It's not just homeopathy, it's quantum homeopathy, which is so much better

Note: Orac is away somewhere warm recharging his Tarial cells for further science and skepticism. In the meantime, he is rerunning some of his favorite posts. Because it's vacation, he thought he'd rerun a fun post. He needs it; vacation is almost over, and it's back to work on Monday. So, here's one from 2007. I believe I reran it once a few years ago, but it's been at least three years, which means that if you haven't been reading at least that long it's new to you. Besides, it's the post that introduced me to the woo-tastic wonder that it Lionel Milgrom.

While thinking about ways to make the blog better, I wondered if I should emulate some of my colleagues, many of whom have regular features every week, often on Friday. And, since I usually get a little less serious on Fridays anyway (and, because traffic seems to fall off 50% or more anyway regardless of what I post, on the weekends, too), it seemed like a good idea. But I couldn't think of something that ties together the common themes of this blog, yet maintains a suitably Friday-blogging light-hearted feel to it. And then I came across this article:

L. R. Milgrom (2006). Towards a New Model of the Homeopathic Process Based on Quantum Field Theory. Forsch Komplementärmed 2006;13:174-183.

(Forsch Komplementärmed, apparently, means Research in Complementary Medicine, the journal's English title.)

Oh, joy! I had my idea: Your Friday Dose of Woo! (And what better way to start off the long 4th of July weekend here in the states than with a bit of woo?) Not only did I have my idea, but I had my first topic. Just a look at the abstract will tell you why:

Quantum theory's notions of non-locality and entanglement have previously informed attempts to model the therapeutic process. Of these, Weak Quantum Theory (WQT) and Patient- Practitioner-Remedy (PPR) entanglement are developing into mathematically- based models of homeopathy. Objective: The present study attempted to identify fundamental concepts within quantum field theory (QFT) that could be used to broaden the scope of PPR entanglement models, prior to constructing a more rigorous mathematical treatment. Methods: In QFT, particles and forces are considered as fully interacting relativistic quantum matter and force fields, respectively. These interactions are visualized graphically as spacetime Feynman diagrams. Further, these interacting field systems can have ground states with broken symmetry; the so-called Higgs field being responsible for this symmetry breaking. In the new model, patient, practitioner and remedy are imagined as fully interacting quantum-like fields; patients and practitioners in terms of quantum matter-type fields, and remedies and diseases as quantum interaction-type fields. Results: Disease manifestation by the Vital Force (Vf) could be an event similar to spontaneous symmetry breaking in QFT: the curative remedy acting to restore the broken symmetry of the Vf field. Entanglement between patient, practitioner, and remedy might be representable as Feynman-like diagrams. Conclusion: QFT demonstrates that quantum properties can be physical without being observable. Thus, an underlying similarity in discourse could exist between homeopathy and quantum theory which could be useful for modelling the homeopathic process. This preliminary investigation also suggested that key elements of previous quantum models of the homeopathic process, may become unified within this new QFT-type approach.

Wow. I stand in awe.

Where did a chemist who apparently specializes in designing new molecules to be used in photodynamic therapy get such talent at throwing around quantum mechanical terms willy-nilly and applying it to the quackery known as homeopathy? Somehow, reading this, I got the feeling that, even though this particular journal claims to be rigorously peer-reviewed, the reviewers of this particular article were not quantum physicists. Homeopathy, as you recall, is the quackery in which it is claimed that by diluting an active substance to the point where not a single active molecule is likely to be present, somehow imbues the water diluting it with its therapeutic power:

Homeopathic products are made from minerals, botanical substances, and several other sources. If the original substance is soluble, one part is diluted with either nine or ninety-nine parts of distilled water and/or alcohol and shaken vigorously (succussed); if insoluble, it is finely ground and pulverized in similar proportions with powdered lactose (milk sugar). One part of the diluted medicine is then further diluted, and the process is repeated until the desired concentration is reached. Dilutions of 1 to 10 are designated by the Roman numeral X (1X = 1/10, 3X = 1/1,000, 6X = 1/1,000,000). Similarly, dilutions of 1 to 100 are designated by the Roman numeral C (1C = 1/100, 3C = 1/1,000,000, and so on). Most remedies today range from 6X to 30X, but products of 30C or more are marketed.


Actually, the laws of chemistry state that there is a limit to the dilution that can be made without losing the original substance altogether. This limit, which is related to Avogadro's number, corresponds to homeopathic potencies of 12C or 24X (1 part in 1024). Hahnemann himself realized that there is virtually no chance that even one molecule of original substance would remain after extreme dilutions. But he believed that the vigorous shaking or pulverizing with each step of dilution leaves behind a "spirit-like" essence -- "no longer perceptible to the senses" -- which cures by reviving the body's "vital force." Modern proponents assert that even when the last molecule is gone, a "memory" of the substance is retained. This notion is unsubstantiated.

So, when well-established laws of chemistry and physics supported by high levels of data and experimentation demonstrate that, barring the supernatural or some new discovery yet to be made that would invalidate many of our presently understood scientific laws and theories, homeopathy has to be a sham, what's an altie to do? Invoke quantum mechanics, of course! All sorts of strange things are postulated in quantum mechanics, nonintuitive things. I particularly like Dr. Milgrom's claim that quantum properties can be physical without being observable. Never mind how that quantum theory was derived from physical observations that didn't fit with the existing theory of the day. Never mind that effects predicted by quantum mechanics can be observed experimentally, effects such as wave-particle duality. Speaking of which, I wonder if he's worked out the wave function for the practitioner and the patient to use in this "quantum entanglement that he's talking about. Of course, the fact that quantum entanglement does not violate Einstein's Theory of Relativity, as information is not transmitted, does make the above explanation sound a bit dubious. For homeopathy to work, some sort of information would have to be transferred to the water or, in the case above, between the practitioner and the patient, perhaps via the water, all of which sounds a lot like magic (which is all homeopathy really is, magical thinking). Besides, quantum entanglement refers to particles, such as photons, and in large numbers of particles, these effects tend to average out. Prometheus explained it well in a piece he did on quantum quackery a while back:

Many of the "quantum promoters" use "entanglement" as an explanation of how everything in the universe is "connected". This supposedly explains how we can influence objects and "draw energy" from them. This is about as far from real quantum entanglement as it could possibly be.

Quantum entanglement occurs when two particles (usually photons) are emitted from an atom in a singlet (or neutral) state. Because of the conservation laws, the photons (for instance) will have the same polarization [the identical polarizations cancel out because the photons are heading in opposite directions - for a much better explanation, see Victor Stenger's "The Unconscious Quantum"]. No matter how far they travel, these two photons will have the same polarization - they are considered to be "entangled".

What entangled photons have to do with "quantum healing" or "remote viewing" or anything of that sort is unclear - and probably imaginary. The basic problem is that the "interesting" quantum effects average out as you get more and more particles together. This is referred to as "decoherence" and explains why we don't see footballs ("soccer" balls, to those raised in the US) changing into waves during the World Cup.

How appropriate an analogy, given that we're in the thick of the World Cup competition right now.

In any case, no observable, experimentally verifiable connection between quantum theory and the alleged therapeutic effect of homeopathy has ever been shown. Of course, it doesn't have to be, does it, if you can get away with the claim that quantum theory somehow provides a mechanism. It's apparently a possible mechanism for homeopathy that, if we are to believe Dr. Milgrom, might not be "observable" even though it is "physical" (whatever Dr. Milgrom means by that). Even though I hadn't taken quantum mechanics since Physical Chemistry in college, I recognized a lot of hand-waving woo when I saw it. I had to get a hold of the whole article. So I fired up my trusty browser just before I was going to leave work to see if I could download a copy of this amazing piece of quantum homeopathic altie woo in its entirety. My critical thinking skills shuddered in anticipation of the pseudsocience and quantum mysticism likely to be found within. (Deepak Chopra, anyone?) I couldn't wait to see what kinds of equations and throwing about of quantum theory jargon Dr. Milgrom used, seeing if any of it would stick.

Then I hit my first roadblock.

Apparently, my university in its wisdom has not purchased an online institutional subscription to this particular journal. I can't imagine why. After all, I'm sure loads of investigators like me are dying to get a hold of the "research" articles contained in Forsch Komplementärmed. I like to think that the people in charge of deciding which journals the university will subscribe to have some critical thinking skills, but, more likely than not, I'm guessing it has more to do with the fact that most of the articles in this particular journal happen to be written in German, as this Table of Contents demonstrates.

So I looked to see how much it would cost to buy the article for download and recoiled in shock. They're asking $25 just to download a PDF of a stinking article! Gentle readers, my dedication to delving deep into the bowels of quantum obfuscation, all for your education and amusement, is strong indeed, but, alas, it does have its limits. One of those limits happens to be forking over that much of my hard-earned green for the one-time thrill of subjecting myself to altie woo of the highest order for the sole purpose of generating blog fodder. It's too much for something that would amuse me for the couple of hours that it took to write the blog post (plus however long the discussion engendered by this post lasts before petering out) and then be promptly forgotten. I'm sorry, but when it comes to woo, particularly quantum altie woo, I like my thrills cheap--or, even better, free. After all, were this not the case, I might actually have purchased one of Deepak Chopra's books or (shudder) even Kevin Trudeau's book, putting my critical thinking skills in grave jeopardy. Fortunately for future Respectufl Insolence™, I never did. (Of course, if any reader who does happen to have online access to this journal wants to send me a PDF, I'll be grateful. I think. Also, no guarantees that I'll post a followup. There's only so much my poor neurons can take.)

So instead, I looked for other articles on the topic, and boy are there a lot of them! One in particular caught my eye:

Walach H, WB Jonas, J. Ives, R. Van Wijk, O. Weingartner, and P. Nat (2005). Research on Homeopathy: State of the Art. J. Alt. Compl. Med 11:813-829.

It's a truly what the military (and we in the skeptic biz) call a "target-rich environment," and I might have more to say about its other content in future posts. However, for purposes of this discusssion, after laughing myself silly at the claim that homeopaths were pioneers in science and doing double-blinded clinical trials, I zeroed in like a laser on the section on quantum theory as a justification for "nonlocal" effects:

Generally speaking, the starting point for these theories is the observation that, in quantum mechanics, so-called nonlocal correlations in well-defined quantum systems are operative. While these decay through interaction with the environment, it might be the case that under similar, isomorphic conditions nonlocal correlations are established in analogy to holistic quantum correlations. A theoretical framework exists that predicts such nonlocal correlations, and some efforts have been made to apply such a scenario to homeopathy. While some observations speak in favor of such models,182 direct experimental evidence for the existence of nonlocal correlations outside the realm of quantum mechanics is still wanted.

These models have a common consequence: If homeopathic effects are the result of nonlocal correlations, by definition, they cannot be distilled out as causal signals, like in drug therapy. Attempts at strict and direct replication, are doomed to failure. This has to do with a rather technical argument that prohibits the use of nonlocal correlations as direct signals. (Otherwise, time-reversal paradoxes could be created that contradict special relativity.) As long as the original context is not disturbed and no signal can be distilled out of a setup using such correlations, they could be a very elegant way of coordinating behavior.

The practical consequence of this theory is that clinical research is best conducted by not disturbing the normal clinical practice through experimental interventions such as blinding and randomization and that the placebo-controlled trial is probably a suboptimal method of testing, not only for homeopathy but also for conventional pharmacology. A serious problem with the nonlocal model is that it may not
be directly testable in the clinical setting and so cannot be proven as an explanation for homeopathy. Only indirect experimentation is a potential avenue to prove it and this has yet to be established.

Leaving aside the unsupported assumption underlying the article that homeopathy actually "works" and that does something more than provide a nice cool drink of water to the patient seeking an actual remedy, the above explanation is breathtaking in how utterly ballsy it is. It basically comes right out and says that you can't prove that homeopathy works and that randomized clinical trials aren't the way to test homeopathy! After all, to the woo brigade, if homeopathy "works" by some sort of "nonlocal" effect mediated by quantum mechanics (quantum entanglement, for example, as discussed by Dr. Milgrom), then its mechanism can never be experimentally tested and verified in a double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled trial, nor, apparently, can its effects be predictable or reproducible! If homeopathy "works" by these mechanism, then, if we are to believe the above, time reversal paradoxes will prevent its mechanism from ever being scientifically studied and validated! I wonder if he's saying that studying homeopathy would cause time to reverse itself. (Now that I'm on the wrong side of 40, I'd certainly be willing to pay for that. Imagine the possibililties for using homeopathy to reverse aging!)

In any case, what was it I said again about homeopathy being nothing more than magical thinking?

After delving deep into quantum homeopathic woo, I have to wonder what the Bad Homeopath or fellow ScienceBlogger and physicist Chad Orzel would have to say about all this.


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Geez, Orac is still picking on poor Lionel Milgrom, a man who has treated the homeless (with homeopathy) and who offers bed and breakfast for patients "at competitive rates".

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 14 Dec 2012 #permalink

Oh, goody! As a late-comer to this blog I've missed the Friday Doses of Woo when they were freshly done. But this stuff has good shelf life. Thanks, Orac.
These are archived and I've read most of them. I hadn't got this one.

I had somehow missed this over various scannings of Milgrom:

Entanglement between patient, practitioner, and remedy might be representable as Feynman-like diagrams.

Feynman-like diagrams are good for all sorts of things! Behold, Quantum Probabilistic Grammar™. (Take that, Chomsky.)

Walach et al. make one factual statement in the passage quoted above: "Attempts at strict and direct replication, are doomed to failure." That statement is self-evidently true of any alleged successful trial of homeopathy. However, it's not true of quantum experiments in a physics lab--you may not know the outcome of a specific trial, but given thousands to millions of repetitions (which you can do in a physics lab, unlike real-world medical studies), you can predict the expected distribution of outcomes. This is also part of why particle physicists require a 5σ significance threshold, rather than the 95% (2σ) level that biomedical fields tolerate, to establish that an unexpected observation is a real phenomenon (if a 5σ threshold were required in medicine, progress would be glacial at best).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Dec 2012 #permalink

Can Quantum Homeopathic Alchemy ®, be used to change lead into gold?

By Kelly M Bray (not verified) on 14 Dec 2012 #permalink

Milgrom's abstract bears a striking structural resemblance to some of the postmodernist semiotics essays I mentioned recently on another thread. It looks as if it should mean something, it is structured grammatically with real English words, but it's all structure and no content. With most complex pieces of writing, I find I can break it down into bite-sized chunks that I can understand, and then put these together to understand the whole.

With this sort of writing, the closer I look, the more meaning eludes me: the chunks either don't make sense or don't meaningfully relate one to another. What I do understand suggests that this is an exercise in not just speculating beyond the data, but beyond what the author wishes the data was. It's a simulation of meaning made out of chunks of meaninglessness.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 14 Dec 2012 #permalink

Can Quantum Homeopathic Alchemy ®, be used to change lead into gold?

Since 30C lead is indistinguishable from 30C gold by any known test, I'm going to say yes.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 14 Dec 2012 #permalink

Homeopaths (and others) have been WRONG when they said that there were "no molecules" remaining in those homeopathic potencies that were diluted 1:10 twenty-four times of 1:100 twelve times. Although we too are familiar with Avogadro's number, homeopathic medicines are made in a way that nullifies Avogadro's work. The dilution of a double-distilled water in glass and the subsequent vigorous shaking of the solution creates factors that change the nature, chemistry, and physics of the water.

For those people here who are serious about their science, you will benefit from reading about the body of evidence that verifies the existence and persistence of nanoparticles of the original medicinal agent.

Bell IR, Koithan M. A model for homeopathic remedy effects: low dose nanoparticles, allostatic cross-adaptation, and time-dependent sensitization in a complex adaptive system. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Oct 22;12(1):191. (this is an exceptional review of the basic sciences literature that explains how homeopathic medicines may work)

Because many close-minded deniers of homeopathy commonly insist that homeopathic medicines are “simply water,” real scientists and academically-inclined individuals will also benefit from reviewing the writings of Professor Martin Chaplin, a world renowned expert on water: and

I hope that those serious-minded scientists in this group will follow-up on this body of work, though you may need to prepare yourself to change your mind on what you think about homeopathy.

By Dana Ullman (not verified) on 14 Dec 2012 #permalink

I hope that those serious-minded scientists in this group will follow-up on this body of work, though you may need to prepare yourself to change your mind on what you think about homeopathy.

Dana, given your well-known hit-and-run cowardice, I don't think anybody is much interested in covering your scat.

@ Dana Ullman:
I am a big fan of parody and all I can say is well done sir! Your imitation of the Offended Quack was spot on. It had everything; pseudo-scientific tone, wildly unscientific assertions pulled right out of the ass, empty hand waving, an epic feat of Star Trek style techno-jive, "cites" from bogus sites as if they were real science, and capped off with a ludicrous posturing appeal to serious scientists.



@dana ullman

Please, keep posting more of your stupidity. Your utter ignorance of basic elementary school chemistry is quite amusing.

Nanoparticles? I'm sorry Dana, but I think nanoparticles aren't smaller than a molecule. And one molecule is the smallest amount you can have from a substance, which still has the properties of the substance.

Entanglement between patient, practitioner, and remedy might be representable as Feynman-like diagrams.

Of course it is also representable as balloon animals.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 14 Dec 2012 #permalink

the writings of Professor Martin Chaplin, a world renowned expert on water

But where does Professor Chaplin stand on the vexed question of De Selby and the patent water-box, "probably the most delicate and fragile instrument ever made by human hands"? Does he side with Bassett or Hatchjaw?

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 15 Dec 2012 #permalink

Can we find the publisher of BMC Complement Altern Med on Beall’s list of zero-standards pay-to-publish vanity-press journals? Indeed we can!

I'm not seeing it there.

So just to get this straight - if glass can record the electrical patterns of chemicals dissolved in water, and if glass can record those patterns from other pieces of glass that had already recorded them, and if the body would react to the signals recorded on the glass and if homeopathy worked then this might be a way that it worked? And all this depends on serial dilution and shaking the vial 10 times against a leather bound bible?

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 16 Dec 2012 #permalink

And all this depends on serial dilution and shaking the vial 10 times against a leather bound bible?

I think the Bible element may be a conflation. Hahnemann certainly had a leather-covered "striking board," and "boards" are a term of art in bookbinding, but the Bible angle per se seems to have been a prototyping happenstance.

Narad - point taken. Strike that last sentence from my previous.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 16 Dec 2012 #permalink

Is no-one going to ask the incredibly dull Dana why the water doesn't "remember" all the shit it has had in it?

Come on Dana, give us a laugh, lets hear the "science" behind that.

@Mephistopheles O'Brien : "if the body would react to the signals recorded on the glass"

How does that work, exactly? I was not under the impression that the patient was supposed to eat the vial along with the remedy. Though this is alt med, so I suppose it's possible.

LW - According to a paper D. Ullman shared, the act of violently shaking a glass vial leads to nanoparticles of glass separating from the vial wall, These particles apparently are found at every dilution, as they are created fresh with each new shaking.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 16 Dec 2012 #permalink all becomes clear now - the GLASS has memory, not the water!


Then why bother to keep diluting and succussing...?

How do they clean these glass vials then? I don't want your plutonium in my belladonna.

LW - because diluting and succussing makes it stronger! Apparently shaking it just that way adds energy to the system that makes the glass nanoparticles hyper-reactive; presumably with enough dilution and succussion the remedy will muscle up to the bars, pry them apart with its beak, and VOOM!

Or possibly not.

As to cleaning out the vials, I can only presume that either they recycle them after one use to prevent cross contamination, or they rinse without succussing to get the last of the remedy out. They then hypnotize the dried vials so that they'll forget. Or something.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink seems that no one here chose to read the papers to which I referred. You folks are real "model" scientists (that is, as long as we define "model" as a "small replica of the real thing").

