The unreality of reiki and distance healing

Well, it’s 2017. In a mere 17 days, unreality will become reality, as the most unlikely and terrifying President in my lifetime is sworn in. Consequently, as I was thinking about what I’d like to write about for my first post of the new year, only one thing came to mind. Only one thing that I routinely apply my Insolence, both Respectful and Not-So-Respectful, to achieves the level of unreality that our politics entered in November and will amplify in a little more than two weeks.

Yes, it’s time for a reiki post.

OK, I admit it. A reader sent me a hilarious article about the mechanism of reiki that I knew I’d have to write about at some point; so I retrofitted the explanation above to justify writing about it today. I had thought about doing a post about naturopathy, which is pretty darned unreal as well, but naturopathy does include a few things that can be evidence-based, like a handful of tiny gems buried in 50 tons of nonsense. However, I don’t think it was unjustified of me to justify writing about reiki this way because what I said about the unreality of reiki and the unreality of our new President-Elect still holds true. Also, I don’t need an excuse to write about reiki, other than that my last post of 2016 was kind of depressing, and I needed a little something light to cleanse the palate before the serious pain of 2017 takes hold. Also, it’s sufficient that reiki amuses me, particularly articles like HOW REIKI ACTUALLY WORKS (THE SCIENCE PART), by Lara Starr. Except that the article isn’t by Lara Starr. It’s a repost of an article from several months ago by Arjun Walia posted to Collective Evolution, a woo-friendly site that I haven’t examined too closely.

I like how Walia starts out by describing reiki as having been “practiced and taught around the world for many years, with many believing its origins to be as ancient as those of humans themselves.” Of course, as most regular readers will know, reiki has only been in existence since the 1920s. I’ll give Walia credit. The way this is written implies that reiki is ancient when in fact it’s less than 100 years old, having been made up by a man named Mikao Usui because, if you believe the version of history promoted by believers in reiki, he wanted to discover how Jesus healed. Usui even supposedly disappeared up a mountain for 21 days to meditate in much the same way that the Bible recounts Jesus disappearing for 40 days to pray before he began his ministry. Like Jesus and his miracles, when Usui returned, he knew how to do reiki.

It makes a lot of sense, too. After all, reiki is a form of energy healing in which practitioners claim that they can, by making hand motions that sometimes involve touching, sometimes not, on or over the patient in order to channel “healing energy” from what they call the “universal source.” Of course, it’s hard not to note the parallel between reiki when described this way and faith healing. Indeed, boiled to its essence, that’s what reiki is, faith healing. Think of the “universal source” as God and reiki energy as the healing power of God, and you’ll see what I mean. The only difference is that reiki substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for Christian beliefs. No wonder there are parallels between the “official” account of Mikaomi Usui’s discovery of reiki by Hawayo Takata and the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus fasting and praying for 40 days. No wonder the Catholic Church doesn’t like reiki, viewing it, quite correctly, as a competing religion.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take Walia long to dive into quantum woo:

With scientific research now emerging attesting to the ability of human thoughts, emotions, and intentions to affect the physical material world, an increasing number of scientists, quantum physicists in particular, are stressing the importance of studying factors associated with consciousness and its relation to our physical world. One of these factors is human intention.

Reiki essentially uses human intention to heal another person’s ailments. Practitioners usually place their hands on the patient in order to channel energy into them by means of touch. It can be roughly defined as using compassionate mental action and physical touch, energy healing, shamanic healing, nonlocal healing, or quantum touch.

It sounds like quantum quackery bingo, doesn’t it? It’s all there: “intent”; quantum healing, nonlocal healing, and the claim that quantum physicists somehow view the claims of reiki believers to be plausible based on recent discoveries in physics. Walia even goes so far as to invoke Max Planck:

Quantum physicists have been advocating for the effectiveness of such treatment for some time. For example, Max Planck, the theoretical physicist who originated quantum theory — winning him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 — stated that he “regards consciousness as fundamental” “and derivative from consciousness.” He also maintained that “everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

Of course, nothing in any of the quoted statements by Planck support the claim of “quantum consciousness” or the idea that quantum theory somehow provides an explanation for reiki. What Planck was espousing was a philosophical, not scientific position, that the postulate that consciousness is fundamental indeed implies that the existence of a mind-idependent world is a metaphysical hypothesis. But, contrary to Walia’s cherry-picked quote would imply, Planck thought that hypothesis of a mind-independent world was necessary for science to progress because our own consciousness and experiences are not enough. Also, a lot of the fathers of quantum physics said similar things. John Purcell, author of Mind, Matter and the Universe, put it this way:

It’s clear why Planck said this. Many of his contemporaries said similar things; Heisenberg, Max Born and others.

They were puzzling over what actually constitutes an observation in quantum mechanics, and trying to come to terms with the idea that small particles don’t appear to have a state until one is created by an experiment in which their state is observed. But the particles of the measuring apparatus therefore shouldn’t have a state until they are measured either.

Faced with this, they realised that the ultimate test of whether an observation has occurred or not is simply that we consciously believe an observation has been made.

