You are a latticework of energies. Marshal these
energies for your health and wellbeing. Study your internal dance with the
unseen forces within and around you. And as you do, marvel with me as the
dynamic energies that stream through body, mind and soul exquisitely reveal the
genius of nature’s fashioning hand.
From Energy Medicine by Donna Eden
Energy fields are postulated to constitute the
fundamental unit of the living and the nonliving. Field, then, is a unifying
concept and energy signifies the dynamic nature of the field. Energy fields are
infinite and pandimensional: they are in continuous motion.
From The Science of Unitary Human Beings by
Martha Rogers PhD RN
Your voice is heard throughout the universe. Streams of
supportive love and healing energy surround you. Wrap their warm glow around
you. You are magnificent in your struggle. Struggle, rest, and stretch, freeing
yourself of the old bonds that kept you from expressing the joy and fullness of
life. We are sending you healing energy, assuring you that you are worthy of all
the love and focus of all the angels. When you are joyful, we are all more
magnificent. Come dance with us.
…To everyone who sent me love and light and healing
and hugs... thank you so much! I have been tuning into receiving several
times a day and I CAN FEEL the fullness of the energy around me. Now I
would like to reciprocate: Here's an infinite energy HUG for all of you
wonderful souls! Soak it up and pass it on... OOOOOOOO...
There is a method and philosophy of management that I have
watched grow steadily the past twenty years. For the purposes of this essay
I’ll use the name Energy Medicine (EM) to describe a kind of thinking
that has produced several “therapeutic” methods that depend primarily or
peripherally upon the manipulation of the “human energy field” as their
In part one of this essay I wrote about the tendency to
avoid overt criticism of alternative practices because of a misapplication of
cultural relativism. Although this method of examining many aspects of a
society’s behavior leads to an objective view of reality, using it to merely
describe the medical care provided does nothing to help us understand what
is wrong or right about its underlying theory or effect.
Accepting this, I feel it’s appropriate to openly criticize the theory behind
energy medicine and, by association, those who practice it, charge for it, and
I remember a bit of dialogue from The X-Files some
time ago. Mulder says to Scully, “Do you know how I can tell she’s not
really a vampire?” Scully replies in a hopeful tone, “Because vampires
don’t really exist?” As many of you know, this very popular TV show is
driven in large part by the tension created when a true believer and a skeptic
observe the same phenomenon and attempt to make sense of it. This small exchange
demonstrates the enormous gulf between my own thinking and that of anyone who
“manipulates energy” in a fashion that they feel promotes health. I’m
writing this essay in an effort to get those on the other side to hear me, and
I’d love to hear back from them. It’s not been my experience that any such
reply will soon appear.
I’ll begin by taking issue with the use of the word
“energy” to describe what they are supposedly manipulating with their
techniques. To my knowledge, energy is not a thing, but, rather, a quality.
It is a word we use to describe the behavior of the things we do know exist.
When this quality changes from one expression of energy to another, say from
mechanical to thermal, there are very specific rules of conservation during
transference that must be followed. This is a matter settled hundreds of years
ago and confirmed countless times since. Ignoring this fact is something that EM
practitioners do without hesitation.
To be fair, “energy” within the context of the EM
literature is typically meant to refer to a unique quality supposedly possessed
by living things. The notion that such a thing exists is ancient, and this
quality has many names in many cultures. In fact, this “energy” is often
thought to extend well beyond living bodies. It travels all over the place and
is, evidently, influenced by an incredible variety of things. The currently
popular home decorating technique, Feng Shui, is based upon the
same principles of energy movement and manipulation as the supposedly healthful
methods of EM.
Because the laws of physics first stated by Newton will not
permit the behaviors described, it is common to see EM advocates refer to
“quantum” or “Einsteinian” physics. Clearly, this sounds impressive,
primarily because this realm of physics is thought to be so mysterious and
surprising. Indeed it is. But even at that, it comes nowhere near providing the
theoretical basis for EM.
What follows is a passage from Victor Stenger’s essay The Pseudophysics of Therapeutic Touch. I know it’s a long quote, but I’ve never read anything as well written or as succinct on this very complex subject, and I felt it was best to include all of it here.
“Quantum” is the magic incantation that appears in
virtually everything written on alternative medicine. It seems to be uttered in
order to make all the inconsistencies, incoherencies, and incompatibilities of
the proposed scheme disappear in a puff of smoke. Since quantum mechanics is
weird, anything weird must be quantum mechanics.
Quantum mechanics is claimed as support for mind-over-matter solutions to
health problems. The way the observer is entangled with the object being
observed in quantum mechanics is taken to infer that human consciousness
actually controls reality. As a consequence, we can all think ourselves into
health and, indeed, immortality - if we only buy this book (Chopra, 1989,1993).
“Quantum healing” is based on a particularly misleading interpretation of
quantum mechanics (Stenger 1997). Other interpretations exist that do not
require any mystical ingredients (see also Stenger, 1995).
“Einstein” is a name found frequently in the literature on energy
therapy. Stephantos says: “Based on Einstein’s theories of quantum physics,
these energetic concepts are being integrated into medicine for a comprehensive
approach to disease diagnosis, prevention, and treatment” (1997, p. 288).
Einstein’s theories of quantum physics? What theories are these? While
Einstein contributed mightily to the development of quantum mechanics especially
with his photon theory, modern quantum mechanics is the progeny of a large group
of early twentieth century physicists. Planck, Bohr, de Broglie, Heisenberg,
Schrodinger, Pauli, Born, Jordan, and Dirac each made contributions to quantum
mechanics at least as important as Einstein’s. Einstein’s immortality rests
securely enough on his two theories of relativity.
