Yesterday I read yet another article about the use of magnets for pain relief. One of its proponents made a fascinating statement; “This is one of the most fundamental forces in nature.” (Advance for Directors in Rehabilitation Oct. 1998 pg. 58)
As with the statement by Upledger above, I was struck by what it reveals about the speaker’s knowledge of physics, although I’m certain he’s hoping his audience will let it pass since their own understanding is a little weak. This is a pattern I’ve watched grow steadily for years now, and this essay is meant to address some of the outrageous assertions of those who use the public’s (and my own profession’s) ignorance and, in fact, fear of physical law to wildly theorize about the mechanisms of bodily functioning and change.
I would love to ask the magnet man, “which of the other fundamental forces is electromagnetism more fundamental than, and could you please list them in order of what you refer to as “fundamentalism?” I have the feeling that he would begin to sweat. Perhaps because I was sending so much “bad energy” his way.
Quantum Quackery, or the “Newton was an ignorant fool” gambit.
A favorite tactic of those who suggest that “energy” (whatever they mean by that) is intimately involved with both disease processes and health, and that their techniques of care serve to “unblock energy flow” (again, their meaning here escapes me), is to flatly state that Newtonian physics are, at best, inadequate to explain the world around us and certainly do not describe the functioning of our bodies.
Consider this from John Barnes in Complementary Therapies in Rehabilitation (Slack Inc. 1996) “Newtonian physics … is 300 years old, and was proven totally inadequate more than 50 years ago. (It is) an inaccurate belief.” More recently, this same man stated, “… the very foundation of our scientific training is based on this inadequate information. … (It is) an inaccurate assumption (that) leads us to misunderstand how our bodies function in vivo” (In P.T.O.T.-Speech Today Vol. 6 No. 32 pg.5)
Others have made similar claims, and I am at a loss to explain how these conclusions are drawn. Quite simply, Newtonian physics haven’t aged so much as they have endured. Countless times they have proven a reliable description of the world (and bodies) we occupy. To deny that is to simply ignore science.
Why “Quantum Medicine” Makes No Sense
There are two recently published texts with sections devoted to explaining why the subatomic world and our familiar, macroscopic world cannot be said to behave similarly. I’ve included extensive quotes from each here.
“The phrase “more is different” was coined (or so some say) by physicist Philip Anderson in response to what he felt was a misplaced emphasis – especially in his own field – on distilling everything in nature down to its fundamental elements. Certainly, everything on Earth ultimately boils down to protons, neutrons, electrons, light, and gravity. But what does that tell us about the properties of weather, chewing gum, or rain forests? Very little, Anderson and others believe. To get to the truth about something, you have to do a lot more than simply boil it down to its simplest parts.
To be sure, the physics of elementary particles leaped ahead with astonishing rapidity during the early and middle part of this century. First the electron was discovered, then the proton, then the neutron. In the 1970s, protons and neutrons were revealed to be tight sacks of even more fundamental particles called quarks. Electromagnetism and the so-called weak force responsible for radioactivity were shown to be closely connected. Any day now, it seemed, physicists should be able to describe the entirety of existence with a few simple formulas.
Theoretically, at least, it was even possible to use the wave equation formulated by Erwin Schrodinger to describe any atom – and therefore anything made of atoms – perfectly and completely. In reality, these equations are much too hard to solve (although some researchers using clever mathematics and fast computers have already designed new materials using them). Still, the idea that everything could be understood by reduction to its simplest components was too tempting for many people to resist.
The problem with this approach, for Anderson and others, was that you simply couldn’t get there from here – from quarks to the cosmos. As Feynman noted, nothing we know about elementary particles and forces can tell us anything about green reptiles that croak in the night, or the music of Mozart, or the Ten Commandments.
“When and if we have found and understood the complete irreducible laws of physics,” writes Frank Wilczek, “we certainly shall not thereby know the mind of God (Hawking to the contrary). We will not even get much help in understanding the minds of slugs, which is about the current frontier of neuroscience.”
The universe is full of things that cannot be understood – ever – simply by understanding smaller and more fundamental parts. Each time you go from quarks to atoms to chewing gum to life to galaxies, new things emerge that cannot be explained or predicted by goings-on at lower levels. “Psychology is not applied biology,” Anderson wrote in his 1977 essay in Science magazine. “Nor is biology applied chemistry.”
“The macroscopic world doesn’t behave like the quantum universe; therefore, classical objects – the objects at macroscopic scales – don’t involve superpositions of mutually exclusive possibilities.
How can this be, if macroscopic objects are made up of quantum objects? Well, it’s a matter of large numbers and also of the constant interactions between all the constituents of these macroscopic objects. Let’s reconsider the simple two-particle system with total spin equal to zero. The wavefunction is made up of two mutually exclusive possibilities: A up, B down plus A down, B up. But this entanglement persists only as long as nothing else interacts with the system. If particle B collides with particle C, in a process in which the spin of particles B and C can be exchanged (for example), then the correlation of particle A with particle B is reduced. If B has a million such collisions, with a million other particles, the original correlation with A will quickly be washed out. The system, and hence the wavefunction describing the system, will then evolve as if A and B are now independent. In modern parlance, A and B will decohere. One can envision a coherent superposition of A and B reappearing momentarily because of a later interaction, but if there are lots of particles around, and lots of interactions, this possibility becomes increasingly remote.
While the details of the operation of decoherence on macroscopic aggregations of many particles have not yet been fully worked out, the idea of decoherence seems eminently sensible. Not as much fun, perhaps, as having many parallel universes (with the number of independent universes increasing each time someone has a perception!), but infinitely simpler. And decoherence suggests that quantum mechanics solves its own problems – that is, the classical limit is just the limit at which there are no coherent superpositions of mutually exclusive states for systems composed of large numbers of particles. The individual quantum states of the many individual particles making up the classical macroscopic system quickly decohere, and the wavefunction of the system evolves into a sum of many different states, but the states that describe mutually exclusive macroscopic configurations (for example, live plus dead cat) have random plus and minus signs and end up canceling out the sum. Moreover, decoherence resolves the question that began this discourse: Am I correlated in some quantum superposition with the cosmos – so that when the Moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, Peace will guide the planets and Love will rule the stars? No, I’m not. Decoherence assures that there are likely to be no coherent macroscopic superpositions of my state and Jupiter’s in the wavefunction of the universe.
Alas, this conclusion suggests that the fascinating phenomena of quantum mechanics are forever exiled to the world of the very small, and will remain directly irrelevant to our experience”.
I don’t imagine that all that is said here is perfectly understandable to you. I certainly don’t have sufficient background to comprehend all of it. But these two highly honored authors are just reliably reporting that which is known about quantum mechanics and the limitations of its application. I am convinced that these explanations are reasoned and reliable. If someone practicing “energy medicine” evokes images of some mysterious reality not fully understood by us because its elements can only be inferred by indirect observation, they must deal with what Cole and Krauss have made clear.
I invite my colleagues to do so.