The Common Cold Finally Conquered
Un-Dressing for Fun and Profit
Who Taught Me to Take Cold Showers
Who Taught Me to Put My Whole Self Into Everything I Teach
Smiling Headquarters (a monk in Tokyo who dresses all year only in shorts)
"The common cold probably causes a greater loss of human productivity than any other infection. … It is still probably true that the person who finds a cure for the common cold will rank among the most famous Nobel Prize winners and probably also will become the wealthiest scientist of all time."1
This is my first attempt to write a book. Depending on how this goes, it may also be my last. Just in case, I am going to try to squeeze into it everything that I know (My Milton instructor, Professor Stanley Fish, said that a good teacher, in every course, teaches you everything that he knows).
First, of course, is the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to have fun.2
Well, maybe that was too obvious. What about the purpose of a book? The purpose of a book is to be short. I'm sure you're glad you finally found these things out.
The purpose of a reader is to figure out if he3 wants to finish the book. Okay, here is the secret of that: People are consistent; if you like the beginning (middle, end), you will like the rest.
On April 28, 1977, my friend Betty Dederich died from lung cancer.4 I decided that I don't have much time left, and that I don't want to waste any of it -- life is too short for that. I will try not to waste yours, either. This will explain how:
Around 1968 I was at UCLA, sweating over a research review paper (that is, a survey of published research on a given topic) I was writing. It was torture. The words just wouldn't come out right. Finally, I noticed that I was trying to word my paper so that it would support a particular conclusion that I favored. I decided to try simply telling the truth. Suddenly, the paper was easy to write! I simply reported the results of each piece of research. The conclusion, rather than an effort to slant my language in one direction, became a simple matter of listing some facts.
By attempting to stick to statements that I know from direct experience to be fact, I hope to produce a book that wastes neither my time nor yours. Whenever I cannot back up my assertions by quoting someone or drawing on my own experience, I will indicate my uncertainty by using words like "perhaps".
Why would anyone be interested in a cure for the common cold? Don't we depend on it as a good excuse to escape from school, get a day off from work, or avoid awkward social situations? Perhaps, but is it really dependable? Can we be certain to catch it when we want it, and only then? I doubt it. "One reason that colds are in such ill repute is that they occur at most inconvenient times and disrupt the normal course of life. They are like quarterly payments of an income tax. We know that they are inevitable and that they recur with surprising regularity, but we have a vain hope that somehow we can postpone them this year."5
And what about the sheer misery of being sick? Is this a vacation? "The sudden attack, the 'matchbox' throat, the feeling of malaise, the increasing misery of smarting eye-sockets and aching, hot-headed congestion, the disgusting nasal discharge, the depleted vitality and weariness of limb -- who would not be rid of the risk of these if he possibly could?"6
The economic and educational costs of colds are enormous. "The common cold continues to be the major cause of absences from school and work."7 "This translates into 100 million disabling colds per year causing [approximately] 250 million days of restricted activity, [approximately] 30 million lost days of work, and an equal number of lost days of school.... minor, nondisabling ... colds ... are estimated to occur at rates of two to five per person per year. Other relevant estimates include sales of proprietary cold remedies totalling over $1 billion per year and over $1.5 billion per year for analgesics, much of which [are] used for colds. Thus, the morbidity [amount of disease] and economic burden of the common cold in developed societies is staggering."8
"A cold is by far the most common of all illnesses which the general practising physician is called upon to treat. More children are absent more days from school because of common colds than from all other causes of illness combined. Industrial companies which employ large masses of labor and whose production is dependent upon continuous service of trained and skilful employees lose more money from absence of employees because of common colds than from all other forms of illness and injury. Employees working on an hourly basis or on contract piece-work basis lose more money and time because of common colds than from any other factor. Thus we are interested in colds ... because so many of us suffer so frequently from an attack of this ubiquitous disease. Any measures, no matter how simple, that might aid in the prevention of colds, check their ravages or cut short the course of an attack even a single day, would secure for the whole population untold saving of time and money as well as relief from suffering and distress."9
"The American Medical Association, in 1964, put the yearly cost of colds alone at $5 billion. This sum includes not only the losses due to lower industrial production and to lost wages but also the amount spent on the treatment of colds."10 "The problem of the common cold is so important and the current cost so great that continued efforts to identify and implement methods for control are imperative."11 "From the point of view of personal inconvenience and aggravation and economic loss the common cold is probably one of man's heaviest burdens."12
There is another, even more important reason to search for a cure for the common cold: a cure for this viral infection might lead to a cure for other viral infections, for example AIDS and cancer.
So how are we progressing toward this cure? "Although the past fifty years have seen more medical progress than any other period in history, and although the common cold has been estimated to cost almost $5 billion each year in lost wages and medical expenses, no means has yet been found to prevent or cure it."13 "Common colds, like other virus infections of the respiratory tract, have so far eluded all attempts at their control; neither vaccines nor drugs have as yet made any significant impact on the very successful causal parasites."14 Many textbooks on public health and preventive medicine do not even mention the common cold.
Okay, Dr. Vandeman, so doctors and scientists have spent hundreds of years searching for a cure for the common cold, and failed. What makes you think you can succeed?
First of all, let's eliminate this doctor-scientist mystique! I used to suffer from this mystique; now I'm cured, and you can be, too. Okay, so some of them have beards, so what? Lots of people can grow nice beards! So they have letters after their name -- it isn't so hard to get letters after your name. If I can do it, believe me, so can you. All it takes is persistence. Eventually you will wear down the University and they will say "uncle" (in Latin) and give you letters to put after your name. Do you know what a Ph.D. is? Someone who keeps putting one foot in front of the other until some other people say "that's enough; you can stop now", and give you some letters so you will go away and make room for someone else.
So they read lots of books, some of them big books. Try lifting one of them. See, I knew you could do it! Do you know how medical students get through those big books? Some of them have some pretty nice pictures! Do you know how I get through them? I ride the bus a lot. You will be amazed how much you can read, just riding the bus. A page here, a page there -- they add up (the old one-foot-in-front-of-the-other trick). I read them everywhere -- in the bathroom, walking to the store, even hiking in the hills. Exercising while reading pumps your head full of the extra oxygen you need to understand that medical talk (to say nothing of helping you hold up the book)! Most of my books are bumpy from all the drops of sweat that fell on them, and their contents re-evoke the sensations that accompanied their reading (usually the smell of eucalyptus and the chirping of birds).
I'll tell you a secret -- most of what doctors and scientists know comes from books (I include periodicals). And all of these books are kept in libraries. And librarians, being the nice people that they are, will even let people like you and me read them. From this it is not too hard to deduce that If you read what doctors read, then you will know what they know! So much for the doctor mystique. QED.
I will tell you another thing about doctors and scientists: as they were putting one foot in front of the other trying to get those letters after their name, their timekeepers were drilling into their heads a code of scientific ethics. To people like you and me, it boils down to: Tell the Truth. But they interpret it to mean: Only put your faith in Scientific studies that appear in Scientific books. And what are Scientific studies? Ones with Statistics at the end. (Emergency digression to define Statistics: those are those magic numbers .05, .01, and .001, that mean "it couldn't have happened by chance -- except possibly 5 times out of a hundred, one time out of a hundred, etc.") And what are Scientific books? Books dedicated to summarizing Scientific studies, of course. Where does this leave non-Scientific books? You guessed it. That is why I do not have to worry what I say about them here -- they would never read a book like this (the chances are less than one in a thousand -- must be significant!), that also relies on direct personal experience with no Statistics to make them Scientific.
Which brings me to the first reason why doctors and scientists have not found the cure for the common cold: unless an idea happens to show up in a Scientific study, they don't read about it. Or, if they stumble on it when "off duty", they do not take it seriously, because it is not corroborated in a Scientific Journal. Can you imagine how many possible cures there are, and how expensive it is to study just one of them, and put the correct magic numbers at the end? Still, if composers aren't ashamed to get their material from folk music, why shouldn't doctors likewise draw on folk wisdom?
Scientists are wonderful people, second only to the world's most wonderful and valuable people, reference librarians; but they are human, and they do have mothers. Which is the second reason the common cold has not been cured. For (presumably) thousands of years, mothers (of both sexes) have been telling their children, "Don't go out without your coat -- you'll catch a cold" and wrapping them up like baked potatoes. "Humans have been putting up with runny noses, watery eyes, and itchy throats since Adam and Eve were thrown out of their virus-free paradise. Ever since then, anxious mothers have been shouting at their kids, 'Zip up your jacket or you'll catch cold.'"15 Most children, by the time they begin to think for themselves, have heard such things so often, from so many sources they respect, that they no longer question them. I never did! If I caught a cold, I always knew it was because I had not kept warm enough. If I managed not to catch a cold, I didn't think about it, so my theory was never disproved. "The belief that cold causes colds is so widespread as, in most people's minds, to admit of no question. In one enquiry, 64% of those questioned thought that their colds were brought on by chilling."16 "The fear of cold goes back ... a long way and has become fixed in the nation. The lore handed down from mother to child has a far more potent influence than all the teaching of modern hygienists."17 Perhaps children get more colds than others simply because they are the only people who cannot control what they wear!
Finally, in 1958, the science of virology reached the point where this "old wives Tale" (notice how we blamed it on women) could be scientifically tested -- and found to be untrue!18 However, the myth has proved harder than that to kill. Now many doctors say that, while chilling doesn't cause colds (viruses do), it lowers something called "resistance": "Perhaps the stress of exposure to the cold lowers the resistance to the virus and makes illness more likely if exposure does occur."19 Of course, this begs the question -- it just means that you get sick because you lose your resistance to disease, which says nothing. Try telling your biology teacher that animals die because they lose their resistance to death, and see if he buys it. And the medical Bible Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment still says "The contributory role of environmental exposure (e.g., cold and dampness) is not known",20 implying that they believe (but are unable to prove) that it helps to cause colds. Current Pediatric Diagnosis and Treatment21 and the Cecil Textbook of Medicine, more sensibly, don't mention it. But hundreds of years of controversy over whether or not chilling causes colds could explain why the opposite proposition -- chilling prevents colds -- has never been scientifically proposed and tested!
Another reason that my assertions are not as audacious as they sound is that I am not unique -- others have come to similar conclusions. For example, "Aristotle, in his Politica, wrote: 'To accustom children to cold from their earliest years is an excellent practice which greatly conduces to health.'"22 And Winfrid Hill, though he thought clothes "not so important as food and drink",23 recommended that one "Wear light clothing at all times, subject to the requirements of climate and season, of course."24
But the best evidence that I've found the cure for the common cold is the foundation of all evidence -- direct personal experience. On May 1, 1979, I changed overnight from a cold-catching, virus-visited petri dish of a person to someone who is never sick! What changed in my life to cause that to happen? The only thing I changed -- and this was merely a matter of convenience; I had no idea it would cure me of all colds -- was that I decided it was a nuisance to be continually carrying around a coat and hat and putting them on and taking them off. I stopped wearing coats, hats (except, recently, for protection from the sun], and sweaters and stopped trying to be warm all the time.
