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Folks -

There previously was a discussion on this site in which a skeptical attitude toward energy work was being discussed, but that discussion eventually got deleted. The reason seems to be that it was judged not to belong in the location where it was taking place, which was inside one of the energy work groups.

I was the person who introduced the skepticism to the discussion. Some people did not appreciate that, but others did. Given how many participants there are on this site, and how many threads and groups are dedicated to discussing energy work with no skepticism, I thought maybe it was time to open a discussion where such skepticism is invited and welcomed.

I look forward to seeing how this discussion might develop. Is there interest?

-CM

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Emmanuel: Even if there is an objective reality independent of our experience, as I also believe there is, we can only speak of our experience of it. We can try to create a model or representation of it but it will not be the 'reality', and any explanation that uses logic, belief system, or even language is prone to skew it. Objective reality just is. Our interpretation of it is just that, an interpretation.

I generally agree. But even if this is true, it does not prevent us from using multiple independent observations, and checking them against each other, to see how much individual measurements or interpretations are skewing our assessment of the reality that cannot be observed with directness or perfect clarity. And, in fact, this is exactly what scientists do all the time. If independent assessments are not in agreement, we have a problem; some or all of the assessments may be faulty, or the thing we are trying to assess may not even exist! On the other hand, if independent assessment are uniformly in agreement (that is, they differ from each other only slightly), over and over again, we can have a high degree of confidence that we are getting very close to a direct assessment of the object or phenomena at hand.

The labeling of those subatomic events as 'ultra-weird' or 'bizarre' makes precisely the point I was trying to make about objectivity. If you were a photon your viewpoint may be different. Similarly, if you were a massage therapist or energy worker your viewpoint in this discussion would be different as well.

Actually, I believe my viewpoint would be the same if I were a massage therapist. Obviously, it would have to be different if I were an energy worker. :) And for what it's worth, I am a therapist; I have considerable experience providing psychotherapy, and I believe I have been able to use some of my experiences and perspectives from that type of therapy to organize my thinking about massage therapy. (Obviously, of course, this crossover only goes so far.) "Weird" things happen during psychotherapy; patients and therapists may have the same thought come to mind at the same time, or say nearly the same thing at the same time, even in cases where the thought or utterance seems unrelated to what came before. Or, meeting with certain patients can cause distinct inner feelings in the therapist (or vice versa). These phenomena could be ascribed to biofield energy, and some therapists have (and still do) believe this to be a reasonable explanation. But those aren't actually good explanations, because we have much better ones, which are consistent with previously acquired scientific knowledge, that adequately explain the same phenomena.
Rick -

Thanks for the further clarification of your practice, and how 'energy work' plays a supporting rather than a leading role.

You said "I cannot think of any way in which what I do could be measured." By "what I do" I assume you were referring to the 'energy' phenomena you were discussing previously (correct me if I'm wrong). I'm wondering why you find it hard to think of how that could be measured - shouldn't this be quite straightforward?

Your anecdote suggested that you were able to detect a bruise without seeing it, without touching it, and without foreknowledge of its existence (She kept her trousers on and at some point in the examination I passed my right hand from her ankle to her knee (not in contact); as I did this I clearly felt 'something' about half-way up her shin.). We can measure this by doing a simple experiment, as I suggested in my previous post. We get ten patients, only five of whom have bruises, and give you the opportunity to try to detect which five have the bruises and which don't. Do you agree that this would be a reasonable test?

Also, you didn't answer the question I posed - if you failed at such a test (i.e., performed at a level no better than chance would predict), would it cause you to reconsider your belief in the biofield energy you currently believe in?
Thanks Rick.
Ok Chris, I am going to chime in here on your post's with Rick Britton.

Your Assertions:
Your anecdote suggested that you were able to detect a bruise without seeing it, without touching it, and without foreknowledge of its existence (She kept her trousers on and at some point in the examination I passed my right hand from her ankle to her knee (not in contact); as I did this I clearly felt 'something' about half-way up her shin.). We can measure this by doing a simple experiment, as I suggested in my previous post. We get ten patients, only five of whom have bruises, and give you the opportunity to try to detect which five have the bruises and which don't. Do you agree that this would be a reasonable test?

