What is Meta-Immunity? - An Interview with Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer

What is Meta-Immunity? - An Interview with Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer

What follows is a transcript for the podcast The Science of Meta-Immunity - Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer - Immune

Sub-section topics within the interview include the following:

  1. What is Immunity?
  2. The Concept of Anti-Fragility
  3. The Benefits of Becoming Anti-Fragile
  4. Finding the Minimum Effective Dose
  5. The Role of Beliefs in Meta-Immunity
  6. Ketamine Integrative Therapy
  7. The Definition of Meta-Immunity
  8. Strengthening Our Natural State of Being
  9. Limiting Exposure Window To Social Media
  10. Cultivating an Anti-Fragile Adaptive Immune System
  11. Beliefs Around Food
  12. Biohacks for Supporting Meta-Immunity
  13. Healing Is About Returning To the Path of Love

What is Immunity?

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: While I was training in residency as a family medicine doctor and I was in clinic, routinely the office is filled with children who are dealing with all kinds of viral illnesses. A lot of my colleagues, they would really get upset or stressed out about it. "Oh my God, this kid sneezed on me or he got boogers all over me." They would get really anxious and really worried and I totally understand why. For me, I had the exact opposite reaction when that would come in and be like, "Oh my goodness, thank God this child, because I don't have children of my own, thank God this child came in and exposed my immune system to all these different bugs that they are dealing with and I got just the right dose and that's going to stimulate an adaptive response for me. It's going to keep me young and vital and healthy." I had a really positive mindset around that.

There's this relatively new school of science called psycho-neuro immunology. Thought, nervous system, immune system. They are elucidating all these different pathways and legitimizing that there is a mind/body connection, that our mood, our emotions, our thoughts, our belief systems actually have very real effects on the physiological immune system.

Speaker 2: Collective Insights is a voyage through topics and technologies revolutionizing human wellbeing. We explore the fields of neuroscience, integrative medicine, anthropology, optimal psychology, system thinking and existential risk. Ground-breaking approaches for a better world and a better life await you.

Welcome to Collective Insights.

Dr. Greg Kelly: This is Dr. Greg Kelly, the director of product development and research at Qualia and today we have the great fortune to have our guest on Collective Insights podcast Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer who is going to talk to us today about meta-immunity. Dr. Ben, great to have you today.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Dr. Greg, thank you for hosting me today. It's wonderful to see you and be here with you and I'm looking forward to sharing this idea of meta-immunity which is really a culmination of my 18 years of being in biomedical research and around 10 years of being in medicine as a practitioner specializing in integrative medicine. Taking this concept of immunity, which has obviously become a very hot topic in the past year and elevating it into this idea of meta-immunity.

Before we begin, I really want to plant two questions into the mind of the audience that they can contemplate while they listen to today's podcast. These questions are less about arriving at particular answers and really more about fostering deeper inquiry. The first question is, what is the true nature of your meta-immunity. What does that mean for you in your life, your loved ones, your purpose on this planet? And what is the valuable choice, the valuable choices that you will enact today to upgrade and invest in your meta-immunity?

Dr. Greg Kelly: I'll start with just the big picture. When I think of immunity from a health perspective, really, the key terms that stand out for me are safety and protection. You've had an extensive background in this. We've talked about immunity. This is a great opportunity for me. Dr. Ben is an incredibly thoughtful person and I've had the good fortune to both socially and in a work sense, be able to run ideas across. Ben, in terms of, from a medical perspective, can you let our audience know what you think of when the term immunity comes up?

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Let's start with the convention paradigm, an immunity is really about resistance to disease, resistance to pathogenesis and in particular, focusing on things that cause infection, microbial causes of disease, but also on toxins as well. And then we also have the legal understanding of immunity, which is about protection or exemption from something, something that is unwelcome or harmful. These are really valuable definitions, but what I'd like to point out here is that they are really based on a paradigm of pathogenesis.

There is a focus here on disease and therefore the implied definition of health is that health is an absence of disease. And that really brings health into a neutral territory. What I'm really passionate about is understanding health as a vital capacity, something that we can cultivate more of. That it's not just merely about prolonging survival, but it's really about advancing thrival on all levels of our being and so this moves us from a paradigm of pathogenesis to salutogenesis, that which cultivates wellbeing. And so in meta-immunity, we're not just looking at how we resist or prevent disease, but how do we become anti-fragile. How do we actually become better as we face challenges and not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones, the people that we're cultivating loving relationships with, the people that we serve in our communities up to and even the level of the planet. How can we be so overflowing in the abundance of our wellbeing that we can actually be of service to all of planet earth.


