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I first read about Suggestible You by Erik Vance in an article shared on Facebook. Vance is both a fellow former Christian Scientist, and Principia College graduate, and I was admittedly curious about his research into the curious science of your brain’s ability to deceive, transform, and heal.
There is a lot of research, but it yields very few concrete answers. There are many factors at work, genetics, brain chemistry, the power of suggestion, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes these things can be explained and sometimes, well, modern medicine doesn’t always have the answers, which is frustrating — and why things like Christian Science (and being cursed) can appear to work.
Vance begins and ends his book with (all too relatable) Christian Science experiences, and sprinkles CS references throughout. My favorite CS-reference is on p. 130-131 where he talks about the apocryphal tale of the man who with in hours of learning he had been in a bed where a man had died of cholera, only there hadn’t actually been a man who had died in the bed (from cholera or anything else). The mere suggestion of cholera was enough to kill. In Christian Science you can’t let your guard down! Vance writes on p. 131:
But it wasn’t just the vague, societal fear of disease that could get me; there was also a more targeted kind. “Mental malpractice,” as it was called, was the act of wishing someone ill and thus causing him to get ill, or worse. In other words, a Christian Science version of a curse.Suggestible You p. 131
Christian Science version of a curse?! I can see my Sunday School teacher clutching her pearls in dismay. Curses are not a Thing in Christian Science, but Malicious Animal Magnetism and Mental Malpractice? You betcha!
My Sunday School teachers and my mother used to remind me of the same thing Vance’s mother did: “stand porter at the door of thought!” We would play a good idea/bad idea game in Sunday School to practice this using our hands as gates to block bad ideas, or open them to good ideas.
If you’re looking for solid answers and concrete proof, the final chapter Harnessing the Power of Expectation is somewhat of a letdown. Results can either be explained by science or not. What causes the or not results? Science is working on that, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the human body is rather amazing. Things like expectation and suggestion and placebo manipulation and faith and genetics all factor in, and this isn’t the book with all the answers, but it does shine a lot of light on the research going into trying to find them.