Also, you didn't answer the question I posed - if you failed at such a test (i.e., performed at a level no better than chance would predict), would it cause you to reconsider your belief in the biofield energy you currently believe in?


Would you agree if the same test were given and 'several' of the 'bruised' subjects were identified and none of the 'non bruised' subjects were identified as being bruised that it would be more than random chance?
Would you agree if the same test were given and 'several' of the 'bruised' subjects were identified and none of the 'non bruised' subjects were identified as being bruised that it would be more than random chance?

Hi Bert. Glad you are jumping in.

The answer to your question - It depends, and this is what inferential statistics were created for. (I'm pretty sure you know about that, but I put it here for the benefit of anyone else who may not.) Typically, in such tests, we need to see the test subject do well enough that their pattern of results would only occur by chance alone (in other words, by a strictly random process) 5% of the time. That 5% is arbitrary, though, and in some specific cases we may wish to tighten it or relax it.

May I skip over the math for now? (I'm happy to go back to it if you or someone else would prefer me to.) Let's assume that we test someone and they do exceedingly well. They correctly "hit" all five injuries and correctly "reject" all five noninjuries! Your question to me is would I see that pattern as due to something other than chance. I would say yes, almost certainly, though I am obligated to point out that we can only reduce chance, we can never eliminate it altogether.

If our test subject did this well, I can see at least four possible explanations.

1. The person got extremely lucky. (Very unlikely, but not mathematically impossible. Note that we can quantify how likely this is.)
2. The person can actually detect injury by means of biofields or some similar mechanism unknown to science. (I find this to be very, very unlikely, but as with #1, it cannot be considered mathematically impossible. Unlike #1, though, we cannot quantify how likely this is.)
3. The person is duping us. They cannot detect biofields and they know it, but they have found a way to make it look like they can, and we haven't caught on to the trick. (This seems unlikely to me, but I think it is much more likely than #1 or #2. It must be considered a possibility, though I myself do not suspect that this is what energy workers are doing or would do.)
4. The person is correctly detecting the presence of injury, but is doing so by cues they may not be consciously aware of. Perhaps the injured people make slightly different facial expressions when they are being 'scanned' by the test subject, and the test subject picks up on this; (s)he only perceives it as a 'gut feeling' which (s)he interprets as 'energy.' (This, to me, seems like the most likely explanation for the four.)

Number four might seem very unlikely to some folks reading such an interpretation for the first time, but such effects have been known to exist for quite some time. The true story of Clever Hans is one of the earliest and best examples of this type of effect, but there are many others.

Given that I find the fourth explanation to be the most likely, I would want to do subsequent testing (as they did with Clever Hans). Can the test subject get similar results when the patients' faces are not visible? Can (s)he do it with his ears plugged? And so on. If (s)he can do it under some conditions but not others, that will likely give us the information we need to figure out how the nonrandom results are being achieved.
Rick Britton said:
Christopher

interesting concept of the therapist picking up clues from the client in order to detect lesions. For this to be the case the client has to be aware of the existence of the injury site.

I can tell you with certainty that I very often pick up areas of pain in the body that my client is completely unaware of; I will often pass my hands over the skin feeling the bio-energy field then stop and place my finger/hand on something that turns out to be sore. How much of this is due to experience is open to debate yet it is clear that I am not picking up clues from the client... precisely because they are unaware themselves.

How could this phenomenon be investigated?
Can you rationalise how I detect these lesions?
Do I in fact pick up something else (visual clue in skin tension, lines of strain, colour)?

Any of those are possible. In addition, concerning your point about the patient being unaware of the injury, how can we be certain they are unaware? Their awareness may be of a similar type to a Clever Hans effect, i.e., they are barely or subconsciously aware of 'something,' but it does not become conscious or specific until the therapist draws their attention to it.

I used to race bicycles a lot, back when the pedals had straps on them instead of the newer ski binding type of pedals. My favorite events were sprint events conducted on the track; because they were very short and intense, one usually pulled the straps very tight to maximize one's connection to the bike.

Over a period of years I noticed something really weird. Every time I raced in a sprint tournament, I would get a deep, bleeding gash on my right index finger. This never happened when I rode other races, and I never felt the injury until a tournament was over. I didn't know how it got there.

