Daily Archives: December 17, 2009

Autism and Vaccines

We’ve probably all heard the hypothesis that autism rates in the US are somehow related to vaccinations. Now, there are several factors on both sides of this issue:

1. Mercury used to be used in vaccinations but is no longer used.
2. Mercury poisoning causes brain damage with symptoms similar to autism, but it is not, technically, autism.
3. The reason for increasing “rates” of autism is that autism is being more frequently diagnosed. It was not even recognized in the earliest versions of the DSM. Autism in its severist form used to be considered a form of schizophrenia until the 1960s.
4. Wondering why we have “more” cases of autism would be like people a generation or two now wondering why there were increased cases of Loeys-Deitz Syndrome.
5. The term “autism” was originally coined by Eugen Beuler to describe schizophrenics being focused inwardly: literally “self-ism”. Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner were the first to describe young “schizophrenic” children being “autistic,” around the same time, but it is not known whether they were aware of each other’s research.
6. People generally think autism is supposed to be something rare. In fact, one of Asperger’s points was that in any large school, there were a certain number of students who had these characteristics.

So, the theory that autism is somehow spiking in our society due to some other factor (like vaccinations) is really just a factor of autism being identified.

Now, what about parental wisdom coming into play? One of the most basic flaws of medical ethics is the refusal of doctors to trust patients’ self-knowledge. I spent nearly seven years trying to get someone to listen about my TIAs till an angiogram turned up my brain aneurysm.

So parents say their kids start showing signs of autism when they get vaccinated. Maybe it’s not anything in the vaccine; maybe it’s the vaccine itself.

Autism is, fundamentally, an attachment disorder. I’ve read about studies where autistic patients were given pitocin, and it basically cured their autism. The endorphin-oxytocin cycle of the brain actually explains a great deal of mental health issues.

Oxytocin is the hormone that helps humans form pair bonds, particularly family bonds. It is triggered by several activities, and is the hormone that gives that true feeling of “euphoria” you get from:

1. Having a great conversation
2. Meeting someone you really like/are interested in (whether in terms of romance, friendship or professional relationship).
3. Skin to skin contact
4. Completing a job.
5. Prayer or meditation
6. Lots of exercise
7. Massage
8. Childbirth and breast feeding.

Most people who’ve heard of oxytocin have heard of it because of its role in childbirth and breast feeding. The mother’s body releases a ton of oxytocin when she gives birth, to both loosen her joints and loosen her mind. Her body also releases a ton of it when she breastfeeds, to help bond her with her baby. But oxytocin is triggered by any of the above activities, giving the body a sense of satisfaction and relaxation, and opening the mind to pair-bonding, whether it’s parent/child, husband/wife or friend/friend.

There is a cycle of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain which starts with endorphins and dopamine. These are the body’s “reward” hormones. They give that basic buzz you get when you finish a small pleasant task. The idea is to keep you going for the next “buzz” till the job’s done.

ADHD medicines trigger that part of the brain. So do caffein and cocaine. So does autoeroticism. Most addictive behaviors are addictive because they give the body that dopamine buzz. But the purpose of dopamine is to facilitate production of oxytocin, and too much triggering of dopamine can impede oxytocin.

So a great deal of mental health issues, including autism, are linked in some degree or another to failure of oxytocin in the system. The research I mentioned earlier tried artificial pitocin–the huge dose of artificial oxytocin sometimes given to pregnant woman to induce labor or help in a difficult labor–on autism patients and found them almost cured by it. But the dose was too strong to be healthy, and the implications of a drug that would make people trust one another implicitly were scary.

Now, let’s get back to the vaccination question. Vaccinations don’t cause autism, but do they exacerbate it? Parents think vaccines cause autism because the children’s behavior changes after receiving their shots. Mary says that about our own kids, that she saw marked changes in their behavior after their first sets of shots, not necessarily the first, but definitely the second.

