by Patrick Marsolek (12/2013)
Homeopathy may currently be science’s least favorite anomaly. Although many scientists and doctors are hoping homeopathy will finally go away for good, the system of alternative medicine seems to be more popular than ever. Hardened skeptics and materialists like Richard Dawkins would like to see public support and taxpayer funding of homeopathy removed, claiming it to be a pseudoscience and a dangerous enemy to reason in our culture. At the same time homeopathy is Integral part of the healthcare systems of Germany, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, the United States and Mexico - over 6 million Americans a year use homeopathic remedies.
In the late 1700‘s, Samuel Hahnemann was the first to coin the term homeopathy. Hahneman brought together three major elements that form the core of homeopathic medicine. The first is the law of similars. This is the idea that a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people will cure similar symptoms in sick people. Hahnmann wasn’t the first to subscribe to this idea. Hippocrates prescribed a small dose of mandrake root - which in larger doses can produce mania - to treat mania itself. Later, in the 16th century Paracelsus declared that small doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him.”
To avoid the side effects of the substances being used, Hahnemann started diluting the substances. This is the second component of homeopathy. One dilution of a homeopathic remedy is one part to one hundred in distilled water or alcohol. This dilution is repeated between 4 and 30 times - written 4C or 30C - depending on the nature of the treatment. It is this dilution that irks most mainstream scientists, since past 12C it is mathematically unlikely that there will even be one molecule of the original compound in the remedy.
The third component in homeopathic remedies is succussion, whereby the remedy is “dynamised” or “potentized”. To affect this step, each dilution of the remedy is vigorously shaken and the vial containing the liquid is struck sharply, on something like a thick leather book, at least 10 times. Hahneman believed that succussion activated the “vital energy” of the substance. To this day, these three basic principles are still followed in the creation of homeopathic remedies.
Hahneman also felt that each substance used in a remedy should go through a proving. In this practice, each compound is tested with healthy volunteers under very strict observation to discover the common symptoms for the substance which were then used to determine what symptoms the substance would treat. Some claim that Hahnemann’s compilation of provings were the foundation of early clinical trials, due to his use of control groups and his systematic, quantitative procedures. Using nitroglycerine as a treatment for angina was discovered by looking through homeopathic provings. Today homeopathic remedies are prescribed for everything from common colds and allergies to Parkinson’s, arthritis, MS, HIV and even cancer. Homeopathic remedies have been regulated in the United States since 1938.
What upsets many scientists and doctors about homeopathic remedies is the lack of any molecules of the active substance in the solutions. With any of the higher dilutions, the remedies shouldn’t be biologically active. The mass of pharmacological research has found that stronger effects of an active ingredient come from a higher, not lower dose. Since homeopathic remedies clearly contradict the known biological mechanisms, most critics assume that any healing effect must be from placebo. Some doctors even propose that administering homeopathic remedies, and placebos in general, is unethical and a cruel deception of the patient.
In 1988, the French immunologist Jacques Benveniste published a research paper that supported the principles of homeopathy in the prestigious scientific journal Nature. His research positively showed there was a demonstrable effect for very high, homeopathic dilutions of an antibody on human basophils, a kind of white blood cell. This paper began a battle that continues to this day regarding the scientific validity of homeopathy. In his paper, Benveniste proposed a kind of “water memory” to explain his positive results, a physical interpretation of Hahneman’s “vital energy”. At the request of Nature, Benveniste’s research was replicated successfully by four other laboratories worldwide before publication in the journal.
A week after publication, Nature sent a team of “independent witnesses” to oversee seven more attempts to replicate the study. This advisory team were Nature editor, John Maddox; former magician and debunker, James Randi; and scientific fraud investigator Walter Stewart. The first three trials seemed to show positive results. Then the team added additional double blind protocols and the following four attempts were not successful. The advisory team reported in Nature that the “data have been uncritically assessed” and that Benveniste’s assistants were unconsciously selective in their interpretations.
Benveniste refused to withdraw his paper and maintained until his death that his research was valid. Later, a skeptical researcher, Madeleine Ennis from Queens University in Belfast, ran another trial of the same experiment. The trial, which she conducted at four different laboratories in Italy, Belgium, France, and Holland, produced statistically significant results at three of the four locations. She declared herself “incredibly surprised” and felt compelled to suspend her disbelief. Yet, other replications of Benveniste’s study have not reliably been able to replicate his or Ennis’ results.
