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Science

It occurred to me recently (courtesy of a wonderful visual image involving William Lane Craig, the fundamentalist Creationist, a stick, and a plastic beachball) that for the past 200 years or so, we sceptics and atheists have been doing not much more than poking holes in the “bubble” of delusion that anyone in any religion lives within.

Blowing Bubbles (not the chimp!)

This bubble they live within consists of all the faery stories, myths, and legends they’ve been taught (explicitly) and absorbed through constant interaction within the cult (i.e. implicitly). It’s invisible to anyone casually observing them from the outside; but it’s opaque to the person within. It’s an awful thing to contemplate.

This bubble then protects the cult follower from the harsh reality of the universe. That is, that we’re the incredible result of known random (or at least undirected!) processes operating over billions of years. We have an unbelievably tiny time in which to try to weave some sense into what is essentially a theme-less process before we are no more, and eventually won’t even be remembered. This is before the heat death of the universe plays out in its interminable hiss of energy loss on a timescale of trillions of years, until the final darkness of eternity sets in.

Think about it for just a few seconds…

Amazing! Incredible! …well, actually, not at all incredible. With a little learning in mathematics, a smidgin of calculus… a tiny pinprick of matrices… oh, and a willingness to concede that the world is a ball and not a tabletop… Then all this information, and more, become both visible and credible. It’s kinda like seeing a planet for the very first time through a telescope – it’s strangely different than you imagined, but then it dawns on you that that’s a real, live, planet, whirling in space not far from you. A stone’s throw, in terms of astronomical distances. Right there, wobbling in the eyepiece. Right next to you, and a billion kilometres away. Amazing, isn’t it?

What a time to live in!

Look, the simple fact is, we’re here, for a far too-short time, and we get to try to figure out what it all means – in other words, we’re a way for the universe to inspect itself!

And we’re priveleged to be right here, right now, as some of the most exciting (and energy-filled) experiments are being run to try and find out the why of why.

I can’t think of a cooler, more fascinating time and place to be alive, than right now, just when we begin to approach the raggedy ends of the universe we’re capable of knowing.

And yet…

And yet, religionists everywhere deliberately blind themselves to this wonderful 3D quantum melodrama unfolding around and even through them!

They build their impermeable bubbles around themselves, and disagree amongst themselves about what aeons-old and impossibly out-dated writings actually mean about their view of some aspect of the same writings.

And then they try to spin their bubbles of sickly sweet, viscidly sticky disapproval of realiity around other people – whether they want that or not.

Seriously. That’s what they do – they spend their lives in capsules, casually calling up images of their holy writings for display as they float around the wondrous universe that lives and breathes and ages and flickers outside their little dark bubbles. Occasionally they bump into another bubble-wrapped follower and either a) disagree with them about some insignificant speck on a fly’s turd that somehow or other was incorporated into their text by a scribe who couldn’t tell a fly turd from an umlaut, or b) threaten to, or actually, kill them for their unbelief in their particular dislike of reality and fear of the end approaching.

Pssst! Wanna feel like it’s your first time?

Hey presto! So a fly shits on a manuscript page in 422 CE, and suddenly, where she was a girl before, now she’s a virgin! And what was “they’re” is now “their”. “His” becomes “he is”, “he is” becomes “he will”, and “he will” becomes “you will not”.

Who can remember all the changes, the corrections, the…the… the polishing needed in order to make the bible make some kind of sense (in the smallest, narrowest sense of the word ‘sense’)?

220 years ago, a very clever Christian decided to certify beyond reasonable doubt that the bible was absolutely inerrant. His final word? After more than thirty years’ work, he counted no less than 17,000 clear and important differences – between just six of the best manuscripts!

Since then, we’ve learned that there are more mistakes in the New Testament than there are words.

