Sunday, April 13, 2014

Does Sun Gazing Work?

I am fascinated by the endless ways in which humans can construct cockamamie beliefs and connect dots where connections don’t exist. For instance, it appears as though many U.S. citizens who just happen to believe in a global conspiracy to control people also believe in things like the healing power of a stare from Croatian mystic Bracco, orgone energy, or sun-gazing, all of which sure sound like crazy, if not pseudo-science, to me. 

That people believe in sun-gazing or orgone energy baffles me the most, with sun-gazing the more puzzling to me of the two. (People who believe a stare from a New Age Fabio look-alike will heal them will surely believe anything, provided a desperation to believe anything. That doesn’t intrigue me.) Why? Because one has to forgo asking critical questions about said beliefs in order for the beliefs to exist, much like the beliefs of any given religion. But I digress; I’ve asked many sun-gazing believers exactly how staring at the sun during sunrise or sunset is supposed to heal the human body, but no one ever engages me in that conversation presumably because they don’t know. Thus, I can only assume sun-gazers believe in their practice because it is an “ancient art” of “noble savages” that is no longer practiced (read: suppressed). The most I’ve ever been told by a sun-gazer when questions are put to them is, “Do your own research and make your own conclusions.” Okay, sure. Problem is, when I do my own research and I come to a different conclusion, it’s a conclusion believers are unwilling to accept. 

To wit, I am unwilling to accept that sun-gazing can heal a human body that for one reason or another is out of homeostasis without any empirical studies to support such a conclusion. Second, no one can say what it is about photons hitting your retina that can heal problems with one’s body. Exactly how does the simple act of looking at the sun help combat or heal cancer or even relieve stress, for instance? Are the effects derived from a meditative state (in which case any meditation will do)? For anyone who knows anything about human physiology, as I do, maybe photons hitting the retina causes the release of sedative neurotransmitters such as dopamine or serotonin? I might accept such an answer into evidence, only you’ll never hear this kind of explanation from a sun-gazer because they haven’t, ahem, done any research nor are they likely to have any educational background in physiology. Third, if one practices sun-gazing based on the assumption that ancient peoples had things figured out long before modern man ever did, why doesn’t a believer practice all of the other ancient peoples’ cultural practices; why not practice ritual live sacrifice, too? That’s an “ancient art” practiced by “noble savages.” Fourth – perfect segue – where is the evidence that ancient peoples were noble or noble because they were savage? Is the belief that ancient peoples were noble stem from a believer’s simple dislike of the own modern culture? It’s a specious chain of reasoning. I can go on with these types of questions all day. In the end, though, people often believe what they want to believe. I have contempt for those who do not admit it. 

I can admit it. Here’s my example: I eat two Kellog's Pop Tarts ™ every day and believe doing so is in part what keeps me healthy and youthful. Despite the fact that Pop Tarts ™ have polyunsaturated fats and high fructose corn syrup – terrible for you, evidentially – I am the “picture of health” to quote my doctor just a few days ago. Granted, I also exercise six days a week and eat healthy for the better part of any given day, but Pop Tarts ™ are a necessary part of my daily regime, a guilty pleasure that makes my workout worth it to me. My point it this: Is it at all possible that by just believing in this routine that I create a positive effect throughout my body? I realize it is entirely possible that I am fooling myself, but based on the evidence – my health – Pop Tarts ™ are good for me. Admittedly, since I have no empirical evidence, that Pop Tarts ™ are good for me is simply something I want to believe. It appears, though, as if the belief helps me maintain my health whether it is because of the other factors that contribute to my health or the benefit of belief. There are enough studies to suggest that people with religious beliefs, for example, do tend to live longer and healthier lives than those who are not religious. Granted, this may be due to the health benefits associated with social connections or that healthier people tend to be religious (instead of the other way around), but still, there is at least a correlation. 

All this said, I would have much more respect for someone who, when challenged on their beliefs – whatever they may be – said they weren’t sure how their belief works but that they were nonetheless better off because of said belief(s). One can do all the sun-gazing they want but without an empirical explanation of how the practice works, I will not cease to rebuke those who insist the belief is helpful for everyone. If belief itself is the essential factor contributing to health, one is best off believing whatever suits their particular taste. Unfortunately, the egoism of sun-gazers often gets in the way. One then wonders why sun-gazing doesn’t cure such egoism.

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