Since then the fashion among physicists has swung sharply the other way, with only a few percent believing that consciousness has anything to do with quantum mechanics.

I think Planck’s most basic point was one that should not really be controversial. We ultimately know about physics only because our minds arrive at opinions about what we have seen, and we can share those opinions. So in this way, consciousness is certainly fundamental. It’s always our starting point, whether we admit it or not.

Planck went much further than this and apparently regarded the physical world as being partially or entirely a creation of consciousness. Clearly our minds do produce a model of reality, which may or may not be “like” some underlying fundamental reality. The modern trend has been largely towards realism/physicalism, according to which the model our minds produce corresponds directly to an underlying physical reality. But this is not the only logical possibility.

In other words, as woo-meisters I’ve encountered more times than I can remember like to do, Walia is taking the word of pioneering quantum physicists who were grappling with the paradoxes that come with the field and using them to claim that quantum physics supports “energy healing” like reiki. Apologists for “energy healing” are particularly fond of invoking concepts like quantum entanglement to claim that quantum physics supports quackery like “distance healing.” They also willfully misinterpret observations that you can’t escape consciousness when making scientific observations for the trivially true observation that scientists are human beings and their consciousness affects their observations and that how our minds work means that whatever we observe is based on how our minds model reality.

Walia continues:

Did you know that clinical trials testing the effectiveness of DHI [distance healing intention] have been being conducted since the mid-1990s? Serious scientific inquiry has been ongoing and continues to this day, with both systematic and meta-analytic reviews being published, many of which have concluded that, with nearly half of all the published studies on this topic exhibiting statistically significant results, further study is desperately needed.

Funny, but when I examine the clinical trials of such DHI (and, make no mistake, studies of intercessory prayer are basically clinical trials of DHI), I find unrelentingly negative studies, such as this famous one from a decade ago in which intercessory prayer produced no effect on recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery and, disturbingly, subjects thinking that they were receiving intercessory prayer was associated with worse outcomes. I can’t help but note that neither reiki nor distance healing are substantively different than intercessory prayer or faith healing.

None of this stops believers from wasting time and resources to test their fantasies of being able to heal people at a distance by looking at other outcomes, the rationale being that, if distance healing or reiki or whatever energy healing woo can produce a change in a measurable physiological parameter, then it can heal:

Hundreds of experiments in this area, which is closely related to DHI, have been conducted as well. DMILS is not concerned with healing, but rather with searching for measurable empirical evidence that A can affect B in any way, rather than if A can heal B.

These studies investigate the influence of A’s intention on B’s physiological state — a process referred to as “remote intention.” They further examine the influence of A’s attention on B’s physiological state while A gazes at B over a 1 way video link, called “remote staring.” Last but not least, they study the influence of A’s intention on B’s attention or behaviour, which is referred to as “remote helping.”

The effects of distant mental interactions are measured using electrodermal activity, heart rate, blood volume pulse, and electrocortical activity (EEG electrodermal activity, heart rate, blood volume pulse, brain blood oxygenation [MRI], and electrogastrogram [EGG]).

These studies have yielded remarkable results which have since been successfully repeated in laboratories around the world.

Reproducible. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The disappointing thing about this article is that, despite its title, Walia never really explains how reiki “really works.” I know, I know. Reiki doesn’t work, but clearly Walia is trying to make the case that it does and to explain how. Basically, the article boils down to, “Reiki and distance healing work because quantum physics,” without actually explaining how this might be so, coupled with some carefully cherry picked quotes from a pioneer of quantum physics, an astronomer who is a bit woo-friendly, and, of course, from the king of all distance healing woo (even more so than Deepak Chopra), Dean Radin.

You know, maybe I should have gone after something more substantive for my first post of the new year. The sad thing is, there’s no reason for me to be in a rush. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of atrocities against science this year that demand my attention. Hopefully there’ll also be some cool studies and interesting medical controversies to take on as well.

Comments

  1. #1 Bob G
    Los Angeles
    January 3, 2017

    I never get this argument about quantum physics predicting any of this nonsense. At the molecular level of water molecules interacting, there is physical uncertainty regarding the velocities and positions of the electrons — even the bonding electrons — and the bonds flex and vibrate, expand and contract, millions of times every instant. Oxygens exchange hydrogens as bonds break and are remade. This means that every time you blink your eyes, the electrons and resulting molecular interactions in a drop of water have changed a billion-billion times. And each change in position is something less than deterministic. This alone should shoot down the homeopathy argument, because the pattern of interactions is changing that fast and that often. How is water to have some sort of spatial memory if it’s spatial organization changes that quickly? Feynman took a similar argument a step further, pointing out that even if you were to ignore uncertainty, just trying to predict the path of each particle of water from the top of a waterfall to the bottom is all but impossible because the system is so complex and you would have to have all but perfect knowledge of the mass, position, and trajectory of every particle at the start. If these comparatively simple physical arguments make homeopathy (and hence naturopathy) ridiculous, then how much more ridiculous is the effect of slowly waving your hands in the general direction of the patient. There’s not a lot of quantum anything in this process. I guess I understand that the silly people are discarding the old term “mind over matter” and substituting the term quantum physics, but the terms don’t really fit each other, do they?

