Your Friday Dose of Woo: The fuzziness of woo

Over the last 15 months that this regular Friday feature has been in existence, I've come across some real doozies in the world of woo. Who could forget, for example, quantum gyroscopic theories of homeopathy? Or the DNA activation guy? Or the "no plane" conspiracy theory of 9/11? Or a certain disgusting "feedback loop" for curing cancer? A few others stand out from the pack, like Healing Sounds and Dr. Emoto, as rare examples of just the right amount of superficial plausibility married to over-the-top craziness to be memorable.

This week's installment might just be one of these. It is truly Grade A, prime cut woo. Even better, it was sent in by a reader named Adam yesterday. Such was the amazing power and attraction of this woo that I callously threw aside this week's intended target--I mean victim...I mean topic--for Your Friday Dose of Woo and immediately decided that I just had to have some fun with this bit.

Be prepared for Biolumanetics.

What is Biolumanetics, you ask? A good question. I was having difficulty figuring it out myself. The Biolumantics website defines it as:

An area of enquiry that refers to the capture on photography of the subtle activity of light emissions by living organisms.

Uh-oh. Whenever you see the word "subtle" used this way (as in "subtle energy"; i.e. energy so subtle that no one can detect it), there's an excellent chance that you're looking at some serious woo. "Subtle activity of light emissions" tells me that there's no science here, only woo.

And what woo it is! Get a load of this "simple overview":

Bio-Liminal Photography was created eighteen years ago by Patrick Richards, an engineer and scientist. He created a machine, the Luminator, which produces a special electromagnetic field and a uniform light field. He discovered that when photographing individuals within this field the photos were either clear and crisp (coherent) or fuzzy or fractured (incoherent). After further research he concluded that what the photographs were revealing was the quantity and quality of the cell light being emitted from individual subjects. A person with strong vitality and lack of inner stress emitted more photons, thereby creating a coherent image, than an individual with less vitality and greater inner stress.

So let me get this straight. This Patrick Richards guy came up with a special light field, and when he photographs individuals he can tell how healthy they are by how in focus the resulting pictures are. Yes, that's basically it:

The first session takes approximately one and a half hours. A case history is taken and any physical symptoms and problems the patient may be suffering from are noted down. A brief physical examination is also conducted. Then a picture of the subject is taken (base picture). This is evaluated for its degree of coherence. If the patient is currently taking any medication, supplements or homoeopathic remedies, these are then evaluated as to whether they are enhancing the subject's vitality. At this stage the person may be encouraged to stop particular medications or remedies and is given a chelate (an electromagnetic solution) which will help to detoxify the patient from those particular medications. The person is asked to come back in about two weeks after the detoxification process and then another base picture will be taken at the second session.

If a patient does not need detoxification from drugs the practitioner will probably proceed directly to choosing the most suitable remedy or remedies and the person will be asked to hold these while being photographed. The correct remedy will produce coherence and a clear picture. This will be the second stage of the process for the person who has been under a lot of medication and has undergone detoxification. Remedies may not be given in all cases or at all sessions; sometimes we find that a relationship in the patient's life is causing stress or there is a particular emotional conflict present. In those cases the person is encouraged to explore this area and, using Bio-Liminal Photography as a tool, the person can conduct a dialogue with their deeper self in order to clarify the particular problem.

What amazing technology! Think of the possibilities! For example, if I were an oncologist, it'd be really cool if I could just have my patient with cancer hold a vial of the chemotherapeutic agent I proposed to use, take a picture of her, and then judge whether I'm using the right chemotherapy just by seeing how in focus the picture is. Or maybe I could tell if surgery was right for her by taking her picture next to a set of surgical instruments. Or whether radiation therapy is correct by having her stand next to the radiation source and taking her picture. The possibilities are endless! It could revolutionize medicine. We wouldn't need all those nasty X-rays, blood tests, or biopsies anymore. All we would need is the camera and the Luminator--that is, if it worked.

