Your Friday Dose of Woo: Soundscapes on the brain


I had thought about taking the day off after celebrating the 100th Meeting of the Skeptics' Circle yesterday, but a skeptic's work is never done, and, besides, my wife's out of town for a couple of days. Given the choice of television, working on my program's section of our cancer center core grant or one of the two other grants I'm currently juggling, or blogging, I wonder what appeals to me more. Hmmmm....

Ah, screw it. I've been living my work nearly every waking hour for the last few days. Heck, I even got stuck at work fairly late last night because of the bane of being s surgeon, having a case scheduled as an add-on. Whenever that happens, you can be sure that it won't start until 6 PM at the earliest--and that's if you (and your patient) are lucky. I wasn't lucky, and neither was my patient. (It really sucks for a patient to have to wait so many hours to be operated on.) In any case, blogging helps me maintain my sanity in the face of this unrelenting onslaught, at least for now.

Speaking of faces, though, let's move on to week's victim--I mean subject--for the latest installment of Your Friday Dose of Woo. Back in August we met the woo-meister du jour at the heart of this particular woo. (Or, should I say, woomeister de la semaine?) I'm talking about a woman named Mary Elizabeth Wakefield. She runs an "alternative" medicine practice known as the Chi-Akra Center, and at the time she was hawking Acupuncture Facial Rejuvenation, otherwise known as an "acupuncture facelift." I had to admit, it was pure genius in that it combined an appeal to the vanity that is in us all with the promise of a "no surgery" solution to produce a face lift-like result. Best of all, in an "Emperor's New Clothes" sort of angle, who's going to admit after paying so much money for such a procedure that his or her face is just as wrinkly as it was before the treatment? Marks--I mean clients--will convince themselves that they see an improvement, no matter what.

But, hey, acupuncture deals with all those nasty needles being stuck into the skin. There might even be a little bit of blood. Who needs that hassle? Why not instead take advantage of Ms. Wakefield's new and even more appealing bit of vanity woo?

Why not take advantage of Facial Soundscapes: Harmonic Renewal� Check it out:

Drawing upon her experience both as the creator of Constitutional Facial Renewal⢠and an Acutonics® practitioner, Ms. Wakefield, in collaboration with her teaching partner, MichelAngelo, Director of Astrological Medicine & Musical Studies, Acutonics®, has formulated a vibrational facial protocol utilizing the entire range of Acutonics® planetary tuning forks that is gentle, powerful and non-invasive. Using the Five Elements, this treatment is tailor-made for each person's constitutional archetype. An entire topical herbal protocol accompanies the treatment.

Vibrations again. Why does it always have to be vibrations?

But, hey, planetary tuning forks! That sure sounds cool, certainly way cooler than any surgery or medications I can offer patients. Even cooler, Ms. Wakefield is "personalizing" the frequencies for each patient. But what frequencies? How does she know which frequencies to use? Is there any science behind it? (I think you know the answer to that question.) Let's take a look:

A number of studies have been conducted on the vibrational healing properties of tuning forks. The Pythagorean monochord vibrates to overtones that can be detected in the chanting of Tibetan monks, the sounding board of a piano, an operatically-trained voice, musical instruments, and a variety of sounds in nature. Tuning forks are made to bear these resonances, and in certain intervals can be applied to acupuncture points and muscles to lift, tonify, disperse and firm the face.

This unique modality, based upon the principles of Chinese medicine, addresses certain areas of the face which are difficult to treat with needles, like the neck, chin and jowls. Tuning forks can "lift" the pterygoids, masseter and platysma muscles by means of select vibrating intervals. For instance, the interval of a second disperses, a third sedates, and a fifth tonifies. These vibrating forks are applied gently to the face, and are relaxing and pleasantly tingly.

I'm sure they probably do feel pleasantly tingly. One part of a neurological exam involves tuning forks. They're used to test a patient's ability to sense vibration, which is distinct from the ability to sense light touch, two-point discrimination, and pain. Placing a tuning fork on the skin can be pleasantly tingly, although it can be annoying or even uncomfortable if placed in certain areas. In any case, reading this, I see the same sort of nonsense that Ms. Wakefield was peddling when it came to her acupuncture facial rejuvenation, in which she claimed that the needles would somehow "tighten up" the muscles of the face. Of course, whenever I hear someone say that tightening up the muscles of the face does much good, I point out that, even if it works, just tightening the muscles doesn't do much good unless you can tighten the skin, too. After all, it's the saggy skin that makes people look old, not "loose muscles."