Some more notes about this book: I am not a scientist. I respect scientists, but I have no interest in spending years tracking down the "ultimate" cause for my not getting sick. It is undoubtedly very complicated, I don't have the necessary knowledge or equipment, and, frankly, I am just enjoying being well and watching everyone around me continuing to get sick. I am more interested in the fact of being well than in the underlying mechanism and the scientific proof of its efficacy. I see no obvious explanation, so I will leave such research to those who enjoy it. This is a practical book, written from my own experience, for people who would like to have more fun (remember the purpose of life?).
When I made my discovery (it wasn't until a years later, looking back, that I noticed I had stopped getting sick), I was living in a small community (called Synanon) that had five doctors. One said he thought I was right, three ignored me, and one suggested that I put my coat back on and see if I got sick!! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, that a man trained in the scientific method, sworn to protect my health, wanted me to get sick so that he could continue believing in his own infallibility. As I said, some doctors will believe the printed word in preference to the evidence of their own senses, and in preference to admitting "I don't know", probably due partly to our idolizing them too long. This is also probably the reason some of them deviate from their scientific training and -- rather than simply saying "I don't know" -- make unfounded statements and present them as fact.
What Is a Cold?
"I feel like an angleworm trying to stand on one end."25
"Although the term 'common cold' does not denote a precisely defined disease, it has an almost universally comprehended meaning of an acute self-limited common illness of all age groups, in which the major clinical manifestations involve the upper respiratory tract, with nasal discharge (coryza) or nasal obstruction as the predominant symptom.... Rhinoviruses have emerged as the major known causative agents.... The second most important etiologic [causal] agents ... are the coronaviruses. Many other viruses such as influenza, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial, adeno-, echo-, and coxsackieviruses can also cause common-cold-like symptoms.... In addition, about one third to one half of common colds have yet to be associated with an etiologic agent."26 "A mild, acute, contagious upper respiratory viral infection of short duration, characterized by coryza, watering of the eyes, cough, and, occasionally, fever."27
"What is a common cold? No definition can be perfectly exact and all-inclusive. For practical purposes [Dear Reader, are your purposes practical?], however, one may define a cold as an acute self-limited infection of the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract.
"This infection usually begins in the posterior portion of the nasal passages. It is accompanied by a sensation of congestion, with frequent sneezing and profuse, watery discharge from the nose. The inflammation extends rapidly, upward to the tear ducts and downward to the pharynx. The throat feels dry and harsh. The mucous membranes of the throat are inflamed and tender. Swallowing may become uncomfortable. Often there is a general feeling of ill-being; headache, drowsiness, lassitude, weakness and exhaustion. Sometimes there occurs an increase of temperature to 100oF or even higher. In children the rise of temperature may be more marked and prolonged. The inflammation usually extends to the larynx, producing an irritation which is accompanied by a cough. The voice becomes husky because of inflammation of the vocal cords.
"The inflammation may extend further to the trachea and bronchi. A feeling of tightness across the chest then occurs with slight pain over the sternum, which becomes worse upon coughing. There is a mucous discharge from the nose and throat. Later in the course of the disease these discharges from the nose, and from the throat as well, may become purulent [filled with pus] in character. The inflammation of the nasal passages may invade the adjacent sinuses, setting up a painful and sometimes a prolonged local inflammation....
"In its simple form, the onset is sudden, with a maximum of symptoms within 24 to 36 hours. The temperature is elevated for one to two days at most, and the patient returns to a normal condition within five to seven days."28 "Children under 5 years of age are most highly susceptible to colds of all age groups."29
"The common cold is the most frequent infectious disease of humans, and the incidence is higher in early childhood than in any other period of life. Closely similar upper respiratory infections may be caused by perhaps 100 different viruses.... Minor epidemics recur during the winter months and extend rapidly among susceptible people. The peak month (September) coincides with the opening of schools...."30
"[T]he peak of virus shedding coincides with the early peak of symptoms. Symptomless shedding of virus can occur, but lasts only a few days; chronic symptomless carriers of rhinovirus have not been reported."31
Had enough? Feel like you want quick relief?
A Short Long History of the Common Cold
What stands out most in writings on the common cold are the plethora of unfounded assertions, and the scarcity of proven fact. "Progress toward the control of this illness has been frustratingly slow. In some ways we are little further along than when Pliny the Younger prescribed 'kissing the hairy muzzle of a mouse' for colds in the first century."32 "I have been able to consult an enormous compilation of references to papers about colds, brought together by Drs. D. and R. Thompson and published in 1932. In this work no less than sixty pages are devoted to discussions, mostly very controversial, about the role of chill in causing colds. There is a great deal in the way of dogmatic statement that chilling causes colds or does not cause colds and even more about how chilling causes colds. One looks, however, in vain for scientifically valid evidence on the matter of whether cold is effective.... The question of draughts [drafts] also looms large in the discussions in question. The general opinion seems to be -- but again in the total absence of scientific proof -- that there is more danger from a localized draught playing upon a part of the body than from a more generalized chilling."33 "In surveying hygienic conditions in South Africa, Dr. Pearson said recently that 'there was a great deal of nonsense talked about the danger of wet and draughts, but tradition is a stubborn thing, and 19 men out of 20 would rather believe what their grandmothers taught them in their infancy than what facts and their own judgment taught them in their maturity!"34
"The history of medicine shows that for ages and in many countries the belief in catching 'colds' has prevailed unchallenged, hence people have attributed to cold air certain harmful properties. This ancient misconception still flourishes at the present time in spite of much experimental evidence which invalidates it."35
For example, as recently as 1979, Hal Zina Bennett stated that "It would be safe to speculate [italics mine], on the basis of these known medical observations, that chilling can indeed influence your chances of getting a cold or the flu. It must be emphasized, of course, that it is not the chilling itself which causes the infection. Rather, the chilling encourages viruses already present to multiply and, at the same time, set up an environment relatively free of antibodies that might otherwise discourage the virus."36 "Safe" and "speculate" are, of course, contradictory and mutually exclusive, as are the notions that chilling "encourages", but does not "cause" the cold. Is this "encourages" as heat encourages water to boil, or "encourages" as a catalyst encourages (accelerates) a chemical reaction? And what is "chilling"? The observations he referred to dealt with lowered body temperature, whereas the human body is designed to maintain a constant internal temperature in spite of external cooling. Otherwise, (and I believe it is certainly safe to speculate) we would be lizards.
Likewise, Linus Pauling in 1976 asserted (without foundation), "Development of a cold after exposure to the virus is determined to some extent by the state of health of the person and by environmental factors. Fatigue, chilling of the body, wearing of wet clothing and wet shoes, and the presence of irritating substances in the air make it more likely that the cold will develop."37 And then he reversed himself in the next sentence: "Experimental studies indicate, however [implying that the preceding was not based on experimental evidence?], that these factors are not so important as generally believed."38
Perhaps it is just such ambiguous doublespeak that has "encouraged" people to perpetuate these myths. When one has caught a cold, it is easy to remember that "chilling causes colds", and easy to imagine that we have been "chilled", especially since the illness itself seems to heighten one's sensitivity to "chilling" and other physical sensations: "How is it possible to account for the general belief that chilling will precipitate a cold in the face of experimental evidence which seems to show the contrary? ... It may be that in the early stages of a cold before the nose has begun to run, a person is abnormally sensitive to feelings of chill. There is then a confusion between cause and effect. Because your socks are wet and you feel chilly, you think the wetness causes the cold which shortly develops. You do not consider the possibility that you felt chilly because the virus already had a grip on you."39
On the other hand, disproof of an ambiguous assertion is difficult. Also, in order to prove that chilling does not cause colds, one must wait a reasonable length of time after being chilled to give the cold a chance to appear, before judging that it has failed to arrive. During this non-chilled, non-sick period, there is little to remind us to test the ("chilling causes colds") hypothesis. "Plenty of people get their feet wet and get no cold and forget all about it."40
One technique that has often been used to bring a theory into alignment with observed fact is the invention of an X-factor ("fudge" factor, mystery force, etc.). Early astronomers created the "epicycle" to explain how heavenly bodies could have the circular orbit about the Earth that they were "supposed" to have, and yet not appear to be travelling in a circle. (The bodies were said to be travelling in a circle about a center which was itself in a circular path about the Earth.) In more recent times, "ether" was invented in order to make the "wave" nature of light more plausible (how could there be waves with nothing to wave?).
The X-factor used to rescue the theory of the common cold is the notion of (lowered) resistance. "Chilling, wet feet, and exposure to the elements in general are often factors in precipitating a cold. They result in a lowering of the immunity factors [?] probably by lowering the body temperature and by causing a constriction of the lining of the nose and throat rendering these sites less resistant to invading organisms."41 "The cold germ is afloat in fine, sunny weather and it is also found in healthy individuals. But it only becomes active in cold, damp weather, which lowers resistance, or -- and this is our deduction -- in already unhealthy individuals. [Does this begin to sound like epicycles upon epicycles of circular reasoning?] For cold and damp are only two of the external causes of lowered resistance to infection. There are a number of other and internal causes as well. The germ, then, is only the exciting cause [?] of the common cold. The root cause, or predisposing cause, is lowered resistance, due in most instances to faulty habits of life, aggravated by chilling of the body when the weather is damp and cold."42 "Just as the cause of malaria (Italian, mala aria -- bad air) was ascribed to mists and miasmas [infectious air] before the discovery of mosquito-borne infection, so catarrhs [colds], pneumonia and rheumatic fever were attributed to exposure to cold and damp."43
"Resistance", like "ether", is a (sometime) convenient fiction. You won't find it defined in a (e.g. Stedman's) medical dictionary. You won't find it described in a medical textbook (e.g. Kapikian). But you will find it being used by doctors and others to bolster an otherwise unfounded theory or to avoid uttering the Three Forbidden Words: "I don't know". If you buy the notion that going without a coat "lowers your resistance", then I have a bottle of ether that I'd like to sell you....
Since the time of the ancient Greeks, the skin has been considered an organ of respiration (hence "perspiration", from the Greek word for "breathe through"), and disease has been believed to be the result of blocking or contaminating the process. However, it is not obvious whether one should focus on excreting bad things (bodily wastes), imbibing good things (air), excluding bad things (miasmas) or retaining good things ("aerial spirits"). Nor is it clear whether this respiration should be encouraged by coddling the body and keeping it warm (supposedly "keeping the pores open"), or by "toughening" it and exposing it to the weather. Adherents of these various views have been battling for centuries, like political parties or schools of art or religion, each side winning popularity for a time and then losing it. If people can vote with their feet, then they can also vote with their coats; by that measure, the "coddlers" are currently ahead by a landslide. The "tougheners", on the other hand, are enduring.
