|The Body Electric:Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life||Source|
The Body Electric tells the fascinating story of our bioelectric selves.
Robert O. Becker, a pioneer in the filed of regeneration and its relationship to electrical currents in living things, challenges the established mechanistic understanding of the body.
He found clues to the healing process in the long-discarded theory that electricity is vital to life.
But as exciting as Becker's discoveries are, pointing to the day when human limbs, spinal cords, and organs may be regenerated after they have been damaged, equally fascinating is the story of Becker's struggle to do such original work.
The Body Electric explores new pathways in our understanding of evolution, acupuncture, psychic phenomena, and healing.
|Dedication … ii
Glossary … iii
The Promise of the Art … v
Acknowledgments … vi
About the Author … vii
Growth and Regrowth … 1
Hydra's Heads and Medusa's Blood …2
Failed Healing in Bone …3
A Fable Made Fact … 4
The Embryo at the Wound … 5
Mechanics of Growth … 6
Control Problems … 7
Nerve Connections … 8
Vital Electricity … 9
The Sign of the Miracle … 10
The Tribunal … 11
The Reversals … 12
The Stimulating Current … 13
Life's Potentials … 14
Unpopular Science … 15
Undercurrents in Neurology … 16
Conducting in a New Mode … 17
Testing the Concept … 18
The Circuit of Awareness … 19
Closing the Circle … 20
The Artifact Man and a Friend in Deed … 21
The Electromagnetic Brain … 22
The Ticklish Gene … 23
The Pillars of the Temple … 24
The Inner Electronics of Bone … 25
A Surprise in the Blood … 26
Do-It-Yourself Dedifferentiation … 27
The Genetic Key … 28
Good News for Mammals … 29
A First Step with a Rat Leg … 30
Childhood Powers, Adult Prospects … 31
Our Hidden Healing Energy … 32
The Silver Wand … 33
Minus for Growth, Plus for Infection … 34
Positive Surprises … 35
The Fracture Market … 36
The Organ Tree … 37
Cartilage … 38
Skull Bones … 39
Eyes … 40
Muscle … 41
Abdominal Organs … 42
The Lazarus Heart … 43
The Five-Alarm Blastema … 44
The Self-Mending Net … 45
Peripheral Nerves … 46
The Spinal Cord … 47
The Brain … 48
Righting a Wrong Turn … 49
A Reintegrative Approach … 50
The Essence of Life … 51
The Missing Chapter … 52
The Constellation of the Body … 53
Unifying Pathways … 54
Breathing with the Earth … 55
The Attractions of Home … 56
The Face of the Deep … 57
Crossroads of Evolution … 58
Hearing Without Ears … 59
Maxwell's Silver Hammer … 60
Subliminal Stress … 61
Power Versus People … 62
Fatal Locations … 63
The Central Nervous System … 64
The Endocrine, Metabolic, and Cardiovascular Systems … 65
Growth Systems and Immune Response … 66
Conflicting Standards … 67
Invisible Warfare … 68
Critical Connections … 69
Political Science … 70
I remember how it was before penicillin. I was a medical student at the end of World War II, before the drug became widely available for civilian use, and I watched the wards at New York’s Bellevue Hospital fill to overflowing each winter. A veritable Byzantine city unto itself, Bellevue sprawled over four city blocks, its smelly, antiquated buildings jammed together at odd angles and interconnected by a rabbit warren of underground tunnels. In wartime New York, swollen with workers, sailors, soldiers, drunks, refugees, and their diseases from all over the world, it was perhaps the place to get an all-inclusive medical education. Bellevue’s charter decreed that, no matter how full it was, every patient who needed hospitalization had to be admitted. As a result, beds were packed together side by side, first in the aisles, then out into the corridor. A ward was closed only when it was physically impossible to get another bed out of the elevator.
Most of these patients had lobar (pneumococcal) pneumonia. It didn’t take long to develop; the bacteria multiplied unchecked, spilling over from the lungs into the bloodstream, and within three to five days of the first symptom the crisis came. The fever rose to 104 or 105 degrees Fahrenheit and delirium set in. At that point we had two signs to go by: If the skin remained hot and dry, the victim would die; sweating meant the patient would pull through. Although sulfa drugs often were effective against the milder pneumonias, the outcome in severe lobar pneumonia still depended solely on the struggle between the infection and the patient’s own resistance. Confident in my new medical knowledge, I was horrified to find that we were powerless to change the course of this infection in any way.
It’s hard for anyone who hasn’t lived through the transition to realize the change that penicillin wrought. A disease with a mortality rate near 50 percent, that killed almost a hundred thousand Americans each year, that struck rich as well as poor and young as well as old, and against which we’d had no defense, could suddenly be cured without fail in a few hours by a pinch of white powder. Most doctors who have graduated since 1950 have never even seen pneumococcal pneumonia in crisis.
