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Health-Tracking Apps Unmask a Materialist Myth

David Klinghoffer


The first episode of the new Science Uprising series emphasizes the problems with the materialist view of the self as an illusion. The masked narrator explains, “To a materialist our subjective thoughts are not real. But our thoughts and beliefs have real consequences.” Or as philosopher Jay Richards puts it, “The thing that we all know most directly and most certainly, that is the existence of ourselves, is ultimately incompatible with materialism. Any philosophical view that entails you don’t exist is a view that you really ought not to entertain.”

Denyse O’Leary at Mind Matters points to a powerful indication that the self, not just the brain, is real. It’s health-tracking apps.

Do you use them? They’re something that I would steer clear of, along with all the damned “smart” gadgets being foisted on us. I’m not just talking about the creepiness factor — the reality, as the Wall Street Journal reminded readers over the weekend, that the apps are spying on us and passing along private information to strangers. From “Can Health-Tracking Apps Make Us Sicker?

Strange as it might seem, too much information can make a health problem worse.

Take the case of sleep-tracking apps. A meticulous record of insomnia can itself produce sleepless nights.

It’s one of the best-attested facts in medicine that believing we will get better helps us both feel and get better (the placebo effect). And believing we will get worse tends to make us get and feel worse (the nocebo effect).

The same issue extends to knowing too much about your own genetic risk factors. Research at Stanford showed that patients who think they’re at risk for health problem, even if they’re not to begin with, turn out to be at greater risk in the end by virtue of their belief that they are! Working yourself up into a panic by doing your own health research on the Internet comes with similar problems.

Better Not to Know?

Denyse writes, “It’s good to get the best information available.” But what is the “best”? Sometimes it’s better not to know.

Here’s the point: 

All these results are consistent with the fact that the mind is real, not an illusion; it acts on the body just as the body acts on the mind.

Put another way, what we think is happening to us is an inescapable part of what is happening to us.

Fascinating, isn’t it? Materialism, once again, fits well with scientism — the falsehood that says science can answer all our questions, including the deepest questions men and women have ever asked. But strict materialism is inconsistent with science. It insists on the non-existence of mind, which, as research like this brings home, shapes our ability to enjoy healthy lives. Materialism, in denying the power of the mind, isn’t just “toxic” in a metaphorical sense. It’s literally bad for your health.

Photo: A scene from Science Uprising Episode 1 — Reality: Real vs. Material.