TWM

THE FORCES OF HEALING:
REFLECTIONS ON ENERGY, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND THE BEEF STROGANOFF PRINCIPLE
[Abridged]
Larry Dossey, MD
 
I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know his thoughts, the rest are details.
—Albert Einstein1

The Big Four
Scientists believe in the existence of four physical forces: the gravitational, the electromagnetic, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. They believe that these forces are eternal and given for all time, or that they came into being with the birth of the universe at the moment of the Big Bang. Although additional forces may be discovered in the future, only these four have been objectively proven to exist. Moreover, most scientists believe that these forces account for all known types of energy, and that anything that happens in this world, including healing, must involve these forces and conform to the laws governing them.
The idea of universal physical forces is rather recent and has not always enjoyed widespread acceptance. Philosopher Eugene Mills of Virginia Commonwealth University has described how, when Newton first proposed the existence of “that mysterious force”—universal gravity—his colleagues accused him of surrendering to mysticism2,3: “They disapproved of his failure to explain why bodies behaved in accordance with his laws, or how distant bodies could act on one another.” 3(pp31,32) In response to these charges, Newton, as is well known, refused to “frame hypotheses” and stuck to empirical observations to fortify his contentions.

The Force Goes With Us
Although we’re still in the dark about how gravity works, since Newton’s time we have become comfortable with the idea that everything that happens is controlled by impersonal, universal forces. In fact, we have become habituated to the idea of energetic forces and have difficulty imagining the world working without them. Particularly in the healing professions, we are haunted by “force” and “energy.” Unlike Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, we don’t choose to go with the force. Because we have been educated and socialized in a world that takes natural forces for granted, it seems as if the concept of force goes with us, whether we like it or not....
Why are we wedded to the idea of energetic forces? I believe the primary reason is connected with how we see the worldas an objective, physical entity existing out there, set apart from us. How else can we interact with it except through 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 whether an objective force or energy is required to interact with it. For example, the Nobel physicist Werner Heisenberg said that what physicists observe in their experiments is not nature, but nature exposed to their methods of questioning. In other words, the picture of nature that physicists construct is influenced by the questions they ask. This point of view was shared by Niels Bohr, whose name is virtually synonymous with modern physics. Bohr, in his famous principle of complementarity, showed that an electron can behave as a particle or a wave, depending on how we 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 English astronomer, physicist, and mathematician, expressed the shocking implications of this point of view:
If the physical world is not absolute, the energetic forces we attribute to this world also may not be fundamental. In some sense they, too, may come from us. Jeans(pp171,200):

If the waves of a free electron or photon represent human knowledge, what happens to the waves when there is no human knowledge to represent? For we must suppose that electrons were in existence while there was still no human consciousness to observe them, and that there are free 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 human knowledge there are no waves; we must always remember that the waves are not a part of nature, but of our efforts to understand nature.
[T]he waves and the electric and magnetic forces … are part simply of our efforts to understand this mechanism and picture it to ourselves. Before man appeared on the scene, there were neither waves nor electric nor magnetic forces; these were not made by God, but by Huygens, 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 misguided efforts to understand the motions of particles. It is the same with the Newtonian force of gravitation, and with energy, momentum and other concepts which were introduced to help us understand the activities of the world—all prove to be mere mental constructs, and do not even pass the test of objectivity...
Are the forces and energies we attribute to healing as fundamental as we think? Are “healing energies,” “healing vibrations,” and “subtle energies”—terms adored by a variety of CAM therapists—an invariable part of the natural order, or have they been invented?
This possibility, I have discovered, horrifies a great 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 healing 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 the forces 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, sometimes profoundly.
Repicturing healing is probably no more difficult for us today than it was for physicians in Vienna in the mid-1800s, when they first bumped into a thoroughly radical idea: hand washing. When Semmelweis proposed that obstetricians wash their hands before delivering babies, the idea was considered preposterous. He was in effect introducing a new 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 midwives on one obstetrical ward washed their hands, and the obstetricians on another 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 lethal factor lurking on the hospital wards that they were helping spread, and which could be controlled by washing one’s hands. Semmelweis was regarded as a troublemaker and was vilified. He fled Vienna for Budapest and eventually committed suicide as a result of the emotional strain he experienced.5

There is a major difference, however, between the challenge laid down by Semmelweis and the one we face today. He was asking his colleagues to accept the existence of a new force—infection—in healing. Today, we confront the need to accept the nonexistence of forces to understand some forms of healing, as we shall see.