Although penicillin’s impact on medical practice was profound, its impact on the philosophy of medicine was even greater. When Alexander Fleming noticed in 1928 that an accidental infestation of the mold Penicillium notatum had killed his bacterial cultures, he made the crowning discovery of scientific medicine. Bacteriology and sanitation had already vanquished the great plagues. Now penicillin and subsequent antibiotics defeated the last of the invisibly tiny predators.
The drugs also completed a change in medicine that had been gathering strength since the nineteenth century. Before that time, medicine had been an art. The masterpiece—a cure—resulted from the patient’s will combined with the physician’s intuition and skill in using remedies culled from millennia of observant trial and error. In the last two centuries medicine more and more has come to be a science, or more accurately the application of one science, namely biochemistry. Medical techniques have come to be tested as much against current concepts in biochemistry as against their empirical results. Techniques that don’t fit such chemical concepts—even if they seem to work—have been abandoned as pseudoscientific or downright fraudulent.
At the same time and as part of the same process, life itself came to be denned as a purely chemical phenomenon. Attempts to find a soul, a vital spark, a subtle something that set living matter apart from the nonliving, had failed. As our knowledge of the kaleidoscopic activity within cells grew, life came to be seen as an array of chemical reactions, fantastically complex but no different in kind from the simpler reactions performed in every high school lab. It seemed logical to assume that the ills of our chemical flesh could be cured best by the right chemical antidote, just as penicillin wiped out bacterial invaders without harming human cells. A few years later the decipherment of the DNA code seemed to give such stout evidence of life’s chemical basis that the double helix became one of the most hypnotic symbols of our age. It seemed the final proof that we’d evolved through 4 billion years of chance molecular encounters, aided by no guiding principle but the changeless properties of the atoms themselves.
The philosophical result of chemical medicine’s success has been belief in the Technological Fix. Drugs became the best or only valid treatments for all ailments. Prevention, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle, the patient’s physical and mental uniqueness, environmental pollutants—all were glossed over. Even today, after so many years and millions of dollars spent for negligible results, it’s still assumed that the cure for cancer will be a chemical that kills malignant cells without harming healthy ones. As surgeons became more adept at repairing bodily structures or replacing them with artificial parts, the technological faith came to include the idea that a transplanted kidney, a plastic heart valve, or a stainless-steel-and-Teflon hip joint was just as good as the original—or even better, because it wouldn’t wear out as fast. The idea of a bionic human was the natural outgrowth of the rapture over penicillin. If a human is merely a chemical machine, then the ultimate human is a robot.
No one who’s seen the decline of pneumonia and a thousand other infectious diseases, or has seen the eyes of a dying patient who’s just been given another decade by a new heart valve, will deny the benefits of technology. But, as most advances do, this one has cost us something irreplaceable: medicine’s humanity. There’s no room in technological medicine for any presumed sanctity or uniqueness of life. There’s no need for the patient’s own self-healing force nor any strategy for enhancing it. Treating a life as a chemical automaton means that it makes no difference whether the doctor cares about—or even knows—the patient, or whether the patient likes or trusts the doctor.
Because of what medicine left behind, we now find ourselves in a real technological fix. The promise to humanity of a future of golden health and extended life has turned out to be empty. Degenerative diseases— heart attacks, arteriosclerosis, cancer, stroke, arthritis, hypertension, ulcers, and all the rest—have replaced infectious diseases as the major enemies of life and destroyers of its quality. Modern medicine’s incredible cost has put it farther than ever out of reach of the poor and now threatens to sink the Western economies themselves. Our cures too often have turned out to be double-edged swords, later producing a secondary disease; then we search desperately for another cure. And the dehumanized treatment of symptoms rather than patients has alienated many of those who can afford to pay. The result has been a sort of medical schizophrenia in which many have forsaken establishment medicine in favor of a holistic, prescientific type that too often neglects technology’s real advantages but at least stresses the doctor-patient relationship, preventive care, and nature’s innate recuperative power.
The failure of technological medicine is due, paradoxically, to its success, which at first seemed so overwhelming that it swept away all aspects of medicine as an art. No longer a compassionate healer working at the bedside and using heart and hands as well as mind, the physician has become an impersonal white-gowned ministrant who works in an office or laboratory. Too many physicians no longer learn from their patients, only from their professors. The breakthroughs against infections convinced the profession of its own infallibility and quickly ossified its beliefs into dogma. Life processes that were inexplicable according to current biochemistry have been either ignored or misinterpreted. In effect, scientific medicine abandoned the central rule of science—revision in light of new data. As a result, the constant widening of horizons that has kept physics so vital hasn’t occurred in medicine. The mechanistic assumptions behind today’s medicine are left over from the turn of the century, when science was forcing dogmatic religion to see the evidence of evolution. (The re-eruption of this same conflict today shows that the battle against frozen thinking is never finally won.) Advances in cybernetics, ecological and nutritional chemistry, and solid-state physics haven’t been integrated into biology. Some fields, such as parapsychology, have been closed out of mainstream scientific inquiry altogether. Even the genetic technology that now commands such breathless admiration is based on principles unchallenged for decades and unconnected to a broader concept of life. Medical research, which has limited itself almost exclusively to drug therapy, might as well have been wearing blinders for the last thirty years.
