Respectful Insolence

It’s back.

Yes, I was wondering what would be the best way to start out a brand new year of Your Friday Dose of Woo. Once again, as is all too unfortunately the case, there was an embarrassment of riches, a veritable cornucopia of woo out there, each one seemingly just as worthy of Orac’s loving attention as the other. And, after having taken a week off from this, there was even a backup of woo. (I wonder if a little cleansing might be in order to relieve the backup.) Then it occurred to me. I started YFDoW with a very special treatment of some truly spectacular woo known as quantum homeopathy. I had always been meaning to revisit some of Lionel Milgrom’s most delicious woo.

That’s not what I ultimately decided to do.

Instead, I came across yet another variant of homeopathic woo, one that I hadn’t heard of. This variant was just as woo-ey as quantum homeopathy, but in a way even better. It has lots and lots of equations, which means it must be science, right? Worse, like quantum homeopathy, this particular variant of homeopathic woo appeared in an ostensibly “scientific” journal. Here’s the abstract:

On Chemical Medicine, Thermodynamics, and Homeopathy
Sep 2006, Vol. 12, No. 7:685 -693

William A. Tiller, Ph.D.
The William A. Tiller Foundation for New Science, Payson, AZ.

The author indicates why homeopathic medicine is an example of future information medicine, a member of the more general psychophysiologic medicine group. Using standard chemical thermodynamics, it is readily shown that the driving force for all chemical reactions involves the logarithm of chemical activities for the different species involved. Because chemical activity is given by the product of concentration and thermodynamic activity coefficient, such reaction driving forces involve the sum of ln γj and ln cjfor the j-species. Homeopathy involves the dilution of cj and succussion, which can increase γj ; thus, when cj goes to the ultradilution state, the thermodynamic driving force for change does not disappear as is assumed by many and, in fact, can even increase through the ln γj terms. Going to a more complex reference frame for viewing nature, one can, at least, qualitatively show how oscillating and decaying properties in time can occur for homeopathic remedies.

Any chemists out there? Heck, anyone who’s ever taken freshman chemistry out there? The flaws are painfully obvious. But before we have our traditional weekly fun with this particular “scientific” article as the jumping off point, I was curious to find out who this Dr. William A. Tiller is, as I had never heard of him before. So I decided to see what I could find about him. Boy, oh boy, did I hit the jackpot. Dr. Tiller is an Emeritus Professor of Materials Science at Standford University, has his own “research foundation” (the Tiller Foundation), and has appeared in that infamous woo-fest of a movie What the Bleep Do We Know? The reason he was featured in such a credulous pile of crap is because, well, he’s peddling some truly serious woo. For example, he claims to have discovered a new class of natural phenomena known as “subtle energies” and believes that these “energies” manifest themselves in the “powers” of healers and paranormal phenomena. Indeed, he’s even termed the topic of his studies “psychoenergetics.” Basically, Tiller calls psychoenergetics the interaction between consciousness and matter, and seems to think that a person’s “intent” can alter, much as our old friend Dr. Emoto thinks that he can alter the properties of water by thinking at it with “intent.”

Oh, yes, Dr. Tiller could be the topic of several weeks’ worth of YFDoW. Indeed, I’m bookmarking his site as a reference for when things get slow. But let’s get back to this particularly delectable piece of woo:

Begin by considering what this author calls his “silver colloid” metaphor because it delineates three different kinds of medicine.

If one takes a beaker of water with some bacteria in it and then shakes some silver (Ag) colloid particles into the water, the bacteria will probably be killed via the bactericidal action of the Ag particles. The general conclusion drawn from this observation is that the physical contact between Ag and the bacterium is a necessary condition for illing of bacteria. This, in turn, has led to the assumption that pharmaceuticals do their work in the human body via contacttypes of chemical reactions, and this has led to what is labeled as today’s chemical medicine.

What most people do not know is that, if one takes a fluorescent tube held horizontal and places silver colloid particles in it and then focuses the output light from the ignited tube onto the beaker of water containing bacteria, one also kills the bacteria.1 Such an experiment shows that it is not the physical contact between Ag and the bacterium that is necessary for the killing process to occur. Rather, it is one or more different types of photons from the electromagnetic (EM) emission spectrum of Ag, that entangle with the EM carrier wave from the fluorescent tube and are transported to the beaker of water that are the actual killing mechanism involved in the demise of the bacteria. Pursuing this line of research will inevitably lead to tomorrow’s EM medicine.

