A Few Notes on Homeopathy

Turns out it’s been one billion years since I posted on this blog, and what was going to be the most revolutionary blog in the history of the known universe has, like, two posts.  However, in my other life, I’m battling a severe case of writers’ block, so I thought typing out a few notes on here might be a way to get the proverbial juices flowing once more.

Preamble aside, I thought I’d take a break from the topic of religion and faith (though I’ve got a great article up my sleeve I’m just waiting to get in to) and tackle a little bit of pseudoscience: homeopathy.  A brief but representative (in my experience) primer from a pro-homeopathy source can be found here, and this fairly straight-forward video explains it; an outline and history of homeopathy from a skeptical perspective can be found here (for some reason Chrome on my PC loaded the page strangely — I hate to admit it, but it loaded fine in IE and in an IE-tab on Chrome [see, Chrome is still better!]), and the wikipedia page, while it shouldn’t be trusted in and of itself, is chock-full of external references for your reading pleasure.  In a nutshell, homeopaths dilute chemicals into water to treat various maladies.  The chemical — which of course is “natural” (though arsenic is “natural” as well) — is chosen based on the symptoms.  As ABC Homeopathy states, “[I]f the symptoms of your cold are similar to poisoning by mercury, then mercury would be your homeopathic remedy.”  Whatever the chemical or substance is, it is massively diluted, usually making up from around one part per billion to one part per trillion of the final solution.

There are, I think, a few reasons why homeopathy is attractive.  First, it’s “natural.”  Natural things are trendy, and the association between “natural-ness” and “better-for-you-ness” has grown steadily in recent years, though (and this is a topic for another blog — one with more specific research) the legitimacy of that connection is controversial (one example of “yes,” one of “no“).

Second, it’s anti-establishment.  The ABC Homeopathy site links to this video, and in this video, a prominent homeopath accuses a prominent skeptic of being a stooge for big phrama, a theme you’ll find repeated in many youtube videos (ex-pharma employee, Bill Mahr, etc.) and websites.  Not being an expert myself, I still feel inclined to believe some of this stuff.  Although the aforementioned skeptic is truly a personal hero of mine, one of his positions I have a hard time with is his dismissal of the argument that it is in the interest of pharmaceutical companies to treat rather than cure disease.  (There are some good arguments from both sides, but I won’t get in to them here.)  In any case, it feels good to raise a fist and yell, “Damn the man!”  It’s worth noting, though, that there’s a false dichotamy between the ominous big pharma and the prescriptions of homeopathy: finding flaws in the current medical system gets you no further in proving that homeopathic remidies work.  But, I digress.

The third reason flows nicely from the second: in its anti-establishment nature, homeopathy allows its followers to feel as though they’ve beaten the system, as though they’ve been let in on a bit of secret knowledge that the rest of the world is too stupid or too blind to understand.  This is a common theme of any ideology: many religions claim to have exclusive access to the one, true god of the universe; self-help books give themselves names like The Secret; infromercial superstars like Kevin Trudeau peddle books along the theme, What They Don’t Want You To Know.  So, not only are we against the system, we’re smarter than it and we’ve beaten it.

The fourth and last reason I’ll list here, though there may be more, is that, perhaps more deliberately than conventional medicine, homeopathy purports to treat every person as completely unique.  So, while conventional medicine provides only a few drugs for all migraines, homeopathy tries to figure out which among a myriad of chemicals, hormones, animal fluids (such as snake venom), or common seasoning will best suit your migraine.  This sense of individualization is, I think, very powerful among those who feel alienated and hurried by over-worked doctors in under-funded hospitals.

The reason I’m blogging about homeopathy is because of this video.  You have to watch it.  I’m not even kidding.  Watch it.

Did you watch it yet?  I hope so, but just in case you didn’t here’s the rundown: Charlene Werner, a behavioral optometrist, begins by saying, “I’m going to explain to you exactly, actually how it [homeopathy] works.”  After asking the audience if they’ve heard of Einstein, she goes on to explain.  I’m going to quote her verbatim first (with some “okays” and “ums” of natural speech omitted) , but I fully acknowledge that a transcription of unscripted speech, especially if the speaker is nervous, which she may have been, is going to read awkwardly.  I’ll distill it all in a moment.

