Pseudoscience & Quackery

When Eminence Based Medicine meets Quantum Quackery

It is saddening to observe a poorly educated person engaging in woo. It is disturbing to watch an educated person doing the same. But it is infuriating to watch when a decorated expert trades in it. I respect Dr. Hegde’s long tenure as a medical educator, but this promotion of pseudo-science, when left uncontested, has potential public health consequences and contributes to harmfully impacting the growth of the rational Indian mind and the emergence of scientific temper as a national value.

As rationalists, we are convinced of the value of objectivity in science, in the necessity of evidence, in the value of measurement, of the welcome tyranny of data and the power of analysis. In medicine, that translates to Evidence Based Medicine (EBM). All that means is that we ask: What was the evidence that showed that this intervention made a difference? What was the design of the study? Are the metrics meaningful? Are the measurements reliable? What was the effect size? What was the statistical strength if a difference was observed from the control group? – These aren’t any dogma. These questions have foundations in sound probability theory, the mathematics of which have been universally applied in the last century. Entire chapters have been devoted to why we ask these questions and the precise consequences we can expect when we err. There are no magical solutions. We refine these methods continuously and iteratively as flaws in our best processes are discovered by critical reviews. For instance, currently medical science is on a correction course (trial registration), after its critical process pointed to publication bias effects.

The main alternative to Evidence Based Medicine has been humorously described as Eminence Based Medicine by Isaacs and Fitzgerald in their 1999 British Medical Journal article: Seven alternatives to evidence based medicine: The more senior the colleague, the less importance he or she placed on the need for anything as mundane as evidence. Experience, it seems, is worth any amount of evidence. These colleagues have a touching faith in clinical experience, which has been defined as “making the same mistakes with increasing confidence over an impressive number of years.” The eminent physician’s white hair and balding pate are called the “halo” effect.

Curiously, Dr. Hegde is an even firm believer in the damaging effects of Eminence Based Medicine without calling it that. But his unsaid definition is of a different kind. While the above description is merely points to local displays of eminence, Dr. Hegde includes just about every successful person in the world of Evidence Based Medicine in his understanding of it – people who win Nobel prizes in medicine, win big grants, have big CVs and thought leaders, all of whom, according to Dr. Hegde, form the privileged caste (unless of course, they had anything nice to say about alternative systems) – never mind the fact that this privilege, to the extent that it exists, is earned by talent, rather than by being born into it.

Dr. Hegde seems to be disillusioned about science for reasons I cannot claim to know. Personally, I can relate to this feeling. Science is a collective enterprise. Many of us enter science with great intellectual ambitions and the confidence to bring about change. However, not every scientist has the ability or opportunity to meet with success in pushing forward all their ideas – especially when the ideas being pushed are not steady increments of the known frontier, but large changes from the norm. Much heavier burdens of proof are reasonably expected to be taken seriously with such claims. Not all of us can meet them. The only path is to rise up to the challenge, by slowing developing the evidence to bolster the argument, not to cut a shortcut and turn to the general public which is not equipped to critically appraise ideas.

It is quite reasonable to comment on Science that the idealized process had not always been followed. Nothing in this world follows the idealized process. Power quickly and naturally accumulates in the freemarkets and shifts the balance to big business. Democracies turn into something similar to the satirical depiction in Yes, Minister, where consent is often manufactured at all levels to preserve the status quo. That does not mean we disavow free markets and democracies. We try to continuously understand the natural processes of subversion and attempt to refine the process as problems manifest.

Like everything else, science also has power politics because it is done by people, not logical automatons. Like elsewhere, power also accumulates in its institutions and develops inertia of its own. But science itself presents studies that make its community aware of these imbalances. It is one thing to rail at the human failings of science, but entirely another to rail against scientific process itself as a religion.

Article 51A of the Constitution of India states that it is the duty of Indian citizens to develop “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” (the tenets that Nirmukta and the greater rationalist community champions). A scientifically enlightened citizenry has far reaching impacts into the social space. The quality of political discourse greatly improves. Politicians are expected to makes their cases in data, not simply rhetoric. A critical thinking citizenry better participates in the democracy, rather than dig in, into tribal positions of communal and identity politics. No, not all of this will likely occur in idealized forms, but these are ideals to continuously strive for regardless.

In India, we do not yet live in a data-driven society. It may be unreasonable to expect a scientifically enlightened citizenry in a country at our stage of human development, on par with developed, post-industrial societies. But it still behooves us to do our best to promote a modern, objective and an analytical platform of conversation, to the best of our abilities. When respectable national newspapers promote Eminence Based Medicine, rather than Evidence Based Medicine, we are under-served towards this goal. When an expert who is supposed to be on the fore-front as a public intellectual, educating the citizens of what evidence based medicine is, what its complexities and uncertainties are, is instead promoting mysticism draped in the language of science, while recklessly criticizing the same science with broad indefensible claims, to cater to the populist rhetoric of the times (Indian vs. Western science), it is a cause for alarm.

Quantum Theory is a difficult area of physics. Even physicists are humble in their claims of fully understanding it.

“If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics” – Richard Feynman

It is an unintuitive and complex mathematical theory that does not lend itself to rhetorical expression. Several attempts have been made to state it in plain language, all of which seem to have done more harm than good (the absurd von Neumann–Wigner interpretation was perhaps the most damaging and was the basis of most pseudo-science that arose from the area), to the public understanding of science. To think that one understands quantum mechanics by reading these interpretations is closer to thinking that one understands the issues of robotics by watching Transformers movies.

