Archive for December 23rd, 2008
I honestly did not think that I would ever be faced with venturing into the wacky world of Masaru Emoto and his pseudoscientific interpretation of ice crystals again. In fact, I have only recently begun to forgive my frontal lobe for allowing me to watch What the Bleep Do We Know!?. You may remember Emoto, whose work was prominently featured in that film, as the man who’s 5th-grade level science experiment investigating the effects of making water happy or sad have inspired a growing number of self-professed experts in quantum physics and proponents of watery woo to reach new heights in absurdity. For example, two different bottled water companies have now incorporated Emoto’s pseudoscientific belief system into their products so that they might better take advantage of gullible, and thirsty, consumers: H2Om and Aquamantra.
The makers of H2Om, who take pride in the quality and taste of their water as well as the energetic intention that goes into every bottle, are also very excited about “H2Om’s Vibration Hydration™”.
“Promoting positive energy for people and the planet, H2Om uses words, colors, music, and vibrations as the inspiration and driving force behind our intention infused, interactive natural spring water.”
“We believe that everything in the universe contains a vibrational resonance or frequency. As powerful as water is, it is receptive and sensitive. We are made of water.”
“There are several distinctive vibrational frequencies that are incorporated in each bottle of H2Om.”
A buck fifty a bottle and all it does is promote positive energy for people and the planet…..I’ll give you 35 cents. Now if it transported matter I’d be interested. Aquamantra is no less giddy with excitement, not about random quotes from classic Simpsons episodes but about the potential of their bottled water to change your life.
“Aquamantra: Premium Natural Spring Water is simply, water that resonates with the energy and frequency of your well-being. The quality of your thoughts determine the quality of your life and NOW your water. We deliver powerful messages to you through the mantras, I AM GRATEFUL™,I AM HEALTHY™, I AM LOVED™ or I AM LUCKY™ .”
The stupid, it not only burns, it apparently also vibrates.
Dr. Emoto, who received his doctorate in alternative medicine from the Open International University for Alternative Medicine in India, which is listed between Hollywood Upstairs Medical College and the Correspondence College of Tampa on the international list of unaccredited diploma mills, achieved his fifteen minutes with an infamous experiment. He took samples of water and exposed them to a variety of words, sounds, and pictures, subjectively categorized as good, bad, ugly, beautiful, etc, etc, and then took pictures of the resulting ice crystals that formed when these samples were cooled sufficiently.
He discovered that the ice crystals exposed to good things were beautiful to look at and the ones exposed to bad things were ugly and deformed. He naturally figured that the words, pictures and sounds pass along information to the water via vibrations and an observer effect he bases on, wait for it, quantum physics (said in a booming and echoing voice). The stupid, it burns, vibrates, and is apparently quite a gossip.
What Emoto actually does in his unblinded experiments is take multiple pictures of the ice crystals and pick out the ones that support his hypothesis. I hope I didn’t ruin that for anyone.
Masaru Emoto resurfaced into my awareness this past weekend when I picked up a copy of one of my favorite magazines, Natural Awakenings. I can think of few more enjoyable experiences than curling up on the couch with a copy of Natural Awakenings in one hand, and a fresh glass of organic Himalayan goji berry juice in the other while a recording of whale songs plays in the background. I find it really helps to cleanse my chakras and realign my energy. Okay, I read it to laugh at the crazies.
In the December issue, Emoto is interviewed by Natural Awakenings Naples/Fort Myers editor Linda Sechrist. In the interview, he discusses some of his current endeavors, such as the Emoto Peace Project:
“The idea for the Emoto Peace Project came to me in May 2005, while I was at the United Nations. One of the topics discussed during the UN’s initiative, “International Decade for Action: Water for Life, 2005-2015,” highlighted how education has not conveyed water’s importance to all children globally.”
One has to wonder just why Emoto was present at a meeting to establish plans to cut in half the number of people in the world that lack access to potable water and basic sanitation by the year 2015. Regardless of why he was there, he claims to have been inspired to write a 32-page children’s picture book, The Message from Water: Children’s Version. This book is the core of the Emoto Peace Project, and he has high hopes that it will have a major impact on the world once its “graphic demonstrations of how the molecular changes in the structure of water are affected by energy vibrations, thoughts, words, ideas, music and the water’s surrounding environment” are accepted by leaders in education. There are actually resources for the education of children on the vital importance of water provided on the UN’s website for the program, however, there isn’t a link to Emoto’s book or any mention of him at all.
After reading the book, I found myself at a loss for words. I seriously can’t imagine that many children would buy into its overflowing silliness, and certainly no leaders in education. But perhaps I shouldn’t be so confident considering how easily young children can be indoctrinated. That, and the battles that frequently rage in this country over attempts by leaders in education to teach creationism in our public schools. Angry ice crystals and healing vibrations aren’t any less plausible than the Christian creation myth are they?. And his website includes a number of pictures of him surrounded by large groups of smiling children holding up copies of the book, many of them having been taken in American cities. Somehow this guy is getting access to our children after all.
Here are some of my favorite statements and graphics from the book:
“How would we know if one type of water is good or bad? Here’s and idea, let’s take a look at photographs of crystals found in frozen water.”
Trust me, there is much more. But despite the laughable content, Emoto truly seems to think that this book is going to change the world once it reaches its target audience of 650 million children.
