On this year’s trip to the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair, I concentrated on merchants hawking Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (SCAM). These are all oxymoronic terms. There is no supplementary medicine, complementary medicine, alternative medicine, Eastern medicine, and so on.
Products and treatments repeatedly proven effective in double blind, controlled studies are medicine, with no qualifier needed. If they lack these evidentiary distinctions, they are not medicine.
What proponents and detractors alike label “alternative medicine” are purported remedies that usually have no recommended dosage and carry no possibility of overdosing. This is because the product has no active ingredient and is therefore without medicinal value. I heard many a tale of success at the fair, but no references to double blind studies. And as James Randi noted, “The plural of anecdote is not data.”
Further, I have found that even the most rudimentary probing of the alternative medicine field will leave proponents flummoxed. They are used to being asked, “What can this do for my headache,” not, “Explain the mechanism behind how this will help my headache.”
By way of comparison, chemotherapeutic drugs work by inhibiting mitosis and targeting fast-dividing cells. That is a terse, rudimentary explanation, but that’s the gist of it and an oncologist could go into further detail, all of which would be backed by thousands of studies, peer-reviewed articles, and decades of research. But when I asked for the mechanism behind what was being sold at the fair, my ears were overloaded with fabricated terminology, pseudoscience, and anecdotes.
One reason alt med sometimes seems to work is that it usually tried after other methods have failed. Combined with the cyclical nature of many ailments and illnesses, the treatment or product might then seem effective, when in truth, it has just run its natural course.
My first stop was to a Shamanic healer, whom I asked about my headaches. She pronounced, “There’s more to you than just your physical, mental, and emotional bodies. There’s you energy body and that’s what we work with.”
That leaves me with three more bodies than I thought I had, but let’s see what she can do with the energy one.
She used what she called an energy bundle and what I called a red blanket. With this piece of vermilion fabric, she can “check you energy fields. When we do that, we get information about where there are imprints, maybe things you’re still struggling with.” Yeah, like those headaches, let’s get back to that.
“We would have to look at what’s effecting you.” Um, I said headaches were effecting me.
She continued, “Maybe some ancestral things that are effecting you.” You mean like genetics, maybe we’re getting somewhere. Instead she went down a different pathological path.
“We have a close relationship with our guides and mountain spirits, with powers, and we open up to the divine. We use stones that have connections to power places.”
By the time our conversation wound down, she had clued me on power stones and I had let her know what a double blind study was. A win for both of us.
At my second stop, the lady asked me, “Did you come last year?” It appears I’ve stumbled onto the Reverse Clairvoyance booth. As to why she was there either time, it was “to do all kind of modalities: Reiki, craniosacral, Shamanic healing, and reflexology.”
She explained it thusly: “You lay down (I’m liking that part) and there are different holds around the whole body, and the idea is to sort of calm your chakras so your body can do what it already knows how to do.” If it already knows how, why would I pay someone to do it?
She suggested craniosacral therapy and its “gentle holds” for my headaches. When I fired my standard question about the mechanism behind how it works, she told me,
“Um, gentle holds.” So, gentle holds works via gentle holds. Hard to argue with that.
She continued, “The weight you would use to hold a nickel is all the weight you would use. It can get pretty energyish. I love first-time experiences and while I’ve heard scores of references to energy during my annual pilgrimage to the fair, this is the first time some has uttered “energyish.”
Next up was a holistic healing table. There were the usual references to auras, chakras, clearings, blockages, and energy. And the usual dearth of evidence for auras and chakras, no clarifying of what type of energy is in play, or any explanation for why blockages would be harmful and clearings beneficial.
He blamed unspecified imbalances for causing shocks when touching a doorknob or for a light bulb blowing when you turn it on. In truth, the shocks are due to the build- up of static electricity, which cause electrons to flow from a person to a metal object. As to light bulbs being blown when turned on, that can be caused by cheap bulbs, loose connections, mechanical vibrations, or high voltages. No imbalance of a colorful yet somehow invisible energy field is needed.