Could the real connection not be a biochemical one, per se, but a psychological one? The infant’s entire sense of safety and trust is bound up in the parent bond. Vaccination takes that relationship of trust and immediately throws it into a challenge. The parent has brought the child to this stranger to be poked with a painful needle.

To a child with the genetic predisposition to autism, could this traumatic experience in infancy lead to a worse or earlier manifestation of autistic symptoms by breaking that crucial bond?

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When you’ve won an Internet debate and when the topic is just beaten to death.

Internet discussions get resolved five ways:

1. The two people actually meet some sort of compromise or agreement. I’ve been meaning to blog for some time about the merits of Facebook in this regard. I think part of it is that Facebook is more “real”, forrcing us out of the anonymity we’ve gotten used to, but another is that Facebook combox discussions tend to be more limited.

On blogs and message boards, the discussions go on between lots of people with various voices confusing threads and issues.

Or, on a blog like this one, it’s almost entirely controversial. I’ve once or twice had some fair minded interlocutors pop up here to engage in an open-minded exchange. I’ve more often than not had people from the Left who come here in complete attack mode.

But on Facebook, I’ve found that even contentious discussions often even out in a compromise, each person leaving a bit enlightened by the conversation. I’ve had arguments with people on a mutual friend’s Facebook thread, then those arguments have turned to us friending each other.

Getting back to the three ways:

2. Boredom. Most people may post a comment or two in a combox discussion, but they wander off after that. Most people leave discussions because they’ve trailed on down the line, or gotten bored with the topic.

The question of “victory,” if it applies at all, comes into play with the next two.

3. I will admit that from time to time I find myself facing a worthy adversary. As well-read as I am on most of the subjects I stick to on this blog, dollars to doughnoughts, Satan will find some person who’s just a little better read in some dimension, then that person will come on here and start not only attacking my ideas, but me personally, calling me an idiot and even challenging my academic and professional credentials.

Usually, what happens in such situations is that a) I do whatever level of research I feel is worth the conversation, b) consult some authorities on the matter in question for back-up, and c) after giving up the conversation, I retreat from blogging for a bit because the exchange was so exhausting.

If “debate” is the goal, like a kind of sport, I presume the other person claims victory. Indeed, looking at the website of one such recent interlocutor, I find that he/she/it likes to go to pro-life blogs, attack the blogger on some picayune detail, challenge the blogger’s intelligence, and then go home to his/her/its blog and claim “victory.”

Meanwhile, when dealing with such people, I balance three impulses: making sure I’m not just doing it for pride, making sure there’s an adequate response made so readers will not be influenced by the enemy’s voice, and realizing that the pig-headed adversary probably won’t be moved by anything I say.

Giving up out of fatigue or humility is not ceding ideological victory but merely prioritizing that a blog post should not cost this much.

A blog is like a news column. I write to share my ideas and my insights or to share things I come across that I believe are significant to the purposes of this blog. This is not a scholarly research journal, and I don’t claim it to be. If I am going to take the time and energy to do scholarly research, I am certainly not going to waste the research by posting it here without trying for professional publication first, and I owe no interlocutor the time of day to do that.

I posted a hand-out, made to give my students a general guideline on what to consider when they want to write about controversial issues, and this individual launched into a full-fledged assault, which, having responded to, I am considering deleting from the comments (and closing comments on that thread) to keep the original intent pure. It was not meant to be a dissertation nor a comprehensive list, but merely questions to consider–questions that, if properly considered, would have led to the points this person raised, anyway.

There are two clear remaining possible ends, and those are the ones where some sort of victory or stalemate can properly be claimed on intellectual grounds, rather than simple exhaustion:

4. The question that can’t be answered. This is sort of like situation 3. The main differences are that it often comes early in the discussion, and the discussion may proceed without it, and it has more to do with logic than information.

