The Big Four
Scientists believe in the existence of four
forces: the gravitational, the electromagnetic, and the strong and weak
nuclear forces. They believe that these forces are eternal and given
all time, or that they came into being with the birth of the universe
the moment of the Big Bang. Although additional forces may be
in the future, only these four have been objectively proven to exist.
most scientists believe that these forces account for all known types
energy, and that anything that happens in this world, including
must involve these forces and conform to the laws governing them.
The idea of universal physical forces is rather
and has not always enjoyed widespread acceptance. Philosopher Eugene
of Virginia Commonwealth University has described how, when Newton
proposed the existence of “that mysterious force”—universal gravity—his
colleagues accused him of surrendering to
“They disapproved of his failure to explain why bodies behaved
accordance with his laws, or how distant bodies could act on
another.” 3(pp31,32) In response to these charges, Newton,
is well known, refused to “frame hypotheses” and stuck to empirical
to fortify his contentions.
The Force Goes With Us
Although we’re still in the dark about how
since Newton’s time we have become comfortable with the idea that
that happens is controlled by impersonal, universal forces. In fact, we
have become habituated to the idea of energetic forces and have
imagining the world working without them. Particularly in the
professions, we are haunted by “force” and “energy.” Unlike Luke
in Star Wars, we don’t choose to go with the force. Because we
been educated and socialized in a world that takes natural forces for
it seems as if the concept of force goes with us, whether we
it or not....
Why are we wedded to the idea of energetic
believe the primary reason is
with how we see the world—as an objective, physical entity
out there, set apart from us. How else can we interact with it except
some force or energy that bridges the gap between it and ourselves?
Beyond Force, Beyond Energy
Some of the greatest scientists have questioned whether
the physical world exists completely apart from ourselves, and
an objective force or energy is required to interact with it. For
example, the Nobel physicist Werner Heisenberg said that what
observe in their experiments is not nature, but nature exposed to their
methods of questioning. In other words, the picture of nature that
construct is influenced by the questions they ask. This point of view
shared by Niels Bohr, whose name is virtually synonymous with
physics. Bohr, in his famous principle of complementarity,
that an electron can behave as a particle or a wave, depending on how
decide to view it experimentally. It has no unambiguous existence, but
depends in some sense on our choices and therefore our consciousness.
Sir James Jeans,4 the great
astronomer, physicist, and mathematician, expressed the shocking
of this point of view:
If the physical world is not absolute, the
forces we attribute to this world also may not be fundamental. In some
sense they, too, may come from us. Jeans4 (pp171,200):
If the waves of a free electron or photon
knowledge, what happens to the waves when there is no human knowledge
represent? For we must suppose that electrons were in existence while
was still no human consciousness to observe them, and that there are
electrons in Sirius where there are no physicists to observe them. The
simple but surprising answer would seem to be that when there is no
knowledge there are no waves; we must always remember that the waves
not a part of nature, but of our efforts to understand nature.
[T]he waves and the electric and magnetic
are part simply of our efforts to understand this mechanism and picture
it to ourselves. Before man appeared on the scene, there were neither
nor electric nor magnetic forces; these were not made by God, but by
Fresnel, Faraday and Maxwell.
… The physical theory of relativity has now
shown … that
the electric and magnetic forces are not real at all; they are mere
mental constructs of our own, resulting from our rather
efforts to understand the motions of particles. It is the same with the
Newtonian force of gravitation, and with energy, momentum and other
which were introduced to help us understand the activities of the
prove to be mere mental constructs, and do not even pass the test of
Are the forces and energies we attribute to
fundamental as we think? Are “healing energies,” “healing vibrations,”
and “subtle energies”—terms adored by a variety of CAM therapists—an
part of the natural order, or have they been invented?
This possibility, I have discovered, horrifies a
many CAM therapists. They think that if they’re required to give up the
idea of some force or energy underlying their work, the existence of
must be denied. But healing is not in question; it is the images
we make of healing that are in jeopardy.
Hand washing: Lessons from History
As we rethink the interplay between healing and
that may or may not account for it, a dose of history may help. Images
of healing have never been constant. They have always changed,
Repicturing healing is probably no more difficult
us today than it was for physicians in Vienna in the mid-1800s, when
first bumped into a thoroughly radical idea: hand washing. When
proposed that obstetricians wash their hands before delivering babies,
the idea was considered preposterous. He was in effect introducing a
and invisible factor at work in healing, which today we call infection.
