Steve Jobs Died Because of “Magical Thinking” – Reality is Unforgiving

January 20, 2012

The brother of a close friend thinks I’m a jerk because I tried very hard to present evidence to him that acupuncture is simply magical thinking with no basis in science. I mean, of course, I am a jerk, but not for that reason.

In attempting this, I was going against the very good advice of W.C. Fields (“Never wise up a chump”). I also pissed off a veterinary orthopedic surgeon and some Labrador rescue folks over the same issue last year (as we struggle to deal with our dog, Huxley’s hip dysplasia).

Often when I tell people to 1.) Not take my word and 2.) Look at the evidence, I’m told in response, what’s the harm? If somebody wants to believe in Chinese energy healing from the ancient past, who is really hurt?


I just finished the excellent Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs and it seems clear to me that Jobs died because he didn’t take his [Western] doctor’s advice. If he had promptly done what was medically recommended, he likely would’ve lived  much longer and gone on to die of something else. All quotes are from Chapter 35.

During a routine kidney check-up in 2003, doctors found a shadow on Job’s pancreas. Further investigation revealed it to be a tumor. His pancreatic cancer could have been excised when it was an islet cell. According to his doctor, “[it] could be removed before it had definitely spread.”

“To the horror of his friends and wife, Jobs decided not to have surgery to remove the tumor which was the only accepted medical approach.”

Instead, Jobs kept to his strict vegan diet, adding large quantities of fresh carrot and fruit juices.

“To that regimen he added acupuncture, a variety of herbal remedies, and occasionally a few other treatments he found on the Internet or by consulting people around the country, including a psychic. For a while he was under the sway of doctor that stressed the use of organic herbs, juice fasts, frequent bowel cleansings, hydro-therapy and the expression of all negative feelings.”

“His friends repeatedly urged him to have the surgery and chemotherapy. ‘Steve talked to me when he was trying to cure himself by eating horseshit and horseshit roots, and I told him he was crazy,” [Andy] Grove recalled. [Art] Levinson said that he ‘pleaded every day’ with Jobs and found it ‘enormously frustrating that I just couldn’t connect with him.’ The fights almost ruined their friendship. ‘That’s not how cancer works,’ Levinson insisted when Jobs discussed his diet treatments. ‘You cannot solve this without surgery and blasting it with toxic chemicals.’ Even the diet doctor Dean Ornish, a pioneer in alternative and nutritional methods of treating diseases, took a long walk with Jobs and insisted that sometimes traditional methods were the right option. ‘You really need surgery,’ Ornish told him.”

” ‘I think Steve has such a strong desire for the world to be a certain way that he wills it to be that way,’ Levinson speculated. ‘Sometimes it doesn’t work. Reality is unforgiving.’ ”

“In the past he had been rewarded for what his wife called his ‘magical thinking’ – his assumption that he would will things to be as he wanted. But cancer does not work that way. [Laurene] Powell [his wife] enlisted everyone close to him, including his sister Mona Simpson, to try and bring him around. in July 2004 a CAT scan showed that the tumor had grown and possibly spread. It forced him to face reality.”



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