“I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
― Richard P. Feynman
"The more limited one's understanding of science, the more that scientists resemble masters of the occult, and the more that paranormal phenomenon seem likely to reflect undiscovered scientific truths."
"No, no, baby, I can't tell you why..."
In Sam Cooke's classic hit "Wonderful World," he sang "Don't know much about history, don't know much biology. Don't know much about a science book, don't know much about the french I took." People, in general, don't know that much about physics. With its symbols, its strange words and its long, complex equations it can be a daunting subject.
Famed American theoretical physicist and Caltech teacher, Richard Feynman, taught a course in physics for students who did not plan on becoming scientists. His book "Six Easy Pieces" is a masterpiece that uses plain, everyday language to describe the seeming mysteries and wonder of the subject that so intrigued him. He would speak with wonder and excitement about what takes place in the hidden world of the very very small parts of the atom and the very very large parts of the galaxy.
Most people don't take the time to study modern physics, and, as a result, too many people still think along the lines of someone living in the 17- or 1800s when it comes to explaining what takes place in the physical world. We may hear the terms quantum, density matrix, Black Holes, Schrödinger equation, E = mc2, or Higgs boson and think we have an idea, but usually we're wrong.
Because of this lapse in knowledge, we often fall for words which sound all "science-y" and for explanations that use lofty terminology.
My martial arts acquaintances who practice no-touch knockouts, pressure-point fighting, Reiki healing, and other 'energy work' are among the worst culprits in using vague, scientific-sounding language to disguise fraud, suggestion, and what used to be called Mesmerism.
In case you haven't heard of Mesmer, you've probably at least heard the term "mesmerizing." As author Wendy Kaminer explains it:
"In the 1700s, Franz Anton Mesmer drew upon nascent understandings of electricity to explain the alleged therapeutic power of animal magnetism. Mesmer, a physician, claimed that a universal force, or fluid, coursed through our bodies and the atmosphere. He posited that illness resulted from fluid imbalances or obstacles to its flow, and preached that exposure to magnets could correct the flow and restore the patient's vital balance. In some cases, it seemed, a healer could effectively harness the vital force within his own body and effect a cure: Mesmer purported to heal people simply by pointing his finger at them, often inducing convulsions, which gradually subsided as the patients apparently recovered."
One of the first science-based skeptical investigations took a hard look at Mesmerism back in the day, with none other than Ben Franklin in attendance. What did they determine? They debunked the whole thing, showing that it was simply the Placebo effect in action: People would first believe, and THEN they would receive what felt like a wave of power, a force of healing.
Here's how Mark Twain described it:
"No one doubts--certainly not I--that the mind exercisesa powerful influence over the body. From the beginning oftime, the sorcerer, the interpreter of dreams, the fortune-teller, the charlatan, the quack, the wild medicine-man, the educated physician, the mesmerist, and the hypnotisthave made use of the client's imagination to help them in
their work. They have all recognized the potency and avail-ability of that force. Physicians cure many patients with abread pill; they know that where the disease is only a fancy,the patient's confidence in the doctor will make the breadpill effective."
What most people don't realize is that scientists actually know to a very precise detail what goes on at the microscopic level. With super colliders, or particle accelerators, which use electromagnetic fields to fire off charged particles at near the speed of light, they can detect and measure the smallest parts of the universe.
Unlike New Age healers and 'energy workers,' scientists know exactly to which they speak when they use terminology such as 'energy' or 'quantum' or 'mass.' It is not some nebulous term, but in fact is very specific.
It comes down to this: Scientists are able to explain what goes on at the molecular, and even at the sub-atomic level.
I like to use the mnemonic "SP.A.M." to help me remember that molecules are made up of atoms, and atoms are made up of smaller particles. Whenever I ask someone what takes place at the molecular level, I am trying to determine if they know what they are talking about, or if they are merely throwing around terminology to make it seem that they have a clue.
I bet you'll never guess what usually takes place.
The following, while not an actual conversation, is a compilation of real conversations I have had with real people about using chi/qi/ki, healing, faith, pressure point fighting, no-touch knockouts, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and other unique 'energy work.' I will use their words as accurately as possible, and when there are more than one word to describe the phenomenon or action, I will place those words within a parenthesis.
Note: I am not making any of this up.
Ron Goin: Hello, and thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
Energy Worker: You're welcome. I'm eager to share.
RG: Before we begin discussing the specifics, can you demonstrate what it is that you do?
EW: Sure, I will get (a volunteer/one of my students/disciples/seminar attendees) to come up here. First I'm going to do some (deep breathing/preparatory movement exercises) to invigorate the (chi/qi/ki/energy).
RG: Is that sort of like stoking a fire?
RG: So, where does this energy come from? And if I may ask, why do you need to stoke it or awaken it?
EW: It's (ever-present throughout the universe/it is natural and in all things, both animate and inanimate/it flows within all living creatures). Although it's there all the time, it's like (flipping on a light switch/turning on the kettle/shaking up a carbonated beverage/heating a snack in the microwave). You need to activate it.
RG: Will it work if it's not activated?
EW: Of course it will. But it flows in me and around me, and sometimes it's me who needs to get activated (chuckle/smile/dead serious look). Okay, I'm ready. I will (touch 3 points on this person's body...here, here, and...here, and when I do he will go unconscious as if he had been knocked out/I will move my hands near him, and when I do he will go unconscious/I will wave my hands near him, and when I do he will feel relaxed and pain-free/I will move my hands near him and detect where he has energy blockages, and I will then be able to remove that blockage and reinvigorate the flow of his chi/ki/qi/energy).
Note: It is here that the person will often (use soft, New Age music/defused lighting/a gong/chanting/close his/her eyes). I then witness some seemingly miraculous things. People (drop to the floor/go into convulsions/slip into unconsciousness requiring resuscitation/go limp as if they are a piece of spaghetti in boiling water, getting al dente).
RG: So, what just happened?
EW: I (healed this person/I helped this person relax/I knocked this person out/I felt/manipulated his/her chi/qi/ki/energy).
RG: How did you do it?
EW: Honestly? I (don't know/I can't explain it/I don't have time to explain it to someone who hasn't taken my course/I refuse to explain it to outsiders/I refuse to try to use 'scientific'/'medical' terminology because that field is corrupt/biased/unimaginative).
RG: If you don't know how it works, or if you are unwilling to explain it, then how could someone come along and validate what you do. It could just be hocus pocus, or hypnosis or suggestion.
EW: The proof is in the pudding...let's just ask our volunteer to describe the sensation.
Note: It is at this point that the (very relaxed/stunned/woozy/terribly excited) volunteer describes what he/she felt/experienced. It was like (being electrocuted, but in a pleasant way/it was like drifting down into a relaxing whirlpool/it was like invisible hands kneading me/it was as if some magic force was moving upon me).
RG: But, in science, it must be objective, replicable, otherwise it's something other than science. It has to be able to be validated. It needs to meet the definition of falsifiable...if you can't theoretically prove it false, or test it, then it's not a real event. It simply takes place in one's mind.
EW: It happens at the quantum level. Haven't you heard that all energy is matter and all matter is energy? Einstein proved that. It happens at the quantum level/it's a vibrational phenomenon).
RG: Do you what those words even mean? You can't just use fancy words in ways they were never intended to try and prove what it is you do.
EW: The (mind is powerful/imagination is real/world of science is flawed/medical philosophy of the West is too hung up on the physical/power of the universe is too much for humans to grasp). When you turn on your (television set/computer) you don't know how it works, you just set back and enjoy it. I (can't explain how it works/don't have time to explain it/am unable to explain it to someone who won't accept it).
RG: Could you do what you did to that volunteer to anyone? Could you do it to one of my students or to me or to some random stranger?
EW: It's not like a machine. I can't turn it on just like that. If you (bring in negative energy/lack faith/resist the energy) it may not work.
RG: Okay, you can't explain it. You can't make it work on just anyone. In fact, it may not work every single time on everyone. But you still believe it's valid?
EW: Not all medicines work, not all treatments work. Even modern Western medicine will vouch for that.
RG: But in double-blind testing, the medicine or treatment must be proven to be more effective than just chance, and there are statistical measures to validate their claims. It's not a flip of the coin or a roll of the dice.
EW: (shakes head/looks down at the floor/face palms/shows disgust) You just don't get it, do you?
RG: Nope. I don't. I don't get it at all.
Note: This is when they will quote some (scripture/New Age author/prophet/fictional movie character.
Kris pitches a quick one at Marc right at the top of the show — workplace violence. Marc zigs when you thing he is going to zag on the back story of workplace violence. The reasons why the numbers for violence look the way they do, what constitutes real violence – contrary to what the scientists of the world have to say about that. And no easy answers as to where we are going to be in ten years as the lines of perceived violence and real violence are blurred by statistics, incomplete numbers, and non-realistic agendas.
"Natural selection didn't design us to believe only true things, so we're susceptible to certain kinds of falsehood."Robert Wright
Please, my friend, sit down. We need to talk. Here, take a shot of brandy...you'll need it once we're through. There are things that you need to know, that we ALL need to face up to. It's about time the truth came out. What I'm about to tell you may be shocking and upsetting. You will probably hate me when it's over, but I feel obligated to tell you nonetheless. Here's a box of Kleenex, don't be embarrassed if you get emotional. No one's judging.
Okay, I don't know how to say it other than to just come right out and say it.
First of all some soft ball, slow pitch facts: 1. There is no Santa Claus. 2. No Easter Bunny. 3. Not even a Tooth Fairy. Maybe you knew these things already. If so, then we're off to a good start. If not, I'm sorry to be the one who had to break it to you. Childhood beliefs are precious, and they shatter so easily. It was easy to believe our parents. They were so full of parental love for us, and that's why pretty presents would magically just show up in the middle of the night. They weren't trying to trick you...they did it because they wanted special occasions to feel magical and special for you, to give you some fond memories of your childhood. They did it out of love, and you'll probably do it for your own kids some day.
You doing okay?
Okay, on to the tougher items...here's a tough one for you. Ghosts do not exist. Sure, there are tons of TV shows where 'hunters' or 'busters' use night vision lenses and mysterious technology to try to capture evidence of their existence. They'll use a 'medium' or a 'psychic' to try and communicate, and they usually 'pick up' on the presence of evil or suffering or pain. Sometimes they'll feel a drop in temperature or see movement or feel a feathery tickle on the back of their neck. But guess what? They're making it all up. They're pulling your leg. In some cases the people are just fantasizing or have a rich imagination. They're the harmless ones. Others are frauds trying to trick and manipulate people. They get some financial gain out it. Get this...you CAN'T be an 'expert' on a something that doesn't exist. There is no evidence. What they try to pass as evidence doesn't hold up in any rational, critical thinking, scientific analysis. We might think we hear something or see something in the dark, but guess what? We are 'programmed' to see and hear things...we wouldn't have survived as a species if we couldn't be hypervigilant for the growling tiger or the hungry hyenas, even seeing one where one didn't exist. It was safer to get a false positive, and act as if one was out there in the dark, ready to pounce.
Same goes for Bigfoot. He's been seen in practically every state of the USA, and in several countries all around the world. But there's no solid, scientific evidence. Just hearsay or anecdotes. Often it's just some joker trying to play a trick on somebody else, dressing up in a suit, trying to sell a 'corpse' on the internet or something like that. Again, it's usually just some fraudster trying to raise some quick cash or have a laugh at our expense.
You doing okay? You need a break?
Okay, I'm glad you're hanging in there. Next up? No mermaids. I know that 'documentary' looked real, but it was all a big ratings gimmick. The people in the video aren't who they say they are, and the whole theory has been debunked by marine biologists.
We could lump in some other things right about now: Loch Ness? Nope. Dinosaurs living in the jungle? Uh uh. Atlantis? Nah. Let 'em go, my friend, just let 'em go.
Here's where we start getting touchy, and you might start to get irritated. Please, bear with me.
People who claim to have telekinetic powers are lying to you. It's a farce not a force. Star Wars ain't real. They can't move something with their mind, not without the intervention of some modern technology. They can't read your mind, tell your future, and tell you about ancient lives you once lived. They can't remotely view some faraway place or object just by closing their eyes and using the power of their mind. If they say they can, steer clear. They just might be insane.
They can't hurt you with their mind either or make predictions about the future. Shamans throughout prehistory, and in remote villages even today, manipulate villagers pretending to become possessed by gods or spirits or animals. Some modern 'prophets' or 'fortune tellers' will try these same old, tired tricks, with a few making a kazillion bucks along the way with books and DVDs and seminars and TV shows. They may sincerely believe they are really doing it, going into a trance or going on a vision quest, or 'channeling' some master from another galaxy or another dimension. But they can't do it. They can guess, and odds are every now and then they'll get a hit. They'll predict a catastrophic natural event...an earthquake, or tsunami, or typhoon, or volcano. But they usually become more specific AFTER the event is over. Before it occurs they'll be vague, with lofty, coded language, subject to much interpretation. They won't tell us anything specific, helpful, like how to live in peace or how to cure cancer or find or create potable drinking water.
They most certainly cannot communicate with the dead. They can't see the dead, talk to the dead, or hear what the dead are desperately trying to say. They're lying to you, probably trying to get a 'love offering' or 'donation' from you.
And finally, there is no chi, ki, qi, or whatever you want to call it. There is no force beyond what physics can detect. Oh sure, there my be physical forces not yet detected or not yet fully explained with mathematical precision or absolute certainty. What takes place at the very smallest part of the universe, deep inside the atom, is different from the forces at work in the vast, expanding universe. There may even be other universes, with ours being one of merely billions. The same physical principles at work in our own universe may be slightly different, and operate differently, in those other universes. They are probably all connected somehow, and it may be that in our lifetimes someone will come up with an elegant formula, a theory of everything.
But non physicists can't just come along and use scientific terminology to try to rationalize their B.S. Quantum this or 'energy' that is just babble, just made up jargon they use to confuse you. They follow the old mantra, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with B.S."
When someone claims they can move you or hurt you or make you go unconscious with a light touch, a series of touches at certain strategic parts of your body, or even with no touch at all, or when they claim that they can feel your aura, detect the presence of disease or injury and even heal your ailments, or that they can remove or cast out demons or evil spirits within you or clear some 'blockage' that interrupts the flow of life force within you, they are lying to you. They are merely using the power of suggestion, an ancient phenomenon.
We are the products of an unimaginably long evolution. Our brains are simply not 'designed' to filter out all of the B.S. that comes slogging through. In fact our brains haven't yet caught up to the 21st century...they are still way back on the African savannah, not really even ready for modern times, modern problems and modern technology.
A charismatic, intense person can come along like Starbuck, Burt Lancaster's character in The Rainmaker, and sell us something we desperately need, a pipe dream like in The Iceman Cometh...maybe it's rain during a drought, a copper bracelet to help with arthritis, or a special magical lightning rod like in Ray Bradbury's classic Something Wicked This Way Comes. Maybe they try and sell us something we really don't want like the real estate in Glengarry Glen Ross. Perhaps they'll try to convince us to believe in a bad cause, or even make us think they have some power over our minds, spirits or bodies. But they don't. In fact, we don't even have a 'spirit.'
We may wake up and wonder why we gave that guy money we didn't have, or we'll wonder how we got roped into some crazy deal or social obligation. But we're easily tricked, easily duped. We have to learn and to train our brains to filter the B.S., detect the baloney, to say NO and mean it when someone lies to us or tries to convince us that the Gremlin is a Cadillac, that the Pinto is a Lincoln and that Angels protect us as we sleep.
We have to be a little more like the folks from Missouri, believing it only when we see it, or accepting it only when the evidence is solid and confirmed.
I hope we're still friends. I hope I haven't offended you, but to quote from Dan Hill's hit song, that over-the-top pop favorite, an earworm if ever there was one, "Sometimes When We Touch", "I'd rather hurt you honestly than mislead you with a lie."