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Nearly twenty years ago, Dr. Bruce H. Lipton's startling research at Stanford University revealed scientific insights with huge implications for spiritual seekers: that our cells are far more receptive to the energy of thoughts and feelings than we ever imagined. The deeper revelations of this "new biology" are the topic of Dr. Lipton's first audio learning course, The Wisdom of Your Cells, and the subject of this interview.
Sounds True: What is the New Biology?
Bruce Lipton: We have been conditioned to believe that genes control and give character to our lives. Since we apparently don't select the genes we come with and since we can't change the genes that we have, we have acquired the belief that our lives are pre-programmed by the genes we acquired at conception. This is referred to as genetic determinism. But the mechanism of genetic determinism would require an excess of up to 150,000 genes to create a gene-controlled biology. When the human genome project results came in, we found that there are approximately only 25,000 human genes. This means that there are not enough genes to account for a human as a genetically controlled automaton. There has to be a second genetic code that is more powerful or overrides the functions of the primary DNA genetic code to account for human complexity.
The name of the field of science that describes this new genetic mechanism is called epigenetic control. The significance of this is indicated in the name epigenetics, which refers to any control above the genes. As an organism goes through a changing environment, its genes are continuously changing as well. Epigenetics refers to the results of the interactions between an organism and its environment. The significance of this is that our interactions with the environment are not only from direct experiences such as whether it's cold or hot out, but by our perceptions or beliefs, which also trigger a physiological response. So we can learn how to positively affect our physiology by becoming conscious of how to better use our thoughts and feelings.
Sounds True: Is this why you called your book The Biology of Belief?
Bruce Lipton: The mechanism of epigenetic control is that the behavior of the genes is mediated by our perception of the environment. Lower organisms sense their environments directly via stimulus/response. When you get to humans, our response to the environment includes our interpretation of the environment, and that is where the variabilities arise. Sometimes our perceptions are correct in their interpretation, and sometimes our interpretations are incorrect. Either way, it is our perceptions that control our biology. I could have called the book The Biology of Perception, but since not all of our perceptions are accurate, it was preferable to call the book The Biology of Belief. The idea is that once you understand how your beliefs change your life, you know that if you want to change your life, you have to change your perceptions.
Sounds True: And how would one do that?
Bruce Lipton: Where do we get our perceptions? Through our experiences. Our mind is like a tape recorder that records our experiences. If the stimuli associated with our past experiences reappears, the mind replays the same response it's been programmed to play from the previous experience. If in this process we acquire information that is dysfunctional to our happiness or health, it doesn't matter--our mind will continue to act out the same self-sabotaging, limiting behaviors for the rest of our lives until these programs are changed.
The significant issue here is that we all have two minds that are working in tandem: there are the conscious and the subconscious. The subconscious mind is a million times more powerful as an information processor than the conscious mind. So, although we think we can control our lives by using our conscious mind, our subconscious programs operate our biology for 95-99 percent of the day, so our lives are actually mostly controlled by our subconscious programs. This explains why we can have great intentions to be healthy, happy, successful, etc., and continuously fail to meet our goals, because 95-99 percent of our behavior are actually rerunning programs that don't necessarily reflect what we want or think at all.
Sounds True: But our environment does have some direct affect on us as well, doesn't it?
Bruce Lipton: There can be physical environmental causes for our responses as well as emotional, psychological influences. For instance, the American Cancer Society recently recognized that over 60 percent of cancer is totally avoidable solely by changing lifestyle and diet. And the same thing applies to cardiovascular disease. Dr. Dean Ornish taught his cardiovascular patients how to have better diets, how to better manage their stress, how to improve their communication skills, and how to meditate. And he found that cardiovascular disease could not only be stopped, but that his patients actually regenerated their cardiovascular system. And the important point is that it wasn't done with medication; it wasn't accomplished through changing the chemistry, which is the old paradigm that genes control our chemistry and our chemistry controls our biology. But Dean Ornish's work is a direct example of how much we can influence our lives by our behavior, and as our beliefs often form the basis of our behavior, to change our beliefs can be the easiest way available to us to create the lives we want to live.
