Fantasy physics and energy medicine
Posted by apgaylard on May 6, 2011
I’ve heard it said that, unlike the medical world, there is no such beast as alternative physics. Whilst it’s true that made up* nonsense hasn’t penetrated physics education and practice in the same way as it has medicine, there is no shortage of people indulging in fantasy physics. Perpetual-motion dreamers are prone to do this, as are advocates of so-called ‘energy medicine’. In the case of the former, they are looking for excuses to support their claims for so-called ‘over-unity’ devices that are claimed to produce more energy than they consume. The latter are looking for ‘explanations’ for how homeopathy, reiki etc. ‘work’. Of course, neither of these communities actually have meaningful effects that require explanation. This is about having some superficially ‘sciency’ prose to sell their wares, or reassure their devotees.
I’ve recently been pointed** at a cracking example of ‘energy medicine’ advocates indulging in some fantasy physics. It’s hosted on the PositiveHealthOnline website and is called, Spirals and Energy in Nature, attributed to Robert McCoy. It’s worth a look as an exemplar of the desperate nonsense that elements of the ‘energy medicine’ community dabble in. It’s so rich a vein of fantasy physics that I’m sure that I’ll end up overlooking some howlers. If I do, please feel free to point them out in the comments.
From Academic to Quackademic
“She was the first to develop the protocols and instrumentation necessary to detect and record the body’s high frequency energy fields with the spectral analysis of bioenergy patterns. She discovered the neuromuscular patterns of non-verbal communication and her groundbreaking research has led to the first truly scientific understanding of the relationship between energy field disturbances, disease, emotional pathologies, human field communication and the energy spectrum of consciousness.”
Mentions of “bioenergy patters” and “the energy spectrum of consciousness”, amongst other things, flag Hunt as a pseudoscientist. It appears that this was not always the case. She has a PubMed publication record which reveals some (apparently) useful work in the 1960’s (Hunt and Weber, 1960; Hunt and Weber, 1964; Barrett, Hunt and Jones, 1967) before publishing study of Rolfing® the year before she retired (Weinberg and Hunt, 1979). Rolfing®, sometimes called Structural Integration, has had many claims made for it. A recent review by Natural Standard concluded that:
“There is little well-designed scientific research of this technique, and it is not known if Rolfing® structural integration is safe or effective for the treatment of any disease. People with fractures or spine disease, those at risk of bleeding, those with blood clots and pregnant women should avoid Rolfing® structural integration.”
During the latter part of her career at UCLA Hunt appears to have become quite taken with both Rolfing® and seeing evidence for fictitious concepts, such as chakras and ‘auric emission‘, in electrical signals associated with muscle movement. Her enthusiasm for fantasy leaps off the page:
“Prior pilot studies during Rolfing, unconventional healing, meditation and altered states of consciousness had provided techniques for recording a high frequency low amplitude energy field not in the known muscular spectrum. This is believed to be an auric emission. There was correspondence between these data and changes in chakra and auric field colors re-ported by aura readers.” (Hunt et al, 1977)
However, it is this putative ‘high frequency low amplitude energy field’ that McCoy appears to have alighted on as some sort of mystical entity. So, with this in mind, let’s have a look at some really bad physics.
Signal or Noise?
Hunt appears to have used electromyography (EMG), a method of recording the voltage potential generated by muscle cells when they are activated.
“What she discovered was a whole range of minute signals that had never been seen before – patterns below the pattern – like some sort of energetic Mandelbrot, they were in the audio range and could be amplified and heard as well as ‘seen’ by sensitives, as if they were the ‘sound of light’. No wonder no one had ever found them – who would have guessed! ‘Light’ you can listen to! And furthermore each one of these frequencies corresponded to a discrete characteristic of the human mind and body and each had a distinct waveform and colour. So frequency, waveform and colour were synonymous with different human characteristics.”