So that’s what these bubble blowers do. They spin their blinding web of forgery, fraud, and male domination into bubbles so that, no matter where they look, they see only the inside of their bubble. And any time they read something in their holy and indisputable writings that they disagree with personally, they simply ignore or delete it! Just like that, they don’t have to obey a rule about bleeding on the dovecote or something similar. Oh yeah, and killing your kids if they speak back to to. So nothing troubles them… except when they have to deal with the real world long enough to beg money and life force so they can entrap other wondering souls. What a loathsome, painful, dreary existence they must have…

Sticking it up ’em

Most of the fun you can have with religionists of every persuasion (see what I did there?) is, therefore, to poke holes in their bubbles – to let a little light into their depressing, regimented, horrible bubble world.

As a simple example, take the gospel according to Mark.

Now, there’s a problem right there – we have no idea who actually wrote this book! It almost certainly wasn’t someone called “Mark” or “Marcus”. It’s just as likely to have been written by someone called Brutus Urbanus, or Biggus Dickus.

In fact, since the writer of Mark’s gospel makes so many mistakes about jewish details in his writing, it’s absolutely certain it wasn’t written by a Jew! Worse, the strangled interpretation of some of the Old Testament passages shows it wasn’t someone even familiar with the Jewish testament!

So the Gospel of Mark is just as likely to have been written by our friend Brutus. Although the “Gospel according to Brutus” has an ominous ring to it…

So even without opening the cover, we’ve been able to poke a sizeable hole in the bubble of inerrancy or infallibility, using the very first book written about Jesus, about 40 or so years after the events that apparently only happened in the bible, apparently happened.

Biblical Battleship, or the “But…” game!

The response of the typical Christian apologists like William Lane Craig is, unsurprisingly, a mental and sometimes logical feat of gymnastry to “patch” the hole our logic and reason has poked in their bubble. (Yes, there was a reason why WLC was mentioned earlier!)

Oh, of course the name of the gospel writer is irrelevant, they say, it’s only a convention anyway. (patch) – but that begs the question, who wrote Matthew, Luke, and John? Certainly not Luke, Matthew, or John! Oh dear, more holes… and more patches…

Forty years after Jesus’ death isn’t long. Some of the people who were alive with Jesus would still be alive (patch) to phone up or get the police records from (patch, patch). Oh, it took weeks to just travel to these places, and there are no records outside the bible itself? Well, that was the way the world worked then, and it would’ve been just as possible then as now! (patch, patch, patch)

It’s possible that the gospel was dictated to an unbeliever, who wrote it down in a hurry (patch, patch).

OK, we ask, so again without opening the book, what about the fact that most Christian scholars believe the book of Mark ended at chapter 16, verse 7 (where Jesus is buried and the women agree not to say anything to anyone, before exiting stage left), and have known this little fact for nearly 160 years? And yet this part of the text that was obviously written 200 or more years after the rest of the book is still included in every modern bible, most without any annotation or comment! What’s the deal?

Well, Bill Craig says, not every Christian scholar believes this is an added extra from the 200th anniversary edition, just the 3 or 4 scholars who, like Bill Craig, can’t get their papers published anywhere outside of the university they attend. (patch, hole, patch)

…and the big one…

God moves in mysterious ways. (BIG PATCH).

…And so the game of ‘Reality Battleship’ commences, with facts poking holes in delusions, before we’ve even opened the damn book up! And the first chapter, and first verse gets ’em in trouble even worse! (bit of rap there, you see, I’m home with the downies!)

I’ll probably add some to this bubble-bursting if I can find the brain cells. I’d say stay tuned, but that implies someone tuning in anyway! (Canned laughter).

Mind you, I’m happy to chat.

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.”

Westley (Cary Elwes), in The Princess Bride

Pain is wonderfully Subjective!

If there’s one thing that chronic pain will do for you, it’ll focus your attention. While that’s usually seen as a Good Thing, it loses its lustre when you realise it’ll focus your attention whether you want it to or not, pretty much permanently. I’m lucky enough to have been able to use that tortured focus to learn about pain – objectively, as it were, instead of just experiencing it and whinging about how it’s ruined my life (which it has – as many hundreds of thousands of people around the world know far too well).