It’s the question that gets dodged. The opponent’s response is to ignore it, throw out a red herring, or something. For example, I retold the “peas and carrots” last week, and a commentor threw out a red herring about starving children in Africa. Then, when I asked the question why an atheist would care about starving children in Africa, there was no response.

I know how troubling it is for me when I’m presented with a paradox I haven’t considered, or evidence I haven’t considered, and I need to regroup and reorganize it. Therefore, I know when I’ve hit a nerve with my interlocutor because he or she refuses to even address the question. Even a snark, an ad hominem or a half-hearted challenge shows some level of retained confidence. Silence says to me, “I really have no idea how to begin confronting that question.”

That lead, early on, to what I call the “three strikes” rule: I make a point three times, and, if it’s not responded to, I give up on the discussion.

5. True victory is achieved only when you get the other side to admit to the paradox. For example: Getting the pro-abortionist to get beyond all the superficial rhetoric and get to his or her fundamental belief that some people are more worthy of life than others. I phrase this, when I’m trying to be purely Socratic, as the “is it OK to kill blind people” question.
In other words, the unborn baby is lacking in some quality that makes it “less worthy of human rights.” Ultimately, for any pro-abortionist with a brain, this gets to dependence on the mother for survival. So I raise the qusetion if it’s OK for parents to throw their kids outside and abandon them, since the kids are totally dependent upon the parents for survival. Or the question of people with disabilities.

And, of course, for a truly consistent pro-abort, there is some level of disability at which they will deny people the right of human dignity, for the same reason they deny it to unborn children. I once had an interlocutor admit, after a long Socratic exchange, that she believed it was OK to kill anyone on life support.

Such a moment constitutes an impasse but at least gets beyond the other side’s veneer.

Souls with bodies, souls and bodies or just bodies?

When faced with any two propositions, and how they work together, there are only four basic possibilities:

1) A + B
2) A not B
3) B not A
4) Neither A nor B

Now, in regard to the question of the human body and soul, this could be applies as

1) Body and Soul are coequal
2) Body but no spiritual soul
3) Soul but no body
4) Neither soul nor body

If there’s a radical Skeptic who advocates position 4, let me know. We’ll just disregard it.

Similarly, I doubt there are many radical idealists in the mode of Berkeley out there, but there are a great many people who believe that the soul is superior to the body, and that the body is merely a shell. Whether this qualifies as Idealism or Dualism depends upon the exact relationship described, but it is, as Chesterton points out, the predominant heresy of human nature. It is the basis of a great many belief systems including, but not limited to, Platonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, and Manicheeism, as well as the practical attitudes of many Christians.

Given my recent themes, Proposition 2 is the one I would like to focus on in this post as that is the one atheists ostensibly believe in.

Pro-abortionists often fall under proposition 3. They try to say abortion is OK because the soul isn’t there yet, or even that the soul will be reincarnated, or some such argument. Feminists, when they content “It’s my body,” are implying that their souls are separate entities from their bodies, and their bodies are merely material possessions of their souls. Indeed, Idealism is fundamental to radical feminism in general, because feminists ironically create a disjoint with their own womanhood. While they proclaim themselves “feminists,” they do not exalt womanhood, per se, but rather attempt to negate womanhood and achieve a superficial equality with men (there is a difference between equality of respect and equality in fact, which I will address another time).

Whether feminists overtly *think* they believe that, they definitely imply it with their rhetoric of ownership.

This creates an interesting paradox for atheist feminists. If there is no immortal soul, and if the soul as life-principle or consciousness is coterminous with the body, how can a person rightly speak of the body as “property.” The body is not something external to the self. In this respect, atheists should really be more in keeping with Catholic understanding of Natural Law.

Catholicism is one of the only belief systems that teaches proposition 1. Since we believe in the resurrection of the body, we believe that body and soul are equally coterminous with human nature. For a Catholic, like a true atheist, you can’t speak of the soul without speaking of the body.

In The Theology of the Body, John Paul II points out that, while we take the external characteristics of men and women as being what identify them as such, our internal differences are much greater than our external ones (hence, anthropologists and paleontologists can tell a male from a female by the bones). And while the external superficial differences of men and women are primarily associated with sexual attraction and intercourse, the *internal* differences that identify women have to do with motherhood. A woman’s entire body is designed for motherhood.

The atheist feminist cannot say “it’s my body,” because her purported metaphysical beliefs recognize no distinction between herself and her body.

That’s not to say that an atheist cannot be pro-abortion. It’s just to say that the defense of the position is self-contradictory.

The real question, as I keep trying to bring home, is how an atheist can justify *any* moral code without reference to an immortal soul and/or a higher power. C. S. Lewis begins Mere Christianity by arguing that even the most basic moral principles we can agree upon cannot be justified by animal instinct. He uses the example of saving a stranger’s life. It is understandable why we’d want to save the lives of those we love, but there is nothing in biology that really explains why we’d overcome our instinct of self-preservation to jump in the water for another person.

If there is no immortal soul, why does human life matter at all? Atheists have to be either completely pro-life or completely pro-death. They can’t have it both ways. C. S. Lewis makes this case in many ways; so does Flannery O’Connor. Ultimately, “the Misfit” in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is right; Christianity is an absolute proposition, and so is atheism. If this life is all there is, you might as well get as much as you can out of it.

Atheists would try to say that we can develop new moral or ethical codes based upon evolution or biological imperative. This still carries with it several problems:

1. Again, as Lewis argues in Miracles, how can a person claim intelligence and insist that our thoughts are determined by genetics and brain chemistry? Atheists will insist that those who disagree with them are mentally deficient, mentally ill, etc.,. but they don’t consider the possibility that, by their own reasoning, they might be the ones who are out of touch with reality. They profess determinism in terms of genetics but apply it inconsistently: here insisting that homosexuals have no free will because they are compelled by nature; there insisting women need “freedom of choice.” But there really can be no such thing as free will if atheism is true.

2. Evolution, like all scientific data, can tell us many things, depending upon what we want to learn from it, and it has no inherent ethical meaning. Compare to the famous paradox of the alternate Spock in “Mirror, Mirror”: Spock always believed logic made Vulcans good, but his alternate self used perfect logic to justify evil.
A eugenicist can argue from evolution that it’s necessary to reduce the population, while a right to lifer can argue that those who survive are those who produce the most offspring.
If we’re arguing from evolution, why feed starving children in Africa? Why not let the natural course of evolution wipe them out?
Wouldn’t it benefit evolution to let people with genetic defects reproduce, in order to help other traits flourish.

In short, if behavior is all deterministic, and if everything can be traced to evolutionary impulses for survival of the species, then why have a moral code at all? Why judge anyone? Why not just let evolution run its course. If the Duggars are having more children than the Myers’s, so what? Aren’t they engaging in survival?

Why not just let people be what they want to be, and let evolution run its natural course? Why complain when Christians try to influence society, because we’re just following what evolution compels us to do.

Indeed, the way some atheists talk about evolution, it begins to start sounding rather like a god.

Positivism and utilitarianism, as I’ve noted before, beg the question. Pragmatism and utilitarianism base ethics on how something works in practice. “What promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people?” But the response I’d make to that is, “What is the greatest good? Why should that be my standard?’

Atheists want an abstract moral code but they’re unable to make one without referring to some religious principle ultimately.

Positivism bases is morality on the laws as they exist, but why should I follow those laws?

If one chooses to be an atheist, what stops one from becoming a mass murderer? Maybe the evolutionary imperative compels you to wipe out those who are inferior, like Megatron or Sylar?

Why should I obey laws and conventions (positivism) if I can justify my own behaviors?

Atheists gladly apply this principle when it’s convenient to them (abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc.), but they balk at its suggestion when it comes to principles they would like to force on other people (e.g,. “tolerance” or the need to “help the poor”).