“I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
― Richard P. Feynman
"The more limited one's understanding of science, the more that scientists resemble masters of the occult, and the more that paranormal phenomenon seem likely to reflect undiscovered scientific truths."
"No, no, baby, I can't tell you why..."
In Sam Cooke's classic hit "Wonderful World," he sang "Don't know much about history, don't know much biology. Don't know much about a science book, don't know much about the french I took." People, in general, don't know that much about physics. With its symbols, its strange words and its long, complex equations it can be a daunting subject.
Famed American theoretical physicist and Caltech teacher, Richard Feynman, taught a course in physics for students who did not plan on becoming scientists. His book "Six Easy Pieces" is a masterpiece that uses plain, everyday language to describe the seeming mysteries and wonder of the subject that so intrigued him. He would speak with wonder and excitement about what takes place in the hidden world of the very very small parts of the atom and the very very large parts of the galaxy.
Most people don't take the time to study modern physics, and, as a result, too many people still think along the lines of someone living in the 17- or 1800s when it comes to explaining what takes place in the physical world. We may hear the terms quantum, density matrix, Black Holes, Schrödinger equation, E = mc2, or Higgs boson and think we have an idea, but usually we're wrong.
Because of this lapse in knowledge, we often fall for words which sound all "science-y" and for explanations that use lofty terminology.
My martial arts acquaintances who practice no-touch knockouts, pressure-point fighting, Reiki healing, and other 'energy work' are among the worst culprits in using vague, scientific-sounding language to disguise fraud, suggestion, and what used to be called Mesmerism.
In case you haven't heard of Mesmer, you've probably at least heard the term "mesmerizing." As author Wendy Kaminer explains it:
"In the 1700s, Franz Anton Mesmer drew upon nascent understandings of electricity to explain the alleged therapeutic power of animal magnetism. Mesmer, a physician, claimed that a universal force, or fluid, coursed through our bodies and the atmosphere. He posited that illness resulted from fluid imbalances or obstacles to its flow, and preached that exposure to magnets could correct the flow and restore the patient's vital balance. In some cases, it seemed, a healer could effectively harness the vital force within his own body and effect a cure: Mesmer purported to heal people simply by pointing his finger at them, often inducing convulsions, which gradually subsided as the patients apparently recovered."
One of the first science-based skeptical investigations took a hard look at Mesmerism back in the day, with none other than Ben Franklin in attendance. What did they determine? They debunked the whole thing, showing that it was simply the Placebo effect in action: People would first believe, and THEN they would receive what felt like a wave of power, a force of healing.
Here's how Mark Twain described it:
"No one doubts--certainly not I--that the mind exercisesa powerful influence over the body. From the beginning oftime, the sorcerer, the interpreter of dreams, the fortune-teller, the charlatan, the quack, the wild medicine-man, the educated physician, the mesmerist, and the hypnotisthave made use of the client's imagination to help them in
their work. They have all recognized the potency and avail-ability of that force. Physicians cure many patients with abread pill; they know that where the disease is only a fancy,the patient's confidence in the doctor will make the breadpill effective."
What most people don't realize is that scientists actually know to a very precise detail what goes on at the microscopic level. With super colliders, or particle accelerators, which use electromagnetic fields to fire off charged particles at near the speed of light, they can detect and measure the smallest parts of the universe.
Unlike New Age healers and 'energy workers,' scientists know exactly to which they speak when they use terminology such as 'energy' or 'quantum' or 'mass.' It is not some nebulous term, but in fact is very specific.
It comes down to this: Scientists are able to explain what goes on at the molecular, and even at the sub-atomic level.
I like to use the mnemonic "SP.A.M." to help me remember that molecules are made up of atoms, and atoms are made up of smaller particles. Whenever I ask someone what takes place at the molecular level, I am trying to determine if they know what they are talking about, or if they are merely throwing around terminology to make it seem that they have a clue.
I bet you'll never guess what usually takes place.
The following, while not an actual conversation, is a compilation of real conversations I have had with real people about using chi/qi/ki, healing, faith, pressure point fighting, no-touch knockouts, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and other unique 'energy work.' I will use their words as accurately as possible, and when there are more than one word to describe the phenomenon or action, I will place those words within a parenthesis.
Note: I am not making any of this up.
Ron Goin: Hello, and thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
Energy Worker: You're welcome. I'm eager to share.
RG: Before we begin discussing the specifics, can you demonstrate what it is that you do?