The Concept of Anti-Fragility

Dr. Greg Kelly: Dr. Ben, there was a lot of fantastic things in that brief description. Can we just go into a few of the concepts with maybe a little bit more detail. You mentioned anti-fragility, which I'm a huge fan of that term. Can you just explain a little bit to our audience.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Anti-fragility is the concept that was coined by Nassim Taleb. And in order to understand anti-fragility, you have to start with the idea of fragility. Something that is fragile is that which breaks down or gets worse with chaos. If we think about a porcelain plate or a crystalline vase, it can only sustain its form, its shape within very confined parameters. If things start shaking or it gets bumped, it breaks into many different pieces. That's fragile. And then as we move up the spectrum, we get to resilience. Something that is resilience is something that can withstand stress. That might be a plastic plate or a rubber plate. It can sustain its form, it can sustain itself through a wider variety of conditions. Another example of that could be a reed in the wind. You could contrast that with a tree with really strong branches. A strong wind comes, the tree loses a branch. It appears to be very strong and very firm, but it actually can't withstand as much stress as the reed that will bend with the wind.

And then finally arrive at anti-fragility. Something that is anti-fragile actually gets better with stress and chaos. We can look at an example of like a comedian, for example. If there is more controversy about them or the more absurd or edgy the thing they say, their fame, their reputation, even the quality of their content tends to improve. They tend to get better with that chaos versus someone who may be a politician or a professional. When there is chaos around their reputation, they actually tend to get worse. That may be not true in today's context, but I think it illustrates the point of anti-fragile. Another example of that in terms of health is thermogenesis, which has really become a fundamental of the biohacker movement. By withstanding cold, by getting into the cold, which challenges our homeostasis through hormesis, we actually get better at neuro-somatically regulating ourselves in a wider variety of conditions and circumstances.

As we explore this idea of meta-immunity, which is immunity of the mind, body, heart, and spirit, one thing I'd like to offer as contemplation is what is the equivalent of the cold shower for the mind. What is the equivalent of the infrared sauna for the heart? What are the equivalents for the spirit? How can we challenge ourselves in ways that actually make us better so we're more able to stay in our innate state of being, calm, coherent, clear, open-hearted, joyful, loving, of service? How can we do that even as we're withstanding challenges from our environment, physical challenges from our environment, psychological challenges, emotional, relational challenges, or spiritual challenges? How can we embrace those? Rather than just resisting them and becoming resilient, we look at that. We cultivate the mindset and a belief system, techniques and practices, and we say, "Oh great, this challenge is helping me get better. I'm growing. I'm getting stronger. I'm more able to be who I am in my natural adaptive state of being."

I think that's a really beautiful way to be. It helps us live much more in a state of welcoming opportunity of embracing life as our greatest teacher and I think that's really important in today's world where we're dealing with existential threat and dealing with a lot of conflict, potentially inside ourselves, in our families, in our communities, in our world. This can really help us be beings who can come together and potentially solve the challenges that we're facing.


The Benefits of Becoming Anti-Fragile

Dr. Greg Kelly: I just loved that, Dr. Ben. Thank you so much. The idea of anti-fragile really resonates with me and thinking in terms of there maybe things we can do to, especially in this meta-immunity concept, for our heart, for our beliefs, for how our mind works, for our spirituality to be the equivalent of the things we could do to essentially make our muscles stronger, ourselves better by chromatic types of stresses. Could you go into a little bit of some of the areas that you think can make a huge difference for making us anti-fragile in these other areas?

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: There is this idea, it's in medicine, it's probably more in the integrative medicine or performance medicine side of it called, the minimum effective dose. I learned this concept when I was doing a lot of study into physical performance, experimenting with all different kinds of weight lifting and body re-composition technologies and approaches. It considers this one school of strength training called, high intensity training, which is different than high intensity interval training. In high intensity training, you actually do one continuous set. So let's say it's a chest press. You do one continuous set under a very slow time for 90 to 120 seconds until you get to a place that you reach failure. And what that does is it gives you maximal time under tension and it's the smallest dose, that's the safest way for your joints.

And what you're doing there is, you're giving your body just enough stimulus, just enough challenge that it responds by saying, "Wow, that was really hard. We almost died there. This weight actually almost crushed us." And so that helps activate all these hormonal pathways, enough regulation of hormones so that we build more muscle and that we also build more neuro-muscular end plates so that our nervous system is more efficient in sending electricity to our muscles.

What would be the minimum effective dose of aversive emotions, of aversive thoughts, of aversive media? It's not necessarily about avoiding things that are harmful, but it's about discerning and fine-tuning into what is the right dose. For example, if I'm on social media, I'm aware of the dangers of being in an echo chamber, I'm only listening to things that reify my belief system, that reify my identity and I know that can lead to calcification of the mind, calcification of the heart. And so I purposely want to follow feeds of people who challenge me, who think differently, but I don't want to saturate myself with that. I just want to get enough of a dose to be like, "Oh, what am I feeling when I read that, when I take that in."