Since then, there have been many more studies and several meta-analysis of the studies. The results are not universally clear. Researchers like Ennis claim that the results demand more attention and show something significant is happening, or at the least that the results are not clear enough to disprove of homeopathy. Those with a strong belief in materialistic science claim homeopathy has been disproved since the Nature review. Benveniste claimed the Nature team and others to be conducting “Salem witch hunts” to discredit homeopathic researchers and practitioners. One reason the battle lines may be drawn so harshly around homeopathy is that this system directly confronts a mechanistic view of medicine and of science. Proponents of homeopathy believe the harshest critics are those who claim to be practicing science but are in truth practicing a kind of scientism - a belief that mechanistic science is the only way of knowing reality. For those operating with this belief, if something is not physically verifiable, the phenomena can’t be real.
Considering the personal experiences of the millions of people who use homeopathy successfully, it seems reasonable to consider other world views that take into account a larger percentage of the human population. Rupert Sheldrake - who is also considered to be a proponent of pseudoscience by the scientific mainstream with his advocacy of morphogenetic fields and psi phenomena - recently published “Science Set Free” whereby he questions the dogmas of modern science. One assumption that relates to homeopathy is that everything is essentially mechanical and thus mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works. As Sheldrake points out, there are phenomena and an abundance of research supporting it that clearly shows the mechanistic model may be false. Positive results within homeopathic research clearly indicate something non-mechanistic is going on and even the meta-studies show that homeopathy can’t be explained away as a placebo.
Even the claims that all of homeopathy is placebo ought to be seriously considered. As Sheldrake points out, if mechanistic science were an adequate foundation for medicine, placebo responses ought not to occur. The fact that they do occur shows that people’s beliefs and hopes can have an effect on the physical matter in their bodies. Placebo responses show that health and sickness are not just a matter of physics and chemistry, they also depend on people’s hopes, meanings and beliefs.
One of the basic beliefs of homeopathy is that the whole person plays a role in their healing. They take a holistic view that the provider-patient relationship and the expectation of the doctor and patient in the healing process may be just as valuable for self-healing as the remedies themselves. The holistic premise holds that there is a qualitative difference between an entire system and its individual parts; that a perspective of seeing only the pieces may be inadequate. The heart of the battleground of homeopathy may be in the interaction of mind and matter; what is known as the observer effect in quantum physics. The consciousness of the participants may be a factor. A belief, or a willingness to believe may be at play not only with the taking of homeopathic remedies, but also with the doctors creating the remedies and even with those conducting the science.
An outdated assumption in modern science is that the intention, beliefs and expectations of the people conducting the random controlled double blind experiments have no effect on the results of the experiments. In fact the double blind protocol is intended to take away any possibility of “experimenter effects.” Yet, as the physicist Neils Bohr put it, there is an “uncontrollable disturbance” in all scientific study. There is no way to separate the researchers from what they’re studying. When skeptics come in to debunk an experiment it should be no surprise that they get different results. Yet, as Dean Radin has shown in the field of Psi phenomena, researchers can set up random controlled, double blind experiments and get positive results.
Curiously, in the follow up trials of Benveniste’s experiment, the Nature team noticed that one of the research assistants got particularly good results. Benveniste admitted to noticing that certain individuals consistently got better results and other individuals get no effects or seemed to block those effects. It is anomalies like this that indicate the need for further study of how research is done. Is it a surprise then that the last four trials led by the Nature debunking team were unsuccessful? Those individuals were all proponents of the materialist paradigm and convinced at the outset that the procedure must have been flawed. Why were those three men chosen by Nature to observe Benveniste? Perhaps to confirm and reinforce the worldview of mainstream mechanistic science. Inherent in their successful refutation of Benveniste’s experiment was the assumption that the failed result is the more accurate one, since the successful one couldn’t possibly be true.