The only people who are qualified to say anything about quantum theory are those who can fluently speak its mathematical language; and as with any science, they should obtain expert consensus before rushing to a non-scholarly audience to overwhelm and impress. Those who understand it only in rhetoric, only fool themselves as experts. They have nothing to offer on the topic. Instead, the jargon has been used by them as a vehicle of mysticism: this is complicated, you don’t understand it, I have something profound to say, look at my credentials in areas completely unrelated to quantum theory and several terms you can only vaguely understand, therefore I am a smart person and anything I say must be true, especially if it tugs at your emotional strings and feels “truthy”.

Dr. Hegde also seems to have not written an actual original article. The core of the article, the “thoughts” about “quantum healing” are not his, but rather seem to be from an unworthy New Age source (which in turn might not have been an original), stated without attribution and claimed as his own. I list them here and will leave it to the readers to consider it plagiarism or not.

  1. West: One of the key principles of quantum physics is that our thoughts determine reality.
    Hegde: Quantum physics, which turned conventional solid state physics upside down, has an important principle, which is that our thoughts determine reality.
  2. West: Early in the 1900’s they proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt with an experiment called the double slit experiment.
    Hegde: Early in the 1900s they proved this with the double slit experiment.
  3. West: They found that the determining factor of the behavior of energy (‘particles’) at the quantum level is the awareness of the observer.
    Hegde: The observer’s awareness determines the behaviour of energy at the quantum level
  4. West: For example: electrons under the same conditions would sometimes act like particles, and then at other times they would switch to acting like waves (formless energy), because it was completely dependent on what the observer expected was going to happen.
    Hegde: Electrons under the same conditions would sometimes act like particles, and then at other times switch to acting like waves (formless energy), depending on what the observer expected was going to happen.
  5. West: Whatever the observed believed would occur is what the quantum field did.
    Hegde: “Whatever the observed believed would occur is what the quantum field did.”
  6. West: That is why quantum physicists have such difficulties in dealing with, explaining, and defining the quantum world.
    Hegde: Quantum physicists have such difficulties in dealing with, explaining, and defining the quantum world.
  7. West: We are truly, in every sense of the word, masters of creation because we decide what manifests out of the field of all-possibility and into form.
    Hegde: Are we not the masters of creation as we decide what manifests out of the field of all-possibility and into form?
  8. West: we have complete and total control and responsibility over what we choose with our attention to manifest out of the field in the next moment
    Hegde: We should have total control over what we want with our attention to manifest out of the energy field the next moment.


Now, moving on to the critique of the article…

Each time I went to a certain city to lecture on the futility of interventional coronary revascularisations, one ace interventionalist in that city, who did on an average about 20 angioplasties a day, used to come up and criticise me. But this time, as soon as I finished he raised his hand and wanted 15 minutes to speak. I was looking forward to a big attack, but he came up and first bowed to me, and then said I was always right and he was wrong all along. Then he narrated his story.

Arguing against interventions is a necessary scientific activity. We do this via data-driven arguments. Dr. Hegde would likely be right in his arguments against enthusiastic, expensive, high-risk, cutting-edge procedures that have not fully demonstrated their effectiveness, by the numbers. A number of scientists study practice variation and criticize over-intervention. However, none of them invoke quantum mysticism. In this case, the legitimate concerns over the business of medicine are being used to belittle the accomplishments of scientific medicine, in a Trojan horse attempt to sneak in justifications for quantum quackery.

He had severe, almost incapacitating, pain on the left side of his chest and left shoulder. It defied all attempts at conventional diagnosis. Every conceivable treatment failed and the pain made him chair-bound. He could not sleep as the pain would increase as he tried to. Even morphine did not help. Moving in the chair became unbearable. His friends told him this could be relieved by surgery at Mayo Clinic. He was getting ready to go in an air ambulance as conventional air-travel was impossible.

So we do not even know what the cause of this postural pain was. No evidence was found that it was cardiovascular in nature. Yet, his friends told him to get a surgery at Mayo Clinic? It could have been a non-standard presentation of any number of things.

Idiopathic problems (to those outside medicine, the definition of insider humor for the idiopathic condition is that it is when the doctor appears idiotic and the patient appears pathetic) are encountered in medicine from time to time. Spontaneous remissions do occur in some of them. To dismiss the effectiveness of medicine because the process occasionally misses a case or two, is throwing away the baby with the bathwater.

This seems to be a recurrent pattern in this article: medicine cannot fix 100% of the problems… therefore quantum healing. Science cannot explain 100% of the universe… therefore quantum healing… Science isn’t a perfect institution… therefore quantum healing… without actually presenting any competitive evidence for the claimed alternative… that is assuming that “Quantum Healing” is even defined, let alone standardized, other than vacuous rhetorical arguments that would not be accepted in any productive scientific community.

His wife, though, was a strong believer in her guru, a divine incarnate. The patient was an atheist as he believed himself to be a “scientist”. Little did he realise that science knows just about 5 per cent of this universe.

We need to examine what Dr. Hegde means by the statement that science knows just the about 5% of the universe. This has been reeled in from astronomy in an effort to diminish science to create a gap for Dr. Hegde to uncritically push his non-scientific ideas through.