It sounds from the description like Hunt saw some meaningful small amplitude high frequency content in the signals she was measuring, or got carried away looking at noise in her experiments. As there are no time histories or spectra presented, I can’t say one. However, It’s not surprising that the little signals were in the audio range, to quote a manual on EMG (De Luca 2002):
“It is well established that the amplitude of the EMG signal is stochastic (random) in nature and can be reasonably represented by a Gausian distribution function. The amplitude of the signal can range from 0 to 10 mV (peak-to-peak) or 0 to 1.5 mV (rms). The usable energy of the signal is limited to the 0 to 500 Hz frequency range, with the dominant energy being in the 50-150 Hz range. Usable signals are those with energy above the electrical noise level.”
Here’s a time history and its frequency spectrum detected from the Tibialis Anterior muscle during a constant force isometric contraction at 50% of voluntary maximum (De Luca 2002). It’s clear that there’s a lot of energy in the audio range (>20Hz). It’s also true that muscles radiate acoustic energy (sound) that can be measured (AMG). Now, for the comments attributed to Hunt. Of course, if the electric signals in the audio range were amplified and sent to a loudspeaker they could be heard! But that’s an artificial process and confers no special meaning. The observation that these signals could be ‘seen’ by ‘sensitives’ (whatever they are) is nonsense. These electrical signals are not electromagnetic waves in the part of the spectrum that the eye can see. The ‘sound of light’ idea presented here is physical nonsense as well.
The fanciful ideas now take full flight, “each one of these frequencies corresponded to a discrete characteristic of the human mind and body and each had a distinct waveform and colour.” The author moves from an unremarkable electrical signal measured on the skin, to light, then undefined characteristics of the body and mind; a flight of fancy indeed.
Some Basic Definitions
Much of the rest of the article seems to be based on gross misunderstanding of basic concepts in physics: vectors and scalars, fields and waves. So, here are some simple descriptions of these concepts.
Vectors and Scalars are easy: simply put, vectors have both magnitude (size) and direction, while scalars only have magnitude. Common physical vectors include velocity: speed in a given direction. On the other hand temperature is a scalar, having values at points within a physical system (i.e. ‘what’s the temperature here’) but no associated indication of direction.
In physics, fields are simply a region of space characterized by a physical quatity, such as temperature or velocity. The quqntity must have a determinable value at every point in the region. They can be either vector or scalar; this just refers to the type of physical quantity they are composed of. For example, as temperature is a scalar, the distribution of temperature through the room you are sitting in is a scalar field. Temperature takes specific values at each point in the room. In contrast, if we think about the air velocity in the same room, its distribution through the room gives us a vector field, as velocity is a vector. In this case we have two pieces of information at every point in the room: the speed of the air and its direction of motion.
A wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, usually transporting energy. If the direction of the disturbance is the same as its direction of travel, it’s a longitudinal wave. Sound is an example of a wave of this type. If the disturbance is at right angles (perpendicular) to the direction of motion, then it’s called a transverse wave. If the disturbance is restricted to a single plane, then it’s called (plane) polarized. From a wave perspective, light is a transverse electromagnetic wave; a combination of oscillating electric and magnetic fields. They oscillate perpendicular to each other and in a plane perpendicular to the direction of propagation (travel). Light also has a vector nature, as both electric and magnetic fields are vector fields.
… And Now For Something Completely Different …
Now according to our intrepid author:
“…the waveforms she displayed on her slides were what are known as vector waveforms …”
Not if they were measurements of the electric signals produced by muscles. EMG records changes in voltage potential at specific points, a scalar quantity, so any waveform would be of the scalar variety.
“… All known frequencies in the electromagnetic [EM] spectrum are vector waves.”
Yes, but where has the electromagnetic (EM) radiation come from? The actual measurements are electrical signals of relatively low-frequency. No light, no EM signals of any kind.
“… Vector waves … can be displayed and measured.”
It’s not because of the vector nature though; as we have seen, scalars are by definition measurable to.
“… But there are other waves in physics that are known to be ‘below’ or ‘behind’ the vector waveforms that we can see and measure and these waveforms are referred to as scalars and they are not so easy to see or measure – or even describe.”
Scalars only underlie vectors in the sense that the magnitude part of the vector is a scalar. As we have seen scalars are easy to describe – they are simpler than vectors after all.
“… scalars have been referred to, at times as the information ‘behind’ a vector waveform and that when a vector waveform is ‘collapsed’ the scalar information is ‘revealed’.”