EW: Sure, I will get (a volunteer/one of my students/disciples/seminar attendees) to come up here. First I'm going to do some (deep breathing/preparatory movement exercises) to invigorate the (chi/qi/ki/energy).
RG: Is that sort of like stoking a fire?
RG: So, where does this energy come from? And if I may ask, why do you need to stoke it or awaken it?
EW: It's (ever-present throughout the universe/it is natural and in all things, both animate and inanimate/it flows within all living creatures). Although it's there all the time, it's like (flipping on a light switch/turning on the kettle/shaking up a carbonated beverage/heating a snack in the microwave). You need to activate it.
RG: Will it work if it's not activated?
EW: Of course it will. But it flows in me and around me, and sometimes it's me who needs to get activated (chuckle/smile/dead serious look). Okay, I'm ready. I will (touch 3 points on this person's body...here, here, and...here, and when I do he will go unconscious as if he had been knocked out/I will move my hands near him, and when I do he will go unconscious/I will wave my hands near him, and when I do he will feel relaxed and pain-free/I will move my hands near him and detect where he has energy blockages, and I will then be able to remove that blockage and reinvigorate the flow of his chi/ki/qi/energy).
Note: It is here that the person will often (use soft, New Age music/defused lighting/a gong/chanting/close his/her eyes). I then witness some seemingly miraculous things. People (drop to the floor/go into convulsions/slip into unconsciousness requiring resuscitation/go limp as if they are a piece of spaghetti in boiling water, getting al dente).
RG: So, what just happened?
EW: I (healed this person/I helped this person relax/I knocked this person out/I felt/manipulated his/her chi/qi/ki/energy).
RG: How did you do it?
EW: Honestly? I (don't know/I can't explain it/I don't have time to explain it to someone who hasn't taken my course/I refuse to explain it to outsiders/I refuse to try to use 'scientific'/'medical' terminology because that field is corrupt/biased/unimaginative).
RG: If you don't know how it works, or if you are unwilling to explain it, then how could someone come along and validate what you do. It could just be hocus pocus, or hypnosis or suggestion.
EW: The proof is in the pudding...let's just ask our volunteer to describe the sensation.
Note: It is at this point that the (very relaxed/stunned/woozy/terribly excited) volunteer describes what he/she felt/experienced. It was like (being electrocuted, but in a pleasant way/it was like drifting down into a relaxing whirlpool/it was like invisible hands kneading me/it was as if some magic force was moving upon me).
RG: But, in science, it must be objective, replicable, otherwise it's something other than science. It has to be able to be validated. It needs to meet the definition of falsifiable...if you can't theoretically prove it false, or test it, then it's not a real event. It simply takes place in one's mind.
EW: It happens at the quantum level. Haven't you heard that all energy is matter and all matter is energy? Einstein proved that. It happens at the quantum level/it's a vibrational phenomenon).
RG: Do you what those words even mean? You can't just use fancy words in ways they were never intended to try and prove what it is you do.
EW: The (mind is powerful/imagination is real/world of science is flawed/medical philosophy of the West is too hung up on the physical/power of the universe is too much for humans to grasp). When you turn on your (television set/computer) you don't know how it works, you just set back and enjoy it. I (can't explain how it works/don't have time to explain it/am unable to explain it to someone who won't accept it).
RG: Could you do what you did to that volunteer to anyone? Could you do it to one of my students or to me or to some random stranger?
EW: It's not like a machine. I can't turn it on just like that. If you (bring in negative energy/lack faith/resist the energy) it may not work.
RG: Okay, you can't explain it. You can't make it work on just anyone. In fact, it may not work every single time on everyone. But you still believe it's valid?
EW: Not all medicines work, not all treatments work. Even modern Western medicine will vouch for that.
RG: But in double-blind testing, the medicine or treatment must be proven to be more effective than just chance, and there are statistical measures to validate their claims. It's not a flip of the coin or a roll of the dice.
EW: (shakes head/looks down at the floor/face palms/shows disgust) You just don't get it, do you?
RG: Nope. I don't. I don't get it at all.
Note: This is when they will quote some (scripture/New Age author/prophet/fictional movie character.
Kris pitches a quick one at Marc right at the top of the show — workplace violence. Marc zigs when you thing he is going to zag on the back story of workplace violence. The reasons why the numbers for violence look the way they do, what constitutes real violence – contrary to what the scientists of the world have to say about that. And no easy answers as to where we are going to be in ten years as the lines of perceived violence and real violence are blurred by statistics, incomplete numbers, and non-realistic agendas.