And this guy is a materials science professor? I mean, he apparently can’t seem to understand that the two mechanisms of bacterial killing he describes are quite different. It is indeed physical contact (a.k.a. “chemical” contact) between the bacteria and the silver that results in the death of the bacteria. No invocation of photons, quantum theory, or radiation is necessary to explain it. Exciting that same silver molecule can produce photons that can kill the bacteria by an entirely different mechanism. Not an auspicious start. But the woo gets thicker:

Over the past few years, this author and his colleagues have shown that one can imbed a specific intention, from a deep meditative state, into a simple electronic device and have that device, in turn, “condition” a laboratory space wherein the proper experiment is running to test the efficacy of this intention procedure. This procedure has been successful with four uniquely different target experiments: (1) increase the pH of highly purified water by one pH nit, (2) decrease the pH of the same type of water by one pH unit, (3) increase the in vitro thermodynamic activity of the liver enzyme alkaline phosphatase (ALP) by 25% at p=0.001, and (4) increase the in vivo [ATP]/[ADP] ratio in the ells of fruit fly larvae by 15% at p=0.001 to make them more physically fit and significantly reduce the larval development time to the adult fly stage. Replication of the first of these target experiments at 10 other laboratories in the United States and Europe shows that this is a viable procedure that will ultimately lead to the day-after tomorrow’s information medicine. By this labeling, it will come into common practice and usage.

Did I hear this right? Is he claiming to be able to increase or decrease the pH of water by a full pH unit by “intent”? That he can increase the activity of alkaline phosphatase and increase the [ATP]/[ADP] ratio by mere “intent”? Shades of Dr. Emoto and his water woo! I note that the works referenced that supposedly show that Dr. Tiller has actually observed this consisted of either books by Dr. Tiller or articles published in the very same woo-filled journal or other similar journals of woo. All of this shows where this guy is coming from, and it explains a lot about how he can come up with what he writes next:

All processes in nature appear to be driven by differences in thermodynamic free energy functions that involve energy (enthalpy), entropy, and temperature. For chemical reactions between multiple species, the free energy change, G0, defines the reaction at thermodynamic equilibrium. As such, it is always given by a relationship between the natural logarithms of the various equilibrium chemical activities, aej, for the j’th species (see Equation I-2a of Appendix I). The actual thermodynamic driving force for change, ΔG, is given in terms of G0 and the same logarithm relationship between the actual chemical activities. However, it is the definition of aj that is important here; i.e.,

aj = γjcj (Equation 1a)

and

ln aj = ln γj + ln cj (Equation 1b)

Here, cj = the concentration of j-species in the solvent, j = the thermodynamic activity coefficient of the j-species and ln is the natural logarithm. As such, j relates to the sum of all the environmental effects stored in the solvent that act on this j-type of molecule. Such environmental effects could be electric field, E, and magnetic field, H, effects or a wide variety of anomalous chemical potential effects. In most chemical texts, it is assumed that, as the chemical, concentration of j goes to very small values, the solution becomes an ideal solution, so j = 1. However, this need not be so when special environmental thermodynamic effects have been mathematically convoluted into a modified activity coefficient.

I included all the equations to show that sometimes the most outrageous woo is the woo with lots of equations. So far, this isn’t quite wrong but it’s not quite right either. Chemical activity is indeed a real value used in chemistry. There is also such a thing as an “activity coefficient“, but–surprise, surprise!–Dr. Tiller doesn’t seem to be using it in the same way that most chemists would use it. In chemistry, the activity coefficient is indeed an estimate of how individual chemical species interact with each other in a non-ideal gas or solution. In “ideal” gases or solutions, where it is assumed that the concentration of gas particles or solutes is so low that there are no other effects, activity is proportional to the concentration of an individual molecule. Activity coefficients are nothing more than fudge factors that are used to account for solutions or gases that are nonideal. Moreover, these coefficients can actually be measured by measuring partial gas pressures, ionic activities, or other methods. Their existence does not in anyway make homeopathy any less woo than it is.No woo is needed to explain them, but woo you will get (oh, boy, will you get it!), starting with the “thermodynamic effects” being “mathematically convoluted” into a modification of the activity coefficient; that reference is a foreshadowing of the amazing woo to come. And how does Dr. Tiller’s invocation of the term γj relate to homeopathy? Read on:

