Friday, May 19, 2006


The more I study, the more I know we are robots. We think we make our own decisions but our bodies more often than not evidently throw those little chemical switches we call decisions. Imagine choosing day after day not to eat, going against all desire to live.

A recent article in NEWSWEEK (Dec. 5, 2005) yielded the following passages:

Not many years ago, the conventional wisdom held that adolescent girls "got" anorexia from the culture they lived in. Intense young women, mostly from white, wealthy families, were overwhelmed by pressure to be perfect from their suffocating parents, their demanding schools, their exacting coaches. And so they chose extreme dieting as a way to control their lives, to act out their frustration at never being perfect enough. In the past decade, though, psychiatrists~have begun to see surprising diversity among their anorexic patients. Not only are anorexia's victims younger, they're also more likely to be black, Hispanic or Asian, more likely to be boys, more likely to be middle-aged. All of which caused doctors to question their core assumption: if anorexia isn't a disease of type-A girls from privileged backgrounds, then what is it?

Although no one can yet say for certain, new science is offering tantalizing clues. Doctors now compare anorexia to alcoholism and depression, potentially fatal diseases that may be set off by environmental factors such as stress or trauma, but have their roots in a complex combination of genes and brain chemistry. In other words, many kids are affected by pressure cooker school environments and a culture of thinness promoted by magazines and music videos, but most of them don't secretly scrape their dinner into the garbage. The environment "pulls the trigger," says Cynthia Bulik, director of the eating-disorder program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But it's a child's latent vulnerabilities that "load the gun."

Parents do play a role, but most often it's a genetic one. In the last 10 years, studies of anorexics have shown that the disease often runs in families.

According to the same article, “anorexia is a killer—it has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, including depression.” Finally, here’s the clincher, the idea that the body is making decisions about its chemistry without the mind knowing anything about it:

The amount of serotonin in anorexics is abnormally high. Although normal levels of serotonin are believed to be associated with feelings of well-being, these pumped-up levels of hormones may be linked to feelings of anxiety and obsessional thinking, classic traits of anorexia. Kaye [professor of psychiatry at U. of Pittsburgh] hypothesizes that anorexics use starvation as a mode of self-medication. How? Starvation prevents tryptophane, an essential amino acid that produces serotonin, from getting into the brain. By eating less, anorexics reduce the serotonin activity in their brains, says, Kaye , ‘creating a sense of calm’ even as they are about to die of malnutrition.’

Note in the paragraph above a strange phenomenon. The doctor and the NEWSWEEK writer, because of the language we all use, are forced to discuss this possible anorexic instinct as if it were an activity driven by choice. Whereas the truth is that the body is making the anorexic starve himself in order to deal with the chemical imbalance humans have given the name “anxiety” to. I’m sure anorexics are being driven to their behavior without any idea that the “body’s decisions” are being based on their brain chemistry. That is why it is so hard to get people to entertain the idea that they are robots. Our language forces us to talk of “decisions” rather than in terms of our brain chemistry making decisions for us. On occasion I have tried to use terminology in ways that reflect this robotic chemical state that humans live within, and people look at me like I’m nuts or come to think I have no “moral” structure.

On the left, the fourth in our series of Lexus drivers:

These Lexus drivers are sure confused people as our short four person series no doubt shows.

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