I’ve been writing a section of Chapter 3 (“Science and Culture Moving Forward”) on how scientific research is opening the door to ideas that used to be considered very “woo woo.” So this week I’ve been doing FUN reading in the journal, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. I found out that molecular biologists now view the immune system as a sixth sense. Studies show that bidirectional communication takes place between the immune system and the central nervous system (CNS). The chemical “language” shared by the two systems consists of ligands and receptors that send signals back and forth. Just as your hearing can detect someone playing a radio in the next room, your immune system can detect the presence of an infection or a tumor. As a sixth sense, the immune system can make the CNS (that is, the brain and spinal cord) aware of threats to the body’s homeostasis (that is,the relative equilibrium that we recognize as “good health).
What does this have to do with the woo-woo factor? It addresses the skeptic’s unceasing complaint about alternative medicine or spiritual healing: “There’s no evidence that it works, no explanation of how it could work!” My response to this complaint is, there’s no evidence . . . yet. The scientists themselves admit, almost reluctantly, that further understanding of this sixth sense could “reveal many of the deep secrets of our everyday experiences, anecdotal experiences, and mechanisms of Eastern or other alternative medicines that have defied explanation” (emphasis mine). Does this mean that science and spirituality will converge at some point(s) in the future? We shall see.
Citation: Blalock, J. E. and E. M. Smith. 2007. “Conceptual development of the immune system as a sixth sense. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 21: 23-33.