Cancer and cardiovascular illness are the two leading killers, but this process has also been proven to affect diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. The significance of the new biology is where before we saw ourselves as victims of our biochemistry, we now recognize that we are the masters of our biology. But the problem is that we are generally completely unaware of our subconscious programming. We think we are controlling our lives but usually we are not, because our subconscious mind has been programmed by our previous experience--much of it before the age of six--and so we don't see how it is controlling us, or know how to change our behavior. And when these programs are running, we're not aware of them, and therefore when our lives don't seem to work we look to outside causes of the problem, not being aware that we are self-sabotaging or limiting ourselves. In other words, as Henry Ford said, "If you think you can, or if you think you can't, you're right."
Sounds True: What is something that anyone can do to begin to get some control over their subconscious programming?
Bruce Lipton: The primary thing is to learn how to practice Buddhist mindfulness. When you are being mindful and conscious, you are not operating off the prerecorded tapes that typically invisibly lead us off-track. Mindfulness practice encourages people to get into the practice of being more conscious in their day-to-day lives.
Sounds True: What kind of wisdom do our cells have?
Bruce Lipton: Human hubris has us believe that we are intelligent and considers everything far less intelligent than we are. And when we get down to the level of cells, we essentially don't consider them as possibly having intelligence. We think of ourselves as a singular entity, but the reality is that we are an interactive community of 50 trillion individual cells. It is their technology and their intelligence that created us. The reflection of their intelligence is in their technology--they can manage their environment and manage their world with technologies that we haven't even comprehended yet. For millions of years, their social activities have made possible the evolution of all life forms on this planet. In fact, we are struggling on this planet with how to form a cooperative world with only about 7 billion people. Within us there has been a cooperative world of about 50 trillion citizens that have created a philosophy and politics of life that has enabled them to live and thrive over a million years. And what is unique about these cellular civilizations is that they can live in total bliss, which is reflected in the health and vitality that we experience.
Sounds True: How do our cells learn to live together?
Bruce Lipton: When life first appeared on this planet, for the first 3 billion years it consisted of singular cells living in a very diffuse community. But about 700 million years ago, cells learned how to cooperate and form community. Those communities of cells--which now may be as small as 10-20 cells or up to hundreds of trillions of cells--are all based on a cooperative dynamic. Every cell is a sentient being, and every cell participates and works to support the nature of the community. Some cells become heart cells; and others become bone cells; and others, nerve cells. And by specializing in their functions and working in cooperation they are able to create these unimaginable cooperative communities.
Sounds True: So, in a way, evolution is not based on survival of the fittest but is actually based on cooperation.
Bruce Lipton: Absolutely. Evolution is a reflection of cooperation. Evolution isn't one animal against another--it's animals learning how to live in harmony with each other. Maintaining our belief in a Darwinian struggle of survival of the fittest is totally counterproductive to our actual evolution. And its destructive consequences of this belief of survival as a perceived struggle are responsible for most of the problems that we have on the planet today.
Sounds True: So, then, changing our perceptions of our individual evolution would change the future evolution of our species?
Bruce Lipton: Exactly. And it can be seen in the instructions to seek the answers within. In other words, if you want to figure out the rules of a successful community, the answer is to look inside yourself as a thriving community of 50 trillion individual cells. It can be a model of a diversity of people living in community. It turns out that we must understand the nature of the biology to understand the responsibility we have in the unfolding of our individual lives, but also, in a larger sense, the challenges we face as a part of the larger community of the world.
Sounds True: So the first step to our taking responsibility for our own lives and future evolution is to realize that we are not the victims of our environment or even our programming, but that we are the creators of our present through the process of interpretation.
Bruce Lipton: Right. And the key word is knowledge. Knowledge of self is power. When we gain this kind of knowledge, we begin to experience true self-empowerment. The absence of this kind of knowledge is the fundamental issue that keeps us from experiencing the Garden of Eden here on earth.
Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized cellular biologist who taught cell biology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and later performed pioneering studies at Stanford University's School of Medicine. His breakthrough research on the cell membrane in 1977 made him a pioneer in the new science of epigenetics. He is author of The Biology of Belief and a sought after keynote speaker and workshop presenter, and has appeared on radio and television.