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reader comments: energy

02 June 2016
I have just perused your article on energy healing and found it unbalanced to say the least. From what I understand about energy healing not only does it involve a subtle energy field around people it also involves thought. You did not refer to this aspect and I wonder why. If you are going to disrespect something it behooves you delve into all aspects of your target subject. I bring this up because there are valid experiments that can be repeated with the same result that show thought has energy. That is probably a new concept to you. I refer you to two in particular, the first by Masaru Emoto who was able to influence the formation of ice crystals by thought alone. The second by Dr. William Tiller Prof emeritus at UC Berkeley who was able to influence the pH of water up or down at will. I am sure you will make every effort to dismiss these experiments but you can try them yourself. My point is that if thought has energy they can influence physical conditions. The first stage of healing.

Anyway, I hope that is food for thought for you,

best regards, Chris Lovel

reply: You forgot to mention Uri Geller bending spoons with his mind and Ted Owens who claimed to be responsible for such things as the appearance of UFOs, thunderstorms, plane crashes, power outages, and other disasters just by willing them. The truth is that Geller and Owens, like Emoto andTiller, are delusional frauds. And, since you obviously missed it, you should include Mahendra Trivedi in your list of people who claim to be able to change matter by thought alone and has done the experiments to prove it. I know you didn't read this article because the central claim of Trivedi that the article addresses is his alledged ability to alter matter by his thoughts alone.

Your comments indicate your naivete is too extensive to bother trying to convince you of your errors. Educate yourself and then get back to me. Start with my article on psychokinesis. Move on to my review of Dean Radin's The Conscious Universe. And finish up with my essay Energy Healing: Looking in All the Wrong Places. Or, you can stay ignorant and continue to make a fool of your extremely gullible self.

Chris L. replies:

Delusional ? Naive ?, What makes you think I am not educated? Did you undertake the ice crystals and pH tests yourself? Of course you didn't you are too deep into your doxastic closure to do that. As for calling Prof. Tiller a fraud, that is unbelievable arrogance, you will find his qualifications to be far superior to yours, if indeed you have any. I do not believe anything you write is, in any way worth reading. Oh and by the way, what you think of me is none of my business. Don't reply to this I will not read it.

reply: Even a well-educated person with several degrees in engineering can be delusional and naive about subjects outside of his field of expertise.

Anyway, as you say, what I think of you is none of your business.


31 May 2016
Hello, I'm a 56-year-old bio-energy therapist, named Georgia. I can pass energy from me to a potential candidate through my palms. The feeling is like a mild current passing through one's body. It concentrates on painful and/or problem areas. There it gives a slightly stronger current sensation - it feels like electro stimulation, but a deeper level, not skin deep.

Seniors feel re-energised and empowered way more than before contact. It relieves pains and certain body afflictions: back pains, arthritis. Also my contact helps sleep disorders and certain dysfunctions. A perfectly healthy person may feel only a hightened energy level and a general good feeling.

As far as I can tell without scientific research available, out of a 100 people, 1 or 2 may feel very little and with a lot of attention required.

Should you consider using my services or testing them you may contact me at: genomepower@gmail.com 004 0722314391

Kind Regards,

reply: Even though I could use an energy boost, I think I'll pass on your kind offer.


16 Dec 2015
The Sadness of Scientific Illiteracy
When I read your passage: "Few things are more intimidating to the non-scientist than modern physics." I felt moved as I realized that so many people do not see the world as I do and I believe many scientists do.

I am often angry and frustrated with people who not only do not understand the physical world around them but also choose freely to remain willfully ignorant of such knowledge. I paid a social and physical cost throughout my childhood for merely attempting to show enthusiasm for science. Our society embraces the sports hero yet discards the finest minds of our times.

However, when I read that paragraph from your skepdic definition (energy, new age) I felt as though I could see the beautiful world around me, yet I was leading a friend who was blind (lacking a significant sense would be a better word choice). I can see what their eyes see yet my mind can also envision so much more happening beyond my direct senses. I am burdened by their loss and I am reminded of a deeper desire to share knowledge.

The most difficult of all skills to learn is that of teaching. Thank you for your fine work.

Sean S.


