Oct 28 2013

Quantum Medicine

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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15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Quantum Medicine”

  1. PharmD28on 28 Oct 2013 at 12:39 pm

    learned a new term “patina”…nice

    question:

    Do we have any sense how many find this stuff in the realm of “reasonable”

    What just KILLS me is that from time to time someone will discuss “orthodox medicine” or “western medicine” and compare and contrast it to this stuff….and we are told that one is trying to just “fix symptoms” and others are trying to be more “holistic”….

    I have met a few healthcare professionals that have gone down the crazy road of this sorta stuff…it is a really odd thing….met a pharmD from USC pharmacy school that told me all about all these cures for cancer (largely seemed to be rooted in this “gerson method”)…

    Point being is, how do people get to believing this stuff? Even “educated” people.

    I can only say that in the field of medicine, we are in schools not teaching basics of critical thinking…of course you could extend that critique back to high school and so on….

    Now, lets all go tell these cancer patients to pray..errr…I meant think away their illnesses

  2. steve12on 28 Oct 2013 at 5:20 pm

    One of these QM “Doctors” gotta a hold of my Dad when he was first diagnosed with Lupus. She asked him to stop taking meds and meditate. She even had some quantum device she wanted him to get in.

    Luckily he asked me first and gave me her contact info. I sent her an email that she did not return – but she left my father alone after that….

  3. rocken1844on 28 Oct 2013 at 7:37 pm

    PharmD28 makes a great point. Aren’t these people trying to practice medicine without a license?

    Richard Brenneman in his book Deadly Blessings states (p.138) “the FTC had determined that psychic surgery was ‘pure fakery and a fraud.’” He cites Federal Trade Commission Decisions 86 FTC 715.
    I don’t understand why there isn’t more scrutiny and more action against these claims for supernatural healing.

    Take for example PBS promoting Wayne Dyer and his “Wishes Fulfilled”. From his book p. 71
    “Today, the world of quantum physics confirms that the universe is made of formless (spirit) energy, and that particles (that is, things) do not originate from particles (things). Everything springs from something that is akin to your imagination….You can’t prove it with mathematical formulas or scientific verification. Yet we all know that it exists….You simply know that you have an imagination, and that this imagination is the Source of all being.”

    On p.125 he quotes a woman who reports her NDE “I then understood that when people have medical treatments for illnesses, it rids the illness only from their body but not from their energy, so the illness returns.” Further down the page Dyer adds, “You don’t have to know what the state of your energetic predisposition for some illness might be—all you need do is align your subconscious mind with the conscious suggestion that you have an energy body, and if you can heal the energy that presupposed your illness, then you can quickly and permanently heal your physical body.”
    Personally I think PBS has failed the public in not properly investigating the claims made by Dyer.

  4. Davdoodleson 29 Oct 2013 at 1:57 am

    What amazes me most about these weirdos is their incredible hubris.

    What sort of a mind can casually dismiss all of science, substitute it with some random ass-pulled baloney, and not even entertain the possibility that they might be wrong?

    Narcissus, clearly, was an amateur.
    .

  5. nybgruson 29 Oct 2013 at 8:34 am

    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.

    Sean Carrol has a great talk on exactly why quantum effects simply cannot act on the macroscopic world. Here is a 10 minute synopsis of his much longer lecture.

    The basic gist is that we now have enough physics validated within the standard model to know that any forces remaining to be described (whether the ones we know or don’t know yet) must either be so weak that they cannot exert any relevant force on anything we actually care about or if they are strong enough to do so must act on distances so short that they cannot have any sort of aggregate effect big enough to affect anything we care about. Sure, these forces could revolutionize our understanding or even technology, but only in ways specifically designed to take advantage of them like quantum computing and nano tech.

  6. HHCon 29 Oct 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Ms. Jolie’s decision-making regarding her breast is a statistics game. Albeit based on medical research statistics which can’t predict a one hundred percent “safe life” from cancer. Her mental health issues are intense fear of breast cancer, depression which occurs from her beloved mother’s death, and excessive worrying about being “there” for her flock of children. Living a slower paced life in her Hollywood world is not possible. She wants a guaranteed happily-after ending, once surgeries are performed at great expense.