At the time, however, a theory of infectious disease did not exist. So
Semmelweis did a simple experiment to prove his point. For a year the
on one obstetrical ward washed their hands, and the obstetricians on
ward did not. On the hand washing ward, mortality from childbirth fever
declined by 1000 But, alas, the data made no difference. The skeptical
physicians still could not accept the conclusion that there was a
factor lurking on the hospital wards that they were helping spread, and
which could be controlled by washing one’s hands. Semmelweis was
as a troublemaker and was vilified. He fled Vienna for Budapest and
committed suicide as a result of the emotional strain he experienced.5
There is a major difference, however, between
laid down by Semmelweis and the one we face today. He was asking his
to accept the existence of a new force—infection—in healing.
confront the need to accept the nonexistence of forces to understand
forms of healing, as we shall see.
Local and the Nonlocal
Physics theories are not eternal. When quantum
joins the ranks of phlogiston, caloric, and the lumiferous ether in the
physics junkyard, [non-locality] will still be valid.… Whatever
may be, it must be non-local. No local reality can explain the type of
world we live in.
—Nick Herbert, physicist Quantum
Although the concept of energetic forces is
explaining the actions of drugs and surgical procedures, there are some
types of healing in which “energy” and “force” apparently do not apply.
The idea that physical events can take place without the transfer of
sort of energy may be new to CAM, but this possibility has been making
the rounds in physics for most of this century.
Today, physicists recognize the existence of two
categories of events in nature: local and nonlocal.7Local
events can be described by the tenets of classical science. They
up almost all of our everyday experience in our see-touch-feel world.
are used to local events; they conform to common sense; they seem well
behaved. In contrast, nonlocal events break all the rules. When
Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen first hypothesized these events in the
part of this century in a thought experiment, there was no empirical
to support them.8 Einstein, in fact, was certain they could
not happen, and he actually proposed them as a reductio ad absurdum
to show that quantum physics was deeply flawed and incomplete. However,
the subsequent work of John Clauser, John
S Bell, Alain Aspect, and others has
the existence of these events, and today nonlocal events are considered
fundamental (note 1).
We can get a feel for nonlocality from
the famous theorem
of the late Irish physicist John S Bell.9
In the situation he proposed, two subatomic particles, originally in
are separated from each other. The degree of separation is arbitrary;
could be stationed at opposite ends of the universe. When an
causes a change in one particle—the direction of its spin, say—the spin
of the distant particle changes instantly and to the same degree. This
seems impossible. How does the distant particle know that a
has taken place in its twin? Surely some energetic signal must pass
them, alerting one of the change in the other. But the passage of
signals requires time, in which case the correlated changes would not
simultaneous. No one, including the physicists involved, knows how
so-called nonlocal phenomena actually happen. It is as if the distant
are united as a single entity, even though they are spatially separated.
On close examination it appears that nonlocal
break the rule in classical physics that nothing happens without a
because the cause and the effect occur at the same time. Thus, Bell’s
seems more like Bell’s palsy when applied to the law of cause and
In short, nonlocal events have three
that distinguish them from local, commonsense, everyday happenings.
are unmediated, unmitigated, and immediate. 6(p214)
that they are not propagated by any type of force, energy, or signal. “Unmitigated”
that the strength of the correlated changes does not weaken with
distance; they are as robust at a million miles as at an inch. “Immediate”
that the distant correlations take place instantly. It is easy to see
these events were originally repudiated by mainstream physicists. They
violate not only the law of cause and effect but also the special
of relativity, which implies that a signal cannot be propagated
or faster than the speed of light. The sole reason physicists have
the existence of these zany, counterintuitive events is that they have
been verified experimentally. 10,11
But a caveat is in order. The hypothesis that
connections are absolutely instantaneous is impossible to verify,
this would require two perfectly simultaneous measurements, which would
entail an infinite degree of accuracy.7 In the past, light
other electromagnetic effects were believed to be transmitted
but better measurement techniques proved this was not the case.
future developments might reveal that nonlocal connections, which today
appear instantaneous, also involve a minute delay in transmission.
Healing, Local and
... if we have any hope of understanding the entire
spectrum of healing, we are going to have to confront the nonlocal
of the universe.
