*Editor’s Note: So-called “energy medicine” is bullshit and has no place in Mexikayotl! I can think of no greater betrayal of the skeptical and scientific principles advanced by our ancestors than a willing submission to pseudoscience and quackery! – Kurly
So-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is largely philosophy-based medicine rather than science based. There are a few core concepts that are endlessly recycled in various forms, but it is mythology and culture, not grounded in the rigorous methods of science that allow us to tell the difference between our satisfying fantasies and hard reality. Sometimes proponents of such philosophies try to cloak their beliefs in the appearance of science, resulting in what we simply call pseudoscience.
Harriet Hall coined an excellent term to refer to such pseudoscience -” Tooth Fairy science.” In her metaphor, pseudoscientists sometimes act like scientists by describing the details and statistics of their claimed phenomenon (such as examining all the details of the Tooth Fairy phenomenon) without ever testing the reality of the phenomenon itself. The fundamental concept at the core of their belief is never challenged, or only superficially so, and they proceed prematurely from their faulty premise.
Another term that I find extremely apt is “Cargo Cult science,” a term coined by Richard Feynman. This is a reference to the cargo cults of New Guinea – the pre-industrial tribes were observed building straw mock-ups of control towers, planes, and runways in hopes that the planes they observed flying over head would deliver their cargo to them. In other words – the cargo cults mimicked the superficial appearance of an aviation infrastructure but had none of the real essence or function (because of lack of understanding). This is a perfect analogy to much of what passes for science within the world of CAM.
Not that we need another analogy, but I have often described such pseudoscience as being lost in the noise. In any endeavor to detect something there is the issue of the signal to noise ratio. Often the core challenge of scientific research is pulling the signal out from the background noise, or (more to the point) deciding if there is a signal in the noise, or if the information represents pure noise. In this analogy “noise” refers to any randomness in the data or interference from effects other than the alleged signal of intrest. What I find is that pseudoscientific investigations of tooth fairy phenomena are completely lost in the noise of data, seeing whatever phantom “signals” support their philosophy. Elaborate but entirely illusory constructs are often crafted (or retrofitted to) these phantom signals.
Energy medicine is perfect example of cargo-cult, Tooth Fairy, noise-based pseudoscience.
Energy medicine began its life as a philosophy-based notion, and is still philosophy-based, but many of its modern practitioners are desperate for the respectability that science has to offer. Some have therefore erected a pseudoscientific facade for this pre-scientific superstition.
One example I was recently asked to investigate is the Heartmath institute., which promotes an energy-medicine based claim that the heart sends out “energy” waves that regulate the body, including the brain. According to proponents, the heart has its own memory and emotion and the health and functioning of the body depend upon the energy rhythms generated by the heart. Heart math explains:
Most of us have been taught in school that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly known that the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart! Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function—influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. In other words, not only does the heart respond to the brain, but the brain continuously responds to the heart.