no side effects elsewhere in the body. We could send antibiotics only to the lungs, to treat pneumonia, with no risk of intestinal complications. Just imagine what we could do. The possibilities boggle the mind. But during the lecture, that’s not what my mind was boggled by.

I was sitting there, a cup of Starbucks getting cold in my hand, wondering how something like that could simply evolve through random chance, natural selection, evolutionary pressure, survival of the fittest, and so on. Lightning hits a mud hole, and a few hundred million years later we have cellular anti-viral assassins with GPS guidance systems and elaborate communication systems to an intelligent central control hub? Man, I don’t know. That’s a little different from Boyle’s Law or something.

So I’m a slow learner. I lived my whole life surrounded by God’s miracles and I completely missed them. Until one day, God whaps me upside the head with wart research. And I just couldn’t avert my gaze any longer.

God: “Yo! Mr. Genius! Maybe things will look a little clearer to you if you OPEN YOUR #$%& EYES! C’mon! Why don’t you try using that brain I gave you, for a change?!?”

I suspect that God whapped Heisenberg upside the head with something a bit more glamorous than warts. Something like quantum mechanics. Whatever works, I suppose.

When I started my study of basic science, as a child, everything made sense. Basic science just makes sense. You can see it. But as I delved deeper and deeper into more advanced scientific study, it started to make less sense, rather than more. The things I knew became less obvious, and the things that I didn’t know became more difficult to ignore. Until I felt myself becoming less certain of even the things I thought I knew. Of everything, really. For a math/science guy, searching for understanding, it’s a disconcerting feeling.

But once I realized that perhaps things were not necessarily as random as I had previously believed, then things started to make sense again. There is a lot about science that we can understand, but I think we will eventually reach a point where we’re staring into the mind of God, and we won’t necessarily understand what we see.

I am one of the many who feel that they lack sufficient faith to remain an atheist. I tried for years. I really did. I thought I was so clever. But even clever people can’t rationalize away the obvious, sometimes. They often can, but sometimes they just can’t.

Some people see God when they look at a sunset. I see Him when I study subendothelial pathophysiology. It’s beautiful, once you know what you’re looking at. I now see the study of science sort of like a course in Art Appreciation. It’s ok if you don’t always understand what you’re looking at. It’s ok to just marvel at the wonder of it all sometimes. You continue in your unending search for understanding, but you accept that there will always be some things which remain beyond your grasp.

Atheists tend to find this to be scary – an urgent problem to be fixed – or perhaps ignored – or even more dangerously – a problem to be rationalized with false hypotheses which confirm their pre-existing biases. Religious students tend to find these same problems to be exciting – wondering “Cool! How the heck did He do this?”.

I can understand atheist artists, or atheist auto mechanics or whatever, but I really don’t understand atheist scientists. They are a very recent phenomenon, historically. How you can spend your whole life in the pursuit of scientific knowledge and not believe in God is one of the many things that is beyond my understanding. How can you not see that which you spend your life studying?

Although I couldn’t see it either, for years. It sometimes takes a while, especially for us slow learners. I hope God understands.

I know that Mr. Heisenberg does.

 

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There are 112 comments.

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  1. philo Member

    Dr. Bastiat: Apparently blood does not flow around your body like water in a stream. It seems to be an organ which intelligently distributes resources to where they are needed at the time.

    Well, that just blew my mind for the day. 

     

    • #1
    • June 16, 2019, at 8:17 AM PDT
    • 15 likes
  2. EODmom Coolidge

    Thank for so eloquent and clear and touching a statement of faith. It’s the one I share with you – how can you stand in the middle of so much abundance of beauty, engineering, deviousness, efficiency, cleverness, humor, subtlety and glory and not be overcome with the reality of God. And that’s just in the field of medicine. In the 20th century. On the Tuesday you were in a conference. Your field, not mine, but I’m so glad to read of the awe you still feel. Thank you. 