Referring to well-known promoters of quantum mysticism Fritjof Capra and
Ken Wilber, Stefanatos tells how “Einstein’s quantum model replaced the
Newtonian mechanistic model of humankind and the universe” (1997, p. 227).
Thus holistic healing is associated with the rejection of classical Newtonian
physics. Yet, holistic healing retains many ideas about the aether and action at
a distance from eighteenth and nineteenth century physics. Its proponents appear
blissfully unaware that these ideas have been rejected by modern physics.
Never mind that Einstein was not the inventor of quantum mechanics and
objected strongly to its anti-Newtonian character, saying famously, “God does
not play dice.” Never mind that electromagnetic fields were around well before
quantum physics and composed of reductionist particles. And never mind that
Einstein did away with the aether, the medium that nineteenth-century physicists
thought was doing the waving in an electromagnetic wave, and a few others
thought might also be doing the waving for “psychic waves.” The bioenergetic
field described in holistic literature seems to be confused with the aether. Or,
perhaps no confusion is implied. They each share at least one common feature -
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, experiments by Michelson and
Morley had failed to find evidence for the aether. This laid the foundation for
Einstein’s theory of relativity and his photon theory of light, both published
in 1905. Electromagnetic radiation is now understood to be a fully material
phenomenon. Photons have both inertial and gravitational mass (even though they
have zero rest mass) and exhibit all the characteristics of material bodies.
Electromagnetism is as material as breath and an equally incredible candidate
for the vital field.
Much as we might wish otherwise, the fact remains that no
unique living force has ever been conclusively demonstrated to exist in
scientific experiments. Of course, evidence for a life force might someday be
found but this is not what is claimed in the literature that promotes
Therapeutic Touch and the myriads of other forms of alternative medicine. There
you will see the strong assertion that current scientific evidence exists for
some entity beyond conventional matter and that this claim is supported by
modern physical theory - especially quantum mechanics. Furthermore, the evidence
is not to be found in the data from our most powerful telescopes or particle
accelerators, probing beyond existing frontiers. Rather, it resides in vague,
imprecise, anecdotal claims of the alleged curative powers of traditional folk
remedies and other nostrums. These claims simply do not follow from any
reasonable application of scientific criteria.
The bioenergetic field plays no role in the theory or practice of biology
or scientific medicine. Vitalism and bioenergetic fields remain hypotheses not
required by the data, to be rejected by Occam’s razor until the data demand
When therapists who actually touch others believe that
“energy” is being manipulated and that this accounts for the effects of
care, other perfectly plausible explanations are ignored. This attitude is not
conducive to study or introspection. Large changes in subjective sensation can
certainly occur in response to non-invasive, gentle and potentially harmless
handling. This can be explained by looking at the nature of nervous
depolarization secondary to the deformation of the epithelium (see
“Resources” for more on this). This material might be a little hard to
understand without the requisite background in biology, anatomy, chemistry or
physics, but, as far as I’m concerned, that’s just too bad. I suspect that
many practitioners of EM stay with it because its theory is so easy to
understand. Belief is commonly easier to acquire and maintain than knowledge. In
the end, most people doing this sort of thing are just too lazy to read all the
literature available (please recall the title of this essay). When confronted
with the kind of things we see written by Victor Stenger, they retreat to the
realm of metaphysics and they hide behind dubious claims of effectiveness.
When “non-local healing” is practiced to some apparent
effect, this is called “psychology.”
I’m waiting for the day when one of EM practitioners
displays the courage necessary to openly withstand the scrutiny of the
scientific community and then explain their practice in reasonable terms. This
has yet to happen.
Until then, I expect that the protective shelter of misapplied
cultural relativism will remain their safest refuge. The sooner the therapy
profession understands that this is what protects EM from the same criticism
applied to every other aspect of clinical science, the better.
It is time we stopped being nice about this.
Stefanatos, J. 1997. “Introduction to Bioenergetic
Medicine” In Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Principles
and Practice by A. Schoen, S. Wynn Mosby-Year Book
Stenger, V. J. 1990 Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books.
----1995 The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books.
----1997a “Quantum Quackery.” Skeptical Inquirer 21 (1): 37-40
----1997b. “Quantum Mysticism.” Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 1 (1): 26-30
Science Meets Alternative Medicine: What the Evidence
Says about Unconventional Treatments Edited by Wallace Sampson M.D. and
Lewis Vaughn (Prometheus Books 2000)
Author’s note: I think that this should be required
reading in every therapy program.
Therapeutic Touch Edited by Bela Scheiber and Carla
Selby (Prometheus Books 2000)
Author’s note: This is a large book (360 pages) that
carefully examines the history and current application of this practice.
Stenger’s essay on “pseudophysics” is in here as well as many other
wonderfully written articles about the people who populate the alternative
medicine community. It is a comprehensive, compelling and, for me, accurate
portrayal of the battle between scientific reasoning and true belief.
Complementary Therapies for Physical Therapists
Edited by Robert A. Charman (Butterworth-Heinemann 2000)
Author’s Note: There are 23 chapters in this book. 16 of
the methods described depend primarily upon the “manipulation of energy” in
order to explain their effect.
For more about the potential effects of gentle handling see “Touch and Sensation: A Deep Model” at “The Clinician’s Manual” http://barrettdorko.com in the “From Dorko’s Desk” section.