  2. #2 kdizzle
    January 3, 2017

    You accidentally skipped over the link to the many peer reviewed studies that show a clear correlation and evidence to support the case for our Mind being able to influence reality over distance?

    • #3 Orac
      January 3, 2017

      Be very careful what you ask for. I looked at that link. I’m familiar with quite a few of those studies. Let’s just say that they are not convincing support for the hypothesis that the mind can influence reality at a distance. Perhaps at some point I’ll do a follow up post. ?

  3. #4 MikeMa
    January 3, 2017

    I always thought of Reiki as just another way to separate marks from their money. It doesn’t even sound credible.

  4. #5 darwinslapdog
    January 3, 2017

    As long as people imagine nebulous “energies”, they will buy into things like Reiki–just like praying for miracles. Funny, though, as soon as the prayed for patient dies, they say how happy they are that (s)he is now “in a better place” or some such. And, of course, these patients don’g “die” at all–they simply “pass” or “pass away”. The only thing I “pass” is gas–or the salt.

  5. #6 Lawrence
    January 3, 2017

    Let’s see – we can detect the faint traces of long-dead pulsars, supernovas & even the background radiation from the Big Bang – billions of years in the past….but we can’t detect these so called “healing energies?”

    I really wish science literacy wasn’t so rare…..

  6. #7 Eric Lund
    January 3, 2017

    It can be roughly defined as using compassionate mental action and physical touch, energy healing, shamanic healing, nonlocal healing, or quantum touch.

    Quantum touch?!? As anyone who has taken a course in quantum mechanics can tell you, the behavior of any sufficiently large system as predicted by quantum mechanics approaches what would be predicted by classical mechanics, and the larger the system, the better classical mechanics gets as an approximation. Human beings, even infants, are certainly large enough that “quantum touch”, if the term means anything, should be indistinguishable from classical touch.

    Of course, we are dealing with woo practitioners, who keep using the word “quantum”. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

  7. #8 jrkrideau
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    January 3, 2017

    @ Eric Lund

    Of course, we are dealing with woo practitioners, who keep using the word “quantum”. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

    They probably have no more idea than I do but it’s the flavour of the week, so to speak.

    Back in the 1950s and 60s it was “radiation” that created the Hulk or the Invisible Man.

  8. #9 Eric Lund
    January 3, 2017

    @Lawrence: I tried to come up with a reply involving some witty variation on Olber’s paradox (“Why is the night sky dark?”), but it didn’t work because we know in advance that the Earth is finite. So I will have to make do with an Albert Einstein quote: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.”

  9. #10 Lawrence
    January 3, 2017

    @Eric – unfortunately, the last year has proven Einstein’s hypothesis about human stupidity.

  10. #11 Richard
    January 3, 2017

    What always baffles me, is how utterly, pitifully ignorant these people are with regard to almost every single detail of their ‘explanation’:
    – As #1 (Bob G), also suggests, things on a quantum level have no deterministic structure; everything is, for all intents and purposes, one big ‘probability soup’, with persistent complex structures only emerging at the atomic level and higher.
    – These people also have no grasp whatsoever of the complexity required to influence biological processes in the very targeted way necessary to achieve healing, especially without any side effects.
    – There is nothing in their ‘explanations’ that suggests how the ‘energy’ they talk about can be complex or purposeful in any manner. One could just as easily claim that healing can be achieved by microwaving the patient, as it is an effective way to apply ‘energy’, now isn’t it? (No no NO! DO NOT DO THIS, you wooalternative complementary integrative clowns!)
    – In fact, ‘energy’ in a scientific sense never has a specific structure; it is nothing more than the ability to perform work, and at best has a scalar (a certain amount) and a vector (directional) component. And oh, it can be measured objectively, quite contrary to the woo version.
    – And, of course, they tend to forget all the time that an 11-year-old school girl was already able to prove that their whole concept of ‘energy’ and ‘distance healing’ is utter bunk.

  11. #12 Erp
    January 3, 2017

    Another potential problem is that if people believe good intentions can help then the opposite can also be concluded: bad intentions can hurt or even kill. Going down that road leads to accusations of witchcraft/evil eye/etc.

  12. #13 Robert L Bell
    January 3, 2017

    The Problem of Quantum Measurement is indeed most deep, subtle, and perplexing – especially for those attempting to grapple with it in a spirit of honesty and good faith.

    These clowns, meh.

  13. #14 Kelly M Bray
    The blue convertible tardis parked out front.
    January 3, 2017

    If you can control reality at a distance why aren’t there more reiki masters playing craps in Vegas?

  14. #15 Lawrence
    January 3, 2017

    @Kelly – because con men don’t like it when they are the marks….