    • #2
    • June 16, 2019, at 8:20 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  3. Al French, sad sack Member

    I’m another slow learner.

    But on your sub-point: do you suppose the placebo effect works on the same principle as scaring warts? I was fascinated to learn that a placebo works even when the subject knows he is taking a placebo.

    • #3
    • June 16, 2019, at 8:24 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  4. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    Al French, sad sack (View Comment):
    do you suppose the placebo effect works on the same principle as scaring warts?

    I presume it’s the same thing, although of course I don’t really know.

    Remember, too, that placebos are toxic. Lots of side effects, in every study. Seems odd.

    Still, I think it’s a shame that we can’t use placebos. One of Jimmy Carter’s more egregious errors (and that’s quite a standard to meet) is that he passed an executive order making it illegal for doctors to lie to their patients. Which essentially outlawed placebos.

    Up until that time, placebos were well over half of prescriptions written, by some estimates. Because most illnesses will get better without intervention, and our interventions tend to be dangerous. Take the benefit of the placebo effect, hope for the best, and then treat the ones that are still sick next week with the real stuff.

    When he did that, doctors started using active drugs for everything, and the number of deaths and illnesses from drug side effects, drug allergies, and drug interactions just skyrocketed. People blamed the stupid doctors, of course. But I blame Jimmy Carter, at least in part.

    • #4
    • June 16, 2019, at 8:40 AM PDT
    • 19 likes
  5. Barfly Member

    Atheists are merely shallow and afraid; the conception of God they deny is invariably a straw man. Among scientists, I’d wager one would find a strong correlation between atheism and belief in (e.g.) anthropogenic global warming climate change.

    • #5
    • June 16, 2019, at 8:41 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  6. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dream of in your philosophy.” Or so said someone more perceptive than I.

    • #6
    • June 16, 2019, at 8:41 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Dr. Bastiat: Some people see God when they look at a sunset. I see Him when I study subendothelial pathophysiology. It’s beautiful, once you know what you’re looking at. I now see the study of science sort of like a course in Art Appreciation. It’s ok if you don’t always understand what you’re looking at. It’s ok to just marvel at the wonder of it all sometimes. You continue in your unending search for understanding, but you accept that there will always be some things which remain beyond your grasp.

    Just beautiful. I love it. When we open up our minds–wow!–there is so much more to see than we ever imagined. Great post, @drbastiat.

    • #7
    • June 16, 2019, at 8:47 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  8. Bob Thompson Member

    Dr. Bastiat:

    But we spend a lot of time researching this, because if we ever figure out exactly how this works, we’ve just cured cancer. We could give someone chemo, tag it to go only to the pancreas, and give enormous doses of chemo with no side effects elsewhere in the body. We could send antibiotics only to the lungs, to treat pneumonia, with no risk of intestinal complications. Just imagine what we could do. The possibilities boggle the mind. But during the lecture, that’s not what my mind was boggled by.

     

    Don’t you medical practitioners already use similar approaches to stimulate or inhibit hormones and enzymes for health effects? The above will really be a big step when accomplished but it looks like the next step in the pattern.

    • #8
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:07 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Jimmy Carter Member

    My Daughter was in Her high chair. I was watching Her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in My Life. I liked to watch Her even when She smeared porridge on Her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of Her ear-those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through My mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’ The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of My mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon My forehead. 

     

    Whittaker Chambers

    Letter To My Children

    • #9
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:11 AM PDT
    • 15 likes
  10. Jim McConnell Member

    Thank you, @drbastiat. I hope you don’t mind that I copied it for future reference in speaking with the many highly educated atheists here in the retirement community.

    From dealing with some of my fellow residents, I’ve discovered that some find it very difficult to learn something new when you already know everything.

    • #10
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:13 AM PDT
    • 14 likes
  11. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    some find it very difficult to learn something new when you already know everything.

    This is a common problem for doctors, scientists, and teenagers.