When astronomers look at great distances through the telescopes, they find gravitational phenomena not fully accounted by simpler physics models. There seem to be gravitational effects of mass, but that mass does not show up on telescopes of any kind. Astronomers call this: dark matter (and analogously there is dark energy to account for some of the missing force behind the expansion of the universe). It is a sound theoretical concept. If we plug in a theoretical (rather than haphazard) invisible mass, then the mechanics of the universe make sense again. It may turn out that there is in fact no dark matter; just that we needed some refinement in our physics models, or that it is a yet-understood aspect of regular gravity, or it may indeed turn out to exist as theoretically predicted and we develop new methods to see it in some way. This is not missing science or beyond science; it is developing science.

But to reel in the uncertainties at this frontier of science is disingenuous. We cannot study dark matter and energy because there isn’t any available on earth. How is not knowing enough about it relevant to medicine? Our bodies aren’t made up of dark matter at all and we only notice its effects at magnificent scales at which gravity works. Enlisting the current lack of precise science on dark matter has all the scientific temper of enlisting astrology in the treatment of disease. Unfortunately, that has been the standard tactic of the proponents of quantum quackery.

There is no claim that can be made on how fully figuring out dark matter will somehow empower medicine. Particle physics may give us radiation therapy and new imaging modalities. But particle physics is not what happens in human bodies for the simple reason that particles get liberated from atoms at only high energy states. Since our body does not have mini particle colliders, understanding biology and its chemistry at the level of stable atoms and molecules has been quite adequate. But should a case to go beyond atoms present itself in the future, before we can have quantum medicine, we must have a robust quantum biology. The lack of this never bothered “quantum healers”. Biology is nowhere nearly as marketable to the lay public as healing. Quantum physics does not solve the problem of dark matter either. Interestingly, that does not dissuade Dr. Hegde from drawing upon its jargon for his pseudo-science.

What is worse is the idea that all you need to do is to think up your own particle physics interventions. Why bother with multi-billion dollar colliders that physicists need to make any claims about sub-atomic particles? Let’s just play pretend, like a 4 year old, and likewise believe that the universe revolves around us, waiting to bend to our will, at the particle level.

He had to go for the blessing. There a miracle happened. The blessing seemed to reduce his discomfort gradually, and in 24 hours he was free from pain. He is back at work, but I think he has reduced his interventional onslaught.

What legitimate scientist argues through anecdotes like these? Why not do a study on this guru if there is an indication that there may be an effect of convincing size waiting to be demonstrated? Or if your belief is that the patient’s faith was what healed him, regardless of the guru in question, why not make a statistical case with regards to how the remission times of the faithful differ from the unfaithful.

How do we know if he would not have been spontaneously cured by simply waiting for another 24 hrs? How do we know if it was not some other confounder that healed him? How do we know that this is not the dreaded Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy that so plagues the human mind. The answer is that we cannot know, unless we have a statistical understanding of a distribution of similar cases. It is important for a learned man to acknowledge the reality of not knowing, than to succumb to the temptation of leaping to convenient conclusions.

One could always claim that this miracle, if it is one, could not be scientific. Lots of rationalists would not even believe this happened. I cannot fault them either.

No statistically educated person would believe so or expect to convince similarly educated peers with anecdotes. This isn’t just about rationalism. Rationalists do not accept magical explanations. Statistically educated people expect non-anecdotal proofs.

Everything that happens here has a reason but our reasoning might not be able to unravel many such happenings.

Dr. Hegde does not expound this here, but from his other talks (TEDxCharminar talk – TED talks have reasonable quality control, while TEDx talks don’t, and have ended up being a forum for various New Age quacks over time), he pooh-poohs that science does not explain “why”, only “how”.

He then launches into silly explanations of “why”: your cells love my cells etc. None of these assertions can be considered scholarly and are little more than myth-making, something we precisely should not have a trained expert indulge in. India is bursting at the seams with mystics as is.

There is a good reason why science does not eagerly get into the “why” business. Before there was science, there was medieval natural philosophy. Answering “why” things happened was a big part of natural philosophy. A medieval medical student would be asked in his exam, why a certain agent would cause fever. He would reply that it was because it had pyretic (fever causing) properties. But this was a useless answer that said nothing new, as it was a circular response. This asking of “why” things happened was a tradition dating back to classical philosophy. Aristotle explained “why” things fall by saying that all things “wanted” (to want things, cognition is necessary. For cognition to occur, there needs to be a nervous system. Things that do not have a cognitive apparatus do not “want” anything) to go the center of the universe (earth was considered the center of the universe at that time).

As one can see, the “why” question turned out to be a rather lousy way to do science. It encouraged people to make stuff up to satisfy the framework, with no real insight, exactly like how Dr. Hegde goes about when he offers anthropomorphic explanations and says that cells love each other. Anthropomorphic explanations are simple-minded explanations that put human qualities (desires, motives, emotions etc.) on non-human entities. This always unproductive exercise had been widely been abused in nearly every religion – monotheistic to polytheistic.

Science moved away from the unproductive “why question” and very intentionally started focusing on the “how question”. This turned out to be far more productive. Sometimes, we can do good science without even answering the how question. We do not need to know how gravity works (setting aside the model of space-time curvature) for ISRO to do a gravitational slingshot to Mars, because we can make precise predictions about gravitational effects.

That does not mean science does not answer any questions on why things happen. For instance, the multi-billion dollar Large Hadron Collider got funded to answer the question: Why does mass exist? This is a rather deep question. However, it is good science even when we do not get into the why question. What is extremely important however, is that we don’t make up explanations of why, unless we have very, very good evidence to. The why question is a hard question. Let us give it the utmost respect. Wanting to know why is human, but restraining from the temptation of leaping to conclusions beyond the limits of data is the burden we expect a scholar to bear.

