The power of a single sign

Signs are units of thought.

A single sign is central to the ongoing opioid addiction catastrophe in the USA.

The single sign is a 40-year-old misquoted sentence taken out of context from a letter written to the New England Journal of Medicine by a graduate student.

Here is the sentence:

We conclude that despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction. [emphasis added] (Source)

What was taken out of context is the letter was about patients who were being treated for pain while in hospitals.

On Wednesday, the journal published an editor’s note about the 1980 letter and an analysis from Canadian researchers of how often it has been cited — more than 600 times, often inaccurately. Most used it as evidence that addiction was rare, and most did not say it only concerned hospitalized patients, not outpatient or chronic pain situations such as bad backs and severe arthritis that opioids came to be used for. [emphasis added] (How a 1980 letter fueled the opioid epidemic)

The deep significance of this misinterpreted sentence shows the incredible power of signs and how even a single sign can influence an entire society for decades, even centuries.

That this massive mistake occurred within the medical community, which is science-based, shows that blind consensus can overrule reason even among the brightest and best trained among us.

Add similar mistaken consensuses within the medical community concerning dietary fats and salt and we have even more evidence of the human tendency to believe in and act on nonsense.

I mention this because it is interesting and also because it shows how irrational or non-rational we humans can be. All of us are susceptible to making mistakes of this type.

While most of us cannot do much about large-scale mistakes in medicine or politics, most of us can do a great deal about our own individual psychological mistakes that harm our ability to function. We can do this by practicing FIML.

Basic FIML practice corrects small mistakes (misinterpretations) in real-time. FIML focuses on how our minds are actually functioning in real-time.

If the entire medical community can make such a huge mistake based on so  little evidence it should be obvious that as individuals we are just as susceptible to error.

Consensus works only when it works. When it doesn’t it can be very dangerous.

I believe the lion’s share of “delusion” in Buddhism is stuff like the above—individuals or groups getting something terribly wrong and then acting on it with little or no self-reflection.

One thought on “The power of a single sign

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