“You know that when light is energy, and he [Einstein] gave us the theory that energy equals mass times the speed of light.  E=mc².  If you take that formula, and we think there’s a lot of mass, right?  If you collapsed all the mass down into the universe, so there’s no space between the mass, do you know how much mass there is in the entire universe?  You think you’re a lot of mass, right?  I’m a lot of mass, right?  Well, the whole universal mass can be consolidated down into the size of a bowling ball.  That’s all there is in the whole world — in the universe.  So, how much mass are you?  That’s right: and infinitesimal amount.  So if you take that formula, E=mc², you can almost cross out mass.  So, the formula ends up being, energy equals the speed of light.  And that’s why the vision system is so important, because we have lots of photo receptors that recieve light.”

[ Check the bottom of the page for a few tangential notes on this quote. ]  She then goes on to invoke Stephen Hawking (whose surname she irritatingly augments with an “s”) and string theory.  I’m not an expert on string theory, but even an amateur such as me can discern the difference between Hawking quantum vibrations and the vibrations that our ears detect, which are the vibrations produced by sound waves.  She then argues that because cells don’t have a lot of mass, they’re basically energy.  Then, after listing some scientific-sounding words (electrons, etc.), and building on her completely arbitrary and absurd cancellation of mass, she blasts this gem out:

So the whole body has an infinitesimal amount of mass, but what is the remainder?  Energy.  So I am energy, you are energy.

The remainder of what?  Just because each individual is a relatively infinitesimal amount of mass in comparison to the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, the Earth, or even our town, that doesn’t mean that our 80-or-so kilograms of mass is infinitesimal in comparison to our apparent mass.  What I mean by that is this: simply because we are small doesn’t mean that we can’t be all the mass that we are.  She seems to be assuming here that because our mass can be defined as “infinitesimal,” depending on your scale, that what you see as a person must be made of only a small percent of mass.  Just like her blatant algebraic fallacy, she commits a hasty generalization and incorrectly assumes that our bodies are mostly mass-less, which is absurd.  Granted, atoms are mostly empty space, and that’s where she gets the bowling-ball idea.  I’ll accept that.  But that in no way proves or even suggests that the intervening space is filled by some mysterious “energy,” and even less suggests that such energy can be influenced by homeopathic methods.

She then says that disease is “not mass,” but, instead that “we have transformed our energy state in to something different.  that’s what the definition of disease is.”  Because cancer is “energy,” not a tumor that has physical mass.  Obviously.

There’s still half the video left, but I’ll let you pick through it on your own, and find gold or coal depending on your perspective.  Basically, she argues that homeopathy makes use of this mystical and totally undefined “energy” to create solutions that “fix our vibrations,” and so forth.  Even some homeopaths might argue that she’s on the fringe, and I’d listen to those arguments.  But I would argue that one must be credulous to an absurd level to give credence to anything Werner says in this video.

I’m certainly very late to this party: if you Google Charlene Werner, the vast majority of the results pan her quite mercilessly.  So, if there are any questions left pertaining to this specific video, I’ll let you search them out on your own.

On a broader scale, if you have any comments on homeopathy, big pharma, pesudoscience, alternative medicine, conventional medicine, or any of the other topics discussed herein, please comment.

Until my next post seventeen months from now, this is Close to Finding Truth.


Regarding the “you can basically cross out mass” bit, one Youtube commenter says,

And then saying you can cross out mass… this requires you to pretend to know chemistry but fail basic algebra.

Another says,

You can just take out mass? You fail physics forever.

I’ll also note here that she may not be generally incorrect in saying that the entire mass of the universe can be condensed into a very small size — within an atom, there’s mostly space.  I’m too fat and lazy to get a legit article (and that admission will certainly undermine this whole post for some, but I’m getting sleepy) but here’s a discussion on the topic which expresses what I understand to be the general scientific consensus that over ninety-nine percent of each atom is “empty space.”  Thus, if you cut out all the empty space out of every atom, and crammed all the electrons, protons and neutrons together (in a way that they wouldn’t ever act in normal space), you could condense the universe down considerably.  Her “bowling ball” claim is unsubstantiated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true — I also wouldn’t be surprised if it were an exaggeration.

End.  Notes.

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