Healing’s Great Divide: The Local and the Nonlocal
Physics theories are not eternal. When quantum theory joins the ranks of phlogiston, caloric, and the lumiferous ether in the physics junkyard, [non-locality] will still be valid.… Whatever reality may be, it must be non-local. No local reality can explain the type of world we live in.
Nick Herbert, physicist Quantum Reality6

Although the concept of energetic forces is helpful in 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 some 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 broad categories of events in nature: local and nonlocal.7Local events can be described by the tenets of classical science. They make up almost all of our everyday experience in our see-touch-feel world. We 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 early part of this century in a thought experiment, there was no empirical evidence 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 confirmed 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 contact, are separated from each other. The degree of separation is arbitrary; they could be stationed at opposite ends of the universe. When an experimenter 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 change has taken place in its twin? Surely some energetic signal must pass between them, alerting one of the change in the other. But the passage of energy-based signals requires time, in which case the correlated changes would not be simultaneous. No one, including the physicists involved, knows how these so-called nonlocal phenomena actually happen. It is as if the distant particles are united as a single entity, even though they are spatially separated.
On close examination it appears that nonlocal events break the rule in classical physics that nothing happens without a cause, because the cause and the effect occur at the same time. Thus, Bell’s theorem seems more like Bell’s palsy when applied to the law of cause and effect.
In short, nonlocal events have three essential characteristics that distinguish them from local, commonsense, everyday happenings. They are unmediated, unmitigated, and immediate. 6(p214) “Unmediated” means that they are not propagated by any type of force, energy, or signal. “Unmitigated” means that the strength of the correlated changes does not weaken with increasing distance; they are as robust at a million miles as at an inch. “Immediate” means that the distant correlations take place instantly. It is easy to see why these events were originally repudiated by mainstream physicists. They violate not only the law of cause and effect but also the special theory of relativity, which implies that a signal cannot be propagated instantly or faster than the speed of light. The sole reason physicists have acknowledged 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 nonlocal connections are absolutely instantaneous is impossible to verify, because this would require two perfectly simultaneous measurements, which would entail an infinite degree of accuracy.7 In the past, light and other electromagnetic effects were believed to be transmitted instantaneously, but better measurement techniques proved this was not the case. Likewise, future developments might reveal that nonlocal connections, which today appear instantaneous, also involve a minute delay in transmission.

Healing, Local and Nonlocal
... if we have any hope of understanding the entire spectrum of healing, we are going to have to confront the nonlocal personality of the universe.
Consider, for example, so-called distant healing, sometimes referred to as spiritual, psi, or prayer-based healing. In spite of compelling evidence for these phenomena, 12,13 there is simply 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. Neither does the strength of these events diminish with increasing distance, nor can these effects be attenuated by placing the object of the healing in metal-lined Faraday cages, which block electromagnetic forces. All of which suggests that we are dealing with a genuinely nonlocal phenomenon.

‘Subtle Energy’: Fact or Metaphor?
In spite of the fact that we can’t find any energy being transmitted between the healer and the patient in therapies involving distant 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, mechanical physics. We are free, of course, to use whatever images appeal to us. But, wherever possible, we should make sure that the images we choose are consistent with fact.
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 energy” in a provisional, qualified, metaphorical way. But as far as I can tell, almost nobody who speaks about “subtle energy” believes it is a metaphor, and they don’t use it provisionally. They imply that it is real, that it has already been demonstrated, and that it is a concrete reality. Again, we’re free to go in this direction if we like—but if we represent something as scientifically proven and it isn’t, the results can be disastrous for the field of CAM...

The Beef Stroganoff Principle
If those of us in the field of CAM expect to communicate with the rest of the scientific community and be taken seriously, we need a taxonomy that doesn’t turn off our scientific colleagues.
Gene and Bev Dunaway are the directors of Sustainable Strategies, Inc, an organization that helps people create learning communities that cultivate an integrated approach to living (note 2). Years ago Gene practiced law in Mountain View, a small town in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas, and operated a restaurant as well. One day he introduced a new item on the menu—beef Stroganoff. It was a resounding failure; not a single person ordered it. So the next day Gene changed the name to “beef and noodles.” It was an immediate sellout. He couldn’t make enough of it; it became the most popular item on the menu. Thus the Beef Stroganoff Principle: If you want to sell it, be careful what you call it.
Sir Isaac Newton would probably have understood the Beef Stroganoff Principle. As we have seen, when his colleagues attacked his inability to explain how universal gravity worked, he did not resort to dreamy language, but stuck to demonstrable fact. CAM therapists might take a lesson. We ought to let the facts speak for themselves, as Newton did. We should resist being seduced by flimsy “explanations” based on imaginary forces and nondemonstrable subtle energies.