21 Mar 2010.
On numerous occasions you claim that there is no energy. Albert Einstein disagrees. He said “ALL IS ENERGY”. Instead of only reading texts that support your assertions, read those that oppose your assertions. I suggest you start with “ENERGY MEDICINE, THE SCIENTIFIC BASIS by James L. Oschman PhD, a distinguished scientist.

J. F.

reply: You've misread me. There is no energy? The proposition is false on its face. What I say is that there is no evidence for chi (prana, orgone, etc.), a metaphysical energy incapable of being detected by scientific instrumentation, a life force that vitalizes matter, etc. There is a big difference between the energy known to science and the energy claimed by non-scientists to be vital to our health, etc. The former is backed by enormous amounts of evidence and agreement with experiments. The latter is an unnecessary hypothesis used to explain observations that are explained much better by other, naturalistic, processes.

From what I can gather from his website, Dr. Oschman (Ph.D. in the biological sciences from the University of Pittsburgh, 1965) became involved in acupuncture sometime in the 1980s. I've also been interested in acupuncture for many years. There did seem to be some good evidence that acupuncture was having effects that could not be explained by modern medicine, e.g., placebo effects. However, the evidence has grown over the years and now overwhelmingly supports the notion that acupuncture is indeed a placebo therapy. I don't doubt that Oschman is able to make a convincing case for energy medicine to those who are ignorant of much of the recent research. He sounds like a very intelligent and clever person. He should have little difficulty in producing a strong case for energy medicine as long as he is selective in the evidence he presents or doesn't evaluate the studies properly, and as long as his audience is unable to see his bias.

Oschman's book was published in 2000. There has been quite a bit of research since then that supports the notion that energy medicines like acupuncture, reiki, therapeutic touch, etc., have no effect beyond placebo effects and "false impressions of placebo effects" such as spontaneous improvement, fluctuation of symptoms, regression to the mean, additional treatment, conditional switching of placebo treatment, scaling bias, irrelevant response variables, answers of politeness, experimental subordination, conditioned answers, neurotic or psychotic misjudgment, psychosomatic phenomena, misquotation, etc.*

Instead of only reading texts that support your assertions, read those that oppose your assertions. I suggest you start with sham acupuncture, faith healing, blind faith healing: a paradigm for the hopeless, and Energy Healing: Looking in All the Wrong Places.

J. F. replies

The World Health Organization, a body of the UN, lists 28 medical conditions that can be effectively treated by acupuncture. If the placebo effect can do that, great, let it. It was a US president who was invited by the Chinese to sit in on an open heart surgery with no anesthesia. (I agree, one such event does not mean it will work all the time). Ah, more recent research. Put me on to some research texts, or scientific papers that dispute my contentions. I will be the first to change my views if it can be proven to me that our biology does not need energy to function. Bias by Oschman? Did you see the lists in his texts of research references after each of his chapters and at the end of the book? Sure, we all have biases. That includes you. Don’t get me wrong, I respect your efforts at debunking that which can be debunked. There are too many charlatans out there trying to make a quick buck from the gullible. My efforts are meant to make sure I am not one of them.

reply: Did you really read all the things that I recommended?

Anyway, I've never claimed that "our biology does not need energy to function." We don't need chi or prana.

Regarding the WHO, I assume you are referring to Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials. The good news about this publication is that only the results of controlled clinical trials that were formally published are included. The bad news is that the results only go through the year 1998. The literature over the last 12 years is largely negative. As the studies have gotten larger with better controls, the data more strongly supports the hypothesis that acupuncture is no more effective than a placebo. See my entry on acupuncture for references to some of these studies.

As for the U.S. President who sat in on open heart surgery without anesthesia, I don't think you have the whole story. I know that acupuncture started its current rise to popularity in the U.S. with James Reston.

Acupuncture came to the attention of the Western world in dramatic fashion when it was widely reported in 1971 that James Reston, the New York Times journalist, had undergone an appendectomy in Beijing with the only anesthesia being provided by acupuncture. In fact, he had chemical anesthesia for the operation, but acupuncture was administered afterward to relieve pain. Reston allegedly reported that about an hour after the acupuncture he felt pain relief. Was the relief due to the acupuncture? Perhaps. It may also have been due to his having a bowel movement. Did the acupuncture cause his bowel movement? I don't know, but I do know that after this story was reported in the Western press, acupuncture began its current run as the darling of alternative medicine in the West. Simultaneously, acupuncture has grown less popular in China.