  15. #16 Eric Lund
    January 3, 2017

    Kelly@14: <Jedi_mind_trick>There are no midichlorians in dice.</Jedi_mind_trick>

  16. #17 Denice Walter
    [REDACTED]
    January 3, 2017

    “In a mere 17 days, unreality will become reality..” saith Orac

    Absolutely. I spent Saturday musing about the end of an era and Sunday with worry and trepidation about this turn of events.

    Perhaps some good news…
    it seems that Null may be in danger of being tossed out again with his land-based non-commercial radio station:
    he has started the new year ranting and raving and giving out phone numbers that enable followers without a computer/ device to listen to his dreck. So then, it would boil down to internet only- prn.fm.

    This would put a dent in his earning potential because he gathers customers from his radio audience.

    I haven’t looked at Natural News yet.

  17. #18 Jay
    January 3, 2017

    Okay, with the absence of a counterpoint, I’m going to leap in there and play Devil’s Advocate.

    For, though I have no peer reviewed research, I have seen and been involved in Reiki like events myself, during my martial arts cult days. 🙂

    1) Forget Quantums, let’s go for an energy that we haven’t found a method to detect with machinery. My Physics is sh1tty, so I’m going to have to reach to computers for my analogy, like two sets of protocols like the internet’s TCP and UDM co-existing but rarely touching. Feasible?

    2) The major excuse I was taught for Reiki failure, was that one or both of the participants were “closed”. Or even actively blocking. Yeah, this is a great get out clause, but they are IMHO allowed to set the rules to this.

    Based on the above, a fair experiment has yet been performed. I would propose quadruple blinding (if there is a thing lol), four teams of observers (even control observers?), 15 or so practitioners, 15 placebo practitioners. Ordinary people AND people selected for being sensitive, the practitioners get to choose a group from a crowd of strangers.

    And right during the experiment, the practitioner gets to call whether the person was open or not, of course he can’t call them all closed, as he will have picked some himself.
    None of the research I’ve seen has come even close.

  18. #19 Narad
    January 3, 2017

    My Physics is sh1tty, so I’m going to have to reach to computers for my analogy, like two sets of protocols like the internet’s TCP and UDM [sic?] co-existing but rarely touching. Feasible?

    I’m not even sure how it’s an analogy. At most, it’s (really) Bad Fazzm.

  19. #20 Denice Walter
    January 3, 2017

    Oh well, more BS from Mikey , Jakey, AoA, TMR…

    But WAIT!
    According to Mercola ( yesterday) it is healthy to do ‘peak fasting’ ( i.e. not eating for 13-18 hours EACH and EVERY day)

    HOLY crap! I’ve been doing that since I was 12.
    I must be super or something by now!

  20. #21 Eric Lund
    January 3, 2017

    @Jay: I am a physicist, so I will try to tackle your point #1 and explain why the analogy breaks down. It is true that we do not have any direct means of detecting dark matter or dark energy. We can, however, calculate their effects on the observable universe, and we find that every such prediction, about any of a wide variety of observable effects, agrees with observations, whereas the predictions of what a universe without those things would be like does not. A similar argument applies to black holes: we cannot, by definition, detect a black hole directly, but we can observe its effects on the universe (motion of nearby stars, gravitational lensing, etc.) and conclude that it has to be there.

    The problem with making an analogy to reiki is that reiki does not make specific predictions about its effects. It is claimed to help the patient, but that claim is so vague as to be impossible to refute, especially when the practitioner gets to assert that a patient for whom reiki does not work has a closed mind. IOW, reiki cannot fail, it can only be failed. That is not a scientific claim. If you have been following Orac for any length of time, you will have observed that many forms of woo make claims that are reducible to that form: the woo cannot fail, it can only be failed.

    In actual scientific medicine, the claims may not be as specific as in physics, but they are closer on that spectrum to physics than to things like reiki. For instance, a potential new drug will be claimed to treat a certain condition by blocking a specific chemical pathway by which that condition affects people who suffer from it, and won’t kill or seriously harm the patient in the process. The purpose of clinical trials is to demonstrate whether the potential new drug actually meets both of those conditions. If yes, the drug comes on the market; if not, it’s back to the lab. The process is independent of how the compound in question is identified, so once a while a piece of folk medicine will become science-based medicine, e.g., artemisinin.

  21. #22 rs
    January 3, 2017

    On the other hand you get to eat for 6 to 11 hours every day. Yum!

  22. #23 Gilbert
    January 3, 2017

    Remote surgery (also known as telesurgery) is the ability for a doctor to perform surgery on a patient even though they are not physically in the same location. It is a form of telepresence. A robot surgical system generally consists of one or more arms (controlled by the surgeon), a master controller (console), and a sensory system giving feedback to the user. Remote surgery combines elements of robotics, cutting edge communication technology such as high-speed data connections and elements of management information systems. While the field of robotic surgery is fairly well established, most of these robots are controlled by surgeons at the location of the surgery. Remote surgery is essentially advanced telecommuting for surgeons, where the physical distance between the surgeon and the patient is immaterial. It promises to allow the expertise of specialized surgeons to be available to patients worldwide, without the need for patients to travel beyond their local hospital.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remote_surgery

    Ahh, surgeons dealing with input lag and lack of finesse by using console-type, vibration-enabled dumbsticks. Peachy.

