Bruce Lipton’s Magical Membrane Tour!

Lipton’s idea of ‘science’

In his book ‘The Biology of Belief – Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles’, Bruce Lipton presents a montage of accepted biology, pseudo-science and religious speculation. The barriers between these three broad categories are not defined, as Lipton drives on to establish his anti-Darwinian viewpoints. Lipton propagates the concept of miracle-working commonly found within the Judeo-Christian tradition, (which accommodates an all-knowing theistic entity ‘suspending’ the laws of nature at a whim), whilst insisting upon a ludicrous re-interpretation of biological science. To be clear, Lipton insists that what he is saying is ‘science’ and not ‘religion’, when in fact it is pseudo-science (with no basis in established fact). It is obvious that Lipton deliberately destroyed his career as a lecturer in legitimate biology, because he thought that the path of peddling false hope to a poorly informed or disparate audience possessed the potential to make him far more money – and this certainly has been the case. However, there is another view of what he is doing, and that is misrepresenting legitimate theistic religion. Whereas a devout follower of the Judeo-Christian religion might wait decades with a calm mind and disciplined body for their god to touch their lives with his ‘grace’ (even thought to be experienced at the point of physical death), Lipton wipes-out and misrepresents this divine relationship by suggesting that god can be replaced with ‘ego’ or ‘selfish will-power’. This development might well be indicative of Lipton climbing upon the bandwagon of co-opting (and misrepresenting) various Eastern philosophical systems for personal profit.

Lipton entitles Chapter Three as ‘The Magical Membrane’, and no matter what other nonsense he writes or states, his entire theory hinges on his audience accepting without question that a thin, semi-porous wall possesses a) self-consciousness, and b) is in direct communication with the mind of the individual. Without an individual being able to consciously open and close the cell membranes at will, or the cell membranes being able to consciously ‘switch on’ or ‘switch off’ genes in the DNA of the nucleus, Lipton’s theory has no foundation. The rest of his verbiage I would suggest is rhetorical camouflage designed to hide the moribund state of his thinking, or throw people of the scent and prevent others working things out for themselves. This is how Lipton defines a cell membrane:

‘The membrane is a liquid crystal semiconductor with gates and channels.’

(Page 60 of the 2008 Hay House edition)

This is an actual description of a cell membrane:

‘The semipermeable membrane surrounding the cytoplasm of a cell.’


A more elaborate definition reads:

‘A microscopic double layer of lipids and proteins forming the boundary of cells or organelles.’


Lipton relates how he came to his bizarre conclusion at 2am in morning, and how he confirmed this ‘new’ biology by accessing a book entitled ‘Understanding Your Microprocessor’. Lipton’s ‘new’ biology was nothing less than comparing the naturally formed human cell membrane (developed over millions of years of evolutionary natural selection) with the artificial (and man-made device) of a computer microchip (with gates and channels). It is this jump of imagination that Lipton tries to hide with his showmanship. He writes as if he is a misunderstood ‘nutty’ professor, and prances around the stage like a demented clown in a poorly fitting business suit. He seems to think that if he slows down or becomes unnecessarily ‘still’ for a moment, his fee-paying audience will realise the error in his thinking. An organic cell membrane and a computer microchip share no structural or functional compatibilities, and yet Lipton states:

‘The fact that a cell membrane and a computer chip are homologues means that it is both appropriate and instructive to better fathom the workings of the cell by comparing it to a personal computer. The first big-deal insight that comes from such an exercise is that computers and cells are programmable. The second corollary insight is that the programmer lies outside the computer/cell. Biological behaviour and gene activity are dynamically linked to information from the environment, which is downloaded into the cell. The point: a cel is a “programmable chip” whose behaviour and genetic activity are primarily controlled by environmental signals, not genes.’

(Page 61)

In fact, a computer microchip is defined as:

‘A microchip (sometimes just called a “chip”) is a unit of packaged computer circuitry (usually called an integrated circuit) that is manufactured from a material such as silicon at a very small scale. Microchips are made for programme logic (logic or microprocessor chips) and for computer memory (memory or RAM chips). Microchips are also made that include both logic and memory and for special purposes such as analog-to-digital conversion, bit slicing, and gateways.’


By way of contrast, a description of an organic cell membrane is as follows:

‘Every cell has a plasma membrane that encloses it and maintains differences between the cell contents and the outside environment that are crucial to the function of the cell. All biological membranes consist of assemblies of lipid and protein molecules. The lipids are rod-shaped molecules arranged in a double layer so that their hydrophobic ends, which repel water, point inwards and their hydrophilic ends, which attract it, point towards the aqueous environment and the inside of the cell. This lipid bilayer provides the basic structure of the membrane, and forms a barrier that is relatively impermeable to most water-soluble molecules. Proteins are embedded in the bilayer; they also have hydrophobic surfaces in contact with the lipids, and hydrophilic surfaces exposed on either side of the membrane. At physiological temperatures, the lipid bilayer is fluid, and so the proteins are able to move about within the plane of the membrane. The two leaflets of the bilayer contain different lipids, and different proteins are exposed on the two faces of the membrane.