    • #11
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:16 AM PDT
    • 16 likes
  12. Franco Member

    Absolutely great post, thanks!

    Before I elaborate, if I can, I have to repeat a joke I remember from my father:

    Mike had a problem with his penis and went to see a his family doctor. The doctor told him it was a rare infection and he would have to amputate the member. Alarmed and distraught, Mike sought out a second opinion. The second doctor recommended the same treatment, amputation. 

    Mike was depressed and forlorn at the prospect, but he still had hope. He decided to try alternative medicine and went to a Chinese doctor. After running some tests the Chinese doctor came back into the room. Mike asked nervously, “Well doctor, does it have to be amputated?” 

    “Not at all, sir. You have been getting very bad advice.” Mike was greatly relieved. “Two, three weeks, it fall off by itself”

    • #12
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:37 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  13. Boss Mongo Member

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    Up until that time, placebos were well over half of prescriptions written, by some estimates. Because most illnesses will get better without intervention, and our interventions tend to be dangerous. Take the benefit of the placebo effect, hope for the best, and then treat the ones that are still sick next week with the real stuff.

    Maybe it’s the placebo-effect-by-stealth that makes the Army prescribe Motrin for every single malady.

    Broken leg? Motrin (makes sense).

    Head cold? Motrin.

    Depression? Motrin.

    • #13
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:40 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  14. MarciN Member

    I know her writing has come across the last few years as being somewhat unbalanced, and perhaps it is, but I remain a resolute fan of Ann Coulter’s book Godless. She responds to the theory of evolution better than any other modern writer, in my humble opinion. One thing she talks about in the book is that evolution scientists have been unable to explain vision–and I think she meant specifically human vision, although it’s been years since I read the book and I don’t remember exactly if it was just about human vision. Coincidentally, my son is photographer, and he mentioned once that a quarter or a third of the human brain is devoted to processing vision. How can we contemplate the complexity of biological life without seeing the amazing forethought and design that has gone into it. 

    I too don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. :-) 

    Never have I wished I had the wherewithal to start up my own publishing enterprise as I had while reading this post. It is a perfect piece of writing in every way. I have enjoyed it immensely. It should be today’s lead op-ed in the Wall Street Journal

    • #14
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:53 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  15. Bob Thompson Member

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    One of Jimmy Carter’s more egregious errors (and that’s quite a standard to meet) is that he passed an executive order making it illegal for doctors to lie to their patients.

    I must say I’m not current on this but was an XO by the POTUS regarding a medical practice such as lying to a patient really law and effective? Has licensing medical practitioners been out of the hands of States for that long?

    • #15
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:54 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Bob Thompson Member

    MarciN (View Comment):

    I too don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. :-)

    Never have I wished I had the wherewithal to start up my own publishing enterprise as I had while reading this post. It is a perfect piece of writing in every way. I have enjoyed it immensely. It should be today’s lead op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

    My daughter walked by and wished me Happy Father’s Day just when I had finished reading Dr. Bastiat’s essay. I was as impressed as you and I asked my daughter to read it as a favor to me. And she did.

    • #16
    • June 16, 2019, at 9:59 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  17. Jim McConnell Member

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Maybe it’s the placebo-effect-by-stealth that makes the Army prescribe Motrin for every single malady.

    Has Motrin replaced the APC tablets that were prescribed as you describe back in my Army days? It was the magic cure-all, though I never learned what the APC represented, if anything. Probably just aspirin, which has many unexplained curative properties.

    • #17
    • June 16, 2019, at 10:40 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    Bayer Aspirin, bicarbonate of soda in a fun bubbly drink…What else do you need?

    • #18
    • June 16, 2019, at 11:11 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. Roderic Fabian Coolidge

    Dr. Bastiat: Now how on earth does that cell know where it’s going? How does it propel itself (or how do the arterial walls propel it) down a certain course?