I'm feeling some tension or I'm feeling some repulsion or I'm feeling some rage or disgust or anger. And then I pause, rather than going down the downward spiral and clicking more of that and continuing to feed that adversive loop, actually take pause and use that as an opportunity to do a micro-meditation. I find my breath, find where the tension is in my body, I send that breath there. Perhaps there's more energy that needs to move so I get up, I vibrate. Maybe I put on a song and dance. Maybe it's really triggering me so I go outside and put my feet on the ground. I look at the sun, I breathe in the fresh air.

What I'm doing there is I'm bringing myself back to my natural state, my naturally neuro-somatically regulated state of being. And so in that way, we can titrate adversive stimuli and we can use it to bring up things that are latent in our psyche or latent in our body and then we can metabolize that. Because whatever it's bringing up, it's just potential energy and if we just discharge that energy, maybe we complete ourselves, but if we recirculate that energy, we bring it back into ourselves, if we remind ourselves, what's actually true in terms of my desire of how to live.

What's true for me about my desire and how to live is, I want to be able to relate with all people whether not I agree with them because they are on this planet, they are alive and I want to respect and honor their life, because we all share the same mother. We all share this planet as the same mother. I want to be able to be in dialogue with them, to be in relating with them. I don't know what appropriate relating looks like, but I know that I'll be more capable of appropriate relating if I'm neuro-somatically regulated myself.

We could also look at in terms of toxic relationships, relationships that drain us of personal power, that distract our time, energy, and attention from the things that we actually want to cultivate with our lives. If we're noticing that we're in toxic relating, and let's call it toxic relating so it's more of a process and not a noun that we're projecting onto another person. If we notice that we're in some kind of toxic relating, we can take a pause, we can examine that really closely. What's this bringing up for me? What is potentially unresolved in myself? There's different insights that will come from that and sometime that insight is, wow, this is actually not something to allow in my sacred space. Or other times what it's bringing up is, I've done the same thing that this other person is doing and I don't like that I've done that.

This is an opportunity to forgive myself, to return to the path of love, self-love for myself, to reintegrate that fragment of myself, that aspect of myself. Really amazing, truly amazing things happen when we do that. And by doing that, we often see changes in our external environment and our relating with other people.

Dr. Greg Kelly: I think I'm a huge fan of the idea of relationship and to everything. I'm a fan, obviously, of doing things that would be in the healthy behavior, supportive beliefs category, but I also think it's always very important not just to focus on the thing we're doing, but our relationship to that thing. Because what I've seen working with people in my life is quite often a relationship can be somewhat unwholesome to what would otherwise be a good practice and when that occurs, sometimes the benefits that person would be getting from this are less than you'd expect for the time they were committing to it.

I also just want to make sure to highlight that minimum effective dose that you mentioned, one of the things that I recall from Taleb's book, Anti-Fragile, was the concept that an anti-fragile system is one that can get better, like you pointed out, when it's challenged up to a certain point. And so I think that's the key thing to understand for our audience that our immune system's potential anti-fragile, our musculoskeletal system. And all of these things are capable of getting better when challenged, but there is a threshold there and so I think Dr. Ben's point of trying to find the minimal effective dose, I think, is super important. I wanted to turn it back over to you, I just wanted to highlight those points that stood out to me.


Finding the Minimum Effective Dose 

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Thank you. And I can even share a way that I applied that directly in my life.

Dr. Greg Kelly: I'd love that.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: It's probably going to come across as somewhat controversial in today's climate. And by no means am I advocating this approach for anyone else, I'm speaking purely from my subjective individual experience. While I was training in residency as a family medicine doctor and I was in clinic, routinely the office is filled with children who are dealing with all kinds of viral illnesses. A lot of my colleagues, they would really get upset or stressed out about it. "Oh my God, this kid sneezed on me or he got boogers all over me." They would get really anxious and really worried and I totally understand why. For me, I had the exact opposite reaction when that would come in and be like, "Oh my goodness, thank God this child, because I don't have children of my own, thank God this child came in and exposed my immune system to all these different bugs that they are dealing with and I got just the right dose and that's going to stimulate an adaptive response for me. It's going to keep me young and vital and healthy." I had a really positive mindset around that.

There's this relatively new school of science called psycho-neuro immunology. Thought, nervous system, immune system. They are elucidating all these different pathways and legitimizing that there is a mind/body connection, that our mood, our emotions, our thoughts, our belief systems actually have very real effects on the physiological immune system. So in terms of how I would handle that, if I knew that I was in a really vital state, no big deal. I might go to the gym afterwards and get in the sauna and  kind of stimulate a fever response from myself or I'd jump up and down so I could get my lymph system circulating. Or if I was under a little bit more stress, I'd make sure to get extra sleep that night. Or I might grate up a clove of garlic and let it sit out so it converts to allicin and I might take that as a dose for some antimicrobial properties.

