Apparently Professor Richard Sloan of Columbia University Medical Center does not think that the mind affects the body. He wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that starts off with a reference to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and what many consider to be her miraculous recovery. Professor Sloan goes on to reference the New Thought movement, William James’s “religion of the healthy minded”, Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking, and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, lumping together all the insights in these works and dismissing them as “bad medicine”. Unfortunately, the Professor misses the point. He seems to think that somehow these works place on individuals “the burden of guilt over a supposed failure to have the right attitude.” He says that the New Thought movement was “based on the premise that we can control our well-being” and “banish illness”. That conclusion is a very simplistic reading of the literature. New Thought certainly claims that our mind can influence our health, for good or ill, but Professor Sloan purposefully overstates the matter because any acknowledgment of the real influence of the mind on the body would undermine his underlying assumption that allopathic medicine is the only answer to illness. Professor Sloan’s comments suggest that he has not read the New Thought literature in depth. I am not aware of any New Thought works that ever claimed to be “good medicine” in the way that Professor Sloan understands the term “medicine”, and a close reading will not find in them the kind of “blame” discussed by Professor Sloan. The New Thought movement and its progeny have, of course, claimed that the mind can affect the body. Such influence may not be the kind of “medicine” that appeals to Professor Sloan, but it is hard to ignore the evidence. For just a hint of the possibilities all one has to do is look at studies showing that placebos often work as good as non-placebos. Professor Sloan’s attitude is an insult to those who know from personal experience that their thoughts have influenced their physical health. Attitude may not be everything, but it is disingenuous to argue that it is nothing. A quick look at Professor Sloan’s research interests, caught up as they seem to be in finding mechanistic explanations solely on the physical plane for bodily ills, helps explain why he might be uncomfortable with the proven benefits of the old-fashioned mind cure. Why not acknowledge that both have a place?
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