    GBFEL-TIE will remotely cure anyone of the vagaries of life anywhere on the planet.

    https://www.amazon.com/Electron-Technology-Integration-Experiment-Missile/dp/B00CJJ9QPU

  23. #24 herr doktor bimler
    January 3, 2017

    I never get this argument about quantum physics predicting any of this nonsense.

    Dressing up the scam with meaningless but resonant Words of Power isn’t really an argument.
    The grifters know nothing and care less aout QM. The griftees know nothing either but it sounds impressive. For other groups of suckers, the grifters will dress up the scam as “shamanic healing” despite knowing nothing about actual shamanic practices, but that doesn’t make it an “argument about anthropology”.

  24. #25 JP
    January 3, 2017

    Denice, you ARE super. Has nobody told you?

  25. #26 Lenny
    UK
    January 3, 2017

    Walia, when discussing “intention”, distance healing and “positive” clinical studies is probably referencing the arrant bumwash trotted out by noted woo-promoter and halfwit Lynne McTaggart who has conducted numerous supposedly successful experiments in the field.

  26. #27 Gilbert
    January 3, 2017

    Denice, you ARE super.

    Can’t ya’ll get a room and write it off the taxes as the price of being betrothed after clinic hours???

  27. #28 Jay
    January 3, 2017

    @ Narad

    Sorry meant UDP, User Datagram Protocol. Shall be working with VOIP (Voice Over IP) soon, as I grasp it TCP and UDP work side by side over the same connection.

  28. #29 Jay
    January 3, 2017

    I hear ya Eric, yon reiki practitioner would reply: but we do detect them (with the spirit don’t you know lol) and it can effect events in the real world.

    “reiki does not make specific predictions about its effects. It is claimed to help the patient, but that claim is so vague as to be impossible to refute”

    Totally this, I wouldn’t argue, going from meh to floaty, in a non sustainable way, isn’t something the medical profession should be bothering with IMO.

    “practitioner gets to assert that a patient for whom reiki does not work has a closed mind. IOW, reiki cannot fail, it can only be failed”.

    Well that’s taken into account in my study design (lol at me designing studies). The practitioners get to at least pick some that they certify as “open”, these get randomised/ blinded whatever, this is to prevent the practitioners claiming that they are all closed.

    For me I would have to see a very high success rate between certain practitioners and the ones they deem open.

    And I’m not talking healing either, some form of moving, sensing or a few.

    I’ve seen reiki practitioners move people to the way their hand moved, without that person being able to see them*. That could be testable.

    BTW I’m not trying to convince anyone (especially Minions) with my anecdotes, but if anyone involved in these studies, stumbles across this blog, you have my 2 cents.

    *I have been that person.

  29. #30 herr doktor bimler
    January 3, 2017

    Based on the above, a fair experiment has yet been performed. . I would propose quadruple blinding (if there is a thing lol), four teams of observers (even control observers?)

    It is noble of you to propose a test for Reiki that leans over backwards and accepts the framing of the Reiki apologists, i.e. “a test is only working on those occasions when the results are the desired ones”. But why would anyone want to do that? I don’t think it is in dispute that the whole Reiki ball of hair was pulled out of his arse by some Japanese con-man in the hope of selling it to Japanese suckers as “ancient traditional healing wisdom of the West”, but in the end it could be more profitably sold to Western suckers as “ancient traditional healing wisdom of the East”.
    The people who ign up or this sort of thing, I’m not calling them “gullible”, but I don’t think they’re particularly concerned about trivial issues like “working” or “not working”, so test results are not relevant.

  30. #31 Old Rockin' Dave
    January 3, 2017

    There is a long and ignoble tradition of stealing words with actual meaning in the science of the day to promote nonsense.
    Take a look back, and there is radiation, as has been pointed out, magnetism, mesmerism, probably transmutation, going all the way back to sympathetic magic (which is what homeopathy really is).
    I predict that dark matter and/or dark energy “healing” will be coming down the pike before long.

  31. #32 Old Rockin' Dave
    January 3, 2017

    I long ago decided that it’s impossible to have a double-blinded study of intercessory prayer because it’s impossible to completely isolate the control group. Maybe there is no designated person or group praying for the subjects, but can you be sure that some relatives or friends aren’t praying for them? And even if they’re friendless orphans, how do you shield them from someone somewhere praying for the healing of all sick people everywhere?

  32. #33 Chemmomo
    May do a 'nym change in the not too distant future. If so, it will be announced here in the location line
    January 4, 2017

    ORD

    can you be sure that some relatives or friends aren’t praying for them?

    Does it matter, when in the end the folks who thought someone was praying for them did worse?

    As far as I’m concerned, intercessory prayer improves outcomes for one group of people, and in only one way way.

    Those doing the praying feel better about themselves.

  33. #34 sadmar
    January 4, 2017

    @ Orac
    Nice! Clever and informative. Reiki seems silly on the face of it to the quantum baffled like myself, but it’s nice to have some clear explication by someone who knows more of the science of just why it’s as silly at it seems even as it’s proponents try to unpack it.