"From the time of the ancient Greeks it has been believed that the excretory waste products of the body passed out through the invisible pores of the skin, to be replaced by the external air which surrounds all objects. This was the breathing function of the skin.... Cold and disturbing emotions, such as fear and anger, were dangerous because they blocked the skin pores and forced the body warmth and excretory humours [fluids] back to the organs, there to produce congestion, inflammation and disease.... It was the fear of the cold outside, and violent emotions within, that encouraged the age-old belief in the necessity of thoroughly clothing the body, particularly with wool."44
"Obstruction to the exit of the insensible [invisible] perspiration ... brought about by violent emotions, a humid air or by chilling of the skin, forced the vapours inwardly ... to the internal organs of the body, with a resulting cold or catarrh ['runny nose'] of the head, inflammation of the brain, lungs, or kidneys, or excessive flow of urine or of a looseness of the bowels. The outdoor exercises, the baths, massage and inunctions [ointments] so popular with the Greeks and Romans [the 'toughener' school of thought] were believed to maintain an open condition of the skin pores and, hence, conducive to a healthful state of the body. It is to be noted that the liquid sweat (Latin sudor) was regarded as distinct [from] the invisible, insensible, perspiratis or perspiratio insensibilis. In spite of the doctrine of skin breathing, the people of classical periods had, on the whole, a commonsense attitude to the amount of clothing to be worn, and believed in the virtues of a clean body and a cool skin. Thus, Seneca … stressed that it is the very man who shields himself unduly from the cold who 'runs a great risk when brushed by the gentlest breeze.'"45
"In 1614 the old Greek ideas on skin breathing were resuscitated by Sanctorius [a 'coddler'], a physician of Padua who, by weighing himself, his food and excreta under almost every conceivable condition … came to the conclusion that the perspiratio insensibilis of the skin was far more important than all the other servile evacuations (such as … sweat, urine or stools) put together. From this time onwards, and to the very end of the 19th century, books and pamphlets dealing with the dire consequences of 'perspiratio impedita' … began to appear in all European countries. This condition was … believed [to be] the natural consequence of obstruction [of] the skin pores arising from the constricting effect of violent emotions, from a damp or cold air, the dews of the night, damp clothes, damp bedding and wet feet. … Up to the very end of the last century, the Latin perspiratio, and the English … perspiration were, in general, to mean not the sweat -- the liquid secretion of the skin, but only its emergent, invisible, excretory steams and vapours.
"The uncritical followers of Sanctorius firmly believed that health depended upon all measures which kept the skin thoroughly warm, its pores well open and, hence, encouraged a continual free [outward] flow of the insensible perspiration. As a consequence, many physicians urged that it was essential to wear an abundance of warm clothing in the form of flannel next to the skin, both summer and winter. By maintaining the flow of … vapours out through the skin pores, the simultaneous ingress of the vapours of the air (together with its so-called dangerous miasmas) was prevented."46
"John Floyer, physician [another 'toughener'], was an early English exponent of the use of cold baths for the maintenance of rugged health. He was more concerned with the humid air and miasmas which could get into the body through the skin pores than with the insensible perspiration, which had to pass out…. 'In Staffordshire … they go into the water in their shirts, and when they come out they dress themselves in their wet linens which they wear all day. This is much commended for closing the pores and keeping themselves cool; and that they do not commonly receive injury or catch any cold thereby, I am fully convinced from the experiments I have made of it.'"47
"By the time of the First World War, the doctrine of obstructed insensible perspiration was discarded, buried and forgotten, but it was still widely believed that cold and damp were potent causes of diseases, such as of the lungs, kidneys and joints. It was not uncommon for people, particularly children, to be dressed in winter 'like an onion' in six or more layers of clothing…. Children of working-class families were sometimes sewn into their underclothes for the duration of the winter."48
Finally in the 1950's the blame for the common cold was given to viruses. "While all etiological agents [causes; 'encouragers'?] of the common cold have not been identified, four virus groups from three virus families are known to cause a significantly large proportion of cases. They are the rhinoviruses, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial, and corona viruses."49
Soon thereafter, experiments at the Common Cold Research Unit in Salisbury, England and elsewhere proved that chilling, dampness, and drafts do not cause or "encourage" colds. "When healthy nude volunteers are exposed to chilling (cold and draughty corridors or outdoor exposure immediately after a hot bath, wearing wet socks, etc.) it is very difficult to produce coryza [a cold], or other diseases, even with inoculations into the nose of the specific virus material. It is now generally accepted that in the absence of exposure to infection, cold over a short period of time is unlikely to be followed by any serious consequences. There are always enthusiasts of all ages who are prepared to break the ice for a quick swim followed by a brisk rub-down with no particular harmful consequence. Only after several hours exposure at a water temperature of about 65%F, 18.2C or less is danger likely to ensue, and hypothermia plays an important role."50 "Despite many endeavors over the years to substantiate the old wives' tales, there is no evidence that lowering the body temperature (getting 'chilled' or getting one's feet wet) influences susceptibility to colds."51
"It is most unfortunate that the name 'cold' has been given to this common, but minor, malady. The name has led many people to infer -- incorrectly -- that the common cold is somehow caused by a drop in the environmental temperature. There is as yet no evidence that the common cold ever occurs in the absence of an infecting organism. Moreover, studies have shown that chilling does not predispose one to infection with the cold virus (or viruses). The increased incidence of colds in winter [which also occurs in September and March] probably reflects the fact that much time is spent indoors, thereby facilitating the transfer of viruses from person to person. In fact, one is less likely to catch a cold after a solitary walk, barefoot in a rainstorm, than after mixing with a convivial group of snifflers and sneezers at a fireside gathering."52 "A point worth noting is that those who say that chilling starts off their cold usually state that symptoms develop within a few hours of the chilling. This is a very short time to allow a virus infection to wake up and get going."53 "So, as to why we get more colds in the winter, we must at present admit that we just do not know."54
"It is obvious that cold per se is not the cause of infection [with colds]. If that were so, sailors, shepherds, masons, agricultural laborers, engine drivers, … would be among the worst sufferers. On the contrary, they enjoy the greatest freedom, whilst it is a well-known fact that our soldiers in the war, while suffering from unparalleled hardships and incredible exposure to damp and cold, suffered severely from trench feet, but from colds very rarely indeed."55 Australian aborigines and bushmen of the Kalahari desert manage to sleep in the nude, at temperatures near freezing level, with only a protection of a small fire…. Darwin found the Alacaluf Indians of Tierra del Fuego, nude out in the driving snow, with only a small piece of fur over one shoulder as a wind-break. The diving women of Korea expose themselves in the near nude for short periods of time to water near freezing point. Eskimo children sometimes play for hours without gloves at deep sub-zero temperatures."56
Colds are passed by direct, physical contact. A person in the early stages of a cold (from when they are infected until a few days after symptoms appear) gets the virus on their hand by touching their eyes or nose. Then they pass it to another person either directly, for example, by shaking hands, or indirectly, by touching an object that that person will soon also touch, such as a doorknob. The victim then touches his eye or nose, completing the transmission.
Note that: (1) You can be infected with a cold, not be aware of the infection because it is still in its "incubation period" (before noticeable symptoms appear), and nevertheless pass the infection on. This makes it difficult to prevent the spread of colds: you can isolate yourself, once you know you are sick, but by then it is too late: you have probably spread it already. (2) Handwashing is a good practice, both for the sick and the well. (Incidentally, I was raised to believe that handwashing after going to the bathroom is essential. Believe it or not, many adults and even university students don't share this feeling. It makes one wonder how far we have really advanced from primitive times, and makes it easy to understand why 30 years after chilling was proved not a cause of colds, this knowledge is not widespread.) (3) The mouth is not an attractive home for cold viruses, so kissing is allowable (and probably recommended, since stress is said to increase the severity of a cold57). (4) Coughing and sneezing are not, as previously believed, very likely to transmit a cold. So relax! A fear of being around cold sufferers is not justified.
"The difficulties encountered by experienced investigators in transmitting the common cold by inhalation of airborne droplets compared with the relative ease of hand-to-hand, hand-to-environmental surfaces, or fomites[objects]-to-hand transmission seem to indicate that the latter is the more important route…. [J. O.] Hendley and [J. M.] Gwaltney have shown that the more important portals of entry as far as cold infection is concerned are the nostrils and the eyes, rather than the mouth."58 "The results of volunteer studies suggest that rhinoviruses do not spread well through the air."59 "Evidence favors direct contact as the primary means for the spread of rhinovirus infections…. Rhinoviruses were shown to exhibit good survival on many environmental surfaces for hours and infection was readily transmitted by contact of finger to finger and finger to contaminated environmental objects, if the newly contaminated finger was then used to 'rub an eye' or touch the nasal mucosa…. Kissing was shown to be an ineffective means for transmission."60 "Don't breathe through your mouth or nose." (Robert Benchley)61
Prevention (to Date)
This should be a short chapter!
Either wash your hands, or move to the moon. Avoid shaking hands with human beings and anthropoid apes. Satisfied? If you are like me, you want more convincing.