  7. BillyJoe7on 30 Oct 2013 at 5:37 am

    nybgrus,

    Howdy!

    “Sean Carrol has a great talk on exactly why quantum effects simply cannot act on the macroscopic world. Here is a 10 minute synopsis of his much longer lecture”

    Recently, I discovered that population genetics has ruled out a first couple and hence destroyed the foundational beliefs of all the Christian religions.
    And, for a long time, I have understood that physics has ruled out paranormal phenomena, but I didn’t understand that that included “life after death”.

    Goddamn!

  8. nybgruson 30 Oct 2013 at 8:01 am

    @HHC:

    You are fundamentally misunderstanding both of the points you are trying to make.

    Albeit based on medical research statistics which can’t predict a one hundred percent “safe life” from cancer

    Not too put too fine a point on it but, duh! You realize that the statistics told her she had an 80ish% chance of developing breast cancer, right? Which means, by definition she had a 20% chance of not developing breast cancer no matter what she did or didn’t do. Furthermore, everything in the universe is a statistic game. Literally everything. The very fundamental nature of the fabric of the cosmos is statistical. It’s just the the type of statistics and the number of variations in the outcomes change a bit as we go from the quantum to the cosmic scale. Every single decision you have made – and will make – is a statistical one. Both from a fundamental sense in terms of how your brain operates to generate a decision in the first place (note, I did not say “make” a decision since we don’t do that in the libertarian sense of free will) and in terms of what we think the likeliest outcome will be. We often don’t notice this because we take many mental shortcuts and most things in life that we choose are certain enough that we ignore the small chance we may be wrong. We also don’t always know what all the variables and possible outcomes are, so we act in ignorance. Thankfully in modern society most of the time we are blissfully unaware of that ignorance.

    And, of course, her decision would have no bearing on other cancers she could develop over her lifetime (BRCA1 mutation also confers increased chances of ovarian cancer, but skin, colon, lung, etc are still very much on the table for her, so to speak).

    Her mental health issues are intense fear of breast cancer, depression which occurs from her beloved mother’s death, and excessive worrying about being “there” for her flock of children.

    This is not a mental health issue. This is what we call the concept of “patient centered medicine.” Exactly the stuff that many sCAMsters accuse us of not practicing or caring about. My role as a physician is to be an expert of what the best science can tell us about likelihoods of outcomes and what can and cannot be done within the confines of reality to address them. I cannot then tell my patient what (s)he should value in terms of those outcomes. An 80% risk of breast cancer may be terrifying to some people and may be rather mundane to others. This could also depend on age at time of realization of this statistic. To someone with no children and no family it may be less profound. To someone who just had a child it may be of paramount importance. What to do about it is also a value based choice. For some, surgery may be very palatable. For others, increased watchfulness and regular surveillance banking on a lumpectomy may be better while others would not be able to tolerate constant anxiety caused over worry about missing the cancer should it develop.

    I can’t make those kinds of decisions for my patient, the same way nobody can make them for me. I like to use the example of my shoulder – I skipped physical therapy and went straight to surgery for repair because of my circumstances and my desires for a higher chance of earlier recovery. And I did this knowing I cannot take narcotics for pain relief and, despite it proving to be more pain than I have ever experienced, would do it again in the same circumstance.

    One tricky part we walk (or should, anyways, I think too many of my colleagues don’t) is the grey area where people are making what we would consider objectively bad decisions. I can be somewhat – but not completely – certain that a patient refusing life saving treatment will be likely to express appreciation at having undergone the treatment after the fact. I also know data shows that people can and do adapt surprisingly well to severe disability even if they felt a priori that they would not. So I have to try and encourage and convince my patients to follow those options, but do so in a non-coercive manner that doesn’t offer false hope and at the same time prepare them for the chance that it may not work out the way we are hoping it will. A tricky proposal to say the least, and not one you will always get right. But when a patient dies and the family comes to me and thanks me for everything I did and said anyways, I know I am on the right track.

    So anyways, you seem to be imbuing what you think she wants rather than what she actually wants and basing that on a misunderstanding of how things actually work.