He further offered that his chakra assessments may reveal that a person needs more vegetables and to carry a blue topaz. Of course, one is going to feel better eating more peppers and carrots regardless of one’s crystal accoutrements.
As to my headache question, he attributed that to my crown chakra and Third Eye. Criminy, my astigmatism makes it hard enough for me to handle two eyes, now I’ve got another one to worry about?
His cohort, who seemed lifted straight from 1967, said my ailment (and everyone else’s) could be caused by WiFi and cell phones. Since the sicknesses also occurred prior to the advent of wireless technology, this seems unlikely. She suggested keeping my energy field balanced and free of other peoples’ frequencies, offering no evidence for any of these things existing or being capable of manipulation.
I asked about the mechanism responsible and was told it was akin to cleaning the top of a swimming pool. That might be relevant if my issue was pruned hands, but I’m here for a throbbin’ noggin.
I moved on to the chiropractic booth, where a woman told me she uses “the alignment of your nerves and your muscles on your spine to align your spine.” Rather redundant. It would be like describing dentistry as caring for your teeth to ensure your teeth are cared for.
When I asked about my head pain, she had me sit next to an ersatz electronics machine. She rolled an implement on my neck, and this resulted in a readout of my back, neck, and skull that showed two red areas. There was no explanation for what this measured or revealed, or how spine adjustment would fix it, or even if it needs fixing. But red in general means bad, so the point was subtly made, or at least would be to someone less skeptical.
Next I came upon another chakra healing merchant. She reiterated earlier claims about needing to ensure my chakras are lined up and needing to see if there are any blockages. There is no way to measure this and it’s hard to imagine anyone being given a clean bill of health and told that neither they nor their money needs to come back.
She assured me that if my crown chakra is blocked, that could cause it, and that she can see each of my chakras. There have been tests of such claims, where a curtain is placed in front of the chakra reader. They are then asked to see what chakra is emanating from the person behind the curtain, or if there is even anyone there. No one has ever performed better that chance at guessing whether anyone and their accompanying chakra was behind the curtain. As I had come to the fair without any interior design merchandise, I had to settle for trusting the previous experiments and not conducting my own.
When I inquired into the mechanism, she answered, “We’re all energetic beings. Chakras are energy vortexes. When we have emotional garbage, the chakras push it out so the universe can take care of it and it also pulls in the good, clean energy.”
I asked, “What kind of energy is it, thermal, kinetic, nuclear?” She answered, “Divine energy and Reiki energy.” Hmm, don’t remember those from school. Then again, I didn’t take a lot of science.
Then I found another shaman who told me he “works with spirituality. I don’t heal you, the body heals itself. It’s a conduit for healing energies that are imparted to you. A good shaman is nothing more than a good plumber.” Interesting analogy. I’ve never heard anyone who was unplugging my bathtub refer to themselves as a right fine witch doctor.
As to the mechanism behind it, he said, “It’s just sending healing energy to that person. It’s also very connected to the spirit world. It is common for us to use drums and rattles to transmit the energy.” If that’s the case, I should just listen to R. Carlos Nakai.
Finally, I paid a visit to a sound healer and his many ringing metal bowls. He suggested I try exposure to various frequencies until I find one I resonate with. This type of approach leads to post hoc reasoning, where the subject keeps trying frequencies and when the pain goes away, they attribute it to that frequency. Yet the headache may have gone away on its own by then. With no plausible mechanism or explanation for how this works, it is mistaken to attribute it to the sound made from rubbing the rim of a copper bowl, no matter how pleasing the result is to the auditory sense.
When I asked the mechanism, he gave me the day’s most honest response, saying he didn’t know and suggested I Google it. I would choose another physician if mine recommended doing a web search to figure out why I have a back rash, so I’m going to move on from this sound healer. And I gotta tell you, a day of having these conversations wasn’t real good for my headache.