In homeopathic remedy preparation, one does two things: (1) one sequentially dilutes the solution of j-species; that is, reduces cj, and (2) one, simultaneously, sequentially successes the solution; that is, one alters j via the succussion process and, because a specific intention underlies this process, the infrastructure stored in the solvent can increase significantly. Thus, instead of Equation I-1 in Appendix I, one has

water + cj becomes water* + cj (Equation 2a)

and

aj becomes a’j (Equation 2b)

where cj is reduced to c’j by dilution, whereas water goes to water* by succussion and dilution. The most compelling message to note from Equations 2 is that, even when cj drops below one j-molecule per cc via dilution, j can increase significantly via intention-directed succussion. Thus, from Equation 1b, ln aj can increase significantly even when ln cj is negative. Both chemists and allopathic medical practitioners tend to focus their attention on the ln cj term and generally neglect the environmental information storage latent in the ln γj term, and yet a standard thermodynamic treatment says it can become the dominant term as dilution continues.

This is, of course, as Douglas Adams so famously said in his books, a load of dingo’s kidneys. If there are any chemists or biochemists (or even first year chemistry students) out there, I apologize. Please stop clutching your head; the pain will eventually stop, and you’ll build up a tolerance for this woo. I promise. It’s really not so bad. As you can guess, Tiller’s just making chemistry up as he goes along. He presents no justification that γj can or will increase as the concentration of a solute decreases to very low levels. There is no experimental evidence that this happens, much less that γj can ever becomes the “dominant” term in the equation as concentration approaches zero, at least not in any way that he means. “Intent-directed succussion” won’t do it. Tiller’s argument doesn’t make any sort of scientific sense. After all, as the concentration goes to zero, in order for the aj term to remain even detectable, much less retain a high value that could cause any sort of measurable effect on surrounding molecules, γj would have to increase to incredibly high levels, higher than any activity coefficient ever observed or calculated. Does Dr. Tiller present any evidence that it can do that or has ever done that for any homeopathically diluted molecule? Of course not.

But Dr. Tiller isn’t through. Oh, no. He’s got one last spectacular flourish of woo that outdoes all the rest! See:

From an overly simplistic viewpoint, one could say that, for the past 400 years, establishment science has dealt with multiple aspects of the reaction equation:

MASS ←→ ENERGY (Equation 6a)

with one quality convertible to the other via Einstein’s E=mc2 equation. This research shows that psychoenergetic science, which includes homeopathy, must deal with an expanded reaction equation:

MASS ←→ ENERGY ←→ CONSCIOUSNESS (Equation 6b)

although the word “consciousness” here is used in a way quite different than the normal dictionary usage of awareness, awakeness, and so on. Here, every term is considered to be convertible to another even though the quantitative connection to energy is not yet known. Perhaps, instead of asking what consciousness means, one should ask what consciousness does. When this is done, one realizes that consciousness manipulates information in the form of at least numbers, alphabet letters and, most generally, symbols. Thus, Equation 6b becomes more acceptable when it is phrased in the format

MASS ←→ ENERGY ←→ INFORMATION ←→ CONSCIOUSNESS (Equation 6c)

Geez, it’s so obvious when you make a diagram of it! Sadly, just adding the word “information” to this woo-ey equation doesn’t make it more “acceptable.” Not any more than this diagram does:

i-28bd3bb34ed2893ec5a9161740467c59-Deltron.jpg

Wow! This guy has actually proposed (with apparently a straight face, yet) “A higher-dimensional-level substance, labeled deltrons, falling outside the constraints of relativity theory and able to move at velocities” faster than the speed of light and that acts as “a coupling agent between the electric monopole types of substances and the magnetic monopole types of substances to produce both electromagnetic (EM) and magnetoelectric (ME) types of mediator fields exhibiting a special type of ‘mirror principle’ relationship between them.”

Aaaaagh! My brain hurts.

You know what. I propose that we take the quantum homeopathy guy, Lionel Milgrom, and the information theory homeopathy guy, William Tiller, and have them battle it out in a steel cage match to see whose woo is stronger. On second thought, scratch that. The titanic clash of two such potent forms of woo might rip a hole in the very fabric of space-time (perhaps allowing deltrons to quantumly couple) and destroy the universe.

Comments

  1. #1 Amy Alkon
    January 5, 2007

    For the homeo cold and flu remedy, Occillococcinum, people in the (scientifically based) know joke among themselves about the $20 million dollar duck. Apparently, it takes only a single duck liver to provide all the Occillococcinum sold around the world each year. Supposedly, the stuff has a “memory” of that duck liver. This is almost better PT Barnum stuff than the selling of face cream. The best face cream there is? The $110 Creme de la Mer? Nope. A $7 bottle of sunblock with titanium dioxide (until the FDA allows Anthelios #50+ sunblock with Mexoryl to be sold in the USA), plus a hat or an umbrella when it’s sunny.