I was always tuning into where is my baseline state of wellbeing and was the dose of exposure I got, the right dose or too much? If it's too much of a dose, then we'd go into our health practices and I would examine where have I been weak recently. Was I compromising on sleep? Was I compromising on nutrition? Was I compromising on exercise? Wherever the place was that I had been compromising on, that's the place I'm now going to turn to [inaudible 00:19:46] my system. I think it's really important to understand the immune system, it's not separate from any other system in the body, it's completely interdependent.


The Role of Beliefs in Meta-Immunity

Dr. Greg Kelly: Wow. I also wanted to backtrack on one thing because I know it resonated with me and I'm guessing that it will with our audience. But it was when you were describing being in residency, being exposed to a young child that sneezed and may have some germs in there. Your story, your belief was, wow, this is great. I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed, this is just the right dose. Immune system, do your job. I just want to make sure, I'm a huge fan of the importance of beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves in terms of those influencing the responses we get as we move through this shared world and life. I would just love you to talk a bit more of this idea of beliefs and the huge role they play in meta-immunity.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: I think we can look at beliefs as programs that we've loaded or algorithms that we've loaded of how to interpret information that's coming in. And so if I have a belief that predisposes me to thinking and feeling that the information that's coming in is really dangerous or threatening, I'm more likely to send my body into a sympathetic nervous system response, into a fight or flight or freeze response, into a response that releases more stress hormones like cortisol, which can actually reduce immune system function and put me into more of a stressed out state. And that stressed out state, especially if it becomes chronic, is going to decrease my capacity to have vital health, to have vital meta-immunity.

If instead I examine that belief and I say, what is the outcome of this belief, experientially, and I can play with, I can play with as an experiment so that there is some lightheartedness here, how would this information that's coming in look or feel, and I mean literally feel in my body if I upload this different belief program. Instead, the same information, the same raw data that's coming in now may be processed in my body and mind in the way that creates more relaxation, creates more ease, creates more peacefulness and I can feel that shift in my body. Now I'm in more of a parasympathetic nervous system state, which, by the way is vital for the health of our digestive system. When we're in sympathetic nervous system response, we decrease blood flow, decrease the flow of life force to our digestive system.

When we're in more of a parasympathetic nervous system response, we get more blood flow. If we're talking about the gut as harboring all of these immune cells, and those immune cells are created in other tissues in our body and so we want more of those immune cells to be able to migrate to our gut so it can provide us with the vital immune system function there, we can begin to appreciate how being in more of that relaxed parasympathetic nervous system response is actually much more helpful. The offering here is that not that anyone needs to change their beliefs, it's to simply examine what do I experience in my body, what do I experience in my mind, what do I experience in my heart when I have a particular belief and then to reference that with your personal values, with your personal goals, with what you actually intentionally want to cultivate with your life and then begin to see for yourself, where does that support that and where does that take away from that.

Beliefs are ultimately things that are unprovable and there is this interesting tendency that the more unprovable something is, the more powerful it can become. Truth to the extent that it exists and that's a subject of great philosophical debate are things that are provable so we can look at the difference. If something is not provable, then it's malleable. Then it's up for conscious change, conscious recreation. And so the offering here is to begin to look at all of our beliefs about our physical bodies, about our minds, about our emotions, about our spiritual connections, about our relations with other people and the encouragement here is to choose beliefs that build personal power that allow for impeccable actions and that to cultivate more sovereignty, more self-authority, more self-governance, because we can choose the stories that we tell about ourselves. The stories that we tell about ourselves help create our reality.

Dr. Greg Kelly: I love that idea of the stories we tell ourselves and how important they are for things. Could you maybe go into a little more detail about some stories that you've heard either friends, colleagues, or people that you've worked with, some of the stories they've told themselves in the meta-immunity sense that you feel like, hey, maybe this isn't serving them and this could be a better story.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: I have a humorous story about that from when I was in family medicine clinic during my residency. This woman came in presenting with classic symptoms of depression and she was asking to be placed on an anti-depressant. As we delved more into her story, what she shared with me the thing that was really triggering these low states of being, these aversive emotions, dark thoughts, downward spirals, was listening to the news. This was around an election time, an election that felt very high stakes to a lot of people. I asked her, "What would it be like to filter out the news, to filter out this thing that you are identifying as harmful?" She said, "I can't do that. It's really important that I stay informed." I said, "How important is it? To what degree of staying informed is important?"