Next is the argument about the weakness of human reasoning. Science made much progress when it moved away from Cartesian (René Descartes) reasoning, towards Lockean (John Locke) empiricism. Thinking for long tracts, without nailing the steps with experimental evidence tends to only generate castles in the clouds that have no grounding in reality. That is what the New Age proponents have done; they took a few non-intuitive aspects of quantum theory, and built castles in the clouds with them. Robust science in medicine comes from statistical evidence, every step of the way.

In quantum physics they call it “haps”.

I am unable to find any quantum physics source that mentions “haps”. I suspect that Dr. Hegde is once again confusing pseudo-scientific New Age sources for legitimate science.

Quantum physics, which turned conventional solid state physics upside down, has an important principle, which is that our thoughts determine reality.

That’s not a quantum physics principle. It is something that quantum quacks say. Can Dr. Hegde show one standard textbook on quantum physics that says that thoughts influence reality? Quantum physicists had repeatedly stated that quantum quacks are misrepresenting them. That never stopped the quacks of course. Someone like Deepak Chopra simply makes too much money (over $8 million per year) by abusing the science lingo, to let a university physicist tell him that none of his interpretations of quantum physics make sense.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair

Early in the 1900s they proved this with the double slit experiment. The observer’s awareness determines the behaviour of energy at the quantum level.

That is not what the double slit experiment demonstrated. It simply demonstrated the simultaneous particle and wave aspects of sub-atomic particles. It has nothing to do with volition or consciousness.

Recently the experiments of Dean Radin confirmed the double slit experiment results. He has his share of critics.

Dean Radin is a quack. He is a “para”-psychologist, not a physicist. He is in the same bin as Deepak Chopra and this article. When I say that Chopra and Radin are quacks, I do not mean that they are unintelligent or not legitimately qualified and competent elsewhere. But neither has any requisite training to make claims in quantum physics. But they don’t need to. They rely on their audience understanding it even less.

The mind cannot be confined to the brain. The man who tried to do this was the Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, with his experiments on the opened-up brains of patients during surgery.

How is what Dr. Penfield did, “confining” the mind to the brain? He wasn’t some philosopher making metaphysical conjectures impacting epistemology in the vein of Descartes and Kant. He discovered objective reality… by hard experimental evidence. What Dr. Penfield did was to move the vague understanding of the brain, as more or less an amorphous tissue, to a detailed componentized understanding of it, through localization of brain function. His mapping of the homunculus was a critical advance of medicine and unlike Dr. Hegde’s approach on display, his methods embodied the very essence of science.


Sensory Homunculus (Creative Commons: source)

Needless to say that Dr. Penfield’s very real science makes Dr. Hegde’s mystical view of the mind look quite silly. The homunculus shows us how specific parts of the brain determine specific aspects of sensory and motor function. I am baffled at how Dr. Hedge casually brushes aside Dr. Penfield’s legacy. He provides no justifications and simply says that he disapproves of it. Mind body dualism is a very dated and discredited idea. The mind is simply the function of our physical brain and the nervous system. It does not reside outside it or is independent of it as Dr. Hegde seems to claim in several talks. This idea is not only not new, it is a rather long-discredited pre-scientific view of Cartesian dualism, now superficially dressed-up with quantum nonsense.

There is a tendency among those facing the question of mortality to wish that their consciousness will endure and transcend the frailties of their bodies. It simply does not. An intellectually mature person should learn to differentiate between what we wish for and what actually is. It was the failure to have this courage in the ages past that opened humanity to the darkness of mysticism.

Confining the mind to the brain is big business in western modern medicine selling trillions of dollars of mind-modifying medicines called psychotic drugs.

There is big business everywhere. Selling crystals and magnets is business in billions. Selling over-priced water in the name of homeopathy is business in billions. Selling untested, unregulated herbal remedies is business in billions.

Doing research on psychotropic drugs is quite hard, given the complexity of the organ in question, the difficulties in doing animal studies with psychotropics, the ethical questions of human research and the cautions of substance abuse.

This tone on psychotropic agents is careless and unwarranted. Mental disease already has a stigma in India. We cannot talk about it freely in the way better educated societies do. We probably have the highest untreated mental health cases in the world. We don’t need stigmatic terms such as “mind-modifying” medicines. People tweak their minds when they drink alcohol or even coffee. Some of our cultural myths were likely created by people under the influence of Soma, a mind-altering substance lost in time. We should have sensible discussions with regards to regulation, over-prescription and abuse.

Casting this as the enterprise of evil big business is a rather sinister argument. Neuroscience is the field of science that studies the brain, not big business. Big business merely steps in and commercializes medicines developed by academic research. Can Dr. Hegde point to any respectable academic Neuroscience textbook to back up his mystical claims about the mind? Is Dr. Hegde suggesting that the entire field of Neuroscience powered by countless researchers is in cahoots with the big business for profit reasons?

The mind is the canvas on which our thoughts are projected and is a part of our consciousness.