  2. #2 Ruth
    January 5, 2007

    Hoping a reaction would work never seemed to have an influence on the reagents when I worked at the bench. Perhaps I lacked enough faith.

    Skywalker: I don’t believe it!

    Yoda: That is why you fail.

  3. #3 Robert M.
    January 5, 2007

    A higher-dimensional-level substance, labeled deltrons, falling outside the constraints of relativity theory and able to move at velocities” faster than the speed of light and that act as “a coupling agent between the electric monopole types of substances and the magnetic monopole types of substances to produce both electromagnetic (EM) and magnetoelectric (ME) types of mediator fields exhibiting a special type of “mirror principle” relationship between them.

    I think reading this might actually have destroyed some neurons. Someone, please, get the man a high-school physics textbook before he strikes again!

  4. #4 Chris
    January 5, 2007

    Superb work by Dr Tiller there. Although he seems to have omitted the assumption implicit in his thinking. That if concentration goes down, thermodynamic activity must increase ASSUMING that chemical activity remains constant. Which it don’t.

  5. #5 Andrew Dodds
    January 5, 2007

    He used e=mc2! How can he possibly be wrong?

    I’m sure there should be a particle called a deltron, it seems a good name. Apart from that – how does this person manage to hold down an academic post?

  6. #6 mumkeepingsane
    January 5, 2007

    Ouch, my head hurts. Is he just making this stuff up?

  7. #7 Sid Schwab
    January 5, 2007

    I’m guessing eventually we’ll find out engrams are made of deltrons.

  8. #8 Chris
    January 5, 2007

    I’m bookmarking his site as a reference for when things get slow.

    Unjustified optimism, I fear. Good article otherwise, though.

    I wonder how many people go through a thought process like “I don’t understand this, but he must understand it and be smarter than me; I’ll go along to hide my ignorance” and give this guy money. Probably far too many.

  9. #9 Abel Pharmboy
    January 5, 2007

    Tiller’s equations are quite reminiscent of the famous episode of South Park where gnomes collect underwear for profit. Their business plan:

    Collect underpants —> ??? —> Profit!

    Seems that the good doctor has found an equally illogical path to profits.

  10. #10 jre
    January 5, 2007

    Amy –
    I, too, was immensely tickled by the story of the Oscillococcinum duck (or goose; versions differ) when I heard it on the radio.
    I sent in response what I hoped would be some useful advice to our local woo-mistress, Brigitte Mars.
    Brigitte actually answered me — her reply, in its entirety, was “Many Blessings, Jim!”
    She seems a nice enough woman, if completely wacked.

  11. #11 dzd
    January 5, 2007

    Deltron? Isn’t that a rap album?

  12. #12 Brendan
    January 5, 2007

    While (attempting) to read the quoted stuff, I couldn’t help but thinking of the term they invented over at UDreamOfJanie, The Tsunami of Ignorance.
    Everyone knows that’s not how the equation goes. The real equation is thus:
    Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass. He’s close, with the information, he just needs to refine the equation a little.
    Finally, I almost had a heart attack when I saw the title. The thought of woo more potent that quantum homeopathy was almost enough to make me lose all sense of rationality. Indeed, thermodynamic woo is more potent, and I need to stop putting upper limits on woo.

  13. #13 Joe
    January 5, 2007
  14. #14 Cain
    January 5, 2007

    No, Sid, we’re going to find out thetans are made of deltrons.

  15. #15 Renee
    January 5, 2007

    I was thinking, maybe this guy is just saying that he is an emeritus professor from Stanford, but in reality is just padding his CV, as it were.

    But, he’s the real thing (no mention of his research interests):
    http://soe.stanford.edu/research/layout.php?sunetid=07098155

    He has certainly taken chemical thermodynamics onto a higher plane of sophistication. Or is it a lower plane?

  16. #16 Opiwan
    January 5, 2007

    Ye gods, even more incentive for me to say I’m a “ceramic scientist/engineer” instead of a “materials scientist/engineer” so as not to be lumped in with the loony toon…

  17. #17 Koray
    January 5, 2007

    I would think that by raising the pH level of water purely by intent, you ought to get a Nobel prize. At least a free bowl of soup.