    And the levity is indeed perfect timing, and a welcome bit of respite from other new more disturbing still-building unrealities. Thanks!
    _________

    @Eric Lund:
    The world needs more Star Wars smack. This ‘energy’ craziness? I blame George Lucas for all of it. OK, not totally and not just him, but his contribution to mindless mysticism is awfully significant, and vastly under-commented-upon.
    ____________

    Why would anyone want to do a test for Reiki that leans over backwards and accepts the framing of the Reiki apologists?

    Because James Randi. Because it would be devilish fun. Because it could be great theater. Because Penn and Teller. Because people pay attention to dramatics, and acquire knowledge primarily through narrative. Because there is so much theatrical unreality, a theater of reality would be a good thing for the culture…
    Because you could run the Insolence right in their face…

  34. #35 The Smith of Lie
    January 4, 2017

    I remember seeing a CD labeled as Reiki music. Back theb I assumed it was some sort of gymnastics like tai chi or maybe a kinf of meditation.

    Niw I am wondering if practitioners actually use some sort of music and have another hilarious explanation or if someone just slapped it on to appeal to woo prone marks.

  35. #36 Richard
    January 4, 2017

    @The Smith of Lie, #35

    I remember seeing a CD labeled as Reiki music.

    Well, say what you want, but music fits the bill pretty well:
    – It actually does exert influence at a distance, without touching,
    – It does have ‘vibrations’ and ‘frequencies’ and ‘tuning’ and some other physics parameters that the woo-meisters have appropriated,
    – It is highly structured (um, well, OK, most music is…),
    – It can actually confer energy, in a physical as well as a mental sense,
    – It can make people feel a lot better almost instantly.

    So I really think you’re on to something here! And personal experiments suggest that the beneficial effects of this ‘Music’ are enhanced even further when treatment is applied to several people at once — which of course is also more efficient. So maybe we should organize, you know, large ‘Music’ sessions, where we can treat thousands of people together! And of course we can make a fortune, even if we charge only a modest fee of a few dozen bucks per patient, comparable with what people pay for a personal Reiki/naturopathic/whatever treatment. We’re gonna be Rich! (well, I already am, of course…)

    But nah, can’t see this catching on… there’s no ‘nano’ or ‘quantum’ involved, so people won’t fall for this… Too bad, we’ll have to make do with the old-style Reiki quackery, or, failing that, regular medicine…

  36. #37 Wesley Dodson
    January 4, 2017

    Orac, when you have some binging hours you should check out the new Netflix series “The OA”.

  37. #38 Narad
    January 4, 2017

    Niw I am wondering if practitioners actually use some sort of music and have another hilarious explanation or if someone just slapped it on to appeal to woo prone marks.

    Perhaps it contains harmonics of the VLF frequencies at which the pineal gland resonates with geomagnetic fields (Bengston) to give it a little nudge.

  38. #39 rs
    January 4, 2017

    If you choose a fundamental frequency that is sufficiently low then every frequency of interest is a harmonic. It’s sort of an offshoot from numerology.

  39. #40 Art
    January 4, 2017

    Of course reiki works, in much the same way accupuncture, homeopothy, prayer, and most scientific medicine works.

    Humans are social animals.
    We gain comfort ans reassurance by the presence of other human beings.
    This reassurance can raise our pain threshold, make us feel more energetic, and generally benefit our sense of wellbeing.
    This effect is magnified if the person lending assistance has a calm and reassuring presence and the atmosphere is one of calming care and close attention.
    Science based medicine benefits as much from this effect as any other modality but, and this is the kicker, science based medicine goes beyond this social and psychological effect by directly addressing the actual disease and dysfunction.

    All forms of medicine offer pretty wrappings and comforting internal logic to explain the problems of the human body. Science based medicine has as much wrapping paper as any. Impressive buildings and lab coats are part of it. But with science based medicine you get a present inside the wrapping paper. Sometimes it is a cure. Sometimes it is a management program and being able to get on with life, usually feeling better. Sometimes, there is nothing that can be done. In which case you still get the wrappings, and knowing that what could be done has been done.

    Science is the magic that works.

  40. #41 Old Rockin' Dave
    January 4, 2017

    Chemmomo, you are right, the praying group are the only ones who gain, but I was addressing the logical impossibility of a proper study being done. Attempts at randomized double blind placebo-controlled studies have been made in the past, and are still being advocated.
    I think I have the right rejoinder to people who want to waste resources trying to prove what can’t be proven.

  41. #42 Denice Walter
    January 4, 2017

    @ JP:

    Yes, I know.
    UNFORTUNATELY, one of the characteristics of *being* super is that one can look exactly like an android
    ALTHOUGH I do work on it by NOT having extremely neat hair or always dressing perfectly for the hour, time and occasion
    AND I try to be clumsy in a clever way.

    Most of the time, most people never suspect my powers.

  42. #43 viggen
    Boulder
    January 4, 2017

    For example, Max Planck, the theoretical physicist who originated quantum theory — winning him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 — stated that he “regards consciousness as fundamental” “and derivative from consciousness.”