The only known sure prevention is total isolation from most of humanity -- a cure that for most of us is worse than the disease. "Thus far no method has been found to avoid the common cold, unless by moving into complete isolation in the Arctic."62 "If isolation is complete, an individual or a community will not have colds. There have been some exceptions to this rule, but, in general, the rule holds. Despite severe exposure to bad weather conditions, people in isolated places are free from colds. We have some evidence that a community of at least a thousand people is required to keep a cold circulating. In a smaller population, as, for example, on a small, isolated island, colds gradually die out, only to reappear with explosive violence when contact again occurs with the outside world."63
In theory, vaccines should work. However, rhinoviruses alone come ion over 100 varieties, and who wants, or could afford, to be vaccinated 100 times just to prevent colds? "The technology is available for production of vaccines against a single rhinovirus type, and such a vaccine would be protective. However, the multiplicity of different rhinovirus types makes the feasibility of immunoprophylaxis [what a great word!] questionable."64 "Detection of moderate levels of antibody indicates immunity against the homologous virus, but unfortunately the number of serologically distinct viruses is so great that this implies no general immunity to colds."65 "The main reason that we do not develop immunity to colds, the way we do to childhood diseases like measles, and also the reason that no one has developed an effective vaccine against colds, seems to be that rhinoviruses exist in over eighty antigenically distinct serotypes. And each is different enough to escape the antibodies against the owner, but all are capable of delivering the same nasty cold."66 "Cold vaccines have been used for a number of years, but their prophylactic [preventive] value is uncertain. The results of one study of college students indicated that cold vaccines were of no more value than injected sterile water. It is interesting to note, however, that sterile water reduced colds by 61 per cent -- an obvious psychological effect."67
Vitamin C does not prevent colds. At most, it may shorten the cold and make you feel more comfortable while you are sick (after experimenting with it, I came to the same conclusion: without extra vitamin C, I was miserable when sick, and unable to use the time productively; when taking vitamin C, I still knew I was sick, but I was comfortable and could use the time to read). (This may be due to using the vitamin during the illness, and hence come under "cure" rather than "prevention".) "The use of vitamin C for the treatment or prevention of common colds has aroused great interest and much controversy. Available evidence indicates that its use does not reduce the number of episodes of respiratory illness but does decrease somewhat the total number of days of disability. The routine use of large doses of vitamin C for preventive treatment of common colds does not appear to be warranted from evidence available at this time."68 "Taking massive doses of vitamin C does not prevent colds, though it may provide some symptomatic relief."69 "On balance, the predominance of evidence favors the view that while some individuals may receive slight benefit in terms of symptoms, probably as a result of a mild antihistamine action of ascorbic acid, no consistent, reproducible improvement occurs in the frequency, duration, or severity of illness in the great majority of cases."70 Note, also, that excess vitamin C can cause serious side effects, such as kidney stones or (important for diabetics) dangerously erroneous urine sugar readings.71
Interferon is a chemical that the body produces while defending itself against cold viruses. It has demonstrated some preventive effect when sprayed into the nose, but is now not considered practical (for example, it causes unpleasant side effects, such as bleeding). "Rhinoviruses are sensitive to interferon, and it has been shown recently that intranasal interferon at relatively low dose levels can prevent rhinovirus infection. Again, there are questions of the practical usefulness of this approach."72 "At this point, interferon does not appear to be a suitable candidate material for prevention or treatment of common colds."73 "For the future, interferon holds great promise [is this safe speculation?], but for the present perhaps more emphasis should be put on attempts to reduce transmission of infection by simple hygienic measures -- such as diligent handwashing after every contact."74
At this point, most books on the common cold abandon hope in scientific answers and present a long list of harmless but ineffective nostrums. A good diet high in vitamins A and D and fiber, exercise, sunlight, fresh air, relaxation, adequate rest, and an optimistic and generous attitude are all nice to some degree (to what degree is never specified), and I certainly try to practice all of them! But none have ever proved sufficient to prevent colds, either alone or all together. These are called "Prevention by Platitude", and are like selling air (except in Los Angeles). "There is no evidence whatever that any of these various factors prevent a cold."75 "There are innumerable popular measures recommended for the prevention and treatment of the common cold but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that any are of real value [in preventing colds]."76 "Almost as many methods have been suggested to prevent a cold before it occurs as to cure a cold after the attack begins. Most of these procedures are based on faulty premises and are of little or no real value [in preventing colds]."77 It is important to note that "Although there is a popular belief that a cold may 'settle in the lung' or cause pneumonia, there is little clinical or radiologic evidence to support such a view."78
Thus, to date, the only practical, known preventive for the common cold is handwashing. "Ordinary thorough hand washing with soap and water removes the virus from contaminated hands."79 "One method available for preventing rhinovirus colds may be the application of rigid personal hygienic measures when a family member has a common cold. This would entail hand washing and avoidance of finger-eye and finger-nose contact."80 "So with hopes of prevention by drugs or vaccines [why are breakthroughs in medicine always expected to come in the form of chemicals or surgery?] or hopes of cure once symptoms have developed being no nearer a solution after more than a quarter of a century, it now seems that the only interesting information which has become available over the last decade is the suggestion that common cold viruses are more likely to be transmitted by hand to hand and hand to mucosal contact rather than by aerosol spread."81 "So far, common colds have not yielded to advances in modern science. Nothing we do seems to prevent their regular occurrence or alleviate the annoying symptoms. And we try hard. The 1985 over-the-counter market for common cold treatments is estimated to amount to $556 million."82
"Most medical scientists now agree that until an antiviral drug is developed, or until a reliable vaccine is perfected, no real progress in limiting the spread or incidence of colds can be anticipated."83 It is indeed enlightening to learn that, in banishing the common cold from my life, I was not making any real progress.
Cure (to Date)
Ditto. At this time, there is no cure for the common cold. "Common colds, like other virus infections of the respiratory tract, have so far eluded all attempts at their control; neither vaccines nor drugs have as yet made any significant impact on the very successful causal parasites."84 "There is no specific treatment for patients with the common cold. Only symptomatic treatment measures should be employed."85 "Despite 41 years of work, researchers at the Common Cold Unit [in Salisbury, England] have yet to come up with a cure. They are, of course, confident that they will. 'But it won't be tomorrow.'"86 "You've probably heard the maxim, 'Treat a cold and the symptoms will be gone in seven days; leave it alone and it will hang on for a week.' In short, the only known cure for the common cold or flu is 'tincture of time'. Most colds get better without any medical treatment."87 "Few significant advances have been made toward prevention or definitive [effective] treatment; and in recent years interest has been low. Major pediatric [medical care of children] textbooks devote no more than one-half to two pages to this illness, and formal teaching about the common cold is seldom offered in medical schools or continuing medical education courses. … There is no cure for the common cold. Aside from a few simple measures for general well-being, treatment only relieves some of its symptoms."88
Vitamin C, as mentioned earlier, might make you feel better while you are sick, and might shorten your cold a bit but it will not prevent or cure a cold, and can have serious side effects. (However, such have rarely been known to inhibit drug use in a society in love with drugs and instant cures, any more than air pollution, traffic jams, and gruesome accidents have inhibited automobile use in a society that is in love with the automobile.) "The use of large doses of vitamin C (one gram or more daily) remains of unproved value."89 "Large doses [of vitamin C] have been advocated for both prevention and treatment of common colds, but the evidence of benefit is at best equivocal."90 "A great deal has been written about the value of vitamin C. It has never been shown convincingly that this vitamin prevents or alters the course of the common cold."91
As to other drugs, "The spending for nonprescription cough and cold preparations, now nearly $1.2 billion a year, goes on despite the fact that taking pills, capsules and liquids will not yet cure a cold. … No available compound, including antibiotics, will fend off the assault of the cold virus or shorten its occupancy of your body."92 "According to the "Harvard Medical School Newsletter" (Jan. 1978), we spend more than $500 million per year for over-the-counter cold remedies -- and this does not include aspirin! In most cases the drugs do little or nothing to reduce the discomfort of the common cold or the flu and no drug cures either one."93 "Americans spend $735 million a year for cold and cough remedies. … Many of these drugs do neither good nor harm to the cold victim; but there is no doubt that they benefit the drug manufacturers. … Antihistamines have proved of no value against the common cold; furthermore, they produce in many users such side effects as drowsiness, dizziness, and headache."94
"It is important to mention that "antibiotics have no value in the therapy of the uncomplicated common cold."95 "Treatment is largely symptomatic. … Antibiotics do not prevent superinfection [re-infection] and should not be used."96 However, "despite the benign course [harmlessness of a cold], 95% of a group of physicians who participated in a prospective study of prescribing habits gave one or more prescription drugs to patients with the common cold, and 60% of these prescriptions were for antibiotics."97
Interferon, as mentioned above, has unpleasant side effects and is still just an "experimental" drug. The same applies to zinc. Since urban planner George Eby III began promoting zinc glutonate lozenges in 1980, there has been some excitement about zinc as a possible cure for the common cold. However, a psychological effect has not been ruled out: for a valid test, the subjects must not know that they are receiving the zinc, but it is hard to disguise the taste of zinc. Also, "Unpalatable taste, mouth irritation, and nausea have been reported side effects of zinc lozenge administration."98 "And foul tasting. Like you wouldn't believe. So foul, in fact, that it could only have been discovered by someone taking the remedy under extreme duress. … Over-the counter pills, such as the zinc glutonate Eby fed his daughter, are not harmful in moderate amounts. However, large doses of zinc can upset the balance of other trace minerals in the body, which can lead to some of the very problems caused by zinc deficiency."99
It looks as if we will have to wait, for a cure for the common cold. Personally, I don't think we will find a cure until we discover where the viruses spend the summer! (Or until we make it unnecessary for kids to go to school and for us to go to work!)
I recall being moderately healthy while growing up. I had my share of colds and childhood diseases. I enjoyed bicycling, hiking, and being outdoors, but I was not unusually athletic. My two favorite places to be were in a library, or in the woods (in that order). In diet, I was likewise only moderately healthy. I was not particularly attracted to "junk" foods, but it was not until I was 28 that I quit eating sugar (three times) and drinking coffee. Although I have often been accused of being a vegetarian (I must have a "vegetarian" image -- or is it a "vegetable" image?), I have never been that extreme. Although I was born with a touch of adventurousness (for example, my dad used to like to shock people by eating raw jellyfish straight from the bay), I am basically cautious and careful -- a mathematician after all!
In 1967 I moved to Los Angeles (to get a Ph.D. in Psychology/Psychometrics), and my health went downhill. By the time I left, in 1973, I was used to catching some virus every few months. Each time, I was "out" for a minimum of 5-6 days. On rare occasions this was useful; mostly, it was very annoying. For a believer in the "Protestant Ethic", it is very frustrating to be "unproductive". I attempted, in every way I could imagine, to prevent my getting sick.
In January, 1968, I became a member of Synanon Foundation, a charitable educational and research organization attempting to solve some of society's major social problems, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, alienation, war, and poverty. I had always had a vague longing to do something worthwhile and "bigger than myself", but had no clear direction. Here was an organization that was already successfully doing what I would have wanted to do, if I had thought of it! However, it was run by a businessman/philosopher (Charles E. Dederich), not a doctor/athlete, and had usually focused more on psychological and social health, than physical health. It wasn't until 1970 that the founder, Mr. Dederich, and the rest of the community (Synanon was operated as a residential community of some 1600 people) were finally able to eliminate smoking completely (to my great relief). In September, 1971, I moved out of my UCLA dormitory into a Synanon apartment and became a full ("resident") member of the community, which had its headquarters on the beach in Santa Monica, California.
I sold my car and began bicycling the 7 miles to school -- a leisurely 45-minute trip. Running was becoming popular, and I began running on the beach -- in moderation. In June, 1973, I moved to Synanon's Oakland facility, and bicycled a few miles from Synanon's San Francisco facility on Potrero Hill to teach at San Francisco State University (now called "California State University, San Francisco"). In the spring of 1974, Synanon and my life were revolutionized by adopting the "aerobics" exercise program proposed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper. Now that, it became clear, was what constituted true physical fitness!