Then, one time at a sprint tournament, I just happened to be looking down at the moment I reached to pull hard on the pedal strap. I actually saw myself cutting a deep gash into my finger with the buckle of the strap as I pulled on it, even though I did not feel it at all, even as I was doing it. The combination of needing to pull the strap extra tight, combined with my intense attention to the race I was about to do, meant that I would badly cut my hand each time without even being aware of it. Later, when my attention was directed elsewhere, I would notice the cut on my finger and wonder how it got there.

I bring that up just to point out the importance of attention. If our attention is misdirected at the appropriate time, we can be very unaware of something, even something that is occurring to our own body. At the same time, I suspect that some part of me "knew" of the injury at the time it occurred, even though my conscious mind was not yet aware of it. By that, I don't mean something mystical was occurring - rather, it makes sense to me that my nervous and circulatory systems were responding to the injury before my conscious mind was ever made aware of it.
Chris,
You made me lol with the hans clever story.

I agree with #4..... but not the assumption that an energetic connection is not involved.

Of course a therapist who is truly 'focused and connected' to a client will pick up cues from a client that they cannot explain or even identify.

I would argue that the connection itself is an energetic phenomena that enhances the ability of an experienced hands on practitioner to assess and deliver the treatment the client needs. It matters not if it acts indirectly rather than directly. That cannot be quantified by any means of measurement we now have.

Using inferential statistics to take a sample of the population and make an inference about the entire population based on the sample assumes:

(1) all individuals (therapist or subject) have the same energetic capacity and their connection is irrelevant.

(2) The energy is specifically definable and consistent in all cases.

(3) That the 'energy' acts alone as a pharmaceutical agent might and the energetic connection does not enhance the ability to pick up cues. In the end, it does not matter if the 'energy' acts directly or if it acts as an enhancer.

(4) That anyone who does have the ability to connect energetically possesses this ability similar to commonly perceived senses such as sight; Open your eyes and you see. I would point out bio feedback which has allowed us mere humans to place our brains in measurable alpha or beta states by thinking certain thoughts. Everyone is not capable of doing this to the same degree. This is measurable. How do you measure an energetic connection which you cannot define?

As I consider your RCT viewpoint, which seems to be fairly dogmatic, I have to consider that part of the problem with reconciling the "energy" phenomena with statistical analysis is an apparent belief that the energy in question is a specifically definable quantity that acts alone and remains consistent with all individuals and relationships. I cannot speak for others but I do not believe this connection acts independently rather than being a part of the whole.... Which brings us back to developing a "Whole Systems Research" model for this phenomena.

I don't usually say much about my own personal experience because it is by definition subjective, but I will say that some clients seem to be (my perception?) energetically 'closed' (guarded?) and very difficult to assess for treatment. Other clients seem to be energetically 'open' and with the same or even less verbal information I can very quickly determine where the problem is and know what they need. This is not a matter of their being willing to share what their symptoms are. It feels more like being plugged into some part of their autonomic nervous system. I can feel a change, but I can't really define what is happening. All this without evoking any energy 'modality'.

And thanks for making us think again.

Christopher A. Moyer said:
Would you agree if the same test were given and 'several' of the 'bruised' subjects were identified and none of the 'non bruised' subjects were identified as being bruised that it would be more than random chance?

Hi Bert. Glad you are jumping in.

The answer to your question - It depends, and this is what inferential statistics were created for. (I'm pretty sure you know about that, but I put it here for the benefit of anyone else who may not.) Typically, in such tests, we need to see the test subject do well enough that their pattern of results would only occur by chance alone (in other words, by a strictly random process) 5% of the time. That 5% is arbitrary, though, and in some specific cases we may wish to tighten it or relax it.

May I skip over the math for now? (I'm happy to go back to it if you or someone else would prefer me to.) Let's assume that we test someone and they do exceedingly well. They correctly "hit" all five injuries and correctly "reject" all five noninjuries! Your question to me is would I see that pattern as due to something other than chance. I would say yes, almost certainly, though I am obligated to point out that we can only reduce chance, we can never eliminate it altogether.

If our test subject did this well, I can see at least four possible explanations.