Many skeptics today suffer from what the Nobel laureate Brian Josephson calls a “pathological disbelief.” They maintain an attitude of “even if it were true I wouldn’t believe it.” Of course, many of the homeopathic practitioners could also be accused of having their own pathological belief which would be expressed as “even it it were proved false, I wouldn’t believe it. I know it works.” Of course, both these views are shared by millions of people worldwide. Heisenberg, the inventor of quantum mechanics, said, “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
Many researchers, who are not firm believers or disbelievers, re studying the qualities of homeopathic solutions that can’t be explained by mechanistic science. Some have suggested that the mechanisms working may be involving quantum entanglement or morphogenic fields and that they may be expressing a combination of electromagnetic, chemical and energetic properties. Evidence for any of these possibilities is sparse, but the overall body of data suggests that the familiar molecular interactions underlying most pharmaceutical drugs doesn’t explain what’s happening.
A fundamental belief in homeopathy is that homeopathic solutions retain information about substances with which they have previously been in contact. They may then transmit that information to “presensitized biosystems” - people whose minds and bodies are expectant. Although our current understanding of liquids doesn’t allow for any kind of a sustained structure, there is much yet unknown about water’s characteristics, especially when in it’s fluid state. There are studies showing that water can retain an organized structure for longer periods of time. Water has been seen to exist in clusters from 2 to 280 molecules, suggesting the potential for many different properties to emerge from one body of liquid. German researchers saw the shape of the twenty sided icosahedron in a tiny drop of water around a millionth of a millimeter across. Researchers in the Czech Republic have detected properties that reflect “large scale organization in liquid water, and that increase with time.”
The ability of water to retain structural characteristics may relate to epitaxy. This is the phenomena whereby structural information is transferred from one material to another without the transfer of molecules or the involvement of chemical reactions. Epitaxial qualities are used in creating silicon wafers for semi-conductor materials. This phenomenon relates to homeopathy; the structure, not the composition, determines the properties of the material. In homeopathic remedies, it is thought to be the energetic structure remaining in the fluid that generates an effect. The absence of molecules other than water is immaterial. Some say the dilution and succussion of homeopathic remedies structures the water epitaxially with “vital energies” of the healing substance and at the same time removing the molecules that can cause side effects.
Even if what is actually happening in the water is not understood, other effects have been observed with these diluted, succussed homeopathic solutions. Some researchers found that homeopathic remedies diluted above 12C released measurably more light energy than control solutions. A study in Switzerland showed that irradiated homeopathic solutions that had been frozen to the temperature of liquid nitrogen, had substantially different thermoluminescence when warmed.
John Benneth was a member of a research team that conducted a series of dielectric stress measure (DSM) tests on homeopathic solutions. The DSM measured the puncture voltage of the solution, which is the amount of voltage at which a connection was made between two separate electrodes in the test solution. By using a 30C homeopathic preparation of mercuric chloride, Benneth’s team was able to halve the electrical resistance of water. Again, there isn’t a known mechanistic explanation for this result. Benneth proposes that the properties of these homeopathic solutions could be extremely valuable to industry as well as in medicine.
After the Nature controversy, Benveniste began working with the Nobel laureate Brian Josephson continuing experiments along their original lines. In 1997 they published a paper claiming the homeopathic effect could be transmitted over phone lines. This was followed later by two papers that claimed the same effect could even be sent over the internet. An independent trial of these remote transmission experiments was carried out by a team funded by the United States Department of Defense. Using the same protocols, they failed to find any effect. However, several positive results were noted, but only when one particular member of Benveniste’s researchers was running the experiment. These researchers noted these abnormal results and, though carefully observing the experiment, they saw no obvious way this one person could have been influencing the results through any physical means.
Dr. Luc Montagnier, the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for medicine believes homeopathy has great significance for the future of medicine. He has said, “High dilutions are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules.” So the debate continues. Those who have an openness to explore the phenomena often get results. Many people who need help, and take homeopathic remedies consistently get relief. Whatever is going on with homeopathy and the difficulty studying it may be hinting at a paradigm changing crack in the materialist, mechanistic understanding of our reality.
Patrick Marsolek is a writer, dancer, facilitator, clinical hypnotherapist and the director of Inner Workings Resources. He leads groups and teaches classes in extended human capacities, consciousness exploration, personal development, and compassionate communication. He is the author of Transform Yourself: A Self-hypnosis Manual and A Joyful Intuition. See www.PatrickMarsolek.com for more information.