If aerobics were my only benefit from living in Synanon, which it wasn't, I would still be forever in its debt. Aside from occasional periods of illness, I have practiced aerobic exercise religiously since that day. Being basically lazy and disorganized, I need a clear, simple, understandable regimen to integrate something as demanding as aerobic exercise into my life and make it feel "natural". By combining regular weekly hikes (on a dirt road, so I don't fall off!) with reading. I am only minimally aware of the effort it takes, and never have to decide whether to do it -- it is a "fixture" in my life. Since starting aerobics, I no longer know what it means to be "tired"! I feel sleepy, when I need to sleep, but that is a pleasant feeling. I never get tired.
However -- none of this exhilarating physical fitness gave me the least bit of protection against the common cold! I lived in a tightly-knit community (all of them also practicing aerobic exercise), and I continued to catch every virus that ever came my way.
Likewise, a superbly healthy diet, excluding even alcohol and (since 1977) sugar (all foods with sugar added or with a large amount of natural sugars), did nothing to keep me from getting sick. Vitamins, minerals, fresh fruits and vegetables, adequate protein, and wheat bran -- none of them prevented my catching colds and flu. The only exception, vitamin C, confirming research mentioned earlier, did nothing except make me feel better while I was sick. Instead of being totally miserable and not feeling "up" to doing anything but agonizing in bed, on vitamin C I was comfortable enough to at least read and (the "Protestant Ethic" again) "accomplish" something while sick. (For example, once while in bed for three weeks (in retrospect, that must have been hay fever!), I taught myself to speak Japanese.)
Similarly rest, clean "country" air, and a positive attitude were of no use against the viruses. My work schedule was usually seven days of 10-hour work days, alternating with seven days off work. You will not find a much more sensible, restful schedule than that. The air in western Marin County and next to Sequoia National Park, where I lived, could hardly be called "unclean" (at least in the 1970s). And the Synanon Game (a form of "encounter group" in which everyone in Synanon regularly participated) has been called an "emotional garbage can": it is not easy in such a community to keep bad feelings bottled up; they are vented almost daily in the "Game". Outside the Game, good manners and a cheerful attitude were almost guaranteed by normal social pressures (the same pressures that ensure non-action in the face of much destructive or illegal behavior in the larger society -- how many people will step in to stop someone from covering public places with graffiti, litter, etc.?).
The same goes for staying warm. All my life I had tacitly accepted the dictum, handed down from "mothers" (of both sexes) to children for millennia, that if I got chilled, I would get sick. I just knew that it was true. In spite of its not working -- in spite of the fact that keeping warm and dry never protected me from colds nor cured me of one before its time was up -- I continued to believe that I had to avoid chills at all times. I kept windows closed to avoid indoor drafts. I wore sweaters, down jackets, a wool cap, a raincoat -- whatever it took to stay warm and dry. I even exercised my brain a little and invented new ways to stay warm: I learned to put a wool blanket under my bottom sheet (since most mattresses aren't good insulators, and continue to let heat escape from below me), and I built a "platform" bed that utilized the insulating virtues of wood.
And, of course, I was very uncomfortable around anyone who was coughing, sneezing, or otherwise seemed sick. I knew that those virus-filled droplets of 200 mile-per-hour flying pus were sure to bring me down. And I was often right. Nevertheless, I felt guilty for being so selfish and unfriendly toward people in obvious need.
In October, 1978, having gotten sick enough to gain a moderate fluency in spoken Japanese, I flew to Japan to begin a 7-month adventure and scout for a dream of mine -- starting a Synanon community in Japan. (Incidentally, unlike French, which mimics a perpetual head cold, and German, which sounds like someone getting ready to spit, Japanese pronunciation is not better learned with a cold -- unless it's the only way you can get time off from work.) Bundled up as usual in my big down (well, Dacron) jacket and wool hat, I was still sick about half of the time I was in Japan. The first night that I camped in a mountain village, I discovered that my borrowed sleeping bag was a summer sleeping bag, not suitable for winter. I woke up with frost covering the inside and outside of my tent, inaugurating the first of my many Japanese colds.
On May 1, 1979, I returned to Synanon and San Francisco, and turned overnight into a cold-free (and flu-free) person. With the exception of a few isolated days when my circumstances were not under my control (to be explained shortly), I have not been sick since that day. And this in spite of watching hundreds of people continue getting sick around me.
Actually, it was almost accidental. I was not trying a new gimmick for fighting viruses. I was not thinking about my health at all. It just occurred to me that it was a nuisance to always be putting my coat on, walking a few yards to a vehicle or building, taking it off again, and finding some place to put it where I could find it again later. I was always in a building (where a coat was unnecessary), in a vehicle (where a coat was also unnecessary), or walking a short distance from one building or vehicle to another. (It may have also helped that it was May, and not January!) It suddenly occurred to me that I could not get very cold, or even wet, while travelling such a short distance.
So I began dressing so as to be comfortable indoors, and ignoring the state of the weather. It didn't occur to me that I was violating my belief about colds, perhaps because I didn't happen to be sick then, and I didn’t think about it for several months.
Finally, several months later, I noticed that I had stopped getting sick. That's interesting -- I wonder how I did that! As far as I could determine, the only thing that had changed in my life was the way I was dressing. Now, if I were a scientist, I would have done a double blind experiment (that's one using blind students with blind seeing-eye dogs) and found this effect to be significant at the .001 level (or whatever), QED. But being a mere mortal, I simply noted the obvious conclusion and have been happily cold- and flu-free ever since. Unlike the doctor who suggested that I put my coat back on and see if I got sick again, I am not interested in torturing myself or someone else for years in order to prove the obvious (namely, that we were not born with clothes, and have no business wearing so much of them; and our ancestors probably didn't dress very warmly, either). And I don't like being sick. Life is too short to spend it that way. By the way, I don't see how even blind subjects could be kept unaware that they weren't wearing a coat.…
Incidentally, the few times since 1979 when I have actually felt like I had a cold (usually for one day only) could be explained by circumstances (such as an old-fashioned roommate) that forced me to be much warmer than I wanted to be.
Once I noticed that my new way of dressing seemed to be protecting me from all colds and flu, and having a bit of my dad's adventurousness, I decided to make this a conscious experiment: I have tried to see how far I could carry this un-dressing, short of real pain or hyperthermia (I'm not a masochist nor an extremist). Once or twice a week for the last 25 years, I have gone hiking in all kinds of weather (including wind- and rain-storms, but not snow-storms), and temperature down to below freezing, in just "running" shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt. If it rains, I usually, though not always, use an umbrella. The umbrella is simply to keep the library's books reasonably dry; my shoes are usually full of water.
So far, I have never succeeded in catching a cold or flu or doing myself any other harm from this practice. And I have saved myself a lot of money that I used to spend on clothing, laundry, and heating, and had an enormous amount of fun experimenting with life, learning, and laughing inwardly at all of you who are overdressed and/or sniffling and sneezing -- which, as I said, is the purpose of life.
How to Prevent Colds
Sign in a Japanese Elementary School:
"Play Outdoors, with Minimal Clothing"
By now it should be very clear that cold and dampness do not contribute to catching colds. "Being exposed to a draft or getting chilled or overheated won't give you a cold and probably won't make you any more likely to catch one. The villains are viruses."100 "Don't stay indoors because you're worried about catching a cold or the flu. You don't catch these illnesses from cold weather, but from other people's viruses. You're more likely to be exposed to them indoors. Don't overheat your home."101 "Exposure to cold, against which mothers everywhere give repeated warning, may be a less important initiator of infections than exposure to people. Recent British studies, for instance, observe that alpine teams, who must endure subzero temperatures, diminished oxygen supply at very high altitudes above sea level, and wind-chill factors of frightening severity almost never catch cold, even when stressed close to the limit of endurance. However, three or four days of celebration back in heated living quarters with abundant food, adequate rest, and numerous visitors and well-wishers are likely to give mountain climbers the commonest respiratory diseases."102 "Many people believe that getting damp and chilled causes colds, but there is little to support this notion. If you get wet and feel chilly after being soaked in a winter storm, you may come down with a cold. This is probably a coincidence. The same thing may have happened to you many times before but these instances were forgotten because no cold occurred. Nevertheless, it is true that during the early stages of a cold, you may feel chilly. This chilliness is a symptom, not a cause, of the infection."103
So-called "primitive" peoples, not burdened with our mothers or our particular medical mythology, seem to intuitively understand the lack of connection between temperature and disease. "In 1832, during his expedition on H.M.S Beagle, the ship stopped near Cape Horn, and Darwin was able to observe the living habits of the Yahgan Indians. They were naked except for a fur cape thrown around their shoulders. Darwin marveled at the fact that these nearly naked people managed to survive in temperatures ranging from 3oC at night to 7oC during the day with driving rains. He even observed a naked woman nursing a recently born baby with sleet melting on her and the child's skin. His account closes as follows: 'At night, five or six human beings, naked and scarcely protected from the wind and rain of this tempestuous climate, sleep on the wet ground coiled up like animals.' Observations on Australian aborigines during the twentieth century showed that they too seemed to be able to survive the cold nights with winter temperatures from -2oC to 10oC without the benefit [is this the appropriate word, under the circumstances?] of clothing. They use windbreaks and have small fires close to them. Apparently this bit of heat absorbed from the fire together with rapid circulation through the body parts exposed to the cold makes survival possible."104
However, let me make it very clear that I am not advocating such extreme behavior! You will not find me among the Japanese Aikido enthusiasts going for a dip in an icy stream (I might enjoy watching them from the shore, however, and I might not be wearing a coat …), or hiking in a blizzard without adequate protection. Hypothermia (what used to be called "exposure") is a real danger when the cooling is extreme or prolonged enough, or one's protection (food, clothing, shelter, physical activity, etc.) is inadequate. This is a significant reduction of one's inner body temperature, and is not the subject of this book.
What I am talking about is simply abandoning the struggle to remain warm, and replacing it with a desire to at all times be cool. For me, this is accomplished by wearing only one layer of clothing (plus underwear, if desired), not wearing wool, not wearing coats or sweaters, and not turning the thermostat above 68oF (20oC). The key is not, however, a specific temperature, since other circumstances (for example, physical activity) affect how you feel. I feel comfortable hiking briskly up a mountain on a frosty, sunny morning, but 55oF feels more comfortable in bed. Luckily, the climate around my home is such that I can completely turn off my gas heater and its pilot light from about March through November. Most of the year I wear light pants and a short-sleeved shirt (no tie or undershirt) at work and shorts and a t-shirt or two at home and elsewhere. In winter, I switch to a long-sleeved shirt for work, but have to roll up the sleeves in order to be comfortable inside a vehicle or building.