Naturally, as all good woo does, Biolumanetics has an elaborate history of how it was developed and an even more elaborate explanation for why it supposedly works. First, get a load of how Richards came up with the concept of Biolumanetics:

Biolumanetics evolved from my need to understand a phenomenon that was created when an instrument I designed to balance air temperatures in open landscape offices improved the workers health. When I began my inquiry in 1983 I knew very little about human health. My training as a mechanical engineer over a 20-year period specializing in the production and applications of compressed rare and noble gases, gave me some insights into how such health improvements were being created by this instrument.

The instrument was designed to collapse normal occurring temperature layers in a room. The normal characteristics of air in such environments is to demarcate clearly differentiated thermal layers that arises out of the changing activity of the air molecules.

When an air molecule reaches an area of compatible activity or speed, it turns at right angles and becomes part of that layer. This effect creates two situations: one it creates a boundary or interface between temperature layers and two, the effect created by the air molecule turning at right angles also creates an electromagnetic line of force that is a characteristic of that thermal layer...

What I discovered was that the normal electromagnetic lines of force created by the thermal layers intersected with points on the spine and thereby created potential health challenges to individuals.

In my opinion, the health changes experienced by individuals working in the new environment came about when the instrument that I had created actually eliminated these electromagnetic lines of force from the working environment.

Wait. I'm confused. Is this just a diagnostic machine, or is it therapeutic? Unfortuntately, Richards' further explanation doesn't help much:

These particular conditions appear to create an unusual electromagnetic field that seems to isolate individuals from those of a normal environment, creating a type of 'null field'. To date, neither myself, nor any of my colleagues have been able to explain this phenomena scientifically. It falls into the category of a scientific anomaly.!! The term Luminated Field is used to identify this created environmental condition.
The instrument that creates this condition is called a Luminator.

A few years later, another major break through was made, when I discovered that using a camera without any lighting assistance such as a flash attachment and shutter speeds above 1/400th of a second, that the images being created were anomalous. Some of the images were clear, others were out of focus and some appeared to have multiple images. I had to preclude camera shake because the cameras were tripod mounted with an actuator used to trigger the shutter. Using the same photographic procedure in a normal environment did not produce similar images. Higher shutter speeds produced different image effects.

By trial and error, over many years, we were able to draw certain conclusions about these unusual photographic images.

Photographs of people suffering health challenges were vague and distorted. Some had photographic images that appeared to have more than one figure in them.

Photographic images of healthy individuals were clear and crisp.

To simplify the photographic procedure I began to use a Polaroid 600 with black electricians' tape covering the built in flash.

The photographic images presented were taken using this method.

Dude, Polaroid images are so passé. Go digital, man. It's long past time. Heck, do they even make Polaroid cameras any more? After all, if your method works, it shouldn't realy matter what kind of camera you use to take the images. Should it?

Of course, it wasn't long before Richards found the inspiration he needed to "explain" his apparent "results":

At this point, it was suggested that I investigate the work of Dr. Fritz-Albert Popp, a biophysicist, at the Max Plank Institute in Germany.

Dr. Popp has been studying the nature of light emissions from living organisms for over 20 years. He had concluded that the characteristics of light emitted by diverse organisms points to the existence of a coherent photon field underlying the organization of all living organisms.

Dr. Popp's work provided me with the necessary insight, ---- the photographic images captured in the luminated field maybe represent the same phenomena as his own research conclusions.