We were going back and forth and had this insight to flip the script on her. I said, "Okay, you're saying it's important to stay informed. Let's have you be really informed. Let's have you set your alarm clock in the morning to the news so the first thing that happens when you wake up is that you're getting tuned into world events and political events and as you're brushing your teeth and as you're showering, you're getting ready for work, you're consuming more and more of this news. And as you're driving to work, you're listening to this news and when you have a break from work, you're listening to the news. And when you're eating your lunch, you're listening to the news. And you're listening in on the way home from work and you're listening to it with your dinner, and you're listening to it as you get ready for bed up until the moment you go to bed." She goes, "That sounds horrible."

I said, "That's interesting, isn't it?" I said, "What would it be like to fast from the news?" I said, "Look, I've tried doing this before, fasting from the news, and what I learned is, if I really need to be informed of something, it's going to come up in conversation in my life. I don't end up missing major events by doing it." So we changed her belief system. She changed her belief system about how important it was for her to be informed. And as she did that, she came back to clinic and she said, "My mood is completely better." She never went on the anti-depressant. It was simply changing a belief and it changed her reality.


Ketamine Integrative Therapy

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: This comes up a lot in my work, the big focus of my work is doing Ketamine-integrative treatment for people, which is a form of legal psychedelic medicine. Ketamine is really interesting because it definitely has profound effects on the body for alleviating things like depression and anxiety and part through regulation of what's called, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which enhances neuroplasticity, the ability of the nervous system to create new pathways. And beliefs, really, on a reductionist level are some kind of neurological pathway. At the same time, it also allows us to explore more deeply what's in our psyche and what maybe is in our subconscious and help make it conscious so we can have more awareness around the belief programs that we're running. I routinely have people who come in and have pretty negative stories about themselves, guilt or shame or self-blame or self-judgment and then we offer them this ketamine-integrative treatment and they have these profound realizations of their transcended self or their spiritual self.

They say, wow, this story that I was telling myself that felt so big, that felt so all-consuming is really just this tiny, tiny little drop in this magnificent, boundless ocean. They get to tap into this spiritual view of life, this boundless oceanic view of life. They say, I could just tune into a different drop. I could just tune into a different belief.

I recently had a patient who is struggling with some substance abuse and had what would classically be called a relapse. He got really down on himself, that he was a failure in some way. I said, "You're not a failure. There's actually no harm that was done to yourself or anyone else here, all you did was create the perfect learning opportunity for yourself of having contrast between what the different choices feel like and manifest in your reality." As soon as he changed his view and looked at, "Oh, all I did was create a learning opportunity for myself.", he actually became better with chaos, he became anti-fragile. And now he's making new, healthier choices for himself and it's not from any external story about how he should live, it comes from an internal sense of how do I actually want to live, how do I want to be, and how do I make choices that facilitate that.

 Dr. Greg Kelly: I think that's a hugely important thing to point out or to reaffirm for our audience. It's much easier when we're in alignment with our internal goals and beliefs, et cetera, whereas trying to do what someone's imposing on us externally and telling us is the right thing. Sometimes what might be right for them might not be as true for us.


The Definition of Meta-Immunity

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: I think this helps us get to something that's essential about this idea of meta-immunity. I've offered a few different ways of looking at it, immunity of mind, body, heart, spirit, and there's also this kind of all-encompassing definition that I've been contemplating that meta-immunity is our capacity to remain in and return to and strengthen our natural state of being, our unique individual essence in the face of any and all internal and external conditions, circumstances and challenges. This implies a few things that we can begin to bring more inquiry towards. We have to know what is my natural state of being, what is my unique individual asset? And some people may have a very clear sense of that and some people may listen to that and say, I have no idea what that even means.


Strengthening Our Natural State of Being

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: One of the ways that we can get closer to that is by removing external stimuli. You can go on a meditation retreat or you can spend a couple of hours just in silence and stillness, turning off the phone and being in nature and feeling yourself breathe. Or perhaps you can go work with a practitioner to have some kind of legal psychedelic medicine experience so you can expand your vision of who and what you are, why you're here and where you're going. It also requires us to be fully aware, fully engaged with all of our senses. Again, we come from this materialist paradigm where we talk about five senses, sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. But what if intuition is a sense? What if interoception, the ability to feel sensations inside us is a sense? What about proprioception, which conventionally refers to where am I in physical space? But what if we expand the idea of proprioception to include where am I in emotional space? Where am I in psychological space? Where am I in relational and social space? To have more awareness of those things, to engage really fully in that?

This also requires us to have skillfulness and mastery in spiritual, psychological, emotional, relational, and somatic technologies, techniques and practices so we have lots of choices in what we can apply to help ourselves back to a regulated state of being, to our natural state of being. And when we embrace all this, what it allows us, it allows us to be more whole. It allows us to be more embodied, more compassionate, more generous, more service-oriented, and more sovereign. And those are values that I care about and I believe those are values that our audience cares a lot about as well.