First, let’s get something out of the way. There is no such thing as a mind. What it is, is cognitive function… the greatest function of the human body, but function nonetheless. The mind is simply a convenient concept we use to describe the electrical activity of our brain that reaches our awareness or is just below it. The mind and consciousness are layered over complex neuronal activity. To a romantic/religious/spiritual mind, it can be painful to see this reality, for it is this that is the core of our personal identity. But we can celebrate that our identities are truly unique and complex, in hundreds of trillions of synapses, over hundreds of billions of neurons in a typical human brain – the complexity of the mind is mind-boggling, but not magical.

There is no such thing as a soul. Humanity needed a conceptual bin to hold the then mystery of life (just as mind was a conceptual bin to hold the platform of thought) and we called it the soul. Nearly all cultures described the concept in differing accounts (single use souls, recycled souls, soul as a human only concept, rocks with souls etc.). Now that Biology has demystified life, the term soul is no longer a usable concept. It endures in religion, but has disappeared from science. No biology textbook talks about souls. No Thanatology book talks about death as a dissociation of the soul from the body. No one is talking about doing experiments on souls.

What New Age mysticism has been doing, is replacing the now scientifically untenable concept of the soul, with a more plausible sounding term, consciousness. It is professed as having similar qualities… as a bearer of identity that endures the demise of physical bodies (a television channel without the TV in Dr. Hegde’s TEDx talk). The question of mortality had always been the most painful question that humanity had. The answers were easy and had always stared us in the face, even without the benefit of science, but were unacceptable. The young human civilization responded to this question with various religious metaphysics that preserved the possibility of what we desired to be the case – an eternal endurance of our identities.

As a religious notion, consciousness metaphysics is an improvement in cultural terms (fewer rituals, minimal priest class (just a few Chopras), no exacting gods to placate, no heresy or discrimination, heavens or hells), but it still needs to be driven back when it invades the scientific space. And no, a zygote does not send out its antennae to do an uplink with the “universal consciousness” at conception as Dr. Hegde claims, regardless of which eminent investigator said so. This is just soul talk in a consciousness bottle.

Our body is a holographic projection of our consciousness.

I am baffled with such assertions. What has made Dr. Hegde discard his biology training and a lifetime of practice in academic medicine? This is a claim of New Age quacks with no scientific training. There are no biologists debating, writing papers and holding conferences on whether the body is a “holographic projection” of anything, let alone consciousness. Let’s leave hologram theories of the universe to string theorists please… and wait until they validate their theories before importing any ideas from domains that work at very different scales. One does not bring in Microfluidics jargon to the task of mixing cocktails, other than to sound profound.

Therefore, we should have complete control over our bodies if we try and have the genuine intention to heal.

Do we then simply blame a patient who is not making an improvement as not wanting enough?… not having a “genuine intention to heal?”. This is religious reasoning (either you did not pray hard enough or you are not worthy), not scientific reasoning.

Electrons under the same conditions would sometimes act like particles, and then at other times switch to acting like waves (formless energy), depending on what the observer expected was going to happen.

No, Dr. Hegde. Electrons simultaneously (that was the point of the double-slit experiment) act as both particles and waves. Human expectation has nothing to do with it. This is the typical anthropomorphic fallacy of New Age mysticism. Science has unseated the idea of the centrality of man in the universe. New Age mystical thought attempts to sneak it back under the cover of quantum physics mumbo jumbo.

“Whatever the observed believed would occur is what the quantum field did.”

It seems to have been mistyped. Quantum Quacks say that observer determines everything, not the “observed”, which is of course still without basis all the same.

Quantum physicists have such difficulties in dealing with, explaining, and defining the quantum world.

Right, it is developing science, not settled science. All the more reason for people who don’t understand it well, like you and me, to not pretend to understand it, and run with it.

Are we not the masters of creation as we decide what manifests out of the field of all-possibility and into form?

This can be a legitimate rhetorical question, but only if it is delivered as a philosophical statement or with a poetic license.

Just as an atom has the blueprint of a molecule to rebuild it

An atom has no blueprint of a molecule. An atom can form any number of molecules, within the constraints of possibility dictated by its structural configuration.

the human mind has a blueprint of the human body.

Where are these blueprints? What is the evidence? Note that the claim isn’t that our genes have the blueprints, but the mind.

When the body needs to be rebuilt differently the mind could do that each time we oscillate between energy (formlessness) and particle (it happens innumerable times in a second).

Sub atomic particles liberated from stable atoms may be thought of as individually oscillating between particle and wave (energy) states. We don’t. Our organs don’t, our tissues don’t, our cells don’t, our molecules don’t and even our atoms don’t (one cannot perform a double slit experiment of sorts with atoms and show that they also show both states simultaneously like electrons). The particle-wave model simply has not demonstrated any value in producing new insights into biology.

We should have total control over what we want with our attention to manifest out of the energy field the next moment. It depends on our belief and feelings to an extent.

What evidence is there for any of this? How is this any different from the claims of a mystic? Of course, if the term “energy field” is being loosely being used (for example: an abstract probability space), it could mean anything.

Even an atheist could do that when he is in trouble as he will hang on to the last straw while drowning.

Indeed, we should not judge a desperate man for losing his faculties of reason, should that happen.

Rock Hudson was caught by the paparazzi sneaking into Lourdes in his final stage of AIDS. They asked him how he, once the president of the American Rationalist Society, could believe Lourdes water could save him. He replied: “When it comes to you, you swallow your scepticism.”

Rock Hudson was an actor. Let’s not elevate him as an intellectual rock. I’d also take a paparazzi’s testimony with a pinch of salt, if that is all the evidence that is available (if it even exists, I can’t find any reference to this quote online). There seems to be no such thing as the “American Rationalist Society” or any evidence online that Rock Hudson ever declared himself to be a rationalist, much less a president of a national rationalist organization.

