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Quantum Medicine

by Steven Novella, Oct 28 2013

Earlier this month the World Congress of Quantum Medicine was held in Hawaii. You may be wondering what quantum medicine is. Here is a quick description from the congress website:

Quantum Medicine uses the principles of quantum physics such as non-locality, tangled hierarchy, and discontinuous leap in consciousness to better understand medicine.

How will attendees benefit?

If you could increase your knowledge and skills in just four exciting days… if you could learn new strategies for developing a true mind/body system of healing… if you could bring that knowledge back to your practice where you’ll get better results with your clients while increasing your income, then the benefits are incalculable.

Some of the talks are available on the website, so you can get a good idea of the content. The top video on the conference page is a panel discussion that opens with a discussion of Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy because of her genetic risk for breast cancer.

The first panelist made the point that her decision was a failure of “materialistic” medicine, and that all she needed to do was change her thinking. A positive attitude would have saved her from cancer.

The next panelist engages in what David Gorski has correctly called “genetic denialism.” He goes into a long discussion of epigenetics, and the regulation of gene expression to deny the predictive value of specific gene mutations on the risk of developing a particular disease.

There is no doubt that the regulation of gene expression is an important factor in normal biological function, disease, and health. However, the speaker is merely using the fact, greatly exaggerated, to argue that your mental attitude can upregulate or downregulate your gene expression to avoid cancer or achieve whatever health effect you need.

The third panelist is a physicist featured on What the Bleep do we Know, Dr. Amit Goswami. He wraps the nonsense from the first two speakers with a nice quantum bow, which is the apparent purpose of the conference. Ironically he states, “Ignorance is the worst thing that can happen to a society.” That is probably the one thing on which we agree.

In this brief sample of the conference we get a very clear picture of what is going on. Quantum medicine is just the same old pre-scientific, superstition-based, magical healing claims with an added layer of post-hoc pseudoscientific rationalization.

The core claims are no different than any vitalistic philosophy of healing. The notion is that your mind can control “energy” (never defined) to promote self-healing. This is just new-age faith healing – your thoughts can result in healing. However,  “thoughts” are described as “information and energy” that can “change the momentum of quantum physics.”

The “materialistic” approach to medicine is criticized relentlessly. Materialistic medicine, of course, is medicine based on actual science and evidence – on reality. The promoters of magical vitalistic medicine, however, do not like the notion that they are not based on reality. The purpose of “quantum medicine,” therefore, seems to be  to provide a patina of scientific rationalization to the magic that the gurus are selling.

This is an old strategy. When electromagnetism was first being described by scientists and was entering the public consciousness, the gurus of that time wrapped their snake oil in the terms of the new science. Mesmer, for example, called his hypnotism parlor medicine “animal magnetism.”

When X-rays were discovered around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, then radiation-based snake oil became popular. X-rays were a mysterious new energy of science, and energy = healing, according to the gurus.

In the middle of the 20th century healing with radio waves became popular. Radiowaves became the new healing energy.

Interestingly, all of these modes survive to today, except for radioactive tonics. You might think this is because of the threat of nuclear war, and this probably did have an impact, but radioactive tonics did not go away until they were expressly banned by the FDA.

Quantum physics is just the new radio wave medicine, radioactive tonic, electromagnetism. It is a mysterious aspect of physics not understood by most of the public, but it sounds cutting edge and sexy.

The fact that there is nothing in quantum mechanics which in any way supports the claims of the energy-medicine gurus is irrelevant to its use as a marketing strategy. Despite all the weirdness of non-locality and quantum entanglement, so far in experiments these effects cannot be used to transfer information or to violate the laws of physics (by, for example transmitting information at greater than the speed of light).

There is also absolutely no reason to suspect that these weird quantum effects are relevant outside the context of very carefully designed experiments. There is good reason, in fact, to conclude that they are not relevant at the level of the macroscopic world – of living organisms.

What “quantum medicine” also lacks is any paper-trail of research that establishes any of their claims or core principles. It is just science terminology grafted onto centuries-old vitalistic superstition.

The degree to which the gurus have wrapped themselves in the trappings of legitimate science and academia, however, is disturbing. They go to great pains to promote the credentials of the meeting, of the participants, in a desperate grab for the appearance of legitimacy.

