Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Health:Hospitals factor lifestyle beliefs and practices into wellness

Some hospitals have come a long way toward realizing how important it is to adapt to the life beliefs of patients, especially the older ones, according to a recent article in Jewish World Review:.
The hospital perks of yesteryear — designer gowns, valet parking, Internet access — stressed luxury and convenience. Today, hospitals have found G-d.

Hospitals are now touting "Shabbat elevators" for observant Jews, "bloodless surgery" for J ehovah's Witnesses and Muslim prayer rooms.

The new services show that hospitals have begun adapting to the religious mosaic of patients — and are increasingly marketing to patients not by disease or age, but by belief.

I say it's about time. Forcing people to violate their beliefs in order to get treatment is a bad idea:

"The last thing you want to worry about while somebody is sick is that they might have to transgress on something they believe in," said Zahava Cohen, Englewood's patient care director.
When Cohen's father was hospitalized years ago in New York, he couldn't get the required food needed for Passover. For the first time in his life, he broke the dietary rules for the holiday. "It was horrible," Cohen said.

By contrast, reassuring them that optimum health is consistent with their beliefs - wherever that view is consistent with reality - is a much sounder strategy for health care, irrespective of the caregiver's own beliefs.

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Evolutionary psychology watch: Natural selection, not consciousness, accounts for sexual jealousy?

A press release advertised - just in time for Valentine's Day - an allegedly "scientific" understanding of the wish for a faithful partner:
Researchers have identified something called "sperm competition" that they think has evolved to ensure a genetic future. In sexual reproduction, natural selection is generally thought of as something that happens prior to – and in fact leads to -- the Big Event. This thinking holds, for example, that we are drawn to physical features that tell us our partner is healthy and will give us a fighting chance to carry on our genetic lineage. But a new article in the February issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science suggests that the human male has evolved mechanisms to pass on his genes during post-copulation as well, a phenomenon dubbed "sperm competition."

The item goes on to explain that behaviour resulting from concerns about one's partner's infidelity is a mechanism evolved through natural selection for passing on one's genes.

As to the value of the research, well, non-falsifiable Darwinian explanations should, of course, be accorded the same status as non-falsifiable Freudian explanations. We can be sure of one thing: Whatever the researchers found, it would somehow support their theory of natural selection as the driver of human behaviour.

Many who listen to this stuff with more than idle interest do not realize that a materialist view of the human mind and mental processes is fundamental to it. According to the materialist view, consciousness is simply the buzz created by the workings of the brain. It does not initiate action.

What, you may ask, is the connection between the idea that consciousness is an illusion and the idea that sexual jealousy is simply the outworking of natural selection? Well, if you believe that consciousness is not an illusion and that it can initiate action, you can readily account for the hostility that a person (or dog or cat, for that matter) perceives toward a new favorite. An intelligent life form perceives benefits lost and reacts accordingly. No further explanation in the form of a mechanism is needed because the perception itself drives the process. Moreover, the life form's behaviour can be interpreted without reference to the question of whether any genes get passed on. You will also notice that jealousy is not even primarily a sexual emotion, as parents, bosses, and military commanders soon discover ....

Indeed, it is quite easy to assemble examples of people whose jealousy had quite the opposite effect from passing on their genes. One thinks immediately of archetypal characters like Othello and Medea. You, gentle reader, can probably think of numerous lesser known examples from your own city, as I can from mine. Jealousy has doubtless doomed many an animal as well.

So the drive to identify an explanation for jealousy that is based in natural selection does not derive from observing behaviour. Indeed, behaviour does not especially confirm it, as we can see. It derives rather from the belief that consciousness is not the driver of behaviour but an irrelevant outcome of brain states. That is the only reason for defaulting to a less effective, more complex explanation.

Oh, and here's another example of similar silliness.

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

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Thinkquote of the day: Nobody in here but us neurons?

From "Oh dear God, it's him again", Gina Piccolo's October 2, 2006 Los Angeles Times profile of atheist neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, author of antitheistic tract Letter to a Christian Nation :
Then Harris started talking about the philosophy of the mind and his blue
eyes started to shine. "We're the thinker of our thoughts and the experiencer of our experience," he said, with no hint of irony. "And it's actually a false view. Because there's just experience. There's just consciousness and its contents. There's not an 'I' or 'me' in the middle of consciousness to whom it's all relating."

The profile is well worth reading, to get some idea of who writes these kinds of anti-God books. Apparently, Harris
won't say where he lives. Or where he grew up. Or what his parents do professionally. Or the name of the university where he's pursuing his doctorate in neuroscience. At the request of friends and family, he never acknowledges them by name in his books. He will allow that he's 39 and didn't start out an atheist, though he was raised in a secular family. He
is deliberately vague because, he said, murderous religious fanatics know their way around the Internet.

Well, as long as his publisher's accountant knows his address (for the royalty cheques), I suppose he can amuse himself by imagining danger, and no harm done.

Personally, I think that scholar Mary Eberstadt is right in seeing the spate of anti-God books directed against American Christians as displaced anxiety. People who can't risk being where the action is try to make up their own action somewhere where it is safe:
... what they have turned into a blogging bonanza and cottage publishing industry is the overwhelming threat posed by religious fundamentalists . . . again not Islamist fundamentalists, but rather American Christian fundamentalists, known variously in this new canon as "theocrats," "Christocrats," "Christianists," "fundamentalists," "Christian nationalists," and the old familiar, "Christian right."

As with the paleoconservative right and its Mexican illegals, this single-minded insistence on having located "the" fundamental problem for America is characteristic of the anti-"theocrat" genre. As Ross Douthat observed in an essay for First Things about such exercises, "the fear of theocracy has become a defining panic of the Bush era. . . . Today's battles aren't just a matter of ordinary political factionalism, they [the anti-"theocrats"] insist. The hour is much later than that, and nothing less than the republic itself hangs in the balance." It is this same outsized passion that is the first sign of a gap between reality and rhetoric, one suggesting that a scapegoat may be at hand.

The thing is, you can be anti-God in the US, and your books will sell. Try being anti-God in the Middle East and your head may be rolling and bouncing along the cobblestones. The real tragedy of modern-day materialist atheism is that it's quite easy in places where no one takes you seriously and quite impossible in places where everyone does.

As if to prove me right about the essentially irrelevant character of the whole current anti-God enterprise, Harris plans to write yet another "biology of belief" book, yet another attempt to explain spirituality with reference to some materialist thesis. But why wouldn't last year's books or the ones from the year before do just as well? And Harris could spend more time perfecting his aliases and disguises.

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

My previous books are By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg 2004) and Faith@Science.

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