After many years of examining collected data, I reasoned that the Luminator was creating an alteration in our normal electromagnetic field not only by changing the magnetic dipole in the environment but by also changing the quality of light in that environment. Normal light is unorganized or incoherent. The Luminator was causing the room light to change from scattered, incoherent light to lighting that is in phase (laser like in quality). What the photographs revealed was an interference pattern between the light of the generated field and the level of photon emission generated by the individual. If the person photographed was healthy, his photon emission was coherent and therefore in phase with the light of the field, thereby producing a clear image. However, if the person was not healthy his photon emissions were incoherent and 'jarred' with the coherent light of the field thus producing fuzzy or multiple images

It figures. Biophotons, which is what Dr. Popp is known for, represent, to me at least, one of those phenomena that's right at the borderline between woo and science. If you read one of Popp's writings, it all sounds not entirely unreasonable, but a closer read started to make me skeptical. For one thing, Popp is not talking about bioluminescence, which is an undeniable phenomenon, as fireflies on an August evening will demonstrate, or fluorescence, which many biological molecules do. No, what Popp is talking about some form of light that is emitted by all organisms. Certainly it's not hard to accept the contention that many organisms probably do emit very low levels of light, no doubt as a natural consequence of the various chemical reactions necessary for life, but it doesn't take long for Popp to take the concept into what sounds like woo, where biophotons are described as "ultraweak photon emission from biological systems by use of modern single-photon counting systems." It's not the possible existence of such ultraweak photon emissions (on the order of no more than 102 photons s-1 cm-1 that's woo, though. It's what Popp ascribes to these photon emissions: "This radiation is the proper regulator and information carrier of life."

Yes, because we're talking about photons, Papp invokes quantum theory too, which makes it all sound even more dubious. These "biophotons," according to Papp and other believers, somehow transmit information between cells. To me, "information" + "quantum" + a phenomenon that is at best fringe science = almost certainly woo.

Naturally, this sort of scientifically controversial idea taken beyond even what is plausible into the realm of "science-y"-sounding dubiousness is perfect fodder for all manner of serious woo. I'm sure you can imagine how homeopaths could invoke biophotons as some sort of medium through which their magic is transmitted to living cells to have an effect. If you can't, Traian D. Stanciulescu can. Then, of course, "biophotonic scanners" are used for nutrition woo, exceedingly dubious "immune" therapies, and a variety of other woo.

Clearly, it's perfect for Richards, who's taken this woo and cranked it up to 11 by describing a "conceptual framework" for his device involving a "psycho-biological model" and a "bio-liminal" model." Even better, he includes something no self-respecting woo can be with out, namely diagrams. Here's an example:


And Richards' explanation:

The embodied mind represents a level of the mind/body complex outside our conscious awareness. A large body of experimental evidence has been amassed demonstrating levels of unconscious activity that have enormous impacts on our daily lives.

The division between what your conscious self sees, hears and smells as you go about your daily life and what your body and brain (the Embodied Mind) unconsciously register as "out there" and deals with, are not always the same.

Today, this area of research between the conscious and the embodied mind has begun to be probed deeply by psychologists and neuro-scientists, who are uncovering evidence of subtle unconscious perceptions and abilities which science had only been dimly aware of till recently. A leading researcher in this area expressed it this way:

"The notion that information processing is largely unconscious or not available to awareness is so clear as to be self evident." Researchers researching word recognition found that the mind recognizes a word within the first 150 milliseconds of seeing it. But, nothing shows up in the awareness for another 100 milliseconds or so, if it shows up at all. Awareness is a limited capacity system. We have no idea how one searches memory or how one gets sentences out of one's mouth. It's hard enough to handle the needs we keep track of, in awareness. "Figuratively speaking 99.9% of cognition maybe unconscious. We'd be in terrible shape if everything were conscious." (Donchin)

This model, however, does not explain the observations that are made using Bioliminal Image Photography. It does not explain how the introduction of a therapeutic agent (information from a drug, remedy, or an encounter with another individual) into the bio-energetic field of an individual can influence the outcome of a photograph. My sense of what is occurring in the Bioliminal Image Photograph, is that it represents --


It's perfectly clear to me. How about you?

But what does this device really do? What does it look like "where the rubber meets the road," so to speak? Conveniently enough, several case studies are provided. Here's the first one. On the left is a picture of a man before chiropractic spinal manipulation. On the right is a picture of the same man after chiropractic spinal adjustment,


The picture on the right is described as having "increased coherence." Perhaps Richards had a bad day when he took the first picture. But my favorite is case #4 ("Showing Symbiotic Effects Between Different Life Forms").