    Most likely it’s simply that cells of the wart tissue express a receptor protein that binds these cells and holds them there if they come by randomly. 

    How do these cells know to express this receptor? Autonomic innervation perhaps?

    • #19
    • June 16, 2019, at 12:09 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  20. Henry Castaigne Member

    I’m afraid I don’t see G-d the way you see Him. What happens in evolution is that things that work tend to continue to exist and things that don’t work tend to die or not breed. Over time, somethings that are more complicated tend to come about, like the human ear or a more sophisticated system of immunity. Why is a designer necessary?

    Think of free markets. You have an extremely complicated system of random change where stuff that works stays and stuff that doesn’t goes away. You don’t need a central planner for that. 

    • #20
    • June 16, 2019, at 12:11 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. Roderic Fabian Coolidge

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    Now how on earth does that cell know where it’s going? How does it propel itself (or how do the arterial walls propel it) down a certain course?

    APC is aspirin, paracetamol (acetaminophen) and caffeine. The P used to be for phenacetin, but this was taken off the market. 

    APC is still used a lot in the South in the form of Goody’s Powders.

    • #21
    • June 16, 2019, at 12:21 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Al French, sad sack Member

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    Up until that time, placebos were well over half of prescriptions written, by some estimates. Because most illnesses will get better without intervention, and our interventions tend to be dangerous. Take the benefit of the placebo effect, hope for the best, and then treat the ones that are still sick next week with the real stuff.

    Maybe it’s the placebo-effect-by-stealth that makes the Army prescribe Motrin for every single malady.

    Broken leg? Motrin (makes sense).

    Head cold? Motrin.

    Depression? Motrin.

    When I was in the Navy, it was aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine tablets, abbreviated APC. The corpsmen (silent p, silent s) said that meant All Purpose Capsule.

    • #22
    • June 16, 2019, at 12:26 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. Doug Kimball Member

    The leap from the faith you describe, that is the acknowledgement that something greater than ourselves designed and created, even affects, every aspect of life is one thing, but the leap to God, as coceived by so called organized religion, is quite another thing altogether. I’m a stubborn cuss. I have very, very little faith in any organized religion. I’ve met too many so called “faithfulI” people who were not very nice, even dare I day, nasty, controlling, aggressive and self-righteous (sometimes even evil.)  (Militant atheists are often the same way.) I want no part of either side in this debate. Call me whaever, but I remain happily unaffiliated.

    • #23
    • June 16, 2019, at 12:53 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  24. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    The leap from the faith you describe, that is the acknowledgement that something greater than ourselves designed and created, even affects, every aspect of life is one thing, but the leap to God, as coceived by so called organized religion, is quite another thing altogether. I’m a stubborn cuss. I have very, very little faith in any organized religion. I’ve met too many so called “faithfulI” people who were not very nice, even dare I day, nasty, controlling, aggressive and self-righteous (sometimes even evil.) (Militant atheists are often the same way.) I want no part of either side in this debate. Call me whaever, but I remain happily unaffiliated.

    I argue for the omniscience and divinity of God. Not of men. 

    I share your view of men. And it sounds like you share my view of God.

    So I think we agree. For the most part, at least. 

    • #24
    • June 16, 2019, at 12:59 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  25. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    Roderic Fabian (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: Now how on earth does that cell know where it’s going? How does it propel itself (or how do the arterial walls propel it) down a certain course?

    Most likely it’s simply that cells of the wart tissue express a receptor protein that binds these cells and holds them there if they come by randomly.

    How do these cells know to express this receptor? Autonomic innervation perhaps?

    That doesn’t happen until you scare the wart. At least, not nearly to that degree.

    The movement of the cells through the circulatory system is clearly not random.

    I don’t pretend to understand, either.

