Delving into mind over matter
IT WAS during a weekend of fire-walking in the Welsh hills that scientist David Hamilton decided to change his life.
As an organic chemist with a major pharmaceutical company, he was on a good salary, developing a new generation of drugs by synthesising molecules found in nature. But Hamilton was never convinced that man could improve on nature, and instead was becoming more and more fascinated by the potential healing power of the mind. So, inspired by his body’s ability to withstand heat during fire-walking, he began a quest to investigate the mysteries of the mind-body connection. It was the beginning of a journey which brought him into contact with alternative therapists, spiritual teachers and faith healers, and was to inspire him to try and fill Hampden stadium with thousands of people all thinking positive thoughts.
He also began hosting seminars where he encouraged people to believe in the power of their mind to positively improve their health.
Unlike many self-help gurus, Hamilton backs his arguments with scientific research and combines his work with a post as a part-time lecturer in chemistry at Glasgow University.
In his first book, It’s The Thought That Counts, due to be published next year, he will put forward the scientific arguments about the mysterious mind-body connection and argue that powerful human states such as happiness and optimism can actually change your DNA.
"I’m interested in the whole self-improvement thing but I am the only scientist talking about it," he says.
His interest in the power of the human spirit began when he was working as an organic chemist for a major pharmaceutical company. Put in the fast-track by the company because of his skill in the field, Hamilton worked on creating new drugs by re-creating molecular structures found in nature with slight differences in order to develop new drugs. "You study nature’s molecules and re-create them slightly differently. You might make 10,000 versions of the same molecule and study the effects," he says. "The idea is to take nature and improve on it."
However, he was not sure that was the right approach. He was also becoming uneasy about the way pharmaceutical companies were operating, particularly in the developing world, and became fascinated by the placebo effect, the scientific principle which shows that in drug trials, people given sugar pills often recover just as well as those on other medication. "On average, placebo effects cure anything between 30 to 90 per cent. That has been written up in many scientific journals. I thought, ‘Why not see if you could extend it’," he says.
ON A WEEKEND retreat with Tony Robbins, the pioneer of fire-walking, Hamilton decided it was time to change his course in life. "When you walk on fire for the first time you feel incredibly euphoric. At the end of it I felt like I could do anything, and, more specifically, that I could live my dream."
He set up New Awakenings, giving talks and workshops about the power of the mind over the body. While many new-age types talk about positive thinking, Hamilton is different, in that he gives listeners a view based on the latest developments in chemistry, biology and physics. By presenting arguments backed by science, he hopes to motivate people to work on their minds in order to improve their health: "With faith hope and determination people can change the state of their health, life and world".
At the end of 2000, Hamilton set up Spirit Aid, with the actor David Hayman, to stage a Live Aid-style event at Hampden stadium, Glasgow, where inspirational spiritual teachers from different traditions would address the crowd between musical acts.
The plan foundered after 18 months, leaving Hamilton in a perilous financial state. Undeterred, he began work on a book - aiming to bring a scientific approach to self-help.
"I have found around 500 scientific papers from mainstream academic journals which directly talk about the effect that thought, feeling and faith have on the body’s systems," he says.
Recent research into spontaneous remissions from cancer found that a radical change of belief system seemed to be a common factor. While few would argue with the idea that a good attitude can speed the healing process, Hamilton believes emotions, such as happiness, can change DNA.
What is surprising is that a growing body of scientific thought appears to agree with him.
As an example, Hamilton quotes the work of Eric Kandel, joint winner of the 2000 Nobel prize for medicine, who carried out pioneering work into the way genes can be switched on or off by social influences.
Kandel’s conclusion is that many genetic differences between people are influenced by society and conditioning, rather than incorporated in the genetic makeup of the parents.
HAMILTON SAYS: "About 99.9 per cent of our genes are exactly the same. The differences between us are determined by whether our genes are switched on or off.
"There is a whole branch of medicine called psycho-neuro-immunology, which studies the effect of thoughts and emotions on our biochemistry. The biochemistry is intimately connected with the DNA, so if these biologichemical components are affected by thoughts and emotions then thoughts and emotions must also affect our DNA."
He also cites a well-known scientific study of rat pups which showed that two separate growth hormones are switched off in those deprived of a mother’s touch. By pulling together the evidence that love and kindness can have a positive effect on health, Hamilton hopes to make people more aware of their own healing power.
The most common reaction to his seminars is to be told that people have always believed in his message, but that he has given them more confidence in their ideas. "I wrote the book to give scientific credibility to what most people already know," he says. "The most powerful cure for anything is faith, hope and determination."
It’s The Thought That Counts will be published by Hamilton Press next year
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