That's right. Holding a puppy makes your "biolumanal" picture come into focus. At least that's what it looks like to me, but Richards has a different take:

During the time of this example I was developing the Transceiver Pads that are pads that broadcast specific frequencies (potassium, lithium & iron). The testing was done at a number of veterinarian's clinics. The testing method was to place the Transceiver Pads on the floor, each frequency being placed at different point in the room and then to release some of the sick animals from their cages and observe their behavior. The majority of the animals would locate a specific frequency pad and then lie on it. We next placed a specific frequency on the wrists of the veterinarian and he or she showed their hands to the sick animals. The animals would locate the same frequency pad. The animal would then position their body so that the veterinarian's hands were on a specific area of their body.

During this phase of testing the vet's started relating stories about some of the pet owners who kept loosing their animals to a particular disease. A pet would die and a new pet would take its place. Soon the new pet would acquire the illness. Their comments were that it appeared that the animals were taking on their owner's pain and suffering.

I decided to see if the Bioliminal Image Photographs would show similar results. The subject in this test is a Chiropractor.

A base Bioliminal was taken of her at the end of her workday. A second Bioliminal Image Photograph was taken of her with her puppy in her lap.

Nooooo! Don't hurt the puppy! I don't like woo where puppies are hurt, even if it's just woo that claims that dogs are being hurt by taking on their owners' diseases and disorders. Perhaps I can reassure myself by guessing that the puppy had licked the lens in the first picture and Richards cleaned it up for the second. Yeah, that's the ticket. Or I could point out that the door and objects surrounding the subject are out of focus on the "before" pictures as well. Perhaps the puppy has the power to bring all the plants and inanimate objects in the room into "coherence," too!

One thing I do know is that this is absolutely fabulous woo, and that there are four more "case studies" to be enjoyed. Whatever is going on here, it is almost certainly not Richards' camera detecting "biophotons" in his "Bioliminal" images. After all, even if biophotons exist, the intensity of the light produced would be many orders of magnitude less than ambient and reflected light. No Polaroid camera has a wide enough dynamic range to pick up a few photons per second in such a background. It starts out with a marginally plausible concept (biophotons), turns into woo-ville (postulating that these biophotons are major information carriers and that they can be detected by the device that Richards has cobbled together), and then dives into the deepest depths of woo on the order of Lionel Milgrom or Deepak Chopra by postulating that somehow just being in proximity to appropriate medications or animals can alter the "biophotonic field" surrounding a person.

Of course, for those of you looking for more, for those of you for whom mere biolumanetics woo is insufficient to satisfy, those of you who think that quantum homeopathy makes perfect sense, Richards has your back. You clearly want Tantalus, which is described as "Engineering clarity through a Techno-Shamanic Process Bioliminal Homeopathy," that allows for "precision homeopathy."

Truly Richards Woo-Fu is among the strongest I have ever encountered. Either that, it this is the best parody I've encountered in a long time. What makes this true genius is that I'm still not 100% sure.


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Richards is an idiot. He's missing out on the most extrodinary effects of this method. Did you notice that the door is fuzzy on the left, too? Not only did the people make themselves healthier, the door got more healthy, too. This thing could restore old buildings, save the, the world!

Sorry, I couldn't resist this addition. From the tantalus web site (feminine issue case study page).

"About seven years ago my colleague, Charles Wansbrough, and I started to look at crystals as potent sources for homeopathic remedies. We scoured the available material on crystals and also I meditated with them, trying to elucidate their healing properties and understand how they might be used profitably in homeopathic practice."


I shouldn't laugh, I did that for my PhD work; after I dosed up the animals, I meditated with them, became one with them and realized the mechanism of toxic action was demyelination.

By AngryToxicologist (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

I'm sure "biophotonic fields" have featured in past episodes of Star Trek. I reckon someone should try inverting the polarity, that often works wonders.