Limiting Exposure Window To Social Media

Dr. Greg Kelly: Absolutely. One other thing, and this is going to backtrack a little bit, and I don't want to get you off topic, but i thought it was interesting to me, and might be worth just reiterating for our audience. Within engineering, there is the idea of signal and noise, which I believe is a big part of how the receptors in our cells, our immune cells work. We talked a little bit about how the immune system spends a lot of its time intentionally choosing what to ignore and when I think of the external world, especially given your story with that person that wanted to be informed about the news, I tend to think of signal and noise as information and opinion. I'm all about wanting more information, but doing, fasting might be too strong a word, trying to minimize my exposure to the opinions.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Yeah.

Dr. Greg Kelly: And when I listened to you telling that story, I was just thinking, my guess is, at least if she was watching the kind of news and broadcasting that I see, a lot of that is just reiterating opinion on an endless loop with very little information. And so I don't know if that would match your experience of what you have seen in these areas of meta-immunity, but I know my goal in anything I want to get better on is, find sources of higher level information and minimize the opinions.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: I think that kind of deep into epistemology about how can I know what is true and what is not true. It's a subject of great philosophical debate that's somewhat at the frontiers of my own expertise. Something that came up when you were sharing that is that if fasting is not the right intervention, certainly there is value in intermittent fasting. Limiting my exposure window. If I look at morning time is a really important time of tuning into my natural state of being before a lot of external stimuli is coming in, that's a great time to intermittent fast from media or from sources of opinion so I can just feel myself, feel where I'm at, see what's going on for me first before interacting with the external world. Before I go to bed is a really important time too, in the morning and before we go to bed is when I think our psyche is most permeable, so really protecting that time, that we have very intentional inputs during that time and then perhaps you just choose a window of 30 minutes and for 30 minutes I'm going to really allow myself to go into the world of opinion and to stay aware as you do that.

What kind of thoughts does this bring out? What kind of feelings does this bring up? Who would I need to be to believe this opinion? Is that the kind of person that I am? Does this create the kind of emotional states and belief systems that I actually want to have so I can be who I want to be in the world? I've been experimenting with a different view of [virus 00:36:23] and I've been looking at it through the lens of ecology. If we look at humanity as a population of apex predators, of something that's "on the top of the food chain". The environment wants to regulate and keep populations in balance so if the population of humans begins, for example, over consuming resources and depleting the environment, the environment is going to respond in some way to help re-regulate that population. And one of the ways that apex predator populations are re-regulated is either the food supply goes down, which we've mostly been able to avoid, there is disparities in food distribution, that's an issue, or we begin to see up-regulation of different kinds of pathogens to bring the population back into balance.

Through this ecological lens, I've been looking at a virus as a rapidly spreading vector of genetic information to support the evolution of a population. And by no means am I suggesting that people dying from a virus is what's necessarily needed for that population to re-regulate, but there is some kind of information that's coming into that population and how we choose to respond to that changes the way that we interact with our environment. My point in offering this is that I began to look at a virus as simply information, information that's helping me evolve and information that's helping the collective evolve.

One of the things that's come to the surface with recent viruses is where our systems are fragile and a really healthy response is for us to get creative about how we can make our systems, our economic systems, our medical systems, more anti-fragile in the context of that information. That's just simply changing the belief about the virus, I'm by no means advocating denial of the virus, I'm just offering what if I looked at the virus as something that had helpful information. How might I respond to it instead? Would I feel as much fear? Would I feel more grounded, more peaceful? Or would I feel a mixture of those things?

There's an interesting corollary here between the "physical" viruses that we deal with and also viral information. And so when we look at meta-immunity, we're not just looking at what do I bring into my system, but also what do I replicate and put out into the world. And so being very careful and very considerate about what we choose to share, what we choose to spread, why we're choosing it, how it's going to affect other people, to be mindful of that. We have antiviral software for our computers, and I'd like to propose that there is some kind of equivalent of our antiviral software for our own minds, for our own hearts. What does that look like for each person?


Cultivating an Anti-Fragile Adaptive Immune System

Dr. Greg Kelly: I think that's beautiful. I know my, and I'm far from perfect, but my goal when I interact or relate with other people is to find areas where they will be comfortable, where they will find something that I feel like we would to bond to in common without [crosstalk 00:39:43]. I guess thinking of the fast responding immune system, having a knee-jerk reaction or causing a knee-jerk reaction that may hinder my ability to have the kind of relationship with this person that I would otherwise want.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: When we talk about the fast-acting innate immune system, it's basically putting up a barrier, this is not going to come in, or to [inaudible 00:40:10], to eat it up and destroy it. And we can see that when we get an aversive email and we respond and we're like, "Oh goodness." After we get neuro-somatically regulated, that maybe was not the most wise choice. The adaptive immune system, it's slower, but it becomes more specific and more finely attuned. How can we cultivate an anti-fragile psychological and emotional and relational adaptive immune system?

