Just the other day I was browsing on Reddit and came across a post that caught my interest – a headline that was resigned as ridiculous for stating that “cancer is a choice”. For those that don’t know, Reddit is a website that is a collection of user-submitted material and links and can be quite informative, entertaining, and even horrific if you wander down certain pathways.
Another popular source of entertainment that is required to know for this post is The Onion – a wonderful fictional news website that will have you laughing the whole way at their topics and witty style of writing.
Unless you’re those poor folks that don’t realize it’s satirical and fictional and expend a lot of energy protesting the stories. In many cases those protests are even funnier than the articles themselves.
Reddit is broken up into branches called subreddits, each one having their own theme. There is one subreddit called ‘Not The Onion’ that is filled with real news headlines that are so ridiculous that they seem like they’re right out of the world of fiction.
The full title of the post that caught my eye was “Textbook calls cancer a ‘disease of choice’ – and it’s required reading for UNC students.” When I saw it, I my knee-jerk response was “hey, that is funny!”
But then I started to think about it a little more consciously.
I have been doing a lot of reflection lately on the foundations of thought processes and how much of our paradigm for life is built on topics that are closed off – things that we have accepted as “that’s how it works” and closed the door on challenging it.
I’m not talking about touching fire and getting burned or closing your eyes when you sneeze – those are the way those things work, but they’re quite simple and there isn’t any real utility in challenging them. I’m talking about complex issues that have been woven together over much time by many people.
This textbook is making a bold claim that cancer is somehow a disease that we choose – I say “somehow” because I have not read this textbook. But that’s not necessary for this article as I’m not trying to convince you of thinking any one way or the other, nor will I be laying down statistics to support either side.
I want to talk about the calcification of thought processes and how that can hinder and oppress growth.
Calling cancer a ‘disease of choice’ is bold because of the way cancer is involved with our society and how strongly it affects our lives. The resources it takes to battle cancer, the awkward and painful learning process of what works and what doesn’t with treatment and recovery, and the undeniably massive emotional toll it takes on everyone touched by it.
And almost everyone has been touched by it. Even if no one that you directly know has dealt with it, you likely know someone that has had a family member, friend, or even pet go through it.
So of course if you suggest that it’s a choice, people get on the defensive pretty quickly. And it seems that nearly everyone will immediately join opinion without a second thought. Even now, you may well be wondering – how I could consider such a statement as possible truth?
But it’s just that: possible truth. Once I started to think about it I realized that judging it as ridiculous didn’t do me or my imagination any good. All that would do is solidify what I already think about it and reject anything that challenges my current knowledge.
This is called confirmation bias, and we’re all prone to it. For those that do a fair amount of reflection it can help to loosen its grip on our thoughts and perhaps have us catch ourselves when we do fall into that bias, but we’re all going to defend our thoughts sooner or later. The risk is when we can’t even recognize that bias within us, then imagination is kept locked out of these areas in our paradigm of the world.
One of the greatest minds within our recent history knew of the utility of imagination. Albert Einstein gave us incalculably important theories and understandings for our physical world, and it wasn’t born from the rigors of mathematical formulae and the scientific method, but from his childlike wonder:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
It’s the possibility within the idea of cancer being a choice that really stoked the fire for me to write this – it’s not the content in the headline or the textbook, but the reaction to it from the masses. The idea that’s presented is far enough outside of accepted norms that not only does it have casual readers rebuking it but people in the medical and general scientific community as well.
I checked the most popular comments on the page and it’s people discussing what’s been learned about the causes of cancer, the numbers behind it, and why it’s not a choice. People that know.
I’m not refuting this research; I’m not a doctor or a medical scientist of any kind. But you don’t have to reject what is already known to accept the possibility of something that seems to conflict with it.
To their point, I did initially reject it. As I said my reflex was to agree with them and laugh along with the absurdity of it. And I find that this is far and away the most common response to information that falls outside of our understandings.
Recently I was listening to a man named Dr. Joe Dispenza talk about how much our thoughts affect our reality. He speaks of concepts connected to quantum mechanics and how our thoughts more directly affect our experience than most people typically understand. Things with which I have little experience, but much curiosity.
He stated that in his experience working with people dealing with an illness that he has found that a very small number, between one and five percent, are truly prone to a serious illness because of genetics, the rest are essentially falling victim to their beliefs.
If your mind accepts your perceived genetic fate as reality, the rest of you will follow. If you’re looking for me to corroborate this claim; if you’re wondering, “are these numbers accurate?” I have no idea and it doesn’t matter for this article – I mention that claim here because I was talking to an acquaintance about this and he immediately replied “more like twenty percent, at least.”
With zero time to consider this information it was rejected. He’s not a doctor, neither of us work rehabilitating the sick, so neither of us is an authority. But I didn’t state it as a fact, I simply mentioned that some dude on YouTube said this number and I thought it was interesting food for thought.
He did not think so. He immediately adjusted it to a number that more accurately reflected his observations and experience. He confirmed the bias with which he was already comfortable.
And so I go back to the textbook. “Cancer is a choice.” It is an intimidating suggestion for a society so plagued with this illness. And given the heavy responsibility that comes with the claim that we might be the cause of what has been believed to be fatal illnesses outside of our control, that’s too big a burden for many to find any comfort.
But here’s where we find the bright side: what if it’s true?
Imagine that. Only imagine. Don’t explain it, rationalize it, or refute it. Just imagine. Dream. Allow yourself a moment to picture a world where we can take some semblance of control over something that victimizes us so ruthlessly. Just a moment without facts, figures, and experience telling you what you should think.
“But my dog died of cancer. He wasn’t even self-aware, how could his thought process cause him cancer?”
Interesting question. I myself had a dog that fell victim to cancer. Since the suggestion here is that our thoughts influence our reality, perhaps it influences the reality of those around us, and perhaps enough to create an environment where cancer can flourish. Like second hand smoke, maybe it’s a second hand stress that would cause an illness and allow it to run away.
Maybe the combination of how we fed him, how we treated him, how he slept… everything in his life was enough to allow it to propagate in a lethal fashion. Maybe it was nothing directly done to him but just an atmosphere that connected him to illness. And since we took the responsibility of his life, our consciousness and choice was responsible for his fate.
Or maybe it was genetic and couldn’t be helped. I honestly have no idea and I’ll never know, but I don’t find anything useful in assuming it was one or the other, especially since I can’t prove either side.
Something wonderful happens when we stay open to these kinds of concepts that lie so far outside of our comfort zone of reliable information – even if they’re not true it gets us out of the ruts of standard thought. This can take minds down new pathways, pave new roads of thought, and lead to solutions that wouldn’t have been thought of otherwise.
Our minds work beautifully with rationality and creativity being tandem partners to guide us through the world. Concrete thinking is sticking something in rationality and leaving it there. It’s a fact that is recalled through rote memory.
But to challenge the most fundamental concepts with even the most ridiculous alternatives sparks something new while also helping us understand what what we do already know from different angles. Even if you end up where you started and your belief still stands, you will have taken a tour around it and had an opportunity to see it from all sides. It is refreshing and fascinating to gain a deeper understanding of what makes us the person we are.
So… can your thoughts alone cure cancer? I mean, it’s not a magic pill. I don’t believe they’re suggesting you can simply wish a tumor out of your body. But imagine for a moment that we do have the power to shift our thinking enough to swing society into a future of things that seem like miracles becoming reality.
Wouldn’t that be something.