The respiratory gases exchange freely across the membrane, because oxygen and carbon dioxide are soluble in lipid. Apart from this it is the proteins that span the membrane which act as pumps and channels for the exchange of materials between the inside and outside of the cell. They allow entry of nutrients into the cell and the exit of waste products. They are also responsible for generating differences in the ionic composition between the inside and the outside of the cell. Finally, proteins act as molecular sensors (membrane receptors) allowing the cell to change its behaviour in response to external chemical signals. In addition to the plasma membrane, most cells contain a variety of organelles — internal structures that are also surrounded by membranes. These include the nucleus, the endoplasmic reticulum, the Golgi complex, and the mitochondria.

Many membrane proteins are made on ribosomes (granules of nucleoprotein) bound to the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum. Those bound for the plasma membrane are recognized and then inserted into the lipid bilayer locally, before being transported to their final destination by a trafficking system that relies on further signals within the protein. Proteins for the mitochondrial membrane are recognized and then inserted directly from the cytoplasm.

The most fundamental difference between the inside and the outside of a typical cell is in the ionic composition. In particular, the inside of the cell has a low concentration of sodium ions and a high concentration of potassium ions; the reverse is true of the fluid outside. This difference in ionic composition is generated by ion ‘pumps’, which use energy in the form of ATP, produced by mitochondrial respiration, to drive sodium ions out of the cell and potassium ions in. In addition to this ion-pumping function, most membranes contain ion channels that let ions diffuse across the membrane passively when they open. The concentration gradients for different ions across the membranes are exploited widely by cells to drive the movement of other molecules across the membrane. For example, glucose enters cells on a carrier protein that carries both sodium and glucose. Furthermore, in specialized cells, such as neurons, the ion gradients are also used to generate electrical signals that propagate along their axons and allow neurons to ‘talk’ to each other through the release of ‘neurotransmitter’ molecules.

The ability of many proteins to diffuse freely within the plane of the membrane allows them to interact transiently with protein partners, which is often crucial to their function. For instance, many receptor proteins recognize signals outside the cell and then pass the signals on to other proteins that affect cell behaviour. In other cases, though, it is important for the cell to cluster proteins at a particular region of the membrane; this is seen where receptors are localized adjacent to the site of neurotransmitter release at a synapse. This localization involves the coupling of the membrane proteins to a ‘scaffold’ within the cell, known as the cytoskeleton, via specialized anchoring proteins recruited from the cytoplasm.

Although the many organelles within the cell are enclosed by membranes, they are highly dynamic, and many are in constant communication with each other. Proteins are transported in membrane vesicles that bud from one organelle and fuse with the other; for example between the endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi complex, and between the Golgi complex and the plasma membrane. The budding process involves the selection of proteins to be transported and the formation of a protein scaffolding that is able to pinch off a patch of membrane to form a vesicle. The vesicle must then locate and fuse with its target membrane. It is the specificity of these membrane budding-and-fusion events that permits organelles to maintain their integrity despite extensive communication between them.

A particularly good example of the specificity of membrane traffic is found in epithelial cells, such as those that form the tubules of the kidney, where the plasma membrane contains two domains that perform different functions and contain different proteins (one facing outwards to the lumen of the tubule where the urine is being formed, and the other facing inwards to the tissue fluid and the blood). The two sets of proteins are synthesized together on the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum and are later segregated into two populations of vesicles. These vesicles are then able to recognize and fuse with the two separate domains of the plasma membrane. Without this specific targeting of proteins, epithelial polarity would break down, and epithelial secretory and absorptive function would be lost.

Cell membranes are continually in a state of flux. The delivery of new membrane into the plasma membrane is balanced by the removal of membrane by the process of endocytosis: inward budding of vesicles. Endocytosis is responsible also for the internalization of important molecules from the outside of the cell, such as cholesterol in the form of low density lipoprotein, and iron in the form of the protein transferrin. Endocytosis is also used as a route of access into the cell by rogue invaders: certain toxins, such as botulinum toxin, or enveloped viruses, such as the influenza virus.’


Lipton’s theories do not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Indeed, so lacking in any authentic research are Lipton’s ideas, is that he had to resort to metaphors involving bread and butter sandwiches in his book!

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