  9. nybgruson 30 Oct 2013 at 8:10 am

    @BJ:

    G’day to yourself mate! I still do read all the posts and many of the comments even though I am not commenting myself much these days. But that one was quick and I figured you and some of the others here, including Dr. Novella, may like that video. I’ll probably have one last hurrah of commenting starting in December and finishing sometime in April but definitely by July. I am a mere 2.5 weeks from graduation and have a few residency interview to go to and of course the holidays, but after that will have much more free time on my hands. Then residency starts in July and I will be lucky to keep up with posts, let alone comments.

    In any event, yes – I’ve known about the population genetics for some time. For whatever reason though, it has not been something that has come to the fore of my argumentation with the Jesusy type folks until rather recently and so I have only had one such opportunity to use it. Suffice it to say, the individual was not at all convinced about the veracity of evolution so the argument fell a bit flat. But clearly in the right context it would be quite powerful. I am hoping to try it out when the opportunity presents itself someday. The approach would be tricky since just dropping it on them would be likely met with stark resistance or denial, regardless of what they think about evolution. It is easy enough for someone to simply not understand or appreciate population genetics even while they believe in the veracity of evolution. So my tack would be to weave it in as a general conversation about evolution, genetics, population dynamics and – my other favorite argument along those lines – the idea that Ceiling Cat must have at some point decided that our specific hominid line was the one that got a soul. Exactly when or how, and at what point along the inexolerably slow continuum of evolution, is anyone’s guess but clearly that is the implicit argument made by theists who accept evolution. There’s a good reason why the fundagelicals oppose it so vehemently – it really does actually destroy all mainstream theism. Of course, as with all religion, cognitive dissonance and special pleading comes easy to them so they can just jam that square peg in a round hole and believe it fits nicely, with their sky fairy having fun with nucleotide substitutions over eons.

    Best wishes!

  10. ccbowerson 30 Oct 2013 at 11:13 am

    “I still do read all the posts and many of the comments even though I am not commenting myself much these days.”

    I have occasionally wondered about that, because you used to comment fairly frequently. I assumed you didn’t read the blog as much due to time constraints. I think I would have to avoid reading the comments altogether in order to avoid commenting. This is the only blog in which I do that, though.

    Anyways, good luck with all thoses changes. When you have a few minutes, stop by and comment from time to time.

  11. HHCon 30 Oct 2013 at 7:25 pm

    nybgrus, Gee whiz, Dr. Rey, Dr. 90210, stated in a open discussion that he refers his breast plastic surgery patients for psychiatric consultation. He does not do all requested surgeries.

  12. kincadeda@gmail.comon 02 Jan 2014 at 11:36 pm

    I completely disagree with the idea of Sean Carroll’s posted here, if he indeed said that:

    “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.”

    This makes no sense to me… watch a cell purposely build micro-tubues and other “cyto-skelital” strucutres towards food pushing the membrane that way, while dis-assembling them on the back side… note all the “electron stripping” activities of cells, photo-synthesis etc. and tell me there is no chance that they aren’t actually doing this on purpose?? IF THEY ARE, then definitely quantum effects are effecting biological systems.

    Sean doesn’t know what he’s talking about if he actually said that. Sorry. Secondly… why would ANY effect only work “within a carefully designed experiment”?? LOL, that’s pretty lame! In other words, there is NO GOOD REASON to assume that any effect observed on a certain level isn’t at work EVERYWHERE on that level… wake up Sean!!

    DAK

  13. nybgruson 06 Jan 2014 at 9:56 am

    @kincadeda:

    So you are a theoretical physicist as well? But of course, Carroll also wasn’t saying that the quantum has no effect on the macro. In fact, a really cool experiment showed that quantum effects DO actually persist into the macro world. The issue is that as we become macro, those effects become smaller and smaller until they are essentially non-existent for any purpose relevant to macro-sized beings. The reason why they only “work” in a carefully designed experiment is because they are so small that the only way to isolate them and actually have them DO something is in said experiment. The point being that quantum physics does not in any meaningful way dictate biology. Period. And the discovery of the Higgs boson shows us that any forces and interactions left that we HAVEN’T yet discovered also cannot act in a meaningful way on biological systems. In other words, those (like Chopra or religious folks) who try to assert that there is something else “