The author appears to be confusing the quantum mechanical concept of wavefunction collapse, with a general property of vector waves. This is silly. As we have seen there is a sense in which scalars are ‘behind’ (actually part of) vector quantities, and it’s quite simple.
“This is generally done by running a vector through what is known as a Caduceus coil, a winding twisting pair of wires which wrap the wave back around on itself so as to combine the waveforms in such a way as to negate them, like a homeopathic. But the information left behind is not like a radio signal that was modulated onto a carrier wave – a small vector riding on the back of a bigger vector – it’s the information that formed the wave itself… and that survives its destruction.”
Complete nonsense. The Caduceus is the staff carried the Greek mythological character Hermes. It features two entwined serpents (as opposed to the single serpent seen on the medic’s mythological symbol, the rod of Asclepius.) Some fantasists think that by entwining wires in the same pattern (Caduceus coil) they can generate occult scalar waves, tachyons, enable time travel and perpetual motion. Of course, it cannot and does not. Any mention of ‘homeopathic’ is a clear indication that we are dealing with entirely bogus explanations.
“If the sum of the internal motions is zero, the external object seems to be sitting still and motionless to us (though it’s still moving through time with – usually – uniform motion).”
Here’s a thought experiment: imagine a completely rigid, solid ball moving through the air. The sum of all the internal motions is zero, and yet it is actually moving. The sum of all the internal motions within an object tells us nothing about whether it’s moving or not. Of course it’s still ‘moving through time’ we all are, and in a uniform manner! There’s no ‘usually’ about it, unless time is mysteriously speeding up or slowing down.
“A simple vector – one 360 degree ‘roller coaster’ – is created from two longitudinally coupled scalars – IE two whirlpools abutted lengthwise, end to end so to speak. In eastern cosmology there is a phenomena that comes tantalizingly close to the description of such a coupling of whirlpools and it’s called a chakra … A chakra is two longitudinally coupled rotating standing waves.”
A google search for the expression, “longitudinally coupled scalars” only finds versions of this article. That’s a pretty clear indication that it’s meaningless.*** The meaningless babble continues apace: chakras are a myth, nothing more. They have no physiological meaning and cannot be measured.
“As an analogy, a scalar is a system that is expanding or contracting on a sliding scale in multiple directions simultaneously – IE it’s changing its magnitude.”
Again, untrue: scalars don’t have to change, unless physical processes are at work, driving that change (like a fire in a room will change the scalar temperature field). Neither do scalars exhibit directionality, that’s vectors!
“A vector translates directionally through space – IE spatially. So a vector that scales is a vector that expands or contracts in multiple directions simultaneously while translating in a specific direction through space.”
Vectors don’t move: they express size and direction at a point. Waves move
“There is only one method in nature to accomplish that seamlessly and that is to spiral.”
And we have arrived at the spiral promised in the title of the article. The journey has been both incoherent and nonsensical. The nonsense wave propagating through the narrative now starts to build towards a peak.
“So could it be possible that what are often called ‘scalars’ in science may actually be coupled spinning pranic whirlpools composed of spiralling vectors, kinda like kundalini, and that this awe inspiring movement has not been adequately characterized?”
No, because these words have no physical meaning.
“Even ordinary analog vector signals are difficult to model so a three dimensional whirlpool – the ultimate compound analog device – at the level of a scalar, would most definitely be a forbidding challenge.”
Err, no, actually my day job involves very detailed models of three-dimensional vortices. The two images below are taken from Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations of the flow around the German ICE train. On the left is a visualisation of the flow in the gap between two carriages, a spiraling trapped vortex. On the right is the (near) wake, with a pair of strong counter-rotating vortices drawing air down the rear powercar before spiraling off into the wake. I did this work over a decade ago (Gaylard, 2001), and the capabilities of both CFD software and computer hardware have come on in leaps and bounds in the years since this work was completed. There are difficulties, complexities and uncertainties; but no forbidding challenge! Personally, I’m really into spiralling flow.
Now one of the favorite quack canards now gets an outing:
“And why is an object so central to eastern cosmology so conspicuously absent from mainstream western scientific investigation? You’d think energy was confined to railroad tracks and that transverse sinusoidal waves were the ‘bee’s knee’s’ – the end of the story – in some frozen, eternal trolley car world. Something had to shape that hurricane and hurricanes are certainly not short on energy. IE: spiralling storms don’t come from straight lines. Straight lines do.”