My training as a mechanical engineer over a 20-year period specializing in the production and applications of compressed rare and noble gases, gave me some insights into how such health improvements were being created by this instrument.

Ok..speaking as an ME, I really don't see how this would provide any insight into health improvements. Apparently the only gas he is truly knowledgeable about is emitted from his posterior. And the last time I checked that gas was neither rare nor particularly noble.

As to the pictures? I'm reminded of one of the barbers my dad took me to as a kid. An older gentleman with a bit of a tremor in the old hands. I'm pretty sure his photos would have been similar.

No, what Popp is talking about some form of light that is emitted by all organisms. Certainly it's not hard to accept the contention that many organisms probably do emit very low levels of light

Anything warmer than absolute zero emits light - it's called black body thermal radiation.

Oh, and when it comes to light, "coherence" does not mean what this guy seems to think it means. For one thing, it's impossible to have coherent white light... And if you were photographing the interference patterns between two coherent light sources, you wouldn't end up with a photo like that. You'd get a hologram.

I have disagree with the 'Richards is an idiot.' comment (though I do appreciate the humour). Richards is an out and out fraud, a liar and a cheat. Right up there with Sylvia. He's actually being a little clever in pitching his spiel at the people most likely to fall for it and give him their money.

The difference in the before and after photographs is clearly the result of manipulation of lighting conditions and shutter speed. He would have to know *exactly* what he was doing in order to show the desired effects.

This guy needs to get on Randi's hit list.

"Engineering clarity through a Techno-Shamanic Process Bioliminal Homeopathy" - The single greatest sentence ever created using the english language that says nothing and everything at the same time.

Now you'll know what to answers when your friends say what a crappy photographer you are, and that they're always out of focus on the pictures you take !

It's because they're sick, that's why.

Just tell tthem to go get chelated.

By Christophe Thill (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

I really must know what specific type of camera he used. If the is an old Auto Focus then everything has a non woo explanation.
He also has a very weak grasp of EMF fields which include everything from deep infrared to X-Ray. I personally thought he was on to something until he got into the holding woo in hand to achieve coherence, in fact once he started with the coherence thing. I could see the possibility of radiated emissions from a human being diagnostically useful. Something similar to an PET and SPECT using the bodies normal emissions, which is really really low strength. The body does radiate EMF radiation, the most famous of these is infra red frequency of ~400 THz, thermal imagery. You can see infra red radiation with the right type of camera.
The short of it this is total crap and the reason that he can't use digital is that newer auto focus system won't show lack of "coherence" (the auto focus works better now).

You know, a ten-year-old with Photoshop Elements could do a better job than those ridiculous images. How obtuse would anyone have to be to fall for that crapola?

I mean, if I can do this in less than three minutes with a simple feathered lasso and a radial blur, what excuse does this Patrick Richards clown have for his slipshod performance?

As a former professional photographer, (17 years of experience,) I can easily see the effects of camera movement in the photographs. The "actuator" used to trigger the shutter must have been something similar to a ball peen hammer.

By ancientTechie (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

The physics invoked make precisely no sense at all. There is not one iota of authentic E&M in his description of how the effect even works. I guess as a mechanical engineer, he can't be expected to know a thing about Maxwell's equations. Talk about some wild woo! This is not even to mention his horrifying grasp of Stat Mech with respect to atomspheric molecules.

Pah, even an amateur photog like me can recognize the signs of camera shake. And of course the guy is an engineer (IMO, the Salem Hypothesis is not limited to Creationism). But what's this rubbish about air molecules executing a right-angle turn when they reach a layer of compatible temperature? I have to wonder how much he understood the basics of even his own craft, let alone the physics of light, or biology, or medicine.

Thermal layers?

I'm guessing the device he installed in the open-plan office was a ceiling fan.

Thermal layers?

I'm guessing the device he installed in the open-plan office was a ceiling fan.