For more on the background of this fable, see “Acupuncture Anesthesia”: A Proclamation from Chairman Mao (Part I) by Kimball Atwood. By the way, Bill Clinton had surgery recently without anesthesia or acupuncture. I've had the same surgery, also without anesthesia or acupuncture.

You ask me to put you on to some research texts. OK. Read Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine  by R. Barker Bausell. He's an expert in biostatistics and he served for five years as the director of research at the University of Maryland's NIH-funded Complementary Medicine Program (now called the Center for Integrative Medicine). He knows how to tell a well designed and implemented medical study from a faulty or incompetent one, and he knows how to evaluate the statistical data that is the backbone of such studies. If you don't want to read the book, at least read my review.

Even better, why not Dr. Harriet Hall's review of Oschman's book? Hall practiced science-based medicine as a a medical doctor for many years and understands the physiology of disease better than both of us.

As for detecting bias in Oschman's work, the key is not in what sources he cites but in those he doesn't cite.

J. F. replies (again)

Great, we have a dialogue going. The Chinese word for energy is QI (Chi). Just because we are reading a different language does not make energy (QI) something esoteric. Energy is energy, no matter what language we use. Ki is the Japanese word for the same thing, energy. Reiki simply translates into universal energy. Lets look at that term. If the sun’s rays are energy, that energy is in the universe and part of it. There is no esoteric notion here. Life force energy simply refers to the fact that our bodies, the bodies of all other living things, need energy to function. Therefore life is sustained by energy, life force energy. No esoteric notion here either. There is no metaphysical energy, I agree, but, and I repeat what Albert Einstein said, all is energy. Unless of course Albert Einstein is also wrong. Qi incapable of being detected? We would agree that the frequencies of the energies I am talking about here are very low indeed and not measurable by ordinary devices. The very text you regard as dated clearly reports that practitioners can emit powerful pulsing biomagnetic fields in the same frequency range that biomagnetic researchers have identified for jump starting healing of soft and hard tissue injuries. (P 79,80). A simple magnetometer was used to measure the strength of emitted signals. Imagine what more recent studies will have shown, if indeed they were conducted.

Hey, maybe we can both learn something.

Greetings and hallucinations.

reply: (I have no idea why J. F. would sign off the way he did or what he means by it. I understand why he keeps bringing up Einstein, even though his work is irrelevant to this discussion.)

His hero, Dr. Oschman, is being parroted here by J. F. Oschman and his wife run the International Center for Reiki Training. They believe that reiki "healers" emit biomagnetic pulsations from their hands "in the same frequency range as brain waves." They also believe that there are scientific studies that show that certain frequencies are necessary for healing and that energy healers emit "the full range of therapeutic frequencies" as they sweep their hands back and forth. In this way, say the Oschmans, energy healers are "able to stimulate healing in any part of the body."

The scientific studies they mention are a mixture of sound basic science and hogwash.

1. In 1963, Gerhard Baule and Richard McFee of the Department of Electrical Engineering, Syracuse University detected the biomagnetic field projected from the human heart. This discovery led to the development of magnetocardiography, the measurement of the magnetic field emitted by the heart. Abnormal patterns of the magnetic field emitted by a physiologically defective heart may prove useful in early detection of heart malfunction. There is no reason to believe that human hands or machines emitting magnetic fields would prove useful in healing defective hearts.

2. In 1970, David Cohen of MIT, using a SQUID magnetometer, confirmed the heart measurements. By 1972, Cohen had improved the sensitivity of his instrument, enabling him to measure magnetic fields around the head produced by brain activities. Cohen's work led to the development of magnetoencephalography (MEG), the measuring of the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain. The MEG can assist surgeons in localizing a pathology and help researchers determine the function of various parts of the brain. Again, there is no reason to believe that human hands or machines emitting magnetic fields would prove useful in healing damaged brains.