Dr. Greg Kelly: I think that's super important and I think probably most of the audience has heard things like before you send a potentially reactive email, give it a day or two. That would almost fit into that idea that we have this faster innate immune system and slower, more thoughtful adaptive immune system and it may be that almost embracing this idea that we do have, in a meta-immune sense, a faster and a slower capability to respond to things and being in tune with that could be useful.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Right. Right. If one cares about supporting the benevolent evolution of the collective, their capacity to do that is proportional to their capacity to healthily relate to the collective. If I can only put up barriers and push things away, that may be the right move at certain times. That's why we have that as an immune system function. There's also value in cultivating that tolerance so that we can interact in a way. I love building bridges. I like to challenge myself to build bridges. When I was an undergraduate, a lot of my work was in community organizing in different populations that were having challenges relating to each other, where there was violence, for example.

One of the things that I loved was about finding where we could have a common value, that even if we expressed it differently, we had different symbol sets for how to translate that, that there were some kind of core essence that we cared about, or cared about the thriving and well-being of ourselves and our family and our loved ones. How could find a way to translate that and speak to that, focusing on the shared value rather than the differences in how we express it, and then to lead with more inquiry, to ask questions that led to deeper contemplation that weren't about finding fast answers, which is that reflex response, but actually sitting with them and allowing one question to lead to another question. And that opens up a lot more space for us to connect. And when we connect with each other, we can actually feel our heart, which has an electromagnetic field, and electromagnetic fields contain information. That's what the wifi signal is that we're sitting in right now. It's an electromagnetic field.

There's an electromagnetic field coming from our hearts that contains information and it's actually been measured as the stronger field in the human body. So we have words, which are a useful way of communicating, but they actually contain much less information than what exists in that electromagnetic field. So once we get into that neuro-somatically regulated state, into that open-hearted state with another person, our hearts are actually in direct informational communication with one another through that shared electromagnetic field. Profound shifts can happen there. And so what I'm offering is that we just stay open to the miracle and to the mystery of what's possible when we relate in that way.


Beliefs Around Food

Dr. Greg Kelly: Would you think that that same, almost being in tuned, open, aware translates into even when we eat food since that's going to be a challenge to our immune system or there's a lot more that our body relates to than just us relating to other people. Would it be maybe fair to think that some of these same principles could apply?

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Sure. Let's take a belief about food. I have a background in food systems. I've helped start community farms. I've helped in 10 different permaculture projects. I've raised animals for eggs. I've raised medicinal herbs, perennial foods, et cetera, so I have a great passion for soil health and the value in having community-centered agriculture. One of the things that I love about having local produce, for example, is that it usually has some amount of soil on it and that soil actually includes a lot of microbes. There's this interesting corollary, by the way, as many of us are aware of the importance of the microbiome in the gut, and one of the sources of the microbiome in the gut is the microbiome of the soil.

There's a lot of things that have happened with industrial agriculture that have reduced the health and diversity and abundance of the microbiome of the soil. Some people have the belief, oh, I don't want any dirt on my food. And I get it because it doesn't feel good in your teeth. I have a different belief, I want a little bit of dirt in my food because I know that that contains really important microbes and so when I'm eating it and I get a little crunchy part of the dirt I'm like, "Oh great, natural probiotic. That's strengthening my immune system here. Oh, that's really good for me." I have that belief. For the most part, I eat a really healthy diet, really locally sourced, very conscientious diet and I love giving myself the minimum effective dose of some things that are maybe not quite so healthy.

When I'm consuming those, I'm going to consume those very consciously and that means with a lot of enjoyment and a lot of celebration and being very mindful, feeling all of my senses while I consume that thing. I've heard some other people, when they are going to go out and eat french fries or a milk shake, and they are like, "This is so bad for me, but I love it." I'm thinking, why would you prime yourself with that belief? If you're going to put it in your body, choose the belief. This is an offering to choose the belief of, I'm bringing in this information. It has value to me. I'm getting the right dose of it. I'm not going to go overdose on it. And I'm really appreciating how it helps me celebrate in this moment, how it helps me connect with other people or connect with planet earth or whatever it is for you to really prime what we're putting into our bodies with beliefs that are supportive to salutogenesis.

Dr. Greg Kelly: That's, I think, such a great message. I guess the way I would state that, or personally would understand it or coach someone is, you made the choice to say, eat these french fries so they are going to have whatever effect french fries have, but now that you've also chosen to eat that negative belief with the french fries, you get a double whammy.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Exactly.

