Many of you who are starting to become aware of this “shadow-world” of pseudoscience and alternative medicine quackery may be wondering how John Q. Public and Jane Q. Taxpayer can indeed separate the wheat from the chaff.
Reading about real science and medicine from credible sources (science or healthcare professionals and avowed skeptics like Steven Novella, Joe Schwarcz, and Stephen Barrett) is certainly the best long-term investment you can make in educating yourself, but quackery occasionally throws a bone even to the ill-informed. By feverishly trying to pass as science, like a parasitic worm inside a person’s gut, pseudoscience tends to appropriate the latest lingo that scientists develop. One of the scientific words often held hostage by peddlers of nonsense is “quantum”.
Indeed, if one is worried about the volume of his ejaculate and the length of his orgasm, there is a miracle solution: Quantum Pills. They contain a mixture of herbs that “increase the body’s circulation”, “stimulate increased production of testosterone”, and “boost the body’s production of semen”1. Do they work? Probably not. Why “quantum”? Because it has an allure of mysticism and near-future possibilities. So what does the word “quantum” actually mean?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary first offers us a simple definition of the noun “quantum”:
“physics : the smallest amount of many forms of energy (such as light)”2
Many of you may be familiar with the word “photon”, which is a particle of light. A photon can also be described as a quantum of light, as it is the smallest discreet bundle of light we know of. The word “quantum” has its first recorded use in 1567 and comes from the Latin for “how much”.
“Quantum” can also be used as an adjective:
“physics : of, relating to, or using the principles of quantum theory”2
Quantum theory. Quantum physics. Quantum mechanics. Subjects which should be vaguely familiar to anyone who watches The Big Bang Theory. Quantum mechanics happens to be a subdiscipline of physics which concerns itself with physical phenomena at the atomic and subatomic scales. This is pretty much as small as we can get, well below the microscopic scale of cells and bacteria. Cells are made of macromolecules, like lipids and proteins, themselves made of smaller molecules, which are formed by atoms, which are composed of subatomic particles, like quarks and bosons. Quantum mechanics is our scientific model for how these atoms and their constituting parts interact with each other. One aspect of the subatomic-scale physical world with which quantum mechanics concerns itself is the wave-particle duality. For instance, certain experiments show light behaving like a stream of particles, while others show light behaving like a wave.
While these concepts may seem exotic and irrelevant to our macroscopic world, the mathematical equations of quantum mechanics and our understanding of the behaviour of subatomic particles have resulted in real-world applications, like microchips, the electron microscope, and magnetic resonance imaging. The future is also brimming with the possibility of quantum mechanics delivering even more interesting real-life applications of its findings, such as quantum cryptography and quantum computers, which have been touted as much, much faster than our classical computers.
So that’s what “quantum” is, the smallest bundle of energy and an adjective used to describe the branch of physics that deals with the interactions of incredibly small particles. What “quantum” isn’t is a form of therapy.
Meet Ed, the Quantum Medicine Man. No, Ed is no superhero, despite the comic-book-friendly name. Ed sells suede pouches filled with vials of “energized” water, pouches he calls “medicine bundles”. These bundles also contain a crystal filled with “new 2012 energies” because, as we all know, energy gets pretty weak by the end of the calendar year. It’s always a good idea to make sure our energy isn’t past its expiration date.
The pouches also allow you to turn off your “death hormone”. Apparently, we all have a “death hormone”, although whack-jobs seem uncertain as to whether it is cortisol (the stress hormone), estrogen (the primary female hormone), or DECO (the made-up hormone, as far I can tell, as I have not been able to find a single reliable source for the existence of it). Regardless, it has its own website, thedeathhormone.com. Hormones owning virtual property? Welcome to the now.
Ed goes on to quote a story not unlike that of Scientology, that demonic beings from a “quantum world” haunt us and suck our energy. By providing them with “quantum energy”, such as the one that he sells, we are helping them become properly energized so they can find their way home.
Hopefully, most people reading this are smart enough to realize this is quackery. But other peddlers of nonsense have achieved a “quantum” leap in credibility. They have university degrees.
Meet “Dr.” Michael Wayne, the head of the Center for Quantum-Integral Medicine. You may ask, “what is quantum-integral medicine?” “Dr.” Wayne is ahead of you.
“The theory of Quantum-Integral Medicine blends the newer sciences – quantum theory, complexity theory, and the theory of emergence – with spirituality, in order to create a framework for understanding the mechanism of the innate healing system and the capacity for human potential.”3
“Dr.” Wayne commits the logical fallacy of “blinding with science”. Throw enough fancy scientific terms at people and they will believe you are a figure of authority on the matter, even if they cannot for the life of them comprehend what you are trying to say. In his book How to Win Every Argument, Madsen Pirie gives a great example of this fallacy:
“The amotivational syndrome is sustained by peer group pressure except where achievement orientation forms a dominant aspect of the emotional and social milieu.
(Which means roughly that people don’t work if their friends don’t, unless they want to get on. Now this may be true or false, but many are daunted from challenging what is dressed up to look like an expert view.)”4
What “Dr.” Wayne means to say is that he uses modern theories in physics, computer science, mathematics, and philosophy and combines them to spirituality to explain how the body heals itself and what we are capable of. But what does quantum mechanics have to do with our immune system? Absolutely nothing. “Dr.” Wayne is simply using the clout a word like “quantum” has to make people believe he’s on to something.
And what’s with the quotation marks around “Dr.”, you may ask? It turns out that Michael Wayne “[…] has a Ph.D. in the field of Quantum-Integral Medicine, which is about the science of emerging properties, and how it relates to the innate healing system and human potential.”3. You can look at the Harvard University website all you want, you will not find a program in Quantum-Integral Medicine. The only institution I could find which offers this dubious program is the aptly-named Quantum University, where you can also enter the Quantum Health Entrepreneur program. The curriculum of the doctorate program in Quantum-Integral Medicine includes courses such as “Quantum Health Care Management” and “Quantum Doctor”. I personally vote for “Doctor Quantum” to be the title of Syfy’s next science fiction series.
If you are still not convinced that Michael Wayne, Ph.D. in Quantum-Integral Medicine from Quantum University, is not practicing evidence-based medicine—and I hope he’s not practicing anything resembling medicine, as he is not an MD—take a look at one of the numerous articles of his which litter the website of the Center. He describes a trance ceremony thusly:
“I have speculated that what they did was excite the vibrations of the electrons in the room until they were moving at a rate that allowed them to resonate more effectively with the quantum state. Since the quantum state is akin to the state of Spirit, in essence through the ritual they were able to make us closely connected to Spirit; or perhaps for a moment we became Spirit.”5
Sigh. Next time you are on the Internet, remember that Marvin Gaye sung about sexual healing, not quantum healing.
For a thorough debunking of a similar pseudoscientific institution, this time the American Academy of Quantum Medicine, go read Dr. Stephen Barrett’s article at QuackWatch.
Feature image by Nerd608
1. Quantum Pills. “Quantum Volume Pills FAQs”. Accessed September 13, 2013. http://www.quantumpills.com/faqs.html#1.
3. Quantum-Integral Medicine. “About QIM”. Accessed September 13, 2013. http://www.quantumintegralcenter.com/about_quantum_integral_medecine.htm.
4. Pirie, Madsen. How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.
5. Wayne, Michael. “Shamanism, Mysticism and Quantum Borders of Reality”. Accessed September 14, 2013. http://www.quantumintegralcenter.com/articles.cfm?mode=display&article=5.