If they were legitimate, however, they could just do quality research to establish that their ideas and claims are valid. That never seems to happen, however.

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13 Responses to “Quantum Medicine”

  1. David Hewitt says:

    It is unfortunate for us all that the fertilizer business is so lucrative.

  2. Luara says:

    Someone ought to review their quantum mechanics and go to the conference and ask the speakers a ton of technical QM questions :)
    There can be quantum effects at the scale of living organisms, for example superfluids and Bose-Einstein condensates. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macroscopic_quantum_phenomena

  3. Luara says:

    And see the article in Nature “The dawn of quantum biology” http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110615/pdf/474272a.pdf
    Quantum effects might explain how birds navigate, for example. (I wonder if magnetic field reversals cause extinctions btw).

  4. Max says:

    I think Mesmer died before electricity was unified with magnetism.
    Anyway, it’s funny that he talked about “animal magnetism” but didn’t use magnets, and that these quantum quacks merely promote happy thoughts instead of using semiconductors. Beats radioactive tonics that actually were radioactive, though now of course nuclear medicine includes radionuclide therapy to treat thyroid cancer among other things.

  5. NoseyNick says:

    Materialistic medicine vs immaterial medicine, you decide! :-)

  6. Mudguts Oz says:

    It may actually be humbling to realise how quickly radiotherapies were developed when looking at the credibility travails of the quantum quacks..

    There have been a few of these folk appearing at the oddest of fora over the years. I think it was one of the “Beyond Belief” series that an anaesthetist appeared to have a real wild shot to the bemusement of the audience

  7. Sue Darville UK says:

    I think you should send our Brian Cox over to refute all the claims. he is a champion for denouncing this sort of pseudoscience

  8. Loren Petrich says:

    Good idea, Luara in #3. Or some physicist could go, someone whose work involves exploring quantum-mechanical effects.

    I agree that it seems like vitalism all over again. It used to be a reputable hypothesis, but it’s nowadays a “vital force of the gaps” hypothesis. Gaps that are steadily shrinking as we learn more and more about the mechanisms behind living things’ processes.

    Consider Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphogenetic fields”, supposedly responsible for organism development. It must be conceded that we have a long way to go before we find out the full details of genes to shapes of many organisms. But we’ve been much more successful with metabolism and heredity, for example, so that’s why RS doesn’t talk about “metabolic fields” or “heredity fields”.

    It’s interesting that these latter-day vitalists haven’t politicized the vitalism issue the way that creationists have politicized creationism.

  9. Loren Petrich says:

    There’s a further problem. Atoms and chemical bonds owe their existence to quantum-mechanical effects, but just about everything that’s larger is well in the classical limit. Benzene rings and similar structures are a partial exception, but even those are not much bigger than atoms.

  10. Brian Schaefer says:

    I love it when close minded people write things that show how stupid they are. Russian scientists have been working in this field for quite some time now with quite stunning results. They have shown clear & strong evidence that everything in this article is 100% true, NO MATTER HOW UNBELIEVABLE! Russian scientist have shown in labs how our DNA encoding can be reprogrammed simply by the proper thoughts and words. Quantum physics has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that nothing is set in stone and the power of 1 single observers mind has the ability to change reality. It’s too bad there are so many idiots like you out there that don’t want to let go of their security blanket of the only reality they are willing to believe. Obviously you know absolutely nothing about quantum physics or quantum mechanics & yet you feel as if you have the right to make a mockery of a new field of medicine based entirely on these two new sciences. It’s sad that you are so close minded because all you see is this field as another snake oil, when so many experiments have been conducted that already prove you wrong. At least you will always think you are right since you will never believe it therefore you will never experience it. You should really do more research before you mock something that has been shown to be true in labs again & again!

    • neil messenger says:

      Brian

      So can you provide the references to support these claims?

    • tmac57 says:

      Fascinating! Please point us to the peer reviewed studies that these Russian scientists (who were they again?) have undoubtedly published in leading journals (surely they wouldn’t pass up a chance to showcase such an earth-shattering breakthrough).
      I can’t wait to see the evidence for this remarkable (quantum leap?) advance in medicine.