A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies | View All

Ernst Hartmann, M.D.

“Once I went to a man’s home and warned him NOT to sleep in a certain spot. He thought I was a fool. Twelve years later, he died of cancer.” --Ernst Hartmann, M.D.*

Ernst HartmannErnst Hartmann, M.D., (1915-1992) had a medical degree but his diagnostic mantra seems to have been taken from a real estate dowsing school: location, location, location. Hartmann convinced himself and many others that illness depends on where you are located on the planet and that the important locations for health could be detected by dowsing rods. This was not difficult to do in Germany where belief is widespread in E-rays (Erdstrahlen), harmful "rays" emitted from below ground and detectable by dowsers but not by the finest scientific instruments.

He and his followers developed a grid of negative energy lines that cause disease, apparently grounded in the belief in E-rays. His book Krankheit als Standortproblem (Illness as a Location Problem, 4th ed., Heidelberg 1982) has been described by Prof. Dr. E. Wielandt as "rubbish from cover to cover" ("Aus der Sicht des Naturwissenschaftlers ist das Buch von vorne bis hinten Schwachsinn"). Nevertheless, Hartmann has his fans. They've even named his version of E-rays "Hartmann lines."

A pair of Hartmann admirers writes:

The Hartmann Lines were responsible, according to their discoverer, for serious disease [sic] such as cancer. He was convinced that his discovery explained a great deal about why people fell ill. Indeed, he said that he never found a cancer case without it being related to the grid. (The negative places on the grid (click here to see grid) are considered to be dangerous should they coincide [??intersect??] under your bed.) If the lines are magnetic, then they could interfere with the normal working of cells and nerves, resulting in disease.

Hartmann's evidence for his claim that diseases are caused by the crossing of evil rays consisted of little more than his perception, memory, and the delusion that because he could always find a way to connect his grid with a sick person's bed location, the two were causally related. There is a reason for doing controlled experiments instead of relying on observation and intuition about causal connections: to reduce as much as possible the human tendency to think that patterns observed indicate causality. Doing properly controlled experiments reduces the chances of confirmation bias and selective thinking, and often helps one avoid making a fool of oneself.

The Hartmann admirers provide an insight into the kind of mind at work in developing and advocating ideas that the rest of the scientific community scoffs at. The admirers are Maggie and Nigel Percy, a husband and wife team and full-time professional geomancers. They call their work "space clearing" and claim to be able to transform "energies in your environment to make it safer, healthier and happier for you, your family, your pets and plants." They're dowsers who admit they can't detect the Hartmann lines but they don't take that as evidence that Hartmann was wrong. Maybe the Earth has changed, they speculate, or maybe we don't need the lines anymore because maybe there is "some relationship between the Earth and us on it such that we are led to an understanding of one aspect before moving on to the next thing." Maybe we're ready to move on to the next thing. Maybe.

Speculation about rays detectable only by dowsing rods may be attractive to some people because believers use much scientific jargon and connect the rays to real phenomena such as magnetism and the Earth's magnetic field. Another reason many people listen to dowsers rather than scientists may have to do with fear and irrational application of the precautionary principle. Rasmus Jansson, a critic of dowsers, writes:

Threats to one's health are likely to be listened to, no matter on what they are founded. It is just plain sane behavior to be vigilant and protective, especially when it comes to providing safe environs for one's offspring. This behavior is widely utilized by dowsers who are eager to disseminate their insight. Who wouldn't listen to a dowser claiming that the cradle with one's newborn baby is situated on a spot that significantly increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome? I think most dowsers are honest and really believe in what they're doing. However, this doesn't protect them from using persuasion techniques that are, so to speak, a little unjustified.*

Variations on the E-ray theme include not only the Hartmann lines but others such as Curry lines, Schumann waves, Black lines, and the planetary grid system of Christopher Bird. Another devoted New Age speculator about "planetary metaphysics" adds the R. Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Map and the Becker-Hagens Grid Map to this assortment of imaginary lines connected with pencil, geometry, and a compass.

Believers in these evil rays that dot the surface of the planet and wreak havoc on our bodies might consider: all living things on this planet evolved over billions of years in spite of these rays; modern medicine has much better explanations for disease; and the modern sciences of physics and geology have sophisticated technologies that measure very subtle forces in the earth, but no evidence has been found for the dark rays of Dr. Hartmann.

See also ley lines, post hoc fallacy, Reichenbach's odic force, and vibrational medicine.

further reading

Hood, Bruce. 2009. SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable. HarperCollins. (my review of this book)

Jastrow, Joseph. 1935. Wish and Wisdom: Episodes in the Vagaries of Belief. (Published in 1962 by Dover Books as Error and Eccentricity in Human Belief).

Sternberg, Robert J. ed. Why Smart people Can Be So Stupid. (Yale University Press 2002).

Last updated 29-Jan-2014

© Copyright 1994-2014 Robert T. Carroll * This page was designed by Cristian Popa.