Now, I’m not saying I’m a medical specialist of any kind. Far from it – I’ve known too many medical pain specialists to want to be counted amongst their number, one or two individuals notwithstanding (Bruce Kinloch, we miss you!). Personally and professionally, based on the last twenty-three years of close interaction with these medical specialists, I can only consider most pain specialists the worst kind of medical dilletantes – who, despite their occasional declaration of compassion, have no comprehension of the second-to-second realities of chronic pain in their patients. So, despite these specialists’ best intellectual intentions, the incoherent torture of severe chronic pain is only exacerbated by calendar-driven delays of weeks or months (the apparent minimum time period defined by their Alma Maters, Colleges of Chirurgeons from the 17th Century), fiercely protected by middle-aged Personal Assistants who have more invested in their employer than their clients will ever benefit from.

They are, with one or two exceptions, Pain Specialists indeed – the worst practitioners ensure ongoing and unrelenting pain exquisitely well!

As always, the exceptions prove the rules, and the few genuinely compassionate and helpful Pain Specialists who do exist, and who aren’t guarded by unfeeling bureaucratic pencil-pushers, are well worth searching for. (For more reasons than I’ve just alluded to, as I’ll explain below).

 Mea Maxima Culpa

Over the past twenty-six-odd years of more or less interminable agony, I’ve not only wondered “Why me?”, but I’ve actually tried to find out why I’ve been afflicted with the male equivalent of a spinal childbirth every hour in those 26 years.

And I finally have some answers!

Let me just state, for the record, that I’m not just doing this for myself. While I started out on this quest for the most selfish and self-centred reasons, I’ve been exposed to a surprisingly varied array of persons in the same, or (more usually) far worse situations than my own, and it seems that what’s good for the goose may also be good for others in a similar position.

I’m no Albert Schweitzer, I’m more of a Barry Marshall – I saw a need for some actions, I requested medical approval, with appropriate medical evidence, and I was repeatedly (and arrogantly and nastily, in some cases) denied their support. I’m not sure why, but I suspect Turf Wars may be at the root, although I can understand why someone with thirty-odd years of complete medical training wouldn’t want to be upstaged by a non-medical person with only  a few years of reading scientific papers and a badly-scanned copy of the 39th edition of Gray’s Anatomy.

I guess what the medical individuals concerned didn’t realise was that for individuals with chronic pain, anything within reason is worth trying, if it will help reduce the never-ending agony. Actually, quite a few things outside the scope of reason are worth trying: my abortive suicide attempt didn’t work only because I didn’t realise the nature of barbiturate overdose. I suppose I’m grateful for that lack of knowledge. I know better now – but I also know that popping my clogs, apart from the terrible impact it will have on the people I love, is the fool’s answer. I now know enough to at least fight for the right to be heard.

They also didn’t realise that I’m something of a “Renaissance Man”, in the strictest sense of that term. I’m the 21st century equivalent of Robert Hooke, albeit with more modern concepts of intercellular chemistry, physics, and medicine, and I hardly ever drink elemental quicksilver.  I’m not saying that to bang my own drum or toot my own trumpet, it’s something I’ve come to realise over the past couple of years – I really do know a little bit about nearly everything, (in any case, far, far more than the vast majority of people); and it seems to me that the best way to expand my knowledge is to use myself as a guinea-pig. At least then we won’t lose anyone important!

The Options

There are two areas I wish to evaluate for myself in the very near future. These are hypnotism, and opiate antagonism.

There are actually many more alternatives and options I’d like to investigate, but I’m still in the process of bringing myself up to speed in neuroscience and neurophysiology, and I want to be sure my understanding of the processes involved is adequate. Although, I guess you can’t ever know too much!

I’m feeling Sleeeeepeeeee….