The magnetic fields emitted by the heart and brain are extremely weak. The brain emits a field on the order of a few femtotesla. (70 femtotesla is equal to about a billionth of the Earth's magnetic field.) Whatever magnetic field is emitted by waving hands will be overpowered by the Earth's magnetic field unless the process takes place in a heavily shielded location. In any case, the energy healers seem to confuse effect with cause. Abnormal magnetic fields in the heart, brain, or other organs may be effects of disease, but the cure is not to counter them with a magnetic field in the "normal" range. For example, it may be true that a 90% occluded artery emits an abnormal magnetic field, but the treatment is to open the artery with a stent. There is no reason to believe that an occluded artery would be opened by sending "normal" magnetic waves in the direction of the occlusion.

There is evidence that alternating magnetic fields help heal broken bones, but this is irrelevant to whether magnetic fields emitted by hands or other machines can heal heart defects, brain injuries, or liver lesions.

As Harriet Hall, M.D., notes in her review of Oschman's book,  Oschman's evidence for the claim that energy healers can perceive electromagnetic fields and can adjust them to optimize health boils down to two experiments:

1. A Japanese team measured magnetic fields from the palms of 37 subjects who supposedly could emit external qi. In three subjects only, they detected magnetic fields of 2-4 mgauss in the frequency range of 4-10 Hz. This is 1000 times greater than had been previously measured in humans. In one subject, they attempted to measure the corresponding bioelectric current and found that this was not detectable. Oschman accepts this as solid evidence, without considering the obvious flaws:

-Generation of magnetic fields that strong would imply strong loop currents that would probably be enough to vaporize tissue.

-They were not able to measure any current whatsoever, which would seem to indicate that the electromagnetic field was not really present.

-There is no evidence that qi exists.

-It's far more likely that inadequate controls or measurement errors caused the positive results in three of the 37 subjects.

-The experiment was done in 1992 and has never been replicated.

2. Dr. John Zimmerman used a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) to detect a large biomagnetic field emanating from the hands of a practitioner during therapeutic touchso large it could not be quantified by the SQUID device. It pulsed at a variable frequency, from 0.3 to 30 Hz, with most of the activity in the 7-8 Hz range. The study was published in 1990 in the journal of the Bio-Electro-Magnetics Institute, whose founder and president just happens to be...John Zimmerman! The findings have not been replicated elsewhere.

Oschman uses some strange language to talk about this alleged emission of qi from the hands. On the one hand, he says the phenomenon seems "robust and repeatable." On the other hand, he says the finding is "tenuous in that it has not been widely replicated." Actually, it hasn't been replicated at all.

Oschman also has some strange beliefs. For example, he believes that "Virtually every disease and disorder has been linked by one investigator or another to electromagnetic pollution." So what? The preponderance of the evidence does not show that EMFs pose a health risk.1, 2, 3

Oschman also believes that standing next to a toaster can cause dizziness, nausea, or migraines in sensitive patients, that sensitive patients can react to being in the same room with a sealed glass tube containing a homeopathic dilution of an allergen [he's a fan of the late Jacques Benveniste], and that reacting patients emit signals that can produce allergic reactions in other sensitive people. I don't doubt that some investigator somewhere has published a paper in some journal supporting Oschamn's weird beliefs. Even so, I'm not impressed and I don't think you should be, either.

According to Dr. Hall, Oschman also believes

in subtle actions at a distance, Jung's synchronicity, transference of evoked brainwaves to another subject in an EMF shielded room, and telepathic experiences correlated with calm periods of global geomagnetic activity. He also believes in dowsing and in the "bone-out-of-place" theory of chiropractic, which even chiropractors themselves have given up because it doesn't show up on X-rays.

Dr. Hall concludes her review by saying that Oschman's "book masquerades as science, but it amounts to little more than speculation and polemic in support of a preconceived belief. The tragedy is that energy medicine believers now have a book whose very title may lead them to think there is 'proof' that their experiences have a scientific basis. Many scientifically naïve readers will be convinced. Critical thinkers will not."

I knew Dr. Hall was brilliant, but I didn't realize that she could accurately predict the future!

Last updated 05-Jun-2016

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