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Friday, February 3, 2012

Brain Anomalies: a family tradition?

Here is another fascinating study on the brains of addicts:

This is the observation that caught my eye:

Scientists at the University of Cambridge compared the brains of addicts to their non-addicted siblings as well as to healthy, unrelated volunteers and found that the siblings shared many of the same weaknesses in their brains.

That indicates that the brain vulnerabilities had a family origin, though somehow the siblings of addicts -- either due to environmental factors or other differences in brain structure -- were able to resist addiction.

"Presumably, the siblings must have some other resilience factors that counteract the familial vulnerability to drug dependence," said the study led by Karen Ersche of the University of Cambridge, published in the journal Science.

These resilience factors are what we as Christians are most interested in.  After all, are we not interested in the healing of the mind?  What is it that steers one person into addiction, and how can we not only find it for ourselves and share it with others?

This is rather controversial in the world of science, because so much of the human mind's operation is unscientific.  Perception and reality are often two separate things.  What is a proper perception in one culture is improper in another.  The world of the mind is difficult for scientists to understand because their methodology relies on mechanics and material manifestations.  Basically, if you can't 'measure' it, it does not exist.

Spirituality delves into a world that cannot be measured.  You can't hook a 'soulometer' to a person to determine if they are alive or dead, neither can one really measure such common experiences as happiness or sorrow.  Even physical manifestations such as beauty are hard to quantify, and anyone who has watched the Olympics knows that physical performance is subject to lots of non-empirical standards.

Yet, the subjective and the objective reside in the same world.  We must deal with them both. 

For Christians, these resilience factors are found in communion with Jesus Christ.  It is His strength, our faith in Him, and His presence that make sobriety possible. This divine grace can even overcome 'hard wiring' issues that we all struggle with.  This is why we see ascetics constantly struggle against impulses that are even healthy and normal, such as hunger, thirst, and even sexuality (these days, the latter seems to be the hardest).

The world we are in, however, is suffering from the problem of materialism.  And, as such, those impulses we are told science cannot utterly measure and adjust must therefore be acted upon.  Modern business has latched onto this message and pushes us to give in to our impulses.  So, the bikini model and the torque wrench work together: you have a sexual drive that cannot be contained, and neither can you contain your desire for bigger, better tools.  You can have them both, if you give in.  Or, at least, that's part of the message.

Addiction is on the rise because we are losing this divine connection to the non-material.  Humans are just another form of ape with no redeeming qualities other than some different chromosomes.  Religion is bad.  God has no place in the modern world.  Why not be free of piousness and things that hold back our impulses?

And, so, the world is coming apart.  Societies, mostly in the West, are deteriorating at an alarming rate.  Addiction is rampant.  The world has always been a violent place, but now something more profound is happening: the world is becoming a more unhappy place.

Impulses rarely lead to a happy conclusion.  They are usually the source of great sorrow, especially for the addict whose impulses lead him to the gates of death, and many times shove him through.  Understanding how impulses come about is helpful, and this article provides some clues.  But, for us, the most important question is to find these resilience factors that scientists have not yet quantified.

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