“I believe that The Message from Water has the power to effect change by informing individuals that through thinking, speaking and acting with the intention of instilling peace with respect to water, water can and will bring peace to our bodies and to the world.”
On his personal website he lists a number, twelve to be exact, of current problems standing in the way of world peace:
- The intensification of the global warming
- The diversification of the natural disaster due to global warming
- Unstoppable terrorist activities and retaliation
- Inveterate internal disturbance and racial struggle by the religious opposition
- The various evils that come from the society depending on too much fossil energy
- The unstable international economy at the mercy of money games
- The failing medical treatment administration by problems with aging and intractable disease
- Problematic educational system and increase in abnormal crime
- Food issues
- Population problems
- The issue of various gaps to spread in a global scale
- When the whole human thinks about water seriously and understand it, at first you will know that the basis of the life phenomenon is “Resonance = Harmony”.
- When the theory that water memorizes and carries information is accepted, efficiency of every industrial activities will be improved drastically.
- Furthermore, when whole people have feeling of love and gratitude towards water, human may get safe and sustainable energy from water.
Emoto believes that when the world finally comes to fully grasp these three points regarding the power of water, all of our worst global problems will be solved. I’ll admit that I would support anything that really could rid the world of the global warming, money games, abnormal crime, spreadable gaps, and others, but I just don’t think that this is going to do the trick.
A major contention of the spiritually inclined is that the mind is separate from the brain. In other words, they believe the brain is simply a biological organ that is in some way controlled by a metaphysical “mind.” Others believe that the brain is sufficient to explain all that we think, feel, and experience. In this post, I am going to provide a brief overview of the skeptical thinking of this issue.
A brief note about nomenclature. Some call the belief in a spiritual mind and a physical brain “dualism.” The belief that there is only the physical brain is sometimes called “materialism.” I prefer not to use this language as the term “materialistic” already has a negative connotation.
The default position when deciding between two hypotheses is to initial accept the one that introduces the least amount of variables. In the mind-brain debate, it is clear that the a spiritual basis for mind relies on many unproven and arbitrary variables. In the spiritual basis, you have to introduce the idea of spirit. Then you have to bring in the idea of how the brain communicates with this spirit. On the other side, the only variable that has to brought in is the brain itself, and I am pretty sure it exists.
As with every debate, determining reality comes down to which side has the evidence. The idea of a spiritual mind has no evidence. In fact, out-of-body experiences and deja vu were formerly thought to only have underlying spiritual causes. However, these phenomenon have been reproduced under laboratory conditions indicating that they all have underlying physical causes. Of course modern science has not shown that the brain is sufficient to produce every characteristic that we associate with a human mind.
Whenever a supernatural theory gets challenged, it seems to be that they always fall back on the idea of quantum mechanics. Pick your favorite pseudoscience and some proponent has likely invoked the world of quantum mechanics to explain their unscientific ideas. The mind-brain debate is no exception. The problem with using quantum mechanics to explain these pseudosciences is that quantum mechanics operates on a scale that is simply too small. Such small scale phenomena do not have any appreciable effect on comparably large scale structures like neurons. These effects are in no way large enough to explain all of the characteristics that are ascribed to them.
Brain changing the brain
An argument put forth by the spiritual mind proponents is the idea that the brain can’t change the brain. They claim that only an outside force, such as the spirit, can change our brains. This line of reasoning is flawed, because we have good evidence that the brain does in fact change itself through experience. One clear example comes from the process of learning something. We can see biochemical changes happening in the brain when an animal learns. Furthermore, we can see a change in the connection of two neurons in a petri dish simply by repeated stimulation of one of the neurons. These examples show us that the brain can change itself.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
One subject that invariably comes up when discussing the mind-brain debate is the status of AI. The spiritual-mind proponent will often ask why we haven’t been able to reproduce a human mind if it is only made out of matter. The obvious answer here is that the technology to perform such a feat is a long ways away. Still, the proponents argue that it will never happen. I guess only time will tell, but we can look at past successes and current technologies as a clue to our future.
There was a time in recent memory that some people believed that a computer would never be able to beat a human at chess. That all changed in 1997 with the victory of IBM’s Deep Blue over Garry Kasparov. The idea seems ridiculous now, but many said it would never happen. Such a defeat by a computer shows us an example of unexpected computer success. In fact, it has been said that Garry Kasparov believed that Deep Blue was cheating because he saw intelligence and creativity in its moves.
Another example of where AI is making steady progress is in what is called the Turing test. Briefly, a computer/program is designed to be able to reproduce written human interactions so accurately that a person could not tell the difference between a real person and the computer when tested. The test is typically all done through the keyboard so the subject can not tell which is which by sight or sound. The latest round of testing showed that 3 out of 12 judges were fooled into thinking the program was a human. Although this might not seem that impressive, the programs have been making impressive and steady gains every year. This year’s winner was named Elbot and an online version can be found here. Try it out, it is a lot of fun.
This post is a simple overview of the debate between those that believe the mind is controlled by some outside factor and those that believe that the brain is sufficient to produce a mind. There are numerous other nuances and ideas in the debates that I didn’t bring up (such as common logical fallacies, qualia, free-will, brain injury, etc.), but I think it is clear that on the surface that the physical brain hypothesis holds all the cards.