You beat me to it: "interaction" between thermal layers and spinal columns resulting in health effects.... that's high octane woo, right there.

Just out of curiousity, how dead would an office environment have to be for thermal boundaries to be noticeable?

Richards needs to do a little more historical research (and less hysterical research [snicker]). His ideas sound to me an awful lot like "Kirlian auras," a form of woo that dates back to 1939, and has even older predecessors.

By wolfwalker (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

"Figuratively speaking 99.9% of cognition maybe unconscious. We'd be in terrible shape if everything were conscious."
During this phase of testing the vet's started relating stories about some of the pet owners who kept loosing their animals to a particular disease.

I'd flunk him just on the cold blooded murder of the English tongue.

You know, the more I think of it, the more I'm reminded of e-Meters and that electronic thing that tests the conductivity of your sweat that varies by how hard the practitioner pushes it against you.

In other words - I'll just bet that he's using a Polaroid camera because he has it rigged so that he can easily adjust the level of fuzziness to get the desired result.

By Adam Cuerden (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

The camera is closer in the "After" photos, also.
This suggests a fixed focal length camera.
Combine this with what appears to be motion-distortion of the image, and the so-called phenomenon is easily explained.
Of considerable interest, however, is the phenomenon of the mechanical engineer who managed to graduate an engineering school without studying first semester physics.
The article also states that Richards "specialized in the compression of noble and rare gasses" and that he perfected a "machine to balance air temperatures in open plan offices."
perhaps the "rare gas" was dichlorodifluoromethane ?
(commonly known as R-12 or DuPont's Freon)

Said Andrew,

I reckon someone should try inverting the polarity, that often works wonders.

You mean convert the plus to minus and the minus to plus?




I don't think reversing the polarity will work in this case. Clearly what's going on is a holodeck malfunction.

By HennepinCountyLawyer (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

He created a machine, the Luminator, which produces a special electromagnetic field and a uniform light field.

So, he created a lightbulb? He must be an engineer and everything.

By Alex, FCD (not verified) on 06 Oct 2007 #permalink

The molecules turn 90 degrees? How did this guy get his degree or did he suffer oxygen deprivation due to inhaling noble gases?

Thermal layering in an office - maybe all the indoor air pollution is accumulating at an inversion layer. An accumulation of flatulent emmissions at nose height could cause major workplace wellness issues.

Another engineer turned woo-meister of note is Gary Craig with his EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy) which he based on something developed by a Kevin Trudeau affilate named Callahan.

I think I ever go over to the dark side I will do something based on the huge thermal gradients in saunas.

By Freddy the Pig (not verified) on 06 Oct 2007 #permalink

After further research he concluded that what the photographs were revealing was the quantity and quality of the cell light being emitted from individual subjects. A person with strong vitality and lack of inner stress emitted more photons, thereby creating a coherent image, than an individual with less vitality and greater inner stress.

But presumably by this logic, cells that were being taken over by a powerful virus would show strong vitality and lack of inner stress? After all the virus would be easily winning the fight against the person's white blood cells.

And people with advanced cases of HIV should be incredibly coherent. No white blood cells - nothing to cause inner stress to invading bacteria or virii.

And why only evaluate drugs for inteference with life vitality? Why not the whole of one's diet? What does coffee do to coherence?

What I discovered was that the normal electromagnetic lines of force created by the thermal layers intersected with points on the spine and thereby created potential health challenges to individuals.

Umm, what are electromagnetic lines of force? Electromagnetic forces are fields, not lines. Lines are drawn on diagrams of electromagnetic fields, but a more accurate representation would be colour gradients.
And how do thermal layers create electromagnetic fields?
And why would intersections with spines cause problems compared to intersections with other parts of the body? I understand that experiments have shown that if you put someone in an electromagnetic field and turn it up, the first visible effect is that they get white spots in their vision, rather than any spinal problems. (But this is a second-hand report from a lecturer during my engineering degree, I've never tested it myself).