Dr. Greg Kelly: If you're going to eat them, let's create a better story around it. Not to say, go overboard and eat french fries with every meal, but don't consume this maybe not as supportive food with a not supportive story at the same time.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Yeah. Yeah. And I would offer that there's a corollary there with the kind of media that we're bringing in. If we know that we're going into more opinion-based information or information that has more of an energy of narrative warfare or memetic warfare, being very conscientious about that, and knowing that we're turning towards that with the contemplation of who would I need to be to believe this. What am I deeply feeling? What am I perceiving as real in the world? What am I perceiving as being threatened in myself? What am I perceiving as being valuable? And how can I step into that other being and have real compassion for what their reality is? And then ascertain where do we actually have shared values and challenging ourselves to do that, that's another way that we can get anti-fragile. By bringing in that chaos and actually cultivating more skillfulness and being able to consciously relate with ourselves and others.


Biohacks for Supporting Meta-Immunity

Dr. Greg Kelly: Ben, I wanted to, as we start to get towards of our time together, you had started with two questions for our listeners and they are not questions that really were designed to come up with the answers, but to give thought as we've had this discussion. With that in mind, thinking in terms of some of these areas of meta-immunity, our physical or medically classified immune system, but our psychology, our spirituality, are there a few bio-hacks that you really want to emphasize that you found useful personally or working with people to essentially support these more anti-fragile areas of our meta-immunity?

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: On the physical level, I love grounding in with nature first thing in the morning. I love having a period of contemplation first thing in the morning. I love breathing deeply into my body first thing in the morning so I can just remember what my natural state of being actually feels like so I can calibrate to that. I love taking cold showers. I love exposing myself to heat stress as well. I love doing intermittent fasting, all of those basic good bio-hacking practices for cultivating active metabolism. In terms of psychological meta-immunity, things like journaling can be very helpful just to get clear on what am I actually cycling in my thoughts and how do those thoughts connect.

I can also in the evening, especially if I've gone into any kind of a downward spiral, is go backwards through my day or days and find where was the place that I created a leak in my integrity, where I made a decision that wasn't in alignment for myself or perhaps I let in too much of something that was aversive and then beginning to see the chain of cause and effect that led to me perhaps going into a downward spiral. That can be a really effective way of tracking ourselves very closely. I also love to do, relationally, I love to do aspecting. If I have some kind of conflict with someone, I want to move through as much of those emotions on my own so that when I connect with that person to bring something to completion or resolution, I've already done as much as I can to resolve that and complete that in myself so I can be really present and speak from I statements and build my side of the bridge, which is much as I can do to relate with someone in a healthy way.

I'll sit down and I'll speak what I'm feeling and thinking fully to move that energy and then I'll move into a seat facing myself where I was sitting before and now I'll respond from how that other person is thinking and feeling in response to me. And I'll go back and forth and back and forth to feel all the emotions and to get into the thoughts and to express them so I can move that energy. That's another really helpful way to relate.


Healing Is About Returning To the Path of Love

Dr. Greg Kelly: I also want to just point out one thing that I think is important. You mentioned it a few times in passing, but you're very protective of the beginning and the end of your days. And my guess would be, if you could give one message to our audience, that would be a part of it.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: One way of understanding the path of healing is that healing is about returning to the path of love. My observation and experience of life is that my capacity to give love is really directly related to my capacity to love who I am, to fully accept myself with a lot of compassion. And so having that time in the morning and having that time in the evening is about really honoring the value of your life and the miracle that it is for you to be alive, to celebrate your unique assets and to know deeply in every cell of your being that you are truly a gift, that you are a gift to this world.

Dr. Greg Kelly: Dr. Ben, I want to thank you so much for sharing all you've thought, experienced, and done with this concept of meta-immunity. If our audience wants to follow you, learn more of your work, is there a good place that you can recommend they go?

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: They can go to my website at doctorben.co or they can find me, I've been encouraged to get on Twitter with some reluctance and some excitement and I'm on Twitter @thesovereignmd.

Dr. Greg Kelly: Great handle.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Thank you. Thank you.

Dr. Greg Kelly: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope our audience has enjoyed this as much as I have. It's been just an absolute pleasure to have you as a guest today on Collective Insights. Thank you, 

Dr. Ben.

Dr. Benjamin Kaplan-Singer: Thank you, Dr. Greg. Thank you.

Speaker 2: This episode of Collective Insights was hosted by Dr. Greg Kelly and produced by Jacquelyn Loera. This podcast is for informational purposes only. The podcast is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not use the information on the podcast for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal, or homeopathic supplement, and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on this or any other podcast.

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