    • #25
    • June 16, 2019, at 1:01 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    I’m afraid I don’t see G-d the way you see Him. What happens in evolution is that things that work tend to continue to exist and things that don’t work tend to die or not breed. Over time, somethings that are more complicated tend to come about, like the human ear or a more sophisticated system of immunity. Why is a designer necessary?

    Think of free markets. You have an extremely complicated system of random change where stuff that works stays and stuff that doesn’t goes away. You don’t need a central planner for that.

    I understand your point. And it makes sense. But…

    First of all, this is A LOT more complicated than free markets. I agree about the wonders of the incredible amount of knowledge transmitted across free markets. It’s amazing. But it’s really just a measure of human activity.

    Meanwhile, we couldn’t build a blade of grass from scratch with an unlimited budget. We couldn’t come close. We can barely piece together polypeptides, for Pete’s sake. 

    Second, I agree that evolution happens. Heck, people can breed hogs to produce more pork in just a few generations. But in terms of the actual Origin of Species, we still really don’t know. I think we’ve essentially disproven Darwin’s natural selection / survival of the fittest model – that’s just not what we see in the fossil record etc. It obviously works somehow, but not like that. It would make sense. Aristotle would approve. But it appears that that model is not how it works.

    You can’t prove a negative. So you’re right. This all could happen randomly.

    I simply argue that to believe that it ACTUALLY DID happen randomly takes ENORMOUS faith. That’s just incredible – bordering on impossible. It’s like you telling me that you could flip a coin 1,000 times and get heads 1,000 times in a row. Is that possible? Sure. Do I believe that you actually did that last night? Geez, I don’t know…

    Another possible explanation is that someone a lot smarter than me had something to do with all this – that just seems to me to be more plausible.

    I can’t prove you wrong. You could be right. I respect your opinion. Heck, I used to hold your opinion.

    But I just can’t believe it anymore. I give up.

    • #26
    • June 16, 2019, at 1:12 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  27. philo Member

    Doug Kimball (View Comment): …I have very, very little faith in any organized religion. …

    At this point I would love to engage you further in a deep and serious discussion on the topic…unfortunately, I’m already on record within this fine neighborhood as being a Methodist. You win.

    • #27
    • June 16, 2019, at 1:16 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  28. Percival Thatcher

    Long version: Job 38.

    Shortened version: op. cit. verses 31-38:

    Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are? Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart? Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven, When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?

    Shortest version: “Who the hell are you again? Answer these questions? You can’t even understand these questions!”

    • #28
    • June 16, 2019, at 2:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  29. Skyler Coolidge

    Dr. Bastiat: It’s called scaring a wart.

    Or maybe warts just go away on their own naturally in most cases and telling patient to go away for six weeks coincides with the normal healing time?

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    But in terms of the actual Origin of Species, we still really don’t know.

    Who said we have to know? Why would you think that we know everything already?

    It’s the believers in god who think they have all the answers: “God made it that way.” An atheist can simply say, “I don’t know.” And that is often sufficient, though it’s good that we keep asking and researching. 

    No matter how many times Aristotle looked at an egg, he would never have understood meiosis and DNA. Why should none of our enquiries face a similar limitation? It is hubris to ascribe any cause to theology. It is humble, and proper, to say sometimes we just don’t know or understand, and sometimes we may have such poor understanding that we don’t even know the question.

    I’ve never heard of scaring a wart. I’m not going to deny that it’s a real phenomenon because I don’t work with warts nor do I try to cure them. There very well could be a mental component that causes some healing power to descend onto the wart after being “scared.” But if it is true, then the healing power will be real and and part of this world, not some ethereal aura of make-believe.

    • #29
    • June 16, 2019, at 2:23 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. Skyler Coolidge

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    he passed an executive order making it illegal for doctors to lie to their patients.

    When did a president get power of doctors’ speech like that?

    And no, I don’t want a doctor lying to me. Law or no law, if my doctor lies to me, he might get a comeuppance.

    • #30
    • June 16, 2019, at 2:27 PM PDT
    • 1 like
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