Implicit in chiropractic is a philosophy of vitalism, yet many chiropractors have been challenged by the theoretical constructs of the Palmers and Stephenson. Bound by the lexicon of the times in an era preceding the quantum revolution in theoretical physics, these pioneers sought to describe concepts that challenged the mechanistic world view of the allopaths.
Characterizing Mental Impulses
D.D. Palmer used the term mental impulse in his 1910 text. Palmer wrote, "Chiropractors do not treat diseases, they adjust the wrong which creates disease; they have discovered the simple fact that the human body is a sensitive piece of machinery, run throughout all its parts by mental impulse."
And according to Stephenson, "We might conceive of this mental impulse as being composed of certain kinds of physical energies, in proper proportions, which will balance other such forces in the Tissue Cell; as electricity, valency, magnetism, cohesion, etc., etc. Perhaps some of these energies are not known to us in physics. What right have we to assume that we have found them all? The writer presents this as a hypothesis or theory in order to get a working basis ... It is no discredit to chiropractic that it must also use theories concerning the transmission of mental forces."
Furthermore, Stephenson noted, "The mental impulse is not an energy at all. It is a message. A message is not a material, an energy, or a thing physical in any sense ... Mentality makes it and sends it to an object of matter." The Palmers and Stephenson developed their ideas in a world that relied on classical Newtonian models of physics. Principles of quantum physics had not yet been articulated or experimentally verified.
Predictably, neurophysiology adopted mechanistic models, which reduced the function of the central and peripheral nervous systems to a series of electrochemical processes whereby receptors conveyed information to be processed by lower centers and stored in file folders in the cortex. Biologists acknowledged that the mind had its biological base in the brain, yet a dualism persisted separating body from mind and spirit. Uncomfortable paradoxes that challenged the model were often dismissed or ignored.
Holographic Theory and the Implications for Chiropractic
Quantum physics and the technology it has spawned are changing the theoretical base of neurophysiology; and as was the case in quantum physics, experimental evidence is effectively challenging old notions. A cover of Scientific American asks, "Are you a hologram?" The opening paragraph of the article inside relates a contemporary version of the triune of life in chiropractic: "Ask anybody what the physical world is made of, and you are likely to be told 'matter and energy.' Yet, if we have learned anything from engineering, biology and physics, information is just as crucial an ingredient."
Matter, energy and information are analogous to Stephenson's matter, force and intelligence. The scientific community, applying the findings of current research, is developing constructs remarkably similar to those of traditional chiropractic philosophy. Karl Pribram, one of the most influential scholars today in the field of mindbody relationships, is well-known for his work in developing the holographic theory of brain function. Just as early chiropractors acknowledged that the mental impulse was a message, Pribram characterizes the mind as a process, rather than a thing. Holographic (also known as holonomic) brain theory was developed from the insights of Nobel Laureate Dennis Gabor, who invented optical holography.
Consider how an ordinary photograph differs from a hologram. A photograph stores light or dark dots (analog information) at specific sites on a piece of paper. Cut a photograph in half and you will have only the information contained in that half. If you keep cutting, each piece yields less and less information.
Not so with a hologram. A hologram contains information on both amplitude and phase. This means that a hologram encodes the height of waves and how quickly waves move from one place to the other. Put simply, a hologram is a recording of spatial and temporal relationships. And if you cut a hologram into pieces, each piece regenerates the image of the entire scene, not just a portion of it.
The reason for this is that the hologram depends on ratios, not absolute values. Like angles, the code is relational and recorded throughout the hologram. The more pieces you have, the brighter and sharper the image. Yet any piece can regenerate the whole image.
According to holographic brain theory, information is recorded holographically. The brain, therefore, is relational and continuously engaged in correlational processes. Specific anatomical sites that have been demonstrated experimentally (such as Brodmann's areas) are not file folders, but the biological machinery needed to bring the relational processes into the physical world of space and time.
The clinical implications in chiropractic are profound. In addition to providing a theoretical framework for the "mental impulse," the holographic theory may provide the framework to help address challenging clinical questions:
- Why can different techniques work equally well?
- How does the intent of the chiropractor affect the adjustment?
- What is the physical effect of the doctor-patient relationship?
The challenge to the chiropractor is liberating the mind of old ideas and models, and moving forward. As D.D. Palmer wrote: "A mental impulse is an incitement of the mind by Innate or spirit, in the form of an abrupt and vivid suggestion, prompting some unpremeditated action or leading to unforeseen knowledge or insight."
Several years ago, I decided to attend a workshop series in optical holography. The students were either artists seeking to learn a new technique, or physicists. The instructor asked each student, "Are you an artist or a physicist?" When my turn came, I responded, "A bit of both. I'm a chiropractor." With a gleam in his eye, he nodded and said, "I'll bet your interest is in neural holographic theory." I nodded affirmatively. The next day, he arrived with some papers about Pribram. Years later, I was privileged to meet with Pribram and discuss chiropractic research. It became apparent that there was more to the mental impulse than Stephenson might have ever imagined.
- Palmer DD. Textbook of the Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic. Portland, OR. Portland Printing House Company, 1910:85, 109.
- Stephenson RW. Chiropractic Textbook. Davenport, IA. The Palmer School of Chiropractic, 1948 edition:268, 269, 292 and 294.
- Berkenstein, JD. "Information on the Holographic Universe." Scientific American, 2003;289(2):58 65.
- Prideaux J. "Comparison between Karl Pribram's holographic brain theory and more conventional models of neuronal computation." Virginia Commonwealth University. www.acsa2000.net/bcngroup/jponkp
- "Thinking Allowed" (PBS interview with Karl Pribram and Jeffrey Mishlove). www.intuition.org/txt/pribram.htm
- Pietsch P. Shufflebrain. The Quest of Holographic Mind. 1996; available online at: www.instinct.org/texts/shufflebrain/shufflebrain-book00.html
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