Eras I, II, and III: An Alternate Approach
Now for a somewhat different perspective on what we’ve said so far (note 3).
The practice of medicine in our culture began to become genuinely scientific during the 1860s, the decade of the American Civil War. During this period, physicians began to look with envy on the field of classical physics, and they sought to embody its precision and predictability in their own activities. We can designate this first era of scientific medicine as Era I, or “mechanical medicine,” because of its adherence to classical, mechanical physics. In Era I medicine, which still dominates, 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 Table).
Almost a century later, in roughly the 1950s, a different perspective began to appear—Era II, or mind-body medicine. Originally called “psychosomatic disease,” this view acknowledged that one’s thoughts, emotions, and mental life could affect the state of one’s physical body. Era II medicine, however, like the Era I approach, remained wholly devoted to the tenets of classical science as an explanation for all events, including the actions of the mind.
Now, at century’s end, we are seeing the rapid development of another era—Era III, or nonlocal medicine. This is the first era of scientific medicine that acknowledges that our thoughts may affect not only our own body (Era II), but the body of a distant individual—without the mediation of any known physical energy or force, and without diminution by spatial separation. Nonlocal healing phenomena appear almost always to involve consciousness — the empathic, loving intent of one individual to help another. Space does not permit a detailed analysis of the evidence for these robust claims, which has been given elsewhere. 13,16
The empirical evidence for nonlocal forms of healing does not stand alone. This field concatenates or links with several other areas within science that also have demonstrated the ability of individuals to influence, consciously and nonlocally, the state of the physical world. 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 journals. 17,18

Particles and People: Strong Analogies
But subatomic particles are not people, and people are infinitely more complex than subatomic particles. Therefore we cannot say that experiments in modern physics somehow “prove” the nonlocal connections between human beings. For all we know, there may be no connection whatever between the nonlocal connections of distant electrons and the nonlocal affinities between distant humans.
Nevertheless, nonlocal forms of healing bear a startling resemblance to the nonlocal events studied by physicists. In both scenarios, distant entities are involved—a healer and patient in the former, subatomic particles in the latter. In both situations, the degree of spatial separation appears irrelevant. In nonlocal healing, for example, the strength of the 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 people—has any energetic force been shown to bridge the gap, nor has it been possible to annul the connections by trying to shield or block them.19 Although there is no actual proof that “quantum nonlocality” is directly related to the nonlocal experiences of human beings, it would be foolish 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 between distant subatomic particles. Analogous problems exist at the human level, where the distant effects of thought are involved.
To know whether a healing intention is immediately correlated with an effect in a distant patient, we would have to know the exact instant the healing intention is made by the healer and received by the patient. Currently, no one knows how to determine this. Moreover, to determine whether distant events happen at precisely the same moment, we need measuring devices that are infinitely precise, as we’ve seen. Such devises currently do not 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 existence, does it do so abruptly or gradually? Is there a sharp threshold or a slow buildup to an intention? Libet 20 has shown that a conscious, 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 healing intent—the unconscious cerebral event of which we’re unaware, or the conscious 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 intention gradual or sudden? Unless we can be certain when a healing intention is “launched” and received, we cannot determine whether the two are simultaneous.
Why, then, propose that distant healing intentions may be genuinely nonlocal with respect to time? There is compelling evidence that certain types of mental events may occur outside of time altogether. In the so-called delayed-choice experiments of physicist Helmut Schmidt, in which an individual tries to influence an event after it has taken place, subjects appear capable of mentally influencing events that presumably have already happened, but which have not been observed. 21-23 Robert G Jahn and colleagues at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory24and others have shown that, in certain types of distant intentionality, an effect can apparently precede its cause, and information can be received before it is sent.24 Studies such as these strongly suggest 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 for 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 exclusive. They blend with each other, often seamlessly. Consider spiritual healers 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 well. When they do, all sorts of local, energetic phenomena come into play—sight, smell, the transference of heat, pressure, and so on. But in addition to these local, energy-mediated influences, healers also employ consciousness nonlocally in the form of healing intentions, images, wishes, or prayers—which, as we’ve seen, are apparently not associated with the transfer of energy. Attempting to separate these various local and nonlocal influences may be a hopeless task, because healers employ them in concert, all at once, without making any clear distinction between them.
As a healing session proceeds, at some point it is virtually impossible to distinguish local from nonlocal effects, because the nonlocal works through the local and “leaves its tracks” in the local. All experienced healers know intuitively that nonlocal events have local consequences. They realize that their thoughts, wishes, and prayers (all nonlocal interventions) may trigger physiological effects in the patient’s body (local consequences). In fact, one cannot practice nonlocal healing in isolation. To be effective, the nonlocal must involve the local “at the end of the line” in the recipient’s body.
Even though it is difficult to distinguish between nonlocal and local healing influences in practice, it is crucial that we do so in our thinking. If we do not, nonlocal healing factors—intentions, wishes, prayers—which are often invisible and silent, may be totally ignored, undervalued, and shoved aside in therapy. If we allow local interventions to displace altogether the nonlocal influences from our healing repertoire, we may eventually discover that our healing efforts have become less effective. This is precisely what has occurred in modern medicine, with its near-total emphasis on mechanical forms of therapy.
This is an ever-present danger for the field of CAM. I have known acupuncturists, herbal therapists, and homeopaths, for example, who wield their therapies in a completely mechanical way. They have become so enchanted with the power of their “device” that they have forgotten the nonlocal healing influences of empathy, love, and compassion. [...]

 
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Revised from the keynote address and welcome originally presented at EXPLORING THE FORCES OF HEALING, the Second Annual Alternative Therapies Syposium; April 1997; Orlando, Fla.
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