1. The person got extremely lucky. (Very unlikely, but not mathematically impossible. Note that we can quantify how likely this is.)
2. The person can actually detect injury by means of biofields or some similar mechanism unknown to science. (I find this to be very, very unlikely, but as with #1, it cannot be considered mathematically impossible. Unlike #1, though, we cannot quantify how likely this is.)
3. The person is duping us. They cannot detect biofields and they know it, but they have found a way to make it look like they can, and we haven't caught on to the trick. (This seems unlikely to me, but I think it is much more likely than #1 or #2. It must be considered a possibility, though I myself do not suspect that this is what energy workers are doing or would do.)
4. The person is correctly detecting the presence of injury, but is doing so by cues they may not be consciously aware of. Perhaps the injured people make slightly different facial expressions when they are being 'scanned' by the test subject, and the test subject picks up on this; (s)he only perceives it as a 'gut feeling' which (s)he interprets as 'energy.' (This, to me, seems like the most likely explanation for the four.)

Number four might seem very unlikely to some folks reading such an interpretation for the first time, but such effects have been known to exist for quite some time. The true story of Clever Hans is one of the earliest and best examples of this type of effect, but there are many others.

Given that I find the fourth explanation to be the most likely, I would want to do subsequent testing (as they did with Clever Hans). Can the test subject get similar results when the patients' faces are not visible? Can (s)he do it with his ears plugged? And so on. If (s)he can do it under some conditions but not others, that will likely give us the information we need to figure out how the nonrandom results are being achieved.
Chris,
You made me lol with the hans clever story.


Good! Though I'd like to know in what way it was funny to you.

I agree with #4..... but not the assumption that an energetic connection is not involved.

I don't understand you then - wouldn't that be #2 you agree with? Or perhaps a combination of #2 and #4? The point of #4 is that it does not involve any putative biofield energy.

Of course a therapist who is truly 'focused and connected' to a client will pick up cues from a client that they cannot explain or even identify.

I would argue that the connection itself is an energetic phenomena that enhances the ability of an experienced hands on practitioner to assess and deliver the treatment the client needs. It matters not if it acts indirectly rather than directly. That cannot be quantified by any means of measurement we now have.


Again, I don't understand. Are you referring to some other type of energy?

And how could anything actually detectable by a human being be unquantifiable? All we would need is to have more than one person who can do this give independent assessments of the hypothesized energy. That's a measurement right there. Logically, you can't say something exists and say that it cannot be measured at all. Simply determining the existence of something is a type of measurement.

Using inferential statistics to take a sample of the population and make an inference about the entire population based on the sample assumes:

(1) all individuals (therapist or subject) have the same energetic capacity and their connection is irrelevant.


It's not necessary that all individuals in a sample have the same capacity. In fact, that is almost never the case in anything that we might choose to test. This simply isn't true.

(2) The energy is specifically definable and consistent in all cases.


Sure, we have to define it so we can agree what we are trying to detect. As for consistency - if we knew the things qualities so perfectly, we wouldn't need to test it. I'm not sure what you're trying to say here.

(3) That the 'energy' acts alone as a pharmaceutical agent might and the energetic connection does not enhance the ability to pick up cues. In the end, it does not matter if the 'energy' acts directly or if it acts as an enhancer.

This isn't a requirement for testing its existence. As with #1, this would almost never be the case in anything we might wish to detect or measure.

(4) That anyone who does have the ability to connect energetically possesses this ability similar to commonly perceived senses such as sight; Open your eyes and you see. I would point out bio feedback which has allowed us mere humans to place our brains in measurable alpha or beta states by thinking certain thoughts. Everyone is not capable of doing this to the same degree. This is measurable. How do you measure an energetic connection which you cannot define?

I don't know what point you are trying to make here. Yes, we need to define what we are attempting to assess. I don't know what the rest of this is supposed to mean.

As I consider your RCT viewpoint, which seems to be fairly dogmatic,


What is dogmatic about it? In my example, I indicate how a test or series of tests could confirm or dispute the existence of this hypothesized biofield energy. You can't just pick any old research method, willy-nilly, to try and do this. You have to do an experiment or, possibly, a series of experiments. Being dogmatic won't work at all, because the series cannot be planned until the first results are in.

If what you mean to say is, I think the only suitable test for the existence of this hypothesized energy is an experiment - well, then that's definitely correct.

I have to consider that part of the problem with reconciling the "energy" phenomena with statistical analysis is an apparent belief that the energy in question is a specifically definable quantity that acts alone and remains consistent with all individuals and relationships.