  18. #18 Meri
    January 5, 2007

    You know, if just intent and wanting things to happen really had an effect on reality, then wouldn’t the combined belief of a large portion of the world’s children have produced Santa Claus by now? Or something, anyway.

  19. #19 Coin
    January 5, 2007

    You know, if just intent and wanting things to happen really had an effect on reality, then wouldn’t the combined belief of a large portion of the world’s children have produced Santa Claus by now?

    Or at least we would have found the WMD in Iraq.

  20. #20 James
    January 5, 2007

    For that matter if belief affected reality Bush wouldn’t be having any problems with Iraq at all.

  21. #21 Robster
    January 6, 2007

    No, Sid, we’re going to find out thetans are made of deltrons

    No no no. Deltron is the Funky Homosapien.

  22. #22 idlemind
    January 6, 2007

    Heh. I first read that as “deitrons” which we all know are the particles that make up the deity. How else can one explain such supernatural phenomena?

  23. #23 Graculus
    January 6, 2007

    Oh hell, you don’t need to be a chemist. I hit future information medicine and started giggling.

    It’s like the science-y version of the Bullshit generator.

  24. #24 DuWayne
    January 6, 2007

    But, but, it all sounds so “sciency,” it can’t be wrong, can it?

  25. #25 Justin Moretti
    January 7, 2007

    When I read his stuff, it sounds somewhat incoherent with a disordered sentence structure. Perhaps a woo-buster who is a psychiatrist should parse this.

  26. #26 BAT
    January 7, 2007

    Sweet – this means I can go from my lazy-ass light switch remote control to just using pure intent and POOF! – the light can go on and off. But, if I use consciousness to turn off the light, therefore cutting off a source of energy, perhaps I would cease to remain conscious . . .Sleep.

  27. #27 Christophe Thill
    January 8, 2007

    I’m not really proud of it, but Oscillococcinum was invented in my country (France). You can read all about it in the following articles (in French):

    http://www.pseudo-sciences.org/spip.php?article39
    http://www.pseudo-sciences.org/spip.php?article40

    Basically, it begn with a doctor, Joseph Roy, who studied the flu epidemic of 1917. He believed he discovered an unknown germ, that he called the oscillococcus. He then developed an idiosyncratic theory in which his baby was the cause, not only of flu, but also of cancer, tuberculosis and, well, almost all diseases. He created a hoeompathic recipe based on duck liver and heart; why he chose the duck is not quite clear. Later, the homeopathic lab to whom he had sold his formula was sold to Boiron, who is now one of the undisputed kings of the sugar pill.

    Of course, cancer is now never mentioned when advertising Oscillococcinum. Neither is flu; but the product is currently sold for a “flu-like state” (“état grippal”) which is nothing else than the symptoms associated with a cold: runny nose, headache, muscle soreness, and so on. Quite a convoluted story, isn’t it?

  28. #28 Nomen Nescio
    January 8, 2007

    Using standard chemical thermodynamics, it is readily shown that the driving force for all chemical reactions involves the logarithm of chemical activities for the different species involved. Because chemical activity is given by the product of concentration and thermodynamic activity coefficient,

    we need to reverse the polarity of the deflector shields, cap’n, because the warp core’s about to blow and i canna break the laws of physics! quick, somebody shoot out a control panel with a phaser pistol!

    passing high school chemistry has made it impossible for me to keep reading this woo any further, i’m afraid. i need to scrub out my eyeballs from that little bit alone…

  29. #29 richard blaine
    January 8, 2007

    Wow. Breathtaking. I’m an organic chemist, and, like Ruth, I’ve really REALLY tried to influence the reactions I run with good intentions, but failed miserably. Maybe because I never studied at Stanford…

    (1) increase the pH of highly purified water by one pH nit, (2) decrease the pH of the same type of water by one pH unit,

    Doesn’t take much to reduce the pH of freshly purified water (starts at 7) a unit or two. Just sit and stare at the beaker for a while, and the pH will drop as CO2 begins to dissolve in it. Raising the pH is indeed amazing. Tiller does mention, however, a “simple electronic device” which (presumably) is placed in contact with the water. Likely that whatever crap is on the device gets into the water and changes the pH. After all, going from pH=7 to pH=6 represents only a minute absolute change in hydronium ion concentration (0.0000001 to 0.000001 M).

    Obviously, my Ph.D. was wasted effort, and all that chemistry I thought I knew is wrong. Please don’t tell anyone. My employer might find out and fire me for incompetence.