From Abracadabra to Zombies
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October 15, 2007. In my article on "Evaluating Personal Experience," I review the story of a 6-year-old girl who had one leg that was shorter than the other. She was taken to an acupuncturist who successfully treated the girl, thereby allowing her to avoid the surgery that was recommended by her physician. Fabio, the one telling the story, claims that "it wasn't the leg that was 6 cm shorter, but the hip, which was tilted relative to the backbone." Unfortunately, Fabio does not know exactly what treatment the acupuncturist provided. In any case, it is not uncommon to have one leg shorter than the other, a fact that some chiropractors have exploited.
Some faith healers also exploit this fact and a few other facts. Lorraine Louvat, for example, uses the power of suggestion to deceive people into thinking that through her Jesus has miraculously altered the length of their legs. Watch this video and notice that nobody measures anything. The only evidence for any leg-length changing is the word of Louvat and her victim who thinks she's seen a miracle performed on her.
Video of Larraine Louvat
Her "grow, grow, grow" is reminiscent of Uri Geller's "bend, baby, bend" incantation over spoons.
The shorter-leg trick, apparently, is a common one. I recently received the following e-mail about a shorter-leg problem that has a unique twist to it. The author wishes to remain anonymous.
Some years ago, I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle, but seemed to be unhurt at the time. A few weeks later, however, I relived the accident in a dream, and subsequently woke up with excruciating pain in my lower back, to the point that I was nearly unable to stand and could not walk, but only shuffle my feet a few inches at a time.
I first visited an orthopedic surgeon, who found nothing wrong with me. Although skeptical, a friend suggested I try chiropractic. The chiropractor was completely ineffective. I tried acupuncture, and this seemed to provide a very small, but short-lived reduction in pain, but no improvement in my ability to move. Likewise for various forms of massage and other so-called "therapies."
After about three months of pain, during which I gradually became able to ignore the pain well enough to walk very slowly and carefully, I accidentally came across a description of something called Feldenkrais Method--not a form of therapy, but a type of exercise and "movement education." Its practitioners generally are careful to point out that they make no medical claims at all, and that they are teachers, not therapists. I believe it may be related to Alexander Technique, but I'm not sure. I attended a 3-day workshop where the teacher had all participants lie on the floor, and talked us all through several series of very gentle, methodical movements, while also lecturing about the theory behind the method.
One of the first exercises was intended to highlight both the incredible effect that moving/posturing your body incorrectly can have, as well as the power of suggestion over seemingly completely physical conditions [emphasis added]. Without telling us what we were supposed to be doing, or what the effect would be, the teacher guided us through a series of movements involving only our right arm and right leg. At the end of the exercise she had us all stand up and try to walk. I found that my laborious incremental progress over the previous few months had been erased--I could no longer walk, but only shuffle my feet a little, as before. The other participants all had various degrees of difficulty walking [emphasis added]. The teacher then came around and measured all our arms and legs. For every single participant, the right arm was longer than the left, and the right leg was longer than the left. She had us look in a mirror, and we were all astounded to see that our faces were contorted and our spines twisted at odd angles. Several people reported feeling sick to their stomachs.
Next, she had us all lie down again, and close our eyes. She instructed us not to move at all, but to visualize ourselves moving as she instructed, while she proceeded through a complementary series of instructions for the left-side of the body. At the end, simply by visualizing the exercises without actually performing them, everyone was back to normal with equal-length limbs, and was walking as before the demonstration. All ill-effects of the one-sided exercise reportedly gone.
The teacher told us that she used this exercise to highlight just how easy it is for the brain to overcome the body and create physical effects both for good and ill, and that she believed it was this psychosomatic effect that was responsible for most anecdotal claims of success for all forms of alternative therapy [emphasis added]. The real explanation, she said, was that by moving repeatedly in particular ways, we create nervous and muscular habits which are very difficult to overcome without specific, disciplined effort. Also, our bodies will often begin to move in inefficient ways in response to pain or injury, and these new, inefficient ways of moving can become habits that last, and have negative effects, long after the causal injury has healed.
In my case she examined my attempts to move, and then asked me to pay careful attention to how specific parts of my body felt while trying to move them, then she physically manipulated my body through the same sorts of movements, but with incremental changes in angle, rotation etc., all the time reminding me to pay close attention to differences in feeling. After three days of this sort of exercise, I was able to make the same sorts of changes myself without being manipulated by the teacher, my pain was eliminated and my freedom of motion was greater than it had been before the accident.
As magician Jerry Andrus was fond of saying: I can only fool you because of your wonderful brain! Unfortunately, many people do not understand how easy it is to fool and manipulate our brains, as the video below demonstrates. The video is from the National Geographic television program "Super Powers." It features martial arts master George Dillman using the power of suggestion in a most convincing way. It also features a couple of skeptics who burst Dillman's chi bubble.
* AmeriCares *