Also inherent in this is a deeper, more common argument that non-rationalists propose: That when faced with death or desperation, people think more clearly. What happens in actuality is that people lose their powers of discrimination in desperation and are willing to try anything. Those in the medical field know of the five stages of grief that patients go through when told that they have a terminal illness. Four of the five stages are emotional, not rational. Rationalists are not immune to psychological phenomena of stress and grief. The proverbial death bed conversion isn’t something to be held in high regard.

Quantum healing is what happens when your own volition can make it happen during the oscillation between matter and energy to rebuild the damaged part.

What studies have shown that there is even such a thing as Quantum Healing? What respectable research universities are teaching courses on it? How can one demonstrate these volition driven oscillations and that they promote healing? The answer of course is that the scientific community understands these claims as pseudo-science – old wine in a new bottle… plain old mystical thinking, packaged in a wrapper of science terms. There will always be mystics. But what is painful is when trained scientists join the parade, while mudslinging science to justify it.

This needs that level of consciousness when one is very tranquil. This is where meditation and such activities have therapeutic value.

There certainly are some small, limited studies that show some minor effects from meditation. However, none of them have yielded effect sizes to support the grand claims of quantum mysticism proponents.

One example of ventricular remodelling after a non-fatal heart attack where the lucky patient does not come under the shadow of our interventionalists is this. Unaided by any reductionist chemical the dead heart muscle cell (cell death) in the centre of the infarct (heart attack) gets the help of neighbouring normal cells slipping to occupy the dead cell’s place (cell slipping). When normal cells slip out of their normal place the fibroblasts holding these cells in place get stimulated to produce more fibre (fibroblastic proliferation) thus supplying plenty of strong fibre to rebuild the slipped cells in place. Heart muscle cells far away from the infarct that cannot slip out start to hypertrophy to make the heart muscle wall strong (hypertrophy). Thus, thanks to the autonomic nervous system, our saviour in times of crisis, such patients develop a strong rebuilt heart (remodelling), which does not give rise to ventricular aneurysms, ventricular septal defects and/or malignant arrhythmic foci in the ventricle.

I would not be the one to critique Dr. Hegde in his area of expertise. I wish he had stuck to that and enlightened us with the latest evidence in his field. Opinion is dime a dozen, even that of an expert when it comes to general science claims, but meticulously collected scientific evidence is golden.

Levels of evidence (Creative Commons source)

Auto-healing, akin to quantum healing, brings one back to normalcy. This alone can be called cure.

However, when Dr. Hegde veers off to things that he lacks training in and does not understand, he offers no service, only harm. We all want to be the renaissance men, dealers in every aspect of human knowledge to feel full in our intellectual lives. However, that era of easy intellectual exploration is long past, and most scientific domains require considerable training & expertise and are not suitable for casual forays. Neither medical disciplines nor quantum physics are fields suitable for the untrained to profess in, especially when that involves going against the scientific consensus.

The Hindu does not call in non-clinical people to comment on Cardiology. But why is it reasonable for it to bring in a person so untrained in quantum physics that he does not understand what the double-slit experiment demonstrates, to talk about quantum anything? The paper must not go by eminence alone, and perform some minimal peer review, at least on serious topics of science, such that it does not become a vehicle for pseudo-science. Advanced countries have some wiggle room (albeit more embarrassingly so) when it comes to pseudo-science. We don’t.

We might have to elevate our consciousness (mind) to that level where we get an insight to heal ourselves. Recently, in her book Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert, who showed for the first time that opiate receptors are outside the brain also, predicted that the time is not far when we get a headache we will have to sit in a quiet corner to meditate to elevate our consciousness to get total relief from headache instead of consuming the so-called pain-killer pills.

Anyone who has the capacity to meditate with a splitting headache intense enough to think of medication probably does not need a quiet corner. What’s next? Instructing an appendicitis patient to meditate away the pain? Directing to meditate during a dental extraction with no local anesthesia? Management of pain is one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine and is nothing short of a miracle. The idea that meditation is a replacement for pain-meds is rather wishful thinking, even for headache if it is at a level that needs pain meds. Of course, there will always be people with testimonies that they meditated away pain and all sorts of disease due to post hoc fallacies. Without systematically collected data, such claims don’t mean anything.

What we know can be held in the palm of one’s hand while what we do not know comes to the size of the universe.

…while the accomplishments of this so-called “Quantum Healing” have not been demonstrated at even a quantum scale.

Western reductionist science admits that only 5 per cent of this world’s energy and matter are known to humans.

Is there an Eastern science? Is there a non-reductionist science? Holism is all fine and dandy to talk about. But it simply does not scale as a research methodology. It is difficult to produce any data with statistical strength, if too many variables are introduced. The reductive simplification is an analytical necessity, not a lack of wisdom. Science agrees that its reductionist models are necessarily incomplete.

“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” – George Box

This isn’t a flaw, it is a feature. Simplified models during investigations make science manageable. Once reliable facts are available, we can always combine and apply them in more complex and “holistic” models and simulations or do new studies looking for more complex interactions.

Science admits its limitations because it has the intellectual honesty to do so. I have seen nothing of the sort from Quantum Quacks. Like any other kind of quacks, they had never offered cautious quantifications of the uncertainty in their claims, just mere boisterous rhetoric.