But do these tuning fork tuned to the frequency of wool even tighten up the muscles? Who knows? No evidence is presented. I'm sorry, but the bit about the tones sounding like Tibetan monks just made me laugh. Maybe she recommends listening to recordings of chants while undergoing the treatment. At least that would probably be soothing. But, hey maaaan, this is science! Really and truly it is! Don't believe me? Oh, ye of little faith! Check out this "evidence":

The Acutonics® tuning forks which are used in these treatments are fashioned from high-quality, space-grade metals, and are vibrationally calibrated to the frequencies of the Sun, Moon and the other 8 planets, as well as Chiron, Nibiru, Sedna, and the 4 female asteroids.

The Acutonics® system of sound healing is a distillation of the theories of Pythagoras, Johannes Kepler, and Swiss scientist Hans Cousto, given this particular form and further refined by Donna Carey, Ph. D., L. Ac. of the Kairos Institute of Sound Healing, LLC.

Wow! Pythagoras and Kepler! You don't get much more serious science that that! Well, not quite, at least not to me. Personally, I like my medical treatment to have a bit more--shall we say?--recent scientific backing. But, you say, what about Hans Cousto? Well, what about him? All I could find out about him is that he's a woo-meister too, one who claims to have discovered something called the "Cosmic Octave," which somehow--or so Cousto claims--ties together different kinds of perodically occurring natural phenomena, inclusing the orbit of the planets, the weather, colors and musical rhythms and tones. And, of course, this Octave includes all the "rhythms" of the human body (whether they exist or not). In fact, this is nothing more than the usual appeal to ancient knowledge, also known as the fallacy of the ancient wisdom. But Ms. Wakefield can sure tell a story:

Each tuning fork is tuned to a natural harmonic series based on the orbital properties of the planet or heavenly body. These forks resonate in harmony with the celestial bodies and each communicates a distinct aspect of the Music of the Spheres. They are used to correct imbalances, uncover emotions, stimulate growth, development, and transformation and facilitate inner harmony and wholeness.

Tuning forks are applied to specific acupuncture and acupressure points to access the body's meridian and chakric energy systems, as well as to points and regions on the face. The tuning fork is struck, then placed on the body or held near the ears. The sound waves of the forks vibrate and travel deeply into the body along energy pathways, effecting human physiology and reaching places not easily accessed by traditional medicine.

Of course they do. I wonder if Ms. Wakefield has ever measured this energy field or documented changes in human "energy pathways" as a result of her treatments. Never mind. I know the answer to that one, too.

But, you now, I'm getting tired of "conventional" medicine and surgery. After all, annoyances such as what my patient and I had to put up with last night are all too common. Maybe I could become a sound healer. All I'd have to do is to sign up for Ms. Wakefield's practitioner training. Now there's a low stress class to take. I could certainly handle the topics, such as Facial Soundscapes: Harmonic Renewalâ¢, Planetary Soundscapes: The Cosmic Countenanceâ¢, and The Transcendent Faceâ¢.

I"m not sure I want my face to transcend anything.

Be that as it may, though, this is some mighty tasty, grade-A woo. It even contains something like "quantum music theory," because it absolutely, positively isn't high quality woo until someone inserts the word "quantum" into it. But that's not the best stuff I could learn. The two topics that really interest me in this course are a "planetary model for facial wrinkles" and "Facial syndromes as a manifestation of underlying planetary disharmony with recommendations for treatment."

Now, we're talking! When it comes right down to it, Ms. Wakefield is practicing astrology for the face, truly a modality worthy of Your Friday Dose of Woo.

More like this

"Director of Astrological Medicine & Musical Studies"
You'd have to be on acid to even think about visiting anyone with those qualifications.

"Vibrationally calibrated"? Oh, you mean tuned... Another classic sign of woo - never use a simple monosyllable where two or more polysyllables will do.

Ooo! It "benefits eyes, ears and brain". Well, I'm usually skeptical of any treatment that has a trademark symbol next to its name, but dang! If it could help reduce my bags and "sagging tendencies" while distilling the theories of Pythagoras and Kepler, who am I to judge?

By Saint Pudalia (not verified) on 21 Nov 2008 #permalink

What they really need is a tuning fork with a needle on the end so they can stick it in you then strike it... they could call it a harmonic alignment... cause it sure equates to a harmonic alignment in the bank account. Lets add some magnets too, because there is no scientific rationale as to why magnets would do anything to you other than repel the money from your pocket and attract it to theres, its all PFM (pure f***ing magic) The really sad thing is that there are people out there shelling out their hard earned money on these snake oil salesmen.

What are the "4 female asteroids?" Male asteroids are any whose orbits ever come inside the orbit of Mars or go outside the orbit of Jupiter. Female asteroids are main-belt asteroids: in other words, almost all of them.

