Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The lemon experiment

The human mind has always fascinated me, and I've been particularly interested in how our bodies respond to whatever is going on in our minds. If our brains can be tricked (and they can be), so can our bodies. Try this experiment with me:

Imagine, as you read this, that you're cutting a plump, juicy lemon into quarters with a sharp knife. Pick up a piece of the lemon and study its freshly cut surface. Look at the crinkly texture of the lemon's flesh and notice the juice that clings to it. If there are seeds, you can pick them out with your fingers now and place them on the table in front of you. Good. Now lift the lemon gently to your nose and smell it for a moment until your nostrils are full of its scent. Now look at the piece of lemon once more...take your time...then move it to your mouth and bite your teeth into it, hard.

How'd that work out for you? If you're like most people, there's a lot more saliva in your mouth right now than there was before you read that last paragraph. Considering that there wasn't really a lemon, isn't it odd that your body reacted just as if the lemon had been real? Your brain relied on the information it received (which happened to be false), and then it did what brains are supposed to do and sent appropriate signals to your salivary glands.

Here are a couple of other examples right off the top of my head: Think about the sound of somebody scraping their fingernails across a blackboard. Did an involuntary shiver just run down your spine? What if I were to tell you about the time I was peeling potatoes when the potato peeler slipped and sliced a chunk out of my knuckle? That didn't happen, but did you get a little twinge in your stomach when you thought about it?

No doubt these automatic physical responses are important to us in some ways. They get us off our butts if we just "think" we smell smoke. They're what make it so much fun to read a good thriller or watch a car chase (or a love scene) on the big screen. But the fact is, our bodies generate these various chemical responses without requiring our brains to prove anything. So sometimes we get all stressed out for nothing.

I'm certainly no expert, but I've learned enough to be convinced that our thoughts influence our brain chemistry and, therefore, our health. I think that's why it seems to matter so much whether we focus our thoughts and energies on the positive aspects of our daily lives or the negative ones.

There is one thing I wonder about, though. Whether I'm feeling bummed out and blue or happy enough to celebrate, my brain seems to send the same message over and over: "This might be a good time to have some cookies."


  1. Wonderful! Now, where are my cookies..

  2. me thinks you play with me mind!

  3. Great, now I drooled all over my keyboard........

  4. I just read your profile and found Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal is one of your favorite books. I found this intereting because my friends and I have read nearly everything she has written (she uses the language so beautifully); however, none of us cared for Prodigal Summer. If you don't mind sharing, what was it about the book that you found so interesting.

  5. Susan: You have to change your computer settings to accept cookies.

    Patsy: Hope your mind didn't mind.

    Schremsgems: Just press delete a few times and see if that takes care of it.

  6. Oops s/b interesting and end with a ?

  7. Ruth, for one thing, I'm an introvert who thrives on solitude, so the idea of living isolated in the woods appeals to me tremendously (although I'm too much of a chicken to ever do such a thing). I also loved that the book teemed with animals of many varieties and presented them in ways I hadn't thought of previously. Then, of course, there's what you mentioned: Barbara Kingsolver's skill with language, and I thought a few parts of the book were pretty funny, too.

    On my links list you'll see "Life at Star's Rest." Carmon, who writes it, lives in New Mexico in a yurt, and I find her writings have a "Prodigal Summer" feel, to me. Check her out and see what you think.

  8. Velvet...I think you could start
    a new diet...you would have a
    reference for what they needed to
    envision with each craving. They
    could lose wt. and you could quit
    the lawyer office job and stay at home with the pea hens.

  9. Very interesting read, Velvet loved the lemon test.
    Often when trying to relax, I like thinking of lying near an ocean, in woods etc, peaceful places, calms me down when all around is bustle.
    PS Must look up that book.

  10. I've only read "The Poisonwood Bible". Are all of her books that good?

  11. SS3: That's a great idea! When I get the kinks worked out of it and make my first million, I'll be sure you get a cut of the action.

    Sandy: Glad you liked it. I took a self-hypnosis class once to learn relaxation techniques and we were taught to use the same kind of scenarios you described.

    Thoughts: Most of her books (except essay compilations) are lighter reading than "The Poisonwood Bible," but they're very entertaining. I think you'd enjoy them.


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