"For centuries the skin has been overburdened by an excess of clothing because of the fear of 'obstructed' insensible perspiration. Such an over abundance has itself played a role in the development of a skin hypersensitivity to cold. … One might say with fair truth that only under extremely rare conditions is clothing essential for the maintenance of a 'constant' body temperature under a comfortable ambient temperature."105 "By adequate exposure not only the skin but the whole body is hardened, while the over-sheltered life leads to lessened strength and resistance to disease. … Clothes, by entangling air and keeping it stationary in the woven meshes, prevent heat loss. The entangled air is warmed and moistened by the skin, and thus the body, clothed and not exposed to wind, is enclosed in a layer of stagnant humid air. … Wind sweeps the stagnant air out of the clothes, and by throwing off the coat and opening up the shirt we gain relief. The clothing should be adapted to the requirements of climate and occupation, not to fashion, and as little worn as compatible with comfort. Women have, in recent years, shown how little is required. Men should follow their example and discard collars and take to shorts or kilts."106
"Clothes … have a distinct bearing on health. It was stated recently by Mr. Mark Clement of the Physiology Department of the Middlesex Hospital that his own 'well-nigh Olympian immunity' from the common cold -- in spite of all his attempts to 'catch it' from patients -- is due mainly to the fact that he wears no underclothing. Whilst I cannot believe that this one factor alone would suffice to ensure immunity for most people, it is certainly true that the eliminative and temperature-regulating functions of the skin are vitiated by excessive clothing. … Mufflers [scarves] should be firmly excluded, whatever the weather. … In the warmer weather no opportunity should be lost of getting into some simple and scanty garb like shorts and an open-necked cellular [porous] shirt, which allow maximum access of light and air to the skin. … Give the whole body a sunning and airing as often as possible."107 "On the whole, the author would reiterate the cool principle that has been stressed many times -- the concept that good function of the skin and health is aided by a comfortably cool or thermally neutral skin and impaired by a comfortably warm skin."108
Children are particularly at risk, since they often cannot control what they wear. This may be part of the reason why they have more colds than adults. "Experiments have proved how admirably children respond to open-air treatment and how they thrive on this hygienic discipline. Such children do not 'catch cold'. They eat well, sleep well and work well. The burden of woolens and flannels has been removed from their bodies and their minds, and a gratifying sense of well-being is the immediate consequence."109 "Clothing should be loose and free and not confine the movements of the body. Children should be allowed liberty to discard clothes for play and follow their natural instinct."110 "Many of us are so accustomed to sheltered lives, to warm clothing, draughtless houses, central heating, etc. and so brought up in a traditional fear of cold, that it is difficult to realize how resistant man naturally is to exposure to cold. We need to realize that the open-air life helps to make us healthy, happy and vigorous, and that life spent too much in stagnant, heated conditions brings on the very troubles which people mistakenly try to avoid by such conditions. Records obtained from places as widely apart as Manchester, Leysin in the Alps, San Francisco in U.S.A., and Durban in south Africa show that children who are put to live open-air lives, well clothed and fed, but with no artificial heating, suffer very little or not at all from catarrhs [runny noses] and infective fevers."111
What is the mechanism by which coolness prevents colds? I don't know. I see no obvious connection, so I will leave such research to the scientists who are interested in, and equipped for, discovering this. I still feel that we will have to wait till someone finds out how the viruses spend their summer vacations. If I had to speculate, however, I might point out that covering the skin deprives one of sunlight-induced vitamin D.
Note: while there is ample proof that chilling does not cause or "encourage" colds, I am not aware of any research on whether chronic coolness prevents colds. Apparently, everyone has been so obsessed with whether or not cold causes colds, that it didn't occur to anyone that it might actually prevent them.
Note #2: appropriate clothing, like a high-fiber diet, may be just another of many ways in which "primitive" man is superior to, or more "intelligent" than, civilized man. I think I am beginning to see the value of archaeology.
How to Cure a Cold
I don't know. (This proves that I am not a doctor -- "I don't know" is not part of the medical vocabulary.) I haven't had enough experience with the common cold, especially in the last 25 years, to be able to speculate. It has always felt natural, when sick, to stay in bed, or at least to rest. Other than that, I only know that a moderate amount of vitamin C (1-2 grams per day) seemed to make me comfortable enough to be able to read a book, whereas before, I was often too miserable to want to do anything. (Once, having waited four hours to get into a university hospital with a bad case of the flu, and wanting only a sleeping pill so I could sleep, I remember feeling for the first and only time in my life that it would be just fine if I were to die! The flu!)
When you discover that you no longer need to catch colds, you will undoubtedly become as bored with this issue as I am.
What Do Viruses Think?
Cannot resist discussing this issue, even though it may be totally irrelevant to the practical avoidance of colds, because there has been so much absolute nonsense written and spoken about this issue (the nature and distribution of consciousness -- or should I say, Consciousness?).
Viruses think just what you would expect them to think -- about their life, about how to get into a certain cell, about whether it's time to go into or come out of hibernation. But I had better start at the beginning -- what is consciousness?
Put a heavy book on your bathroom scale. The scale is conscious of, that is, registers, knows, remembers, and can make use of, the weight of the book. Remove the book. The scale know shows zero. It no longer is conscious of the weight of the book. It has forgotten that information. Stand on the scale. The scale is now aware of your weight, probably even more than you are (it has no need for denial, nor for accurate vision).
Get a camera containing film. Take a picture. The camera (plus film) is now conscious of the scene you just photographed. Now point the camera at a mirror, and take another picture. The camera is now self-conscious, to the extent that it has registered its own shape and, perhaps, color.
This talk about only humans being conscious, or only humans being self-conscious, or only humans having a certain level of consciousness, is just meaningless nonsense, since consciousness has never been adequately defined. We are no more conscious of weight than a scale; in fact, we may be less conscious, just as I am less conscious of snow than an Eskimo. I am more conscious of sound than a scale, however.
Recent research on chimpanzees and dolphins shows that both animals can be taught to understand sign language and use that language to carry on a meaningful conversation with human beings about matters of mutual interest. While we have somewhat different apparatuses for collecting and making use of information, I cannot believe that the perception and thought mechanisms are very different. And making use of animals (or plants or anything else) as informants will undoubtedly gain us more knowledge than ignoring their ability to perceive and think (somewhat similarly to and somewhat differently from us) and communicate their conclusions to us. It is quite possible that they could teach us something, if we make the effort to communicate. My two cats have skillfully taught me how important it is to them (1) to eat; (2) to eat a certain flavor of canned cat food; (3) to scratch them; and (4) to let them outdoors. Undoubtedly we could develop a much larger mutual vocabulary, if I would make the effort. Just as they have enriched my life by what they have taught me (for example, it is much more enjoyable to eliminate outdoors in a garden, than indoors in a cat box), I have enriched theirs by showing them what a good bed a paper bag makes. (However, if we don't even think the Russians have something to teach us -- enough to make it worthwhile to be their friends -- what hope is there of taking chimpanzees, dolphins, and cats seriously?)
In principle, then, we may some day learn to communicate with viruses, and even learn how they see the world and what they are concerned about. (Then maybe we could negotiate a mutually agreeable solution to our problems with the common cold and other diseases.) If a chimpanzee can spontaneously ask us for a banana, in a language we have taught it, why couldn't a virus, in its limited vocabulary, ask us for what it needs ("Where's a good spot to spend my summer vacation?"). Perhaps it already is.
While it is not necessary to go to this extreme in order to avoid the common cold, "The data show that more than 85 percent of our male and female respondents indicated that nudism had a beneficial effect on their physical health. Less than 1 percent of our respondents indicate a detrimental effect."112 "In the early days of nudism a great deal of emphasis was placed on health. Group athletic events were common, and great curative powers were attributed to exposure to the sun. As nudism developed, however, this health aspect diminished in importance. … American social nudism now accents relaxation and sociability as major benefits more than physical health. … Physical health (39%) and sunbathing (30%) are the next two frequently mentioned benefits. It is notable that in the case of physical health only three questionnaires list specific benefits. These are with regard to a 'chronic skin condition', a 'muscular and nervous condition', and fewer colds. Usually the words 'physical health' or even just 'health' are given without any elaboration or substantiation."113
Apparently, nudism has not received much scientific study.
Practical Considerations -- How to Un-Dress
For most of the year, indoors and out, I wear a sturdy pair of hiking shorts, a t-shirt or two, and a pair of Adidas running shoes. Most of these items last at least four years (now there is an inexpensive wardrobe!). I am especially impressed with the running shoes, which, after more than four years of very rough use, such as weekly climbs up and down rocky hillsides, still refuse to die. I (statistically, not absolutely) never wear a coat, sweater, vest, scarf, warm hat, or gloves. At work I yield slightly to the "professional" mystique (more later about mystiques), and wear long pants and more "professional" shirts (usually short-sleeved) and shoes, but never a suit or tie. By the way, I heard recently that ties, by restricting blood flow to the brain, actually impair brain function. That explains a lot!
It is important to emphasize that these rules are not absolute. My goal is not to dress a certain way, although that does simplify explaining and publicizing my theory. My goal is to remain, at all times, "cool" rather than "warm". This is the general principle. How you apply the principle in practice is up to you. If you feel a need for a jacket while skiing in a blizzard, I leave that to your judgment. There may also, of course, be medical exceptions, such as premature infants, the elderly, or accident victims in shock. The important thing is to think about the principle and experiment with it, gradually, under safe conditions. From a friend I also learned, after every shower to take a cool shower to bring my skin temperature back to normal. Otherwise, the unnatural warmth caused by the (warm or hot) shower would make me lethargic.
Room thermostats, similarly, should be set to "cool" rather than "warm". This brings us to a very important point: language. Of course, no thermostats are marked "cool" or "warm", because this judgment is subjective. To me, "cool" is 55-68oF. (I don't even need to use my heater for eight months of the year, because during that time, my house naturally stays above 55oF.) To you, "cool" might mean 45oF or 70oF. So what is cool? Cool is the temperature range that is comfortable, without inducing lethargy: above 70oF, I start to feel more and more like doing less and less (except going swimming to cool off). And what is "comfortable" is greatly affected by what you think.
It is 65oF outside. You say it is "cold", and I say it is "cool". The objective temperature is the same; the attitude toward it is different. "Cold" means "it is 65oF, and that is bad for me". "Cool" means "it is 65oF, and that is good (or not harmful) for me". So besides changing your way of dressing, you must also change the way you think about temperature, and in accordance with that, the language that you use! I no longer use the words "cold", "chilly", "freezing", "bitter cold", "bad weather", "nasty weather", "gloomy weather", etc., because I believe such weather to be good (or at least not harmful), rather than bad. The proper words are "cool", "refreshing", "exhilarating", and so on. A couple of times I've called up a radio station announcing "bad" weather and explained that rain and clouds are neither good nor bad, and that I (perhaps because I grew up in western Washington State) happen to see them as good; but I don't think it had much effect. But the news media are supposed to be objective, aren't they?