Now, I’m a bit sceptical about hypnotism generally, but only because it’s been touted and over-exposed by quacks and frauds for so long (well, ever since Mesmer himself announced his results).

Since my own chronic pain is quite specific in origin and intensity, I suspect that with the right practitioner, it might be possible to convince my unconscious self that the pain is more bearable, or (my hope) that it’s completely ignorable. These are the wrong terms to use, I know, but until I speak with a serious licensed practitioner, it’s the best I can explain.

My main concerns as far as this goes are :

  1. How susceptible am I to hypnotic induction?;
  2. How much of the pain can be ameliorated?; and
  3. How long will it last?

So those are my “Big Three” I need answered before I will start down that road.

Opiate Antagonism

Without going into the whys and wherefores just now (although I’ll be happy to explain the theory later on, if anyone’s interested), it’s quite possible that by mixing a small amount of opiate antagonist (naltrexone, naloxone, etc) in with the opiate infusion in my intrathecal pump, both my tolerance for, and response to, sufentanyl will be massively (more than 60%) decreased/increased respectively.

This isn’t airy-fairy guesswork, this is solidly backed by experiments dating back to 1985. David Meyer (amongst many dozens of other researchers) found that in the vast majority of rats with chronic constrictive pain injury (CCI), their tolerance to morphine in particular could be significantly reduced by admixing the morphine with a non-specific opiate antagonist. Not only that, but the effect seemed to be consistent over time, with minimal (almost undetectable) increase in either tolerance or potency after more than a week of trials!

He couldn’t quite believe the results, and as far as I’m able to tell, no-one else has satisfactorily explained that result. It’s been duplicated many times over, with many different species, but not homo sapiens, and never in vivo. It’s also been used to explain some other features of opiate receptor activity, but not explained per se. So here’s my opportunity!

I find it interesting that this particular group of experiments seems to have been reliable enough to be used as a possible explanation for later, related effects of opioid antagonists and agonists, but not reliable enough to be evaluated in human clinical trials. Since it involves the most insignificant and simple change to a standard treatment regime, it should be eminently testable, and easily proven or refuted!

But this treatment option in particular, was specifically (though not technically) poo-pooed by three different pain management specialists (including one of Australia’s leading pain physicians), but always with condescending tones and arbitrary and confusing non-sequiturs.

I was told the morphine would “crystallise in [my] intrathecal space and cause granulomas” (although it didn’t happen in any of the experiments), I was told that there could be no such effect since the amount of antagonist was far too insignificant to have any possible effect (cognitive dissonance, much?), and finally I was told that what worked in male Sprague-Dawley rats couldn’t possibly work in homo sapiens – at least, not in this homo sapiens.

But I beg to differ. It’s gotta be worth trying, I just have to find a pain specialist who will work with me to ensure appropriate support and aggressive examination of options, medical support, timing and measurement, and so on. Child’s play for me, but apparently an insurmountable obstacle for medical specialists. See what I mean about not wanting to be counted in their number? It would be embarrassing to me!

Who knows, maybe it will turn out that a combination of the two therapies will work. But it has to be tried, and not just for me – if it works for me, even partially, surely it warrants further investigation and more trials, especially since the test itself requires no additional resources, barriers, or ethical dilemmas!

At least I can make the attempt.

Which is more than I can hope for in Australian pain management, where I couldn’t even get the “top echelon” specialists to even consider testing a proven, decade-old shellfish toxin that’s worked well in the US for decades.

Why not? They didn’t want to divert funds from treating bedsores. They weren’t prepared to manage such a trial. It would take too long. The therapeutic window was too small. There have been isolated cases of attempted suicide (true, but then that’s also true for the current state of pain management here!). Oh, yeah, I forgot the best excuse for not trialling it over here :  it’s untested over here (I kid you not – they didn’t want to test it because it was untested! There’s that cognitive dissonance again!).

Fingers crossed, watch this space!

Thanks for reading.

Cephas Q Atheos.