It’s no wonder, then, that medical biology is afflicted with a kind of tunnel vision. We know a great deal about certain processes, such as the genetic code, the function of the nervous system in vision, muscle movement, blood clotting, and respiration on both the somatic and the cellular levels. These complex but superficial processes, however, are only the tools life uses for its survival. Most biochemists and doctors aren’t much closer to the “truth” about life than we were three decades ago. As Albert Szent-Györgyi, the discoverer of vitamin C, has written, “We know life only by its symptoms.” We understand virtually nothing about such basic life functions as pain, sleep, and the control of cell differentiation, growth, and healing. We know little about the way every organism regulates its metabolic activity in cycles attuned to the fluctuations of earth, moon, and sun. We are ignorant about nearly every aspect of consciousness, which may be broadly defined as the self-interested integrity that lets each living thing marshal its responses to eat, thrive, reproduce, and avoid danger by patterns that range from the tropisms of single cells to instinct, choice, memory, learning, individuality, and creativity in more complex life-forms. The problem of when to “pull the plug” shows that we don’t even know for sure how to diagnose death. Mechanistic chemistry isn’t adequate to understand these enigmas of life, and it now acts as a barrier to studying them. Erwin Chargaff, the biochemist who discovered base pairing in DNA and thus opened the way for understanding gene structure, phrased our dilemma precisely when he wrote of biology, “No other science deals in its very name with a subject that it cannot define.”
Given the present climate, I’ve been a lucky man. I haven’t been a good, efficient doctor in the modern sense. I’ve spent far too much time on a few incurable patients whom no one else wanted, trying to find out how our ignorance failed them. I’ve been able to tack against the prevailing winds of orthodoxy and indulge my passion for experiment. In so doing I’ve been part of a little-known research effort that has made a new start toward a definition of life.
My research began with experiments on regeneration, the ability of some animals, notably the salamander, to grow perfect replacements for parts of the body that have been destroyed. These studies, described in Part 1, led to the discovery of a hitherto unknown aspect of animal life—the existence of electrical currents in parts of the nervous system. This breakthrough in turn led to a better understanding of bone fracture healing, new possibilities for cancer research, and the hope of human regeneration—even of the heart and spinal cord—in the not too distant future, advances that are discussed in Parts 2 and 3. Finally, a knowledge of life’s electrical dimension has yielded fundamental insights (considered in Part 4) into pain, healing, growth, consciousness, the nature of life itself, and the dangers of our electromagnetic technology.
I believe these discoveries presage a revolution in biology and medicine. One day they may enable the physician to control and stimulate healing at will. I believe this new knowledge will also turn medicine in the direction of greater humility, for we should see that whatever we achieve pales before the self-healing power latent in all organisms. The results set forth in the following pages have convinced me that our understanding of life will always be imperfect. I hope this realization will make medicine no less a science, yet more of an art again. Only then can it deliver its promised freedom from disease.
Robert Otto Becker (May 31, 1923–May 14, 2008) was a U.S. orthopedic surgeon who is best known for his research in biocybernetics. He spent his entire career at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Syracuse, New York, where he served as chief of orthopedic surgery, chief of research, and head of a research laboratory devoted to studying the role of bioelectrical phenomena in growth and healing, tissue regeneration, infection control, and the health impact of artificial environmental electromagnetic energy.
Robert Otto Becker was born in 1923 in River Edge, New Jersey, and raised in Valley Stream, New York, where his father Otto Julius Becker served as the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; his mother was Elizabeth Blanck Becker. In 1941 he entered Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where he majored in biology and performed his first experiments on salamander regeneration. He served in the army from 1942 to 1946; when he completed his bachelor’s degree he entered medical school at New York University, and met and married Lillian Moller, a fellow student. He obtained his medical degree in 1948, interned for a year, and for the next seven years studied pathology, surgery, and orthopedic surgery; for two of those years he was a medical officer in the army. He chose to specialize in orthopedic surgery, and his training took place mostly at the Veterans Administration hospital in Brooklyn.
The Veterans Administration offered Becker the opportunity to do supported research as well as clinical medicine, and in 1956 he became the chief of orthopedics at the Veterans Administration hospital in Syracuse, NY. The job was generally regarded as unattractive for a physician, but he accepted it in exchange for the resources and freedom to do research. He also became an adjunct professor at the State University of New York, on the same campus as the hospital.
Becker was interested in the medically significant problem of how the body regulated growth and healing such that the processes started and stopped as appropriate for the host, and produced exactly the kind of tissue needed. He was influenced by the cybernetic concepts of Norbert Wiener, the biological theories of Rene Dubos, the ideas of Peter Medawar, the experimental observations of Harold Burr, and the theories of Albert Szent-Gyorgi; he adapted their work to his interest in how biological processes were controlled.
From the outset, Becker’s research was novel and controversial. His biocybernetic approach to the study of growth-related phenomena differed from the orthodox approach based on biochemistry. In each area where he pursued biocybernetic models he encountered criticism from established researchers who favored models based on reductionism. His critics included W. Ross Adey in the area of public health, Lionel Jaffe in limb regeneration, C. Andrew Bassett in side-effects of electrical stimulation, Philip Handler in interpretation of animal studies, Paul Weiss in the role of cellular dedifferentiation, and Morris Shamos in the biophysics of bone.
Becker’s initial research studies were well received as evidenced by a series of fourteen publications in experimental biology published in prestigious journals during a four-year period in the early 1960s. In 1964 he won the William A. Middleton Award, given by the Veterans Administration to the scientist who produced the most outstanding research. The same year he was appointed a Medical Investigator at the Veterans Administration, a distinction he held until 1976.
He believed that it was the duty of a taxpayer-funded researcher to speak directly to laypersons regarding his research results, and he did so frequently throughout his twenty-year research career. Especially noteworthy were articles in Saturday Review, Hutchings Journal, the Medical World News, and Technology Review, his interview on the national television show “60 Minutes,” his statements on public health made to the US House of Representatives in 1967, 1987, and 1990, and his testimony in hearings in New York concerning the health impacts of high-voltage powerlines.
The cumulative effect of the novelty of his research and his practice of speaking publicly about its implications was the loss of his research funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Administration; Becker’s public activities brought unwanted controversy to both agencies. Following a public dispute with the president of the National Academy of Sciences regarding scientific bias in the evaluation of a public health issue, Becker was forced to retire.
During Becker’s public involvement in the four-year powerline hearings, his grant renewal requests were denied, sometimes without explanation; a main NIH grant that had funded positions in his lab for over a decade was terminated, as was his grant to study acupuncture. Soon after he lost the grants, during an interview on “60 Minutes” in February 1977 regarding the Navy’s proposed Sanguine antenna, Becker suggested that the National Academy of Sciences committee then evaluating the safety of the antenna was biased against finding biological effects. The Academy president Philip Handler, who had selected the committee, called for Becker’s firing; Becker continued to function as a staff physician but lost his appointment as Medical Investigator, which had the effect of reducing his staff by half. In early 1979 the Veterans Administration closed his laboratory; with no capacity to continue his research, he retired. He was 56. In his preface to a 1985 book about the New York hearings and aftermath, he wrote that the book revealed not only the health hazard, but also “the hazards…of raising the issue”
In the years following his forced retirement, Becker wrote extensively about his research in articles, books, and public testimony, recounting its history, explaining its meaning, and providing what he viewed as a coherent basis for examining medical issues in general and the specific issue of electromagnetic health risks. He cofounded the Journal of Bioelectricity (subsequently Electromagnetic Medicine and Biology), gave the 1983 President’s Guest Address before the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, and testified again in congressional hearings on health risks from electromagnetic technologies.
Becker articulated his views in four books. In Electromagnetism and Life, published in 1982, he argued that exposure to artificial environmental electromagnetic energy was a general biologic stressor and can produce functional changes in biological systems. Mechanisms of Growth Control, published in 1981, was the proceedings of an international conference on regeneration that he organized. Writing for a general audience in The Body Electric in 1985 and Cross Currents in 1990, Becker summarized his research and his views on science and medicine in historical perspective.
He patented a cell-modification process in which cells were dedifferentiated by ions from electrically positive silver electrodes; the modified cells were said to be capable of regenerating organs and tissues. An FDA-approved clinical study of his method was sponsored by the Sybron Corporation at the LSU Medical School in Shreveport to study the safety and efficacy of the method for treating osteomyelitis, but the Sybron product was not brought to market.
Copyright © 1985 by Roberto Becker, M.D., and Gary Selden All rights reserved, No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher. Inquiries should be addressed to Permission Department, William Morrow and Company, 1350 Ave of the Americas, New York, NY 10019
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Becker, Robert O.
The Body Electric.
Reprint. Originally publish: New York: Morrow. © 1985
1. Electromagnetism—Physiological effects
2. Electromagnetism in medicine. I Selden, Gary.
QP82.2.E43B4 1987 591.19'127 86-25168
ISBN 0-588-06971-1 (pkb.)
Printed in the United States of America
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BOOK DESIGN BY PATTY LOWY