Language and thought, and even bodily function, go hand in hand. If you believe that cold and dampness are harmful or dangerous, you will call cold, rainy weather "nasty", and you will shiver and act fearful. Of course! Now that I believe that cold (in moderation) is good for me, I call it "cool", I no longer shiver or get "goose flesh", and I am relaxed and unafraid in what others call "cold", rainy weather. Cold, short of hypothermia, doesn't hurt you. The reason many people feel uncomfortable in it is that they believe the old wives' tale (notice how we blame it on women, although both men and women believe it, and on old people, although young people don't question it). "People must put away the over-fear of cold which possessed the upper classes of the Victorian age, such as are so well portrayed in Miss Austen's Emma".114 "I started using words like 'brisk' and 'crisp' to describe the indescribably cold mornings."115
You can have a lot of fun observing how people respond to cold or rain. This morning, as I walked to the library in the rain, an umbrella in one hand and a book in the other, I got great pleasure seeing everyone else bundled up in coats and sweaters, some of them screwing up their faces in response to the cold or wind or rain, but no one looking like they were enjoying the weather. If, as Norman Cousins says, humor is good medicine ("It worked. I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an analgesic [pain killing] effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep."116), then I keep myself very well medicated. You needn't trek to the source of the Amazon to find amusing and enlightening superstitions (beliefs that are held in spite of scientific, verifiable evidence to the contrary, and that are not tested to see if they are really true). Just look around you. "Popular superstition not only holds a firm grip upon the ignorant and unreasoning mind, but it is the subconscious, partly emotional childhood influence that grooves the thinking of broadly educated and [so-called] scientific men."117 And until a few years ago, I was exactly like them.
If the unexamined life is not worth living, then I would add that a life without experiment is not worth living. "I made my body the subject of continuous tests and experiments." 118 There is no joy like the joy of learning, especially when Nature is your teacher and your questions are posed in the form of physical experiments. Three days ago my electric stove "blew up" amid dimmed house lights, flying sparks, and particles of something black and sticky all over the kitchen. I cannot describe the joy I feel that I was able to take a stove apart, for the first time in my life, and (with the help of a friend and two experts – an electronics engineer and an appliance repairman – who undoubtedly prevented an even bigger disaster) replace the ruined parts for $7, put it back together while losing only one essential part, and have it now work "like new". I am proud of the small part I played in this, but I am even more in awe of all the people who helped to invent the stove, and of the manufacturers and the laws of nature that are so reliable that such a stove can "work". What a long procession of failed and successful experiments must have led to the shining wonder (one of the things I like to do when I take something apart is clean it thoroughly) that now forges my (questionable, at best) cooking!
There are other parts of my lifestyle that are apparently not sufficient by themselves to prevent colds but that might be important factors anyway. Just in case un-dressing is not sufficient in itself, I will list these here.
Diet: I don't eat "sweets". By this I mean foods with sugar added, foods consisting mostly of ("natural") sugar (such as honey or dates), or foods intentionally made sweet by other means (for example, juices containing "corn syrup solids"). I eat four tablespoons of what bran daily. And I try to eat a "balanced" diet in the traditional sense with a minimum of beef, pork, lamb, and similar meats.
Exercise: I follow Kenneth Cooper's "aerobics" regime, usually by hiking once or twice a week for three hours each time (elevation gain: approximately 2000 feet). I usually hike while reading a book, which saves time (gets my reading done) and provides a nice distraction from the, uh, "effort" involved. Hiking with a friend is also effective. For people without convenient hills, forced to work in a big city, stair climbing is a good alternative. I have climbed almost every building over 30 stories in San Francisco. I am always amazed at how easy it is (it only takes about 15 minutes), and yet how few people believe that they can do it. If you can climb one step, climbing a skyscraper is simply a matter of repeating that movement a few times at the proper pace (that is, so that your leg muscles "recover" between steps). One skyscraper is a good aerobic "portion", equivalent to running a mile or two, but much easier on the knees (provided that you descent via the elevator!). It also provides a quiet place to read.
My knees tell me that running, particularly on pavement, is bad for me. I believe them. The only exception I make is where a sandy beach is available. There, running can be a joy. (My dentist informed me that after running 35 miles per week for many decades, he ruined his hips and had to have them resurfaced.)
Swimming is also good, but hard on library books. When a lake, rather than a hill, is available, I swim a half mile. I once computed (there's not much else you can do while swimming, unfortunately) that, swimming steadily for 24 hours a day, it would take only three months to swim to Japan.
Conclusion: On Waste and Intellectual Judo
In January, 1979, I was lying on the floor of my room in Kawasaki, Japan, trying to absorb the Japanese language by osmosis from a portable radio with the least possible effort, while my insides struggled to shame a Japanese cold virus into committing seppuku. I was wondering why I had brought over twenty pounds of Japanese dictionaries and language texts from America, but in four months of being in Japan hadn't even opened most of them. I started recalling my earliest memories of pleasurable learning.
When I was nine, I discovered in a basement storeroom, among my dad's Army memorabilia, three U.S. Army Education Manuals entitled College Algebra, Trigonometry, and Calculus. I fell in love with the crisp formulas and the concrete physical problems they described. Of course I couldn't understand most of it, but that didn't matter much – I knew I loved it and wanted to understand it. The only part I remember actually understanding, at first, was "Permutations and Combinations", although I could never figure out what was so exciting to the author about the statement "1x2x3=3!"!
Later, when I was in high school, I used to browse among the math books in the State Library. My favorite book, with its sensuously mysterious Greek symbols and heady concepts, was called General Topology (by the University of California's John Kelley). I could only understand the first four pages, but I read those four pages over and over, and flipped through the rest of the book (I have always examined books from back to front, trying to get a visual perspective of what it is about) looking for other tidbits that I could collect, like pretty rocks.
Then I had the answer: there are two types of learning: there is the joyful browsing and pretty rock collecting – the instinct we know from birth; and there is the laborious, careful, painstaking work of amassing, analyzing, organizing, and culling facts -- that we learn in school. Both are essential: browsing gives instant pleasure, arouses passion, and trips over valuable new insights; working at learning builds the planes and runways by which we can fly off to new adventures (in this case, literally!). And both can be overdone: people who only browse have a hard time earning a paycheck; people who only work don’t have much fun (there it is again – the purpose of life!) and end up deadening their desire to learn. By falling into what I thought was the "best" way to learn Japanese -- reading only my favorite text and feeling obligated to do all of the exercises at the end of each section (the "work" road to knowledge is paved with "shoulds"), I had killed my desire to learn. I had fallen into a rut.
Another example: In 1961 I entered the University of California in Berkeley, as a freshman. I used to bicycle to campus every morning. After a while, I noticed that if I took the same route every day, I would have the same thoughts; whenever I varied my route, I would bump into something new, and have a new idea. From this I deduced that since the brain consumes a lot of energy (though we aren't aware of it), in order to conserve energy, whenever possible, it goes on "auto-pilot". (Look around; do you see a lot of people who appear to be on auto-pilot? That explains a lot, doesn't it?!) So if you find yourself in a rut, or in need of some fresh ideas, it's good to force your brain to think, by placing it in an unfamiliar situation.
What does this have to do with the common cold? For 36 years I had been in a rut called "chilling causes colds". It wasn't until I quite accidentally decided to try a new path, that I fell upon a way to eliminate the common cold and related viruses from my life. Most of the human race has been muddling in this rut for centuries.
How to discover something new: break out of a rut -- any rut. You will be amazed at the insights that result and the refreshing breezes that begin coursing through your brain. This is not to say that any of these new thoughts will be correct. Correctness can only be verified through a lot of work. But if you are headed in the wrong direction, no amount of work will get you where you need to go. Experiment! Test your assumptions. You have nothing to lose but your boredom. Look around you: the world is full of ruts needing to be broken and assumptions begging to be tested. For example: (1) Everyone should be able to drive a car as far and as often and wherever they choose (in direct conflict with the preservation of breathable air and the size of our roads); (2) There is no limit to the number and size of roads and freeways that we can build (in direct conflict with our need for clean air and a pleasant place to live and a suitable place to raise food, wildlife habitat, as well as the finiteness of available land); (3) There is no limit to the amount of land we can cover with houses (in conflict with "all of the above"); (4) There is no limit to the allowable size of the national debt; (5) Humans, although we arrived here 3.8 billion years after life began, own the Earth, and therefore have the right to go wherever we want and do whatever we want.
Inertia (momentum) is another metaphor for being stuck in a rut. For several years I was apprehensive that some scientist or doctor might hit on the same insight about colds as me and publish it before I could finish my book. But then I noticed how deeply they are grooved into the drug/vaccine rut, and I relaxed. "Most medical scientists now agree that until an antiviral drug is developed, or until a reliable vaccine is perfected, no real progress in limiting the spread or incidence of colds can be anticipated."119 "The fear of cold air frequently begets an illogical sequel in the faith inspired by the medicine bottle. If this faith that moves a great number of lay minds to believe in the curative power of drugs could direct itself towards the healing virtues of an abstemious and well-chosen diet, of light, air and water baths, and of exercise, the resulting benefits would be of such magnitude as to create a new psychology of health which is much overdue. … Medical men have hitherto been trained mainly to diagnose and treat illnesses; they must in future be trained to prevent disease."120 Judo is a sport that theoretically (Japanese sports are so intellectual!) utilizes an opponent's own momentum to bring him down. It has long been revered by the "little guy" (nowadays we should probably say "staturally disadvantaged") as a paradigm (model) for how the weak, but clever, can defeat the strong (but clumsy). A clever samurai entrepreneur could probably utilize the medical "establishment's" momentum toward drugs to take much of their preventive medicine business away from them. On the other hand, a clever samurai doctor could avoid this fall by shifting her approach to teaching prevention. However, because preventive medicine seems to be not as lucrative as pushing pills and giving shots ("why go to a doctor when you're not sick?" is the common view), most doctors will probably take a fall (lose business).
Drug companies, likewise, stand to lose an enormous amount of money if people stop catching colds or stop worshipping The Pill. A quick-footed, supple-brained company could probably protect itself by switching some of its efforts toward food production (for example, growing algae), waste management, pollution control, or some other ecologically sound activity. However, due to inertia, or more likely, the enormous profits to be made selling worthless chemicals to gullible consumers, this is not very likely -- which gives a mental or entrepreneurial judoist a perfect opening to steal this business out from under the noses of the drug companies, just as Apple "stole" a huge territory from IBM, and just as some garage start-up will undoubtedly "steal" from Apple, now that it is an unwieldy giant.