    It’s really kind of misleading to lay it at Planck’s feet. This Nobel prize is for the Black Body effect (work done in the 1890s), certainly an important development leading to Quantum Mechanics, but hardly a feature that resulted at the time in any understandings of the quantum weirdness these people love. Quantum Mechanics became what we now know of it in the 1920s, well after Planck’s peak, in the hands of people like Heisenberg, deBroglie and Schrodinger. Planck was not really one to theorize about nonlocality or quantum entanglement, which really didn’t develop until past 1935 with the EPR paper and more completely in the 1960s with Bell’s inequalities … in Planck’s hands, it could only have been philosophical rather than physical. Planck died in 1947.

  43. #44 Denice Walter
    January 4, 2017

    re ‘some sort of music for reiki’

    Synchronicity?
    Mikey writes today that – thanks to his ‘elemonics’- you can now HEAR chemistry! ( Naturday News)

    Yaeh, right, he’s a musical performer as well as a genius inventor, saviour of humanity and talented writer.

  44. #45 Denice Walter
    January 4, 2017

    NATURAL News

  45. #46 Eric Lund
    January 4, 2017

    Narad@38: The highest note on a piano has a frequency of about 4200 Hz, barely within the VLF range. Most music is at considerably lower frequencies; the lowest note on a piano is 27.5 Hz (assuming the standard A440 tuning).

  46. #47 Denice Walter
    January 4, 2017

    In other news…

    More hilarity:
    Trump: ” I know things that other people don’t know”

    Now doesn’t that sound like what the type of people Orac and company regularly skewer say?

    Secret knowledeg , perfect knowledge, what the doctors won’t tell you/ don’t know.

  47. #48 viggen
    Boulder
    January 4, 2017

    1) Forget Quantums, let’s go for an energy that we haven’t found a method to detect with machinery. My Physics is sh1tty, so I’m going to have to reach to computers for my analogy, like two sets of protocols like the internet’s TCP and UDM co-existing but rarely touching. Feasible?

    @Jay
    Eric Lund handled it pretty well. I would add that, in my experience, physicists treat ‘energy’ as a very different concept from what common society treats it to be. In physics, ‘energy’ works as a sort of a gear ratio telling how different processes can intermesh with each other. For example, in a car engine, a known quantity of fuel combusts to produce a fixed quantity of heat energy… from this, a set quantity of work can be derived from the basic expansion/compression characteristics of the engine machinery driving the wheels. The idea of the energy simply allows you to fit the distinct chemical process of combustion together with the mechanical process of driving the piston. Energy allows you to talk about individual processes decoupled from their context… you don’t need to know everything about gravity to understand falling, you just need to know how gravity puts kinetic energy into the falling object. For “Dark Energy”… what we really have is just some unknown process which puts kinetic energy into the universe, causing objects to accelerate away from each other in a defined way… we know a behavior and can map it very exactly and describe it by energy, even if we don’t know what’s actually causing it. The ‘energy’ concept can simply work as a place holder for the actual cause. To put it in programmer terms… energy is a means of indirection, a way to hide code from different parts of the program. Lay people tend to think about energy as a distinct object unto itself even though it is never really disconnected from other substance.

    I always scoff when I hear Star Trek say “a form of energy never before detected” or “composed of pure energy” because that doesn’t really mean anything. You don’t detect ‘energy’ directly: you infer energy from an interaction in order to understand how some other process might give rise to whatever phenomenon you can actually see or touch. You can’t ‘give’ energy or ‘produce’ energy unless one process you aren’t directly looking at can in some way drive another process whose changes you tabulate. To a physicist, that’s what energy is. It’s a way to deconvolve physical processes from one another so that you don’t have to talk about all of them in order to address your interests in only one of them.

  48. #49 Eric Lund
    January 4, 2017

    Trump: ” I know things that other people don’t know”

    To steal a line from (I think) Will Rogers: What he doesn’t know doesn’t bother me as much as what he knows for sure that just isn’t so.

  49. #50 cloudskimmer
    January 4, 2017

    ORDave: to the best of my knowledge, mesmerism is not a hijacked scientific term. It was created by Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) who invented the concept of animal magnetism. He was thoroughly discredited by the French Academy of Sciences, along with Benjamin Franklin. His techniques were a lot like Reiki.

  50. #51 Old Rockin' Dave
    January 4, 2017

    Mesmerism was seized on and exploited by the quacks of its day. Magnetism with or without the animal part was also attached to all kinds of nonsense. Later in the 19th Century glandular secretions were all the rage, and while there was good science going on in that area, quacks seized on that too. Anything that sounds all science-y and modernistical will be hijacked to promote crap nostrums.

  51. #52 herr doktor bimler
    January 4, 2017

    It’s really kind of misleading to lay it at Planck’s feet.

    If Wikiquote is any guide, Planck spent most of the Quantum era telling the kids to get off his grass, and campaigning against atheism (because without God, it seemed, there could be no true German culture or German science). It is hard to extract any value from his philosophical maunderings.