"Director of Astrological Medicine & Musical Studies"
You'd have to be on acid to even think about visiting anyone with those qualifications.

Took the words right out of my mouth.

Are you sure you didn't lift this from the Onion?

I am fairly certain Penn & Teller's Bullshit! had an episode including this crap, and it was hilarious.

The Acutonics® tuning forks which are used in these treatments ... are vibrationally calibrated to the frequencies of the Sun, Moon and the other 8 planets

Treatment must take a looooong time. The 'frequency' of planets is typically measured in years per cycle. Oh, Wait:

Each tuning fork is tuned to a natural harmonic series based on the orbital properties of the planet or heavenly body.

They're not actually tuned to the periods of the planets, but periods based of the periods of the pladets. I don't think the periods are in any sense harmonic, though:

From Wikipedia
Siderial Peroiod (Earth Years)
Mercury 0.241
Venus 0.615
Earth 1
Moon 0.0748
Mars 1.881
4 Vesta 3.629
1 Ceres 4.600
10 Hygiea 5.557
Jupiter 11.87
Saturn 29.45
Uranus 84.07
Neptune 164.9
Pluto 248.1
Eris 557
Sedna 12050

By Grep Agni (not verified) on 21 Nov 2008 #permalink

"Vibrations again. Why does it always have to be vibrations?"

String Theory? (I am so sorry. I really could not help myself.)

Orac; clearly what you lack in your medical practice is the correct uniform. You need something with lots of little symbols embroidered on it so your patients will know how connected to the PFM you are. I feel another grant proposal in your future! Heavanly Harmonics! Do they or don't they improve EBM breast cancer treatments! Be sure to include a big hunk in the request for travel so you and your research associates can go to some conference someplace fun to report your astounding results (which will surely be supressed by the Evil Overlords....)

There was once a time when prose like this would have seemed both plausible and inspiring to me. I would have read along eagerly, curious to explore up what was clearly some very sophisticated, if rather difficult, scientific wisdom. It must be the real thing -- it's connecting knowledge from so many different areas.

I try not to be too hard on myself when I remember this stage of my life. I would have been about 12 years old.

You can get suspicious when these "spiritually aligned" are so obsessed with earthly monetary things like trade and registry marks (more obsessed with their IP than the RIAA). They seem oblivious to the fact that the mark needs only be used once at the beginning of a document.

The Pythagorean monochord vibrates to overtones that can be detected in the chanting of Tibetan monks, the sounding board of a piano, an operatically-trained voice, musical instruments, and a variety of sounds in nature.

I like how this is presented as an argument for the treatment, without explaining why being tuned to natural tones is good. If my monochord vibrates to overtones that can be found in, say, Tiger sharks, enraged bees, and other "sounds in nature," is that a good thing?

Jim, how about this? Perfect for Orac and so fashion-forward too:

OH! MY! FSM!!!!

Who are these people? The "power of intention"? Words hidden inside the hoodie are supposed to make it warmer? Make the person wearing it feel more "Energy, Love, Prosperity, Peace"? What?

As a side note, I hope they're having their 14 non-english language translations double- and triple-checked. Otherwise, they'll have "love" in English, "lust" in a couple of languages, "sex" in a few languages, and "oh, go f@ck yourself" in a few others. Wonder what effect that "intention" would have? Or are we supposed to believe that the meaning of the words is less important than the intention of the people making the clothes? Because I really doubt they feel any more charitable to the people who will buy/wear these clothes.

By TheOtherOne (not verified) on 21 Nov 2008 #permalink

Sorry OtherOne for the extreme woo! :)

The concept behind the hoodies is due to the human body being mostly water (and EVERYONE knows we can "project" positive energy into water), simply wearing a hoodie with positive words printed on the inside, next to your body, attracts all that positive energy to you. So yes, you'll feel more peace, love and sprouts wearing the hoodie.

As an economy move, you could just take a Sharpie and write all the positive words inside your underwear yourself. I tried it with Post-it notes, but they were itchy.

All hail the mighty FSM, al dente.

"For instance, the interval of a second disperses, a third sedates, and a fifth tonifies."

So what does a tritone do?

DonZ: no won't do, got to have stuff where the client sees it. The good surgon needs to impress them with his connectedness to the zip, zing and zap of Universal Energies (maybe someone could sell cans of Genuine ZZZ of UE? lightly carbonated/).
So what if I get a long treatment of the second interval; do I get dispersed enough to become transparent/

I can see it now, Orac all gussied up in a sequinned box, ready to inflict (er treat) us with the good vibrations his acoustic transducer emits. Just like the mystical tuning fork operator in the picture above.