Consider, for example, so-called distant
sometimes referred to as spiritual, psi, or prayer-based healing. In
of compelling evidence for these phenomena, 12,13 there is
no proof that any go-between energy is involved when they take place. 14,15
In other words, distant healing events appear to be unmediated.
does the strength of these events diminish with increasing distance,
can these effects be attenuated by placing the object of the healing in
metal-lined Faraday cages, which block electromagnetic forces. All of
suggests that we are dealing with a genuinely nonlocal
‘Subtle Energy’: Fact or Metaphor?
In spite of the fact that we can’t find any
transmitted between the healer and the patient in therapies involving
intentionality or intercessory prayer, many therapists insist that some
sort of “subtle” energy is mediating these processes. It’s there, they
claim, only we can’t detect it. This tendency suggests that an “energy
psychology” has deeply permeated our thinking. Energy psychology is the
tendency to force all healing events onto the template of classical,
physics. We are free, of course, to use whatever images appeal to us.
wherever possible, we should make sure that the images we choose are
It may turn out that some
subtle form of energy may indeed be discovered in the future. Because
this can’t be ruled out, we are justified in using the term “subtle
in a provisional, qualified, metaphorical way. But as far as I can
tell, almost nobody who speaks about “subtle energy” believes it is a
and they don’t use it provisionally. They imply that it is real, that
has already been demonstrated, and that it is a concrete reality.
we’re free to go in this direction if we like—but if we represent
as scientifically proven and it isn’t, the results can be disastrous
the field of CAM...
If those of us in the field of CAM expect to
with the rest of the scientific community and be taken seriously, we
a taxonomy that doesn’t turn off our scientific colleagues.
Gene and Bev Dunaway are the directors of
Strategies, Inc, an organization that helps people create learning
that cultivate an integrated approach to living (note 2). Years ago
practiced law in Mountain View, a small town in the Ozark Mountains of
northern Arkansas, and operated a restaurant as well. One day he
a new item on the menu—beef Stroganoff. It was a resounding failure;
a single person ordered it. So the next day Gene changed the name to
and noodles.” It was an immediate sellout. He couldn’t make enough of
it became the most popular item on the menu. Thus the Beef Stroganoff
you want to sell it, be careful what you call it.
Sir Isaac Newton would probably have understood
Stroganoff Principle. As we have seen, when his colleagues attacked his
inability to explain how universal gravity worked, he did not
to dreamy language, but stuck to demonstrable fact. CAM therapists
take a lesson. We ought to let the facts speak for themselves, as
did. We should resist being seduced by flimsy “explanations” based on
forces and nondemonstrable subtle energies.
Eras I, II, and III: An Alternate Approach
Now for a somewhat different perspective on what
said so far (note 3).
The practice of medicine in our culture began to
genuinely scientific during the 1860s, the decade of the American Civil
War. During this period, physicians began to look with envy on the
of classical physics, and they sought to embody its precision and
in their own activities. We can designate this first era of scientific
medicine as Era I, or “mechanical medicine,” because of its
to classical, mechanical physics. In Era I medicine, which still
nothing happens without a cause; health and illness are entirely due to
the actions of atoms and molecules adhering to the so-called blind laws
of nature; consciousness does not matter appreciably in health (see
Almost a century later, in roughly the 1950s, a
perspective began to appear—Era II, or mind-body medicine.
called “psychosomatic disease,” this view acknowledged that one’s
emotions, and mental life could affect the state of one’s physical
Era II medicine, however, like the Era I approach, remained wholly
to the tenets of classical science as an explanation for all events,
the actions of the mind.
Now, at century’s end, we are seeing the rapid
of another era—Era III, or nonlocal medicine. This is
first era of scientific medicine that acknowledges that our
thoughts may affect not only our own body (Era II), but the body of a
individual—without the mediation of any known physical energy or
and without diminution by spatial separation. Nonlocal healing
appear almost always to involve consciousness — the empathic, loving
of one individual to help another. Space does not permit a detailed
of the evidence for these robust claims, which has been given
The empirical evidence for nonlocal forms of
does not stand alone. This field concatenates or links with several
other areas within science that also have demonstrated the ability of
to influence, consciously and nonlocally, the state of the physical
For example, approximately 75 different laboratories have replicated controlled
studies in which people have influenced the output of electronic random
event generators, at a distance, with their mental intent. Meta-analyses
and discussions of this work have been published in prestigious
Particles and People: Strong Analogies
But subatomic particles are not people, and
infinitely more complex than subatomic particles. Therefore we
say that experiments in modern physics somehow “prove” the nonlocal
between human beings. For all we know, there may be no connection
between the nonlocal connections of distant electrons and the nonlocal
affinities between distant humans.
Nevertheless, nonlocal forms of healing bear
resemblance to the nonlocal events studied by physicists. In both
distant entities are involved—a healer and patient in the former,
particles in the latter. In both situations, the degree of spatial
appears irrelevant. In nonlocal healing, for example, the strength of
effect is as robust when initiated from the other side of the earth as
at the bedside. As we’ve seen, in neither instance—with particles or
any energetic force been shown to bridge the gap, nor has it been
to annul the connections by trying to shield or block them.19
Although there is no actual proof that “quantum nonlocality” is
related to the nonlocal experiences of human beings, it would be
to ignore the stunning resemblances between the two.
Are Mental Connections Really Instantaneous?
Do distant healing intentions literally act instantly?
We have already noted the difficulties in determining simultaneity
distant subatomic particles. Analogous problems exist at the human
where the distant effects of thought are involved.
To know whether a healing intention is
with an effect in a distant patient, we would have to know the exact
the healing intention is made by the healer and received by the
Currently, no one knows how to determine this. Moreover, to determine
distant events happen at precisely the same moment, we need measuring
that are infinitely precise, as we’ve seen. Such devises currently do
exist and may never exist. To make matters worse, we don’t know when a
thought actually takes place. When a healing intention comes into
does it do so abruptly or gradually? Is there a sharp threshold or a
buildup to an intention? Libet 20 has shown that a
willful decision to move a muscle may be preceded by cerebral activity
that is totally unconscious. Is a healing intention also preceded by an
unconscious mental action? If so, which one initiates the distant
intent—the unconscious cerebral event of which we’re unaware, or the
intention itself? Similar ambiguities exist downstream in the patient.
We have no precise way of determining when the healing intent is received
by the distant individual. Is the reception of the distant healing
gradual or sudden? Unless we can be certain when a healing intention is
“launched” and received, we cannot determine whether the two are
Why, then, propose that distant healing
be genuinely nonlocal with respect to time? There is compelling
that certain types of mental events may occur outside of time
In the so-called delayed-choice experiments of physicist Helmut
in which an individual tries to influence an event after it has taken
appear capable of mentally influencing events that presumably have
happened, but which have not been observed. 21-23 Robert
G Jahn and colleagues at the Princeton
Anomalies Research Laboratory24and others have shown
in certain types of distant intentionality,
an effect can apparently precede its cause, and information can be
before it is sent.24 Studies such as these strongly
that consciousness can wander into the past and future. If the mind is
not a slave to time, simultaneity would appear not to be problematic
distant mental events such as those involved in intercessory prayer and
other forms of remote healing.
Nonlocal Events Leave Tracks
Local and nonlocal healing are not mutually
They blend with each other, often seamlessly. Consider spiritual
who practice healing in the physical presence of the sick person. They
often touch their patients (laying-on of hands) and talk to them as
When they do, all sorts of local, energetic phenomena come into
smell, the transference of heat, pressure, and so on. But in addition
these local, energy-mediated influences, healers also employ
nonlocally in the form of healing intentions, images, wishes, or
as we’ve seen, are apparently not associated with the transfer of
Attempting to separate these various local and nonlocal influences may
be a hopeless task, because healers employ them in concert, all at
without making any clear distinction between them.
As a healing session proceeds, at some point it
impossible to distinguish local from nonlocal effects, because the
works through the local and “leaves its tracks” in the local.
experienced healers know intuitively that nonlocal events have
consequences. They realize that their thoughts, wishes, and prayers
(all nonlocal interventions) may trigger physiological effects in the
body (local consequences). In fact, one cannot practice nonlocal
in isolation. To be effective, the nonlocal must involve the
“at the end of the line” in the recipient’s body.
Even though it is difficult to distinguish
and local healing influences in practice, it is crucial that we do so
our thinking. If we do not, nonlocal healing factors—intentions,
prayers—which are often invisible and silent, may be totally ignored,
and shoved aside in therapy. If we allow local interventions to
altogether the nonlocal influences from our healing repertoire, we may
eventually discover that our healing efforts have become less
This is precisely what has occurred in modern medicine, with its
emphasis on mechanical forms of therapy.
This is an ever-present danger for the field of
I have known acupuncturists, herbal therapists, and homeopaths, for
who wield their therapies in a completely mechanical way. They have
so enchanted with the power of their “device” that they have forgotten
the nonlocal healing influences of empathy, love, and compassion. [...]