This illustrates the danger of goal-directed research, such as the current graze for SDI ("Star Wars" -- euphemistically termed the Strategic Defense Initiative): if you are looking for a drug to kill viruses, it is very unlikely that you will discover a new way of dressing, even if it protects you from these viruses. I was not looking for a cure to the common cold, when I decided to stop wearing a coat!
In fact, probably a good technique for an entrepreneur is to find a large body of people in a rut, and simply ask what would be a good way or reason to break out of that rut. For example, other groups that will lose an enormous amount of income if people stop dressing like baked potatoes are the clothing manufacturers and retailers. Even grandmothers, who love to knit warm things for their loved ones, will be out of work. I would suggest reviving the art of body painting, as practiced by more sensibly dressed native peoples. Perhaps those same natives could be hired to do the painting, greatly aiding their economies….
Many energy company employees may be out of work if people stop overheating their homes and offices. But maybe they could be employed tearing down old nuclear power plants and offshore drilling rigs.
Public transit companies, on the other hand, should be very happy. No longer will people be able to say they are afraid to ride buses and trains because of a danger of catching colds. Even if there are still some "baked potatoes" there coughing and sneezing at 200 miles per hour (they should be required to sit facing backwards, so that some of the energy of their sneezing will help propel the vehicle forward), the non-baked (mashed? half-baked? raw?) potatoes like myself will be immune (and we will wash our hands, just to be sure).
A new wave of joy and energy will overcome people freed from the flu and the common cold. In compensation for losing an excuse to stay home from school or work, when we do take a day off, we will be well enough to enjoy it and utilize it fully. We can freely and without fear visit sick friends and family members. We can thoroughly enjoy not just sunny warm days, but even windy, cold (except that we won’t call them that anymore), or even cloudy, rainy days. While the remaining baked potatoes cower at home with their hot toddies, we can relax in half-empty museums or theaters, or even enjoy lush green parks jumping with frogs, ducks, and other wild creatures. Freed from the fear of cold, we will awaken to "that other half" of nature as if we had never seen it -- as if we had just been born.
A perceptive friend once summed me up in three words: "Mike hates waste". It's true. Un-dressing has saved me a lot of money over the years, from savings in clothing, laundry, medical bills, drugs, gas, electricity, and work- or play time not lost. One of my sources said that the conqueror of the common cold would become "the wealthiest scientist of all time."121 On the contrary -- all of us will become a litter richer. (Probably the only one who will become truly rich will be the smart lady who invests in pantyhose futures, betting that they will go down.)(No pun intended -- honest.) The world will be saved millions of dollars in misdirected research on new chemicals to upset the body's natural balance, in the process generating new chemicals that cause new diseases. There will be a renascence in travel, as people find that they have more free time and more energy with which to make use of the free time. Night schools will flourish. Sweaters, scarves, and babies' booties will be recycled into blankets for the truly needy. Neckties and double-breasted suits will be used to string up clothing company executives – oops, sorry, I got carried away there.
I promised you a treatise on mystiques (by now you know that my "treatises" are measured in sentences, rather than the usual volumes). Doctors have a mystique, lawyers have a mystique, freeway planners have a mystique, electronics engineers have a mystique, computer programmers have a mystique, gurus and other religious leaders have a really fine mystique, fry cooks have a mystique -- almost everybody has a mystique these days. If you don't have your own mystique, it is certain that you are underprivileged. What is a mystique? It is an obfuscation. See? I just did it to you. To create a mystique, you make a subject confusing, assert that understanding it requires special, rare talents, or in other ways make knowledge of it relatively hard to get. Mystiques are closely related to ruts.
I don't think that mystiques are always the fault of their owners. For most of my life I have harbored mystique around medicine and doctors. I felt that medical knowledge and practice could only be mastered by "medical-type people", and that I was not that type (but rather a mathematical and outdoorsy type) of person. Finally, after several of my friends in Synanon became EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) and were obviously having a lot of fun and providing a free ambulance service for a section of the county, I decided to try it. I took the course, and was shocked to pass the test and be certified as an EMT. However, I still knew that I wasn't a "real" EMT, because I wasn't a "medical-type person". I worked on the ambulance for two years and then took a refresher class and renewed my certificate. I was amazed, while studying for the refresher, how much I really had learned the first time. I even got a certificate to teach CPR. I rarely got to use this emergency medicine, but I know that I could make use of most of it, if I ever had to, in spite of still clinging to remnants of the mystique.
Most knowledge and skill is gained in a series of simple steps that almost anyone can surmount. It is oversimplified, but basically true, that if you can read, you can become a doctor. If you read what they read, then (except for laboratory and clinical experience) you will know what they know. It was then that I discovered that doctors don't always read, or accept after they read, the right sources. (It doesn’t follow that, if you are a doctor, you can read.) Decades after the "chilling" theory of colds was disproved, many doctors, in their hearts, still believe in it and practice it. Of course this isn’t surprising. I know that sugar is bad for me, but I still find a plate of cookies tempting.
How does one remove a mystique and break down the knowledge barriers? Make simplifying assumptions. Assume that the objects of your mystique put on their pants (or pantyhose – you can never tell these days) one leg at a time, the same as you. Assume that the very same facts and formulas that are available to the freeway planner are available to you. Assume that if you wire your stove the same way the repairman would wire it, it will work just as well as if the "expert" had done it. Assume, until proven otherwise, that chimpanzees and dolphins have the same capabilities and consciousness that we have. Don't assume that "civilized" man lives better than "primitive" man, when it’s simpler to assume they are the same. Assume that if we needed clothing, we would have been born in it.
Then, after you have made the necessary demystifying assumption, test it. That is where the fun comes. If you find that dressing like a banana doesn't protect you from colds, but unpeeling does, voila! If you are told that only humans can use symbols, but you are able to teach a chimpanzee to carry on a conversation in sign language, eureka!
I wonder if un-dressing could do as much for other diseases related to viruses, such as cancer and AIDS? … Experiment!
For 27 years since I wrote this book, I worried that someone would "scoop" my idea and publish before me. I needn't have worried. The science of cold prevention has made essentially no progress in those 27 years: "There are no proven methods for prevention of colds other than good handwashing and avoiding contact with infected persons. No significant effect of vitamin C or echinacea for prevention of the common cold has been confirmed."122 "Specific Therapy: none … Specific Prevention: none".123 "There are no vaccines. … folk remedies do not prevent the common cold."124
1. Hillary, p.306.
2. Vandeman, p.1.
3. I use "he" to mean "he or she", of course.
4. Dederich, 1977.
5. Smillie, pp.7-8.
6. Hill, p.10.
7. Stickler et al, p.4.
8. Couch, p.167.
9. Smillie, pp.8-9.
10. Irwin, p.2.
11. Couch, p.172.
12. Rice, p.70.
13. The Medicine Show, p.27.
14. Reed, 1979, p.753.
15. USA Today, p.14.
16. Andrewes, p.127.
17. Andrewes, p.131.
18. Dowling et al, pp.59-65.
19. The Best Medicine, p.303.
20. Krupp and Chatton, p.111.
21. Current Pediatric Diagnosis and Treatment, p.311-2.
22. Renbourn, pp.3-4.
23. Hill, p.45.
24. Hill, p.46.
25. Smillie, p.24.
26. Kapikian, pp. 1691-2.
27. Blackiston's Pocket Medical Dictionary, p.185.
28. Smillie, pp.13-14.
29. Smillie, p.20.
30. Current Pediatric Diagnosis and Treatment, p.311.
31. Reed, 1979, p.755.
32. Cate, p.569.
33. Andrewes, pp.129-130.
34. Hill and Clement, p.16.
35. Ibid, p.14.
36. Bennett, p.62.
37. Pauling, p.8.
38. Ibid, p.8.
39. Andrewes, p.129.
40. Andrewes, p.129.
41. Rice, pp.70-1.
42. Hill, p.5.
43. Hill and Clement, p.19.
44. Renbourn, p.457.
45. Ibid, pp.3-4.
46. Ibid, pp.5-6.
47. Ibid, pp.7-8.
48. Ibid, pp.55.
49. Clark and MacMahon, p.313.
50. Renbourn, p.216.
51. Reed, 1979, p.754-5.
52. The Medicine Show, p.29.
53. Andrewes, pp.129.
54. Ibid, p.145.
55. Hill, p.5.
56. Renbourn, p.219.
57. Tyrrell, p.185.
58. Klumpp, p.1s.
59. Gwaltney, p.55.
60. Couch, pp.170-1.
61. Robert Benchley, quoted in Tripett, p.150.
62. Stickler et al, p.7.
63. Smillie, pp.22-3.
64. Last, p.151.
65. Reed, 1981, p.380.
66. Wiley, p.108.
67. Miller and Burt, p.399.
68. Kapikian, p.1694.
69. Butler and Rayner, p.305.
70. Wyngaarden and Smith, p.1205.
71. The Medicine Show, pp.38-9.
72. Last, p.151.
73. Couch, p.170.
74. Scott, p.1414.
75. Smillie, p.63.
76. Swain et al, p.152.
77. Smillie, p.57.
78. Stickler et al, p.6.
79. Reed, 1981, p.384.
80. Kapikian, pp.1694-5.
81. Hillary, p.306.
82. Douglas, p.114.
83. The Medicine Show, p.31.
84. Reed, 1979, p.753.
85. Kapikian, p.1694.
86. Barrow, p.64.
87. "Cold Facts for Self-Care", p.9.
88. Stickler et al, pp.4-6.
89. Krupp, p.111.
90. Cate, p.569.
91. Stickler et al, p.7.
92. "Cold Remedies that Work", p.53.
93. Bennett, p.105.
94. The Medicine Show, pp.28 and 32.
95. Kapikian, p.1694.
96. Kempe et al, p.312.
97. Stickler et al, p.4.
98. Geist et al, p.622.
99. Zorn, 1985.
100. "Cold Remedies that Work", p.53.
101. "Your Cold-Weather Survival Guide", p.94.
102. Palmer, p.63.
103. Irwin, p.8.
104. Landsberg, pp.40-1.
105. Renbourn, p.250.
106. Hill and Clement, pp.11-12.
107. Hill, pp.45-8.
108. Renbourn, p.403.
109. Hill and Clement, p.16.
110. Ibid, p.96.
111. Ibid, p.25.
112. Hartman et al, p.177.
113. Ilfeld et al, pp.24, 40, and 75.
114. Hill and Clement, pp.28-9.
115. "Your Cold-Weather Survival Guide", p.92.
116. Cousins, p.40.
117. Smillie, pp.28-9.
118. Hill, p.14.
119. The Medicine Show, p.31.
120. Hill and Clement, p.17.
121. Hillary, p.306.
122. Marcdante et al, p.386.
123. Porter and Kaplan, p.1396.
124. Ibid, p.1405.
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Copyright: Michael J. Vandeman.