    Most of the nimrods in New Age circles who pass his words from hand to hand like a communally-owned lollipop can’t even get his name right — he gets called “Plank” a lot — so I don’t think they care what he really said either; the quotation is purely for incantatory purposes.

  52. #53 Narad
    January 4, 2017

    For “Dark Energy”… what we really have is just some unknown process which puts kinetic energy into the universe, causing objects to accelerate away from each other in a defined way…
    . . .
    I always scoff when I hear Star Trek say “a form of energy never before detected” or “composed of pure energy” because that doesn’t really mean anything.

    That’s pretty much exactly what a new scalar field would represent, at least as I understand it. It’s too bad Palindrom’s not here.

  53. #54 Rich Woods
    Out there
    January 5, 2017

    @Old Rockin’ Dave #31:

    I predict that dark matter and/or dark energy “healing” will be coming down the pike before long.

    I don’t think that will be the case, because the word ‘dark’ has such strong negative connotations. If you were to say to some woo-friendly person ‘I’m going to heal you though my psychic manipulation of dark energy’, they’re more likely than not going to leap up and yell ‘Burn the witch!’

    Now, if science were to uncover fascinating new forms of energy and matter which (for some bizarre reason) were called things like ‘iridescent energy’ or ‘creative matter’, you could bet your bottom dollar on some Chopra clone latching onto them before the first pop-sci TV programme had broadcast its closing credits.

  54. #55 Eric Lund
    January 5, 2017

    Rich@54: I see some promising avenues along those lines for “tuning your cosmic strings”, dressed up in technobabble such as “unleash your compactified dimensions” or “adjust your Calabi-Yau manifold”.

    Then again, that’s not my field, so it’s possible string theory has fallen out of favor while I wasn’t looking. In fact, it’s far enough from my field that I would have difficulty using some of those terms in ways that aren’t the sort of technobabble I wrote in the above paragraph. I only know the terms because I have heard them in colloquia.

  55. #56 Old Rockin' Dave
    January 5, 2017

    Rich Woods:
    I am reminded that during my brief stint working in radiation oncology, I advocated for the use of neutrino beam therapy – no unlovely side effects, impressive dosimetry, and no need for expensive equipment. Given that the sun produces more neutrinos than we can make here on Earth, and that dosimetry is virtually identical anywhere on the planet, patients need not even leave home for treatment.
    Given all those advantages, I think we ought to NCCIH to start trials immediately so we can find out what dis-eases it’s good for and whether they can discover previously unknown conditions that can be cured with it.

  56. #57 herr doktor bimler
    January 5, 2017

    Shirley you mean homeopathic neutrinos, ORD.

  57. #58 Eric Lund
    January 5, 2017

    @HDB: No, these are undiluted solar neutrinos. It’s actually quite hard to get even a 1C (let alone the 30-40C that you frequently see in homeopathic remedies) dilution of neutrinos.

    The flaw in the plan, which I’m sure ORD already knows, is that neutrinos have a tendency to pass through objects–even Earth-sized objects–without interacting. So it’s basically equivalent to “touch therapy”, and “works” via the placebo effect.

  58. #59 Eric Lund
    January 6, 2017

    Oh, hell, even my town Parks and Recreation Department has gotten into the woo. From the town’s weekly e-mail digest:

    Energy Medicine Workshop: Explore your Inner Healing- Curious what ENERGY medicine is? Would you like a way to “rest” your “feel good” button to increase your energy level, improve concentration, clear toxins from your body, feel more grounded and experience more joy? Join [redacted] for these workshops to learn how energy exercise can propel you towards greater health and happiness while balancing negative energies that assault your well-being. Expand YOUR light!

    Note: Workshops, plural.

    I’m going to have to drop the town administrator a line about this. In fairness, he may have done nothing more than copy and paste something the Parks and Recreation people provided him, but there is definitely something fishy in this town, and I don’t mean the seafood counter at the supermarket.

  59. #60 Jay
    January 6, 2017

    Sorry guys I’m on my phone, dead laptop battery. So I’m struggling to quote.

    “? I don’t think it is in dispute that the whole Reiki ball of hair was pulled out of his arse by some Japanese con-man in the”

    May I be allowed to move the goal posts, away from reiki, to it’s supposed source: Chi or Ki? Because that’s kind of what this thread is about. They are not trying to prove healing, just that something is there.

    Chi does have some history to iit, especially in the martial arts. It’s funny that someone blamed star wars, didn’t George Lucas get some of his inspiration from Samurai films?

    It’s getting late here and I’m getting garbled, gnite all.

  60. #61 herr doktor bimler
    January 6, 2017

    away from reiki, to it’s supposed source: Chi or Ki

    Interesting question. Was Mikao Usui following a tradition where “ki” / “qi” had a definite, narrow meaning, akin to phlogiston or caloric or the Luminiferous Aether? Or was it just an meaningless hand-wavy signifier, like “energy” in new-age discourse?

  61. […] The unreality of reiki and distance healing [Respectful Insolence] […]