The remaining 95 per cent is occult.

Unknown is not occult; unknown is unknown. Unknown becomes occult when supernaturalism is introduced into it as an explanatory phenomenon – it’s the one thing to not do, that the Enlightenment and scientific revolution should have taught us.

An enlightened society does not hand the dominion of the unknown over it to the mystics. It hands it to the scientists to unravel. Dr. Hegde however seems to have dropped that mantle he once wore. India desperately needs public intellectuals who educate the public about the state of scientific consensus and teach scientific temper; we need our Sagans and Feynmans. Populist intellectuals however only harm its path to enlightenment, by damaging scientific temper and thereby stunting its capacity to reemerge as a nation of innovation and ideas.

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  • A wonderful, brilliant and remarkably articulate commentary on what is evidently a particularly egregious piece of pseudo-science, and a surgically precise rebuttal of its ludicrous contentions and assertions. I must confess that I haven’t read the original article (since I don’t subscribe to the newspaper concerned), and now I have no desire to read it, either, since the copious excerpts from it are quite adequate to confirm its quality.

    It is indeed true that the inadequacy of ordinary language and semantics for the description of quantum mechanics brings hordes of jargon-loving kooks of pseudoscience scurrying out of the woodwork more prolifically than ambulance-chasing lawyers in a litigatious society!

    Just a small nit-picking comment: while the statements in this critique about what QM is and what it isn’t are essentially correct, the remark “Sub-atomic particles liberated from stable atoms may be thought of as individually oscillating between particle and wave (energy) states. We don’t” isn’t quite correct. It’s not true that quantum mechanical particles oscillate in some fashion between “particle” and “wave” states. The fact is that these terms (wave and particle) describe mutually exclusive sets (or bins, say) of properties as applied to objects at the macroscopic level, but are inadequate or incomplete descriptors at the ‘microscopic’ level (this does not mean an optical microscope as in biology!) Objects like electrons can manifest properties from both of these bins, depending on how they are probed. Moreover, there are inherent, fundamental limitations on what properties can be sharply defined in a given state of such objects, that have nothing to do with the precision of any experimental apparatus or the accuracy of the data collected with its help. Likewise, we (and other ‘macroscopic’ objects) are also
    subject to quantum fluctuations, such as an inherent ‘fuzziness’ in position, but the scatter about the
    mean is utterly negligible in such cases for all practical purposes, owing essentially to the incredible smallness of Planck’s quantum constant relative to scales in the macroscopic world.

    • @Balakrishnan,

      If one becomes familiar with the mathematics of quantum mechanics, will the mathematical entities like eigenvalues and eigenvectors provide a better way to understand sub atomic world than our intuitive notions of wave and particle? What can Mathematics bring to the table that our intuition can’t?
      If the quantum effects average out at a macroscopic level, how can quantum mechanics lead to practical applications at all? Are the dimensions in semiconductor manufacturing, for example, still microscopic enough to utilize quantum effects for practical applications?

      • Sorry, I just saw this, hence the delayed response. Your questions require detailed answers, and this is probably not the forum for that. But here are very brief answers (which can be substantiated scientifically):

        Q.: If one becomes familiar with the mathematics of quantum mechanics, will the mathematical entities like eigenvalues and eigenvectors provide a better way to understand sub atomic world than our intuitive notions of wave and particle?

        A.: Yes. And not just “will provide a better way”, but “have provided a better way”. Very likely “have provided the only way”, though that assertion is not proven at present.

        Q.: What can Mathematics bring to the table that our intuition can’t?

        A.: Precision, logic, reproducibility, reliability, transparency, clarity, and a host of similar features that may or may not have universally approval! By the way, what one calls intuition is generally facility, and this is certainly not the same thing as understanding. Further, intuition is notoriously unreliable as a means to understand the physical world. For example, when we want to keep an object in a circular orbit, intuition would tell us to apply a tangential force on it, whereas what is needed is a radial force.

        Q.: If the quantum effects average out at a macroscopic level, how can quantum mechanics lead to practical applications at all? Are the dimensions in semiconductor manufacturing, for example, still microscopic enough to utilize quantum effects for practical applications?

        A.: Quantum effects do not always “average out” at a macroscopic level. Their manifestations are as dramatic as they are pervasive. Electrical conduction, magnetism, the impenetrability of solids, in fact the very stability of matter — all these can only be explained quantum mechanically at the fundamental level. One must distinguish between a first-principles explanation of a phenomenon, on the one hand, and an effective model for the phenomenon at some prescribed level of approximation, on the other.

  • “An enlightened society does not hand the dominion of the unknown over it to the mystics. It hands it to the scientists to unravel”

    Why does the society need to hand the dominion of the unknown to scientists or mystics or to any particular segment? Why can’t it keep it open and accept whatever method leads from the unknown to the known?

    • Epistemological anarchism. Very cool. I was a fan of Paul Feyerabend myself (as is Dr. Hegde, it would appear, for perhaps different reasons). Can you name some recent non-science unknown-to-known advances?

      • “Can you name some recent non-science unknown-to-known advances?”

        Ah, that’s the whole point. These advances are so profound, so deep, so mysterious, that they can’t be explained (or even revealed) to coarse, insensitive, unsympathetic and close-minded souls like you and me. A double whammy, or a catch-22 situation, or perhaps both!

      • Freud’s shedding of light on unconscious regions of the mind. Is that a valid example of recent non-science unknown-to-known advances?