In the example, we are testing a single person.

Also, the possibility that this energy or the ability to detect it may vary in the population is a trivial problem. The exact same problem is encountered in every single assessment of human senses and abilities that has ever been done. It presents such little difficulty that it is hardly worth mentioning.

I cannot speak for others but I do not believe this connection acts independently rather than being a part of the whole.... Which brings us back to developing a "Whole Systems Research" model for this phenomena.

I've already expressed my opinion on this. It's a canard. The hypothesized energy either exists, or it doesn't. It can either be detected, or it can't. There is no need to be speculating how it works within a system before we even verify if it exists. This is especially true when there are plausible competing explanations for the given phenomena, which there are.

I don't usually say much about my own personal experience because it is by definition subjective, but I will say that some clients seem to be (my perception?) energetically 'closed' (guarded?) and very difficult to assess for treatment. Other clients seem to be energetically 'open' and with the same or even less verbal information I can very quickly determine where the problem is and know what they need. This is not a matter of their being willing to share what their symptoms are. It feels more like being plugged into some part of their autonomic nervous system. I can feel a change, but I can't really define what is happening. All this without evoking any energy 'modality'.

Well, that is interesting for what it is, but it certainly isn't proof of energy. I wouldn't even say it is evidence of energy.

If we want to know if this energy exists, the scientific test for it is a trivially easy one.

And thanks for making us think again.


Likewise.
A skeptic might say I know from previous experience that this is a likely cause of such pain - however something that I sensed made me go there... and I was not at all surprised when I found the restriction as I clearly 'felt' it. No way you could measure that.

Rick - What would you say if I said that act of detection is itself a measurement? That you not only can measure it, but that you are potentially doing so everytime you detect it?
You were describing sensing something, right?

"I was assessing a hip for rotation and flexion when I 'felt' there was restriction in the lateral line..."

But then you went on to say that what you felt could not possibly be measured.

"and I was not at all surprised when I found the restriction as I clearly 'felt' it. No way you could measure that."

Based on these statements, I was asking if your ability to feel this restriction isn't actually a form of measurement itself. What do you think?

And no, you're definitely not being dumb! It's important that we check to make sure we know what we are talking about from time to time. It's easy, if we don't do that, for each of us to start talking about something slightly different, until the discussion devolves into a case where no one is talking about the same topic.
I'm a skeptic, but at the same time, think there may be something to the whole energy work thing (though I think the main benefit is a placebo effect due to the *belief* of the one receiving the treatment, which can still be a scientifically valid benefit).

I did try it out with one client quite a while back who asked me to do it (I understand the theory, and have done 'energy manipulation' in some contexts years back before skepticism got the best of me), and was vocal about how powerful and direct my energy was, stuff about feeling areas of discomfort and dissipating/soothing tight aura fields (okay, terminology probably all wrong, but reiki isn't something I've studied). Anyhow, in that specific context (and with appropriate disclaimer that I was not a reiki practitioner), when requested by a client who believed strongly and was quite sure that what I was doing was helping her I was able to 'perform'. I could not in good conscience, however, offer energy work for a price to my general clientele, since I don't really believe in it, and it would likely serve only to make most of my clients think I'm more than just a little quirky.
Hi Rachel.

I'm a skeptic, but at the same time, think there may be something to the whole energy work thing (though I think the main benefit is a placebo effect due to the *belief* of the one receiving the treatment, which can still be a scientifically valid benefit).


Your position and mine are virtually the same; as best I can tell the only difference is in how we would word our individual positions or, possibly, whether we see energy and placebo as entirely distinct things.

I absolutely agree that placebo effects are possible from conducting a session or energy work; in fact, I'd go on to say that's the only type of effect that is possible. And yes, placebo effects are valid effects, and can benefit people. (However, there are some very important reasons why we cannot overuse this in practice, which may be a topic for a different discussion, or perhaps a tangent to the present discussion.)

To me, there is nothing to energy work - no energy, no main effects of energy. The placebo effect is a separate thing, and we know that ANY ritual is capable of producing some placebo effect. In fact, it the placebo effect which forces us to build certain design features into our clinical research studies, so that we can distinguish the effects of a possibly therapeutic agent from the therapeutic effects of belief and expectation.

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