All I really want to say about this is that science (belonging neither to the west or east, but rather the world) as much to say about longitudinal scalar waves, like sound, or highly complex patterns of spiraling flow. Robert McCoy is in serious need of an education.
“But one really begins to appreciate the view when one takes the opposite journey inward – beginning with our spiralling vector. If such a phenomena exists, one would naturally ask what would lie ‘beneath’ it or ‘behind’ it and the answer would have to be a scalar – but a scalar on a much smaller ‘scale’. And that scalar would in turn be composed of even smaller spiralling vectors composed of still smaller scalars and on and on – spiralling vectors enfolding spinning scalars enfolding spiralling vectors on into infinity – Planck Length be dammed – an infinitely enfolding energetic Mandelbrot.”
It’s certainly a change of pace for a ‘energy medicine’ advocate to disavow quantum mechanics. They are quite often fond of quantum flapdoodle. Reading this odd little paean to a fantasy continuum mechanics and it’s like the early 20th century revolution in physics prompted by Planck never happened! How quaint. I’ve ignored quite a lot of mumbo-jumbo to arrive at the end of the article. I’d just like to end on this delicious piece of straw clutching.
western science is finally coming close to validating Valerie Hunt’s empirical discovery decades ago of ‘sound you can see’ – a sort of ‘Synesthesia’, long known to the initiated and familiar to sensitives, and experiencers alike, it’s been a ‘long time comin’. http://www.livescience.com/health/080818-seeing-sound.html “
Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to the involuntary stimulation of another. In one form of the condition synesthetes hear a sound and this prompts an experience of colour. All Hunt has done is measure electrical signals, notice that their frequency is in the audible range – if they had been sound – and claimed some ‘sensitives’ could ‘see’ something. Synesthesia is neither a choice, nor a matter of training. It is an involuntary characteristic of some peoples’ brains.
So, what to make of this article? It’s almost complete nonsense, of course. Its only value is as an exemplar of people who should know better misappropriating the language of science in the name of illusion.
I try to make sure that what I write is both accurate and fair. If you think that I have got anything wrong please let me know. If you are right I will happily change what I have written.
This is not medical advice. If you need that see a properly qualified and registered doctor.
** h/t @david_colquhoun
*** Scalars (and scalar fields) can, of course, be coupled. The value of the coupled scalar, being determined by the value of the scalar to which it is coupled. It’s the “longitudinal” part of this claim that’s unique.
Hunt VV, Weber ME. Body image projective test. Journal of projective techniques. 1960 Mar;24:3–10. Available from: http://view.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14405438.
Hunt VV, Weber ME. Validation Of The Rathbone Manual Tension Test For Muscular Tension. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation. 1964 Oct;45:525–529. Available from: http://view.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14200247.
Barrett ML, Hunt VV, Jones MH. Behavioral growth of cerebral palsied children from group experience in a confined space. Developmental medicine and child neurology. 1967 Feb;9(1):50–58. Available from: http://view.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6031533.
Hunt, V., Massey, W., Weinberg, R., Bruyere, A., Hahn, P. (1977) Project Report: A Study of Structural Integration from Neuromuscular. Energy Field and Emotional Approaches. Boulder, CO. Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. Precis available from: http://www.roygbiv.name/HuntStudy.htm
Weinberg R, Hunt VV. Effects of structural integration on state-trait anxiety. Journal of clinical psychology. 1979 Apr;35(2):319–322. Available from: http://view.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/457892.
Gaylard AP. 3. In: Rhodes N, editor. A Comparison of a Conventional RANS and a Lattice Gas Dynamics Simulation – A Case Study in High Speed Rail Aerodynamics. John Wiley & Sons; 2001. Available from: http://www.worldcat.org/isbn/9781860583520.
De Luca CJ. Surface Electromyography: Detection And Recording. DelSys Inc.; 2002. Available from: http://www.delsys.com/Attachments_pdf/WP_SEMGintro.pdf
09/05/2011. Note 3 added.
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