        • I don’t know. Freud both said that he was just doing science and that he was not doing science. While he is immensely popular, it is quite debatable on exactly what definitive unknown-to-known advances can be attributed to him. He certainly called attention to the subconscious mind. But did he shine any actual light on it beyond that?

          What do you think of this quote by Freud with regards to your original statement: “No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.

          • By the criteria used today to determine what is and is not science (falsification, etc.), Freud’s adventures (his word) can’t be called science. The very attention he drew to the existence and importance of unconscious mind constitutes his major unknown-to-known advance, I think. He made bold attempts to read and understand it with little or no success.
            Regarding the quote, I would ask “What is elsewhere?”. An analogy is if somebody says “You can’t find it on earth, you can’t find it anywhere else on the galaxy either”, shouldn’t we find out he has the means to probe the entire galaxy before accepting such a statement? Moreover, I don’t quite understand what he meant here by ‘illusion’.

          • > Freud’s adventures (his word)

            I respect adventurism, especially when exploring an entirely new frontier. Insisting on a specific rigid methodology is scientism, rather than science. Wild thoughts are OK, as long as they are acknowledged as such, rather than asserting with authority/eminence, despite not obtaining expert consensus.

            > He made bold attempts to read and understand it with little or no success.

            I think that is a good way of putting it. He was more of a wild/bold philosopher, than an empiricist. His thoughts were “interesting”. His case studies were very questionable.

            > Regarding the quote, I would ask “What is elsewhere?”.

            Methodological elsewhere. Non-science approaches.

            > An analogy is if somebody says “You can’t find it on earth, you can’t find it anywhere else on the galaxy either” shouldn’t we find out he has the means to probe the entire galaxy before accepting such a statement?

            I see your Black Swan and raise you a Russell’s teacup.

            > Moreover, I don’t quite understand what he meant here by ‘illusion’.

            He means: don’t bother i.e. thinking there are science-alternatives out there, because one is not happy with the products of science, is wishful thinking.

  • Your assessment of Hegde’s words is measured and spot on. I particularly appreciate the way you debunked his writings, without hesitating to acknowledge the potential merit underlying his argument, for instance “Dr. Hegde would likely be right in his arguments against enthusiastic, expensive, high-risk, cutting-edge procedures..”

    I am not sure about some statements on mind though, like this paragraph:
    “The mind and consciousness are layered over complex neuronal activity. To a romantic/religious/spiritual mind, it can be painful to see this reality, for it is this that is the core of our personal identity”

    I wonder what is the reality about mind that a romantic/religious/spiritual person finds painful to see, but some other types of people see easily. Doesn’t the statement “this is the core of our personal identity” apply to everyone universally? What exactly is the distinction here?

    • > I particularly appreciate the way you debunked his writings

      Thanks. I do generally respect Dr. Hegde. I only strongly criticize certain ideas and writings of his. People, after all have many facets to their lives and learning, and cannot be entirely judged in any one dimension alone.

      > I am not sure about some statements on mind though

      I went into that a little later: “The question of mortality …”

      The internal identity (as opposed to the social identity, which is how others see us, and may last longer, depending on our interactions with society) is neural and only neural (the reality that Dr. Hegde explicitly denies). Everyone of course has it, regardless of our beliefs, and the way we look at things. It applies universally; so does the fact that it ends with death.

      The religiously minded refuse to accept that our internal identities end (with the obvious destruction of our bodies upon death) and wish to believe that “death is not the end” and preserve this erroneous idea by inventing a number of myths (previously religious soul myths, now new age consciousness myths).

      While comforting, these myths are not cost-free and cloud us from the plain truths of life in further ways. I bring all this up because I feel that quantum mysticism is simply a continuation of humanity’s earliest and most primitive attempts at philosophy, a failure to accept mortality for what it is. Death angst, I submit, is at the foundation of quantum mysticism, as with religion (there are philosophical explorations on this topic in the religious context). The science jargon is merely a convenient dressing. With this religious replacement, “Quantum healing” is little more than faith healing. Meditation is the new praying ritual in this context.

      So the distinction is between those who see life and death in plain biological terms vs. those who need to see it overlaid with mysticism.

      While I am demarcating, I am not judging people for this. Any civilization that develops language (we are genetically wired for language – Chomskian linguistics), will quickly come across these questions and almost deterministically develops similar answers to them, which get codified into culture, obviously with some variations. But we do need to grow up about this at some point, and see things for what they are, not what we wish them to be. I think that would liberate human thought in many ways for the better.

  • Dr.B.M.Hegde a physician turned quack has shown a penchant for such things from the past twenty five years. He first started his career in this field by supporting such quacks like one “Dr.” K.S.Shetty a tailors assistant turned steroid quack who used to conduct ‘asthma relief camps’ one of which was inaugurated by no less a person than our own person in question. There was a quack called as “Dr.” Santosh Kamath who used to peddle doctorates from a degree mill in Srilanka and who do you expect handed over these degrees? You are right our own man. Now, he endorses some machine which is supposed to diagnose all disease, probably through quantum physics and also nano silver as a panacea.
    Many years ago when he wrote about irrational prescriptions on a daily published from Mangalore -Canara Times, some one published a print of his own prescription whose only active ingredient was diazepam to be taken at bed time!Rest were all vitamin tablets including an injection of B complex once in a few days to keep the referring general practitioner happy. With this sort of a history we can expect him to add to the confusion by putting forward garbled theories about quantum mechanics and such.

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