“Crooked mechanics” (Quantum quackery)


Most peddlers of alternative medicine present their products and practices as equal to or greater than the traditional stuff. Extremists at naturalnews.com condemn all mainstream medicine as poison, while the reflexologist next door might say only that she is a complement to what physicians and surgeons do. But in general, alternative is the key word, and not just because they aren’t doing medicine. They claim to be offering something different, and they therefore keep away from the other guys.

But the one seeming exception are alternative medicine practitioners that use the word “quantum,” and appear to embrace mainstream science. They describe quantum mechanics as valid and praise the physicists doing the research and development. However, this is done in a backhanded way. They use the appeal to antiquity to assert that today’s quantum physicists are confirming what the wise men of yore already knew (although these men were apparently not wise enough to write this valuable knowledge down and pass it on).

In brief, Quantum Quackery is the attempt to promote health, healing, mental agility, and more by tying the practices into particle physics and mechanics. Throwing around buzzwords like “energy field” and “wave particle duality,” the practitioners mean to impress the listener, or at least confuse them. Since most people have no idea what genuine quantum mechanics terms mean, this obfuscation is easy.

The word quantum is used to justify almost any supposed wonder or mystery. Rationalwiki notes that it functions as a “New Age version of the god of the gaps,” whereby anything unexplained can be answered with, “Quantum mechanics did it.”

The Quantum Quackery field pilfers terms and overarching ideas from a legitimate, advanced science, then uses them to hawk all manner of products, from books to bracelets, from healing sessions to cat food. The quickest way to determine if a person is using legitimate quantum mechanics is to ask him or her to explain the mathematics behind the idea they are promoting.

While attempting to ride quantum mechanics’ coattails, purveyors also play up an Eastern mystical angle that appeals to many of their customers. They insist that not only does their product or notion have a grounding in advanced science, but it is complementarily rooted in Hinduism, Buddhism, or Taoism. However, Quantum Quacks here demonstrate almost as much misunderstanding of religion as they do science. Asian faiths are not cut from the same theological cloth. They have differences in philosophies, ceremonies, and habits. If not, there would be no need to have more than one. Trying to pass them off under the umbrella of eastern religion is as mistaken as equating mechanics with amphibian biology since both involve science.

As to the branch of science they are stealing from, quantum mechanics is the study of the behavior of matter and energy at microscopic levels. It is unrelated to consciousness, intelligence, spirituality, healing, or mysticism. But without studying this overwhelmingly complex and mind-crushing topic, a prospective customer might not know that. That is how quantum mechanics ends up being misrepresented by someone who passes it off as a kind of mind medicine. Consider this example, from a review of a book written by someone employing the preposterous moniker Silver RavenWolf: “She puts quantum physics theories into plain English and explains how they can be put into practice for personal fulfillment. She teaches how to achieve a special state of consciousness, including how to create and project a ‘mindlight,’ or ball of energy, through meditations, visualizations, rituals, and mind exercises. These techniques – some involving elemental energies, astrology, oils, and herbs – can be used for healing, problem solving, relaxation, banishing negative thoughts, and general wellbeing.” Here, we see the misuse of science terms, such as elements and energy, combined with a hodgepodge of undefined ideas not even pretending to be scientific. The resulting mishmash promises us the ability to vanquish our fears, get out of debt, and earn that promotion, or at least land a larger desk.

Misuse of terms, or the coining of words that sound scientific but are not, is a hallmark of pseudoscience. Another trait is claiming to do science without using the Scientific Method, and I have yet to see Silver RavenWolf’s byline in Nature. She is selling books to the public, not submitting her findings and research methods to scientific journals.

While it is good for Neil Tyson or Michelle Thaller to explain their fields in relatively simple terms that make them more accessible and appealing to the masses, this pop science approach can be abused by Quantum Quacks, who copy the methods and claim to be explicating quantum mechanics and tying it into a higher consciousness.

I suspect Quantum Quackery started with a mangling of Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. This referred to the frustrating fact that observing particle movement was impacted by that very observation. For example, to know the velocity of a quark, the particle physicist must measure it, and if it is measured, its movement is impacted.

A wonderful result of this realization was the building of particle accelerators which eliminated this unintentional human influence. A more unfortunate consequence was the assertion that this meant there must be a connection between quantum mechanics and human consciousness. This manifests itself in all manner of fabricated silliness, including selling quantum straws for $90.

The most infamous Quantum Quack is Deepak Chopra, whom I’ve chronicled before, so I won’t spend much time on him here. I will just note that he wrote “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind,” which based on photos of him now and 30 years ago, contains advice he has apparently disregarded.

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