BTW, the simple reason that homeopathic water does not "remember" its previous anything is quite simply because it is a bidistilled water. I really suggest that you folks do your simple homework before embarrassing yourself any further. Your ignorance and your unscientific attitudes are showing...and it is way too obvious.

By Dana Ullman (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

@Dana Ullman, did you read Orac's most recent post?

Is homeopathic water *always* bidistilled? You've checked with every factory that churns out bottles of the stuff for pharmacies and grocery stores?

Are you quantumly entangled with your patients and your remedies? Is that how you're able to, um, cure them? If so, how exactly do you quantumly entangle yourself and how do you disentangle? Or will you agree that quantum homeopathic is utter nonsense?


But, Dana, how, exactly, does distillation cause water to "forget" previous contents? Could a homeopath determine which sample of water was really distilled and clean of memories vs. a sample that has a purported remedy in it?


Whoa there sunshine. Make your mind up. Why "bidistill" water if it is the "nanoparticles of glass" that carry the memory?

You are getting confused with which excuse du jour you are using in your argument.

@Dana Ullman - if you would please point out where I misrepresented the contents of that paper, i'd be ever so grateful. I did read the paper quickly and thought I provided a reasonable summary.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

@MarkL, yeah, that's where I'm getting hung up too. If the "remedy" is imprinted on the glass vial so that every time you shake up the vial, you get bits of remedy-imprinted glass, how do you clean the vial to remove the prior imprinting?

if you would please point out where I misrepresented the contents of that paper, i’d be ever so grateful.

Note that Dana didn't actually assert that he had read it.


If the “remedy” is imprinted on the glass vial so that every time you shake up the vial, you get bits of remedy-imprinted glass, how do you clean the vial to remove the prior imprinting?

Perhaps you succuss it in the opposite direction or succuss it while touching the opposite pole from Calvinball.

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink


how do you clean the vial to remove the prior imprinting?

I guess that a) you don't........................ and b) Dana even as we speak is setting up a company to produce industrial glassware.

For those people here who are serious about their science, you will benefit from reading about the body of evidence that verifies the existence and persistence of nanoparticles of the original medicinal agent.

Ullman popped up in an earlier thread to pimp the same study but did not hang around to read the criticisms thereof, so I am not holding my breath for good-faith discussion this time either.

The paper in question is also the subject of a lengthy Oracking in a more recent post.…

I’m not seeing it there.
Mea culpa (or rather, my psychic projection did it, Mea Tulpa). I mixed up one open-access scam publisher with another.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

The sciences, the sciences, what's happened to the sciences?
Especially where health care is concerned
Docs who gave talks aren't talking anymore
It's quantum homeopathy

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

With apologies to the late, great Danny Kaye

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

Ah, but what of double-DOG distilled, de-ionized water?

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

Wow…it seems that no one here chose to read the papers to which I referred.

Dana, did you read the critiques of the first paper in earlier threads from the last time you cited it?

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

Ah, but what of double-DOG distilled, de-ionized water?

Even double-DOG distilled, de-ionized, bible-bashed thrice-blessed Holy water becomes contaminated as soon as you put it in a glass or plastic bottle, unless you wash out the glass bottle with hydrofluoric acid, which I don't think even Boiron bothers with. If you simply expose distilled water to air it rapidly absorbs carbon dioxide, which is why distilled or deionized water has a pH lower than the 7 you might expect. Incidentally, very pure deionized water is remarkably corrosive, it won't burn your hand off or anything like that, but it will corrode metal, so it doesn't surprise me that it will dissolve a bit of glass out of a bottle.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 17 Dec 2012 #permalink

For those people here who are serious about their science, you will benefit from reading about the body of evidence that verifies the existence and persistence of nanoparticles of the original medicinal agent.

Dana is here contending that the dilution step doesn't actually succeed. Curiously, this is essentially the same reason he uses to suggest that yes, Hitler didn't really use homeopathy:

In essence, Hitler was prescribed these homeopathic ingredients, but not in homeopathic dose....

What Eric Lund said. If it was a pastiche of Sokal it would not read any differently. Unfortunately I really think they might mean it. I despair.

By Guy Chapman (not verified) on 17 Jan 2013 #permalink