The Gratitude Pill: On the Disjunction of Materialist Science and Spiritual Reality

Pharmacological and medical sciences have been long and inexorably involved in seeking physical causes of various states of consciousness so that chemical antidotes can be developed to manage them. Mostly, like psychology, they have focused on what are considered pathological conditions, like depression, aggression, manias, and phobias. Curiously, little attention has been paid to identifying bodily mechanisms associated with healthy qualities of mind, like love, compassion, humor, peacefulness, enthusiasm, joy, generosity, and gratitude.

The inclination to consider humans as exclusively material organisms who are strictly determined by their genes and corporeal chemical reactions limits our understanding and effectiveness in dealing with illness. Although we are quite obviously thought processing beings, whose perceptions, spirits, bodies, and experiences are governed largely by what we pay attention to and value, viewing and treating us as biochemical machines occurs principally because the scientific and commercial establishments are fundamentally organized to do so. Because of the dominant, pervasive influence of medical and pharmacological partisans on the public’s consciousness, this neglect of our psyches, by all but the tiny minority of spiritually oriented psychotherapists, is, for the most part, ignored by the mainstream media. Advertising the purely physical nature of illness abolishes its mental component and thereby obfuscates the enigmas of sickness and healing.

The idea that all mental illness is really just a physical problem that can be cured by infusing the body with the right chemicals has so mesmerized our culture that there is, unfortunately, little receptivity to alternative ideas, even though many maladies continue to completely confound us and undermine our well-being.

One such particularly unpopular idea is that all so-called mental illness is not really a disease in the usual, medical sense, but simply a reaction to the difficulty of dealing with problems in living. According to this notion, expressed most cogently by Thomas Szasz, M.D., the only “treatment” required for those suffering from troublesome thoughts is dialogue with someone who can help to clarify the issues disturbing the victim so that he or she can gain a better understanding of the nature of the problem and how to respond to it. Even when electronic scans reveal apparent physical changes in the body accompanying disruptions in consciousness, ignoring the thought component’s responsibility for such metamorphoses biases care toward chemical and surgical actions that do not address the source of the problem. Exploring the possibility of psychotherapeutic interventions as simply the “healing of souls” involves challenging and counteracting the prevailing wisdom that mental states are essentially just chemistry. Few there are that understand and are willing to pursue the human spirit approach and buck the medical and insurance establishments to do so.

As an example of the potential of investigating the realm of spiritual reality as a therapeutic resource, consider the ameliorative power of gratitude. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see any putative mental illness that would not vanish if the sufferer became grateful for the good in his or her life, even to discerning that the malaise represents a lesson to be learned, that it is attributable entirely to a lack of appreciation. Given this observation, one might ask: “if thoughts, feelings and values are just chemistry, why doesn’t psychopharmacology develop a Gratitude pill to cure all mental ills?”

The answer lies in the fact that there is an irremediable disjunction between materialist science and spirituality. The former deals with phenomena that are discernible via the senses and readily reproducible, while the latter relates to a domain in consciousness where truth and value can be known only by the individual and are not provable to others. This subjective characteristic distinguishes the spiritual from the scientific. That it is a valid distinction worthy of contemplation is revealed by the fact that we all know that love, for example, exists (however often fleetingly) in the human soul, but cannot be “scientifically” demonstrated to anyone. Similarly for many spiritual qualities, like joy, assurance, peace, enthusiasm, compassion, etc.

But the deliberate ignoring by the medical profession of the power and significance of thought in the understanding of illness persists. Consider the phenomenon of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a newly popular psychiatric diagnosis for children. Lately, the medical establishment has been categorizing children as suffering from Bipolar Disorder, a euphemistic replacement for manic-depression, and prescribing adult style anti-depressants and other concoctions to treat the afflicted youngsters. A recent TV broadcast spent an hour describing the various medications being used to marginally control the behavioral problems, while never mentioning the possibility that the mental atmosphere in the home might be contributing to the problem. Even when its practitioners acknowledge their ignorance of the origin of the problem and cure for the afflicted youngsters, and cannot deny the mediocre results of their ministrations, the medical propaganda machine continues to pretend that the right kind of pills are the only answer, and the press provides ongoing support for the authority of the pharmaceutical industry.

A few years ago, a series of newspaper articles in the New York Times purported to examine the characteristics of individuals who have lived long lives. Unbelievably, all kinds of studies were made about genetics, living conditions, family history, diet, etc., while not once was any mention made of the world-views or values held by those experiencing great longevity. It became clear that all the research being reported was not truly open-minded, but was sponsored by pharmaceutical organizations that are solely interested in discovering physical qualities that can be impacted by chemicals for them to manufacture and sell. It makes one wonder what percentage of what is called research is commissioned just to prove a point versus what is undertaken to discover some truth about what is!

So the public is being consistently misled by accommodating media that accept and do not challenge what they are told by the medical science enterprises. As a consequence, many ailments and suffering are endured that might be healed, or at least mitigated. Those who are knowledgeable about the role of consciousness as a prime determinant of health do manage to help receptive individuals. It is the overwhelming majority of the public that is unaware of this path to healing. And the medical establishment continues to disparage those who have found an effective course of non-chemical, non-surgical treatment such that such practitioners are generally regarded as charlatans.

This “if I can’t fix it, nobody can” attitude is a lie that is responsible for untold, unnecessary suffering. It is only by acknowledging the legitimacy of spiritual values as having the potential to improve the mental climate, while recognizing the qualitative differences between spirituality and science and their respective limitations, that is required to attain the non-judgmental orientation that can lead to new, health-promoting discoveries.