"Each tuning fork is tuned to a natural harmonic series..."

Tuning forks essentially have only one harmonic, the fundamental. No doubt they've figured a way around that. Must be the "space metals".

By St. Dr. Oscar (not verified) on 21 Nov 2008 #permalink

Do they play PDQ Bach while you receive treatments?

Woaaaah, that's nice poetic woo! The music of the spheres, forsooth! Just reading about it tightened my face muscles - possibly, I'm afraid, the ones used for sniggering. Hey, maybe you could go into business here.

Makes me want to watch "Dude, Where's My Car", with all this talk about things similar to a continuum transfunctioner!

Isn't "dispersing" your face what Big Mike does if you've missed a payment?

"Space-grade metals" -- as opposed to... "Time-grade"?

That crazy "power of intention" hoodie. I've seen a similar wrinkle courtesy of believers in Matsuro Emoto and his magic memory water: they typed those inspiring words on slips of paper and pasted them all over their water jug. True story. It was supposed to "purify" and "heal" the water and remove all the -- wait for it -- "toxins".

I wonder if the power of the words on that hoodie fades a bit after every wash? (No, silly me. No doubt there's a "power of intention" detergent you can buy right along with it, and if you wash it in purified Matsuro Emoto water, no problem!) Whew.

By North of 49 (not verified) on 21 Nov 2008 #permalink

"space-grade" = "needlessly expensive", so it's probably a quite apposite description.

I'll bet they use the male asteroids for penile enhancement!

By MissyMiss (not verified) on 22 Nov 2008 #permalink

I wonder what happened to the people who they tried out the procedure on before they found the right harmonic ratios? "I volunteered for the treatment, and now look at me! I used to look a lot like a young Christie Brinkley, now I look like an old Walter Mathau!"


The next time you see that patient, remind him that suffering through an interminable wait for surgery is preferable to the alternative. BTW, I hope the surgery went well and there is a good prognosis for recovery.

"For instance, the interval of a second disperses, a third sedates, and a fifth tonifies."

As one who took classes in music harmony theory in college, I distinctly recall that there is both an interval of a Major third, and an interval of a minor third. It is this important difference that makes so many Sousa marches (usually Major, think "Stars and Stripes Forever") so upbeat, and peppy, whilst many funeral dirges (think Chopin's "Funeral March" from the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35; perhaps as a child you've sung "pray for the dead and the dead will pray for you"?) so mournful.

So this "third" which "sedates," is which precisely? Major third, or minor third? Perhaps that depends on the "person's constitutional archetype"?

Before leaving music harmony theory, I should like to point out that an interval of a "fifth", or the "the fifth" is known as the "dominant" note of the key, while the foundational or "root" note of the key (e.g., A in A Major) is known as the "tonic." So for the dominant interval to be the one that "tonifies" (whatever that means), reads just a little too much as though 1 and 5 are the same--or someone wasn't paying attention in harmony theory class.

Finally, I wasn't surprised to see Kepler show up in this mess. Despite being best known (and rightly so) for his three Laws of Planetary Motion, one of his greatest motivations for plowing through the stacks of observational data he inherited from Tycho Brahe, and the reams of calculations (which yielded said Laws), was his conviction that by so doing he could locate "the Music of the Spheres." Just as Newton had his alchemical experiments and beliefs, so Kepler had his celestial harmony woo--though I can't seem to recall what the point of it was. Nevertheless, anytime someone starts yammering on about "music of the spheres" the odds are good that Kepler's name will show up soon, just to, you know, add that "great scientific mind" sheen that so dazzles the untrained eye.

By Michael L (not verified) on 22 Nov 2008 #permalink

To paraphrase that guy from Tupelo Ms. it's a hunka-hunka burnin' stupid!

I'm not sure what's worse -- Woo-Meisters who do stuff like this and actually believe their own line of crap, or the ones who know it's a con.

Screw the woo! I wanted to see if they were selling tuning forks cheaper than the ones I see in the catalogs (I'm a math/science teacher). Alas, the gem-encrusted beauties were way too rich for my budget. I like the tie-in with astronomy (oh crap, that was astrology)! Never mind.

Maybe she's related to Andrew

By ComradeFury (not verified) on 24 Nov 2008 #permalink

Wow, planetary tuning forks bearing personalised pythagorean monochords.

What I want to know however, is what happens if you reverse the polarity? Will you create a weapon of unparalleled destructive power by disrupting the planetary orbital harmonics?

I'm off to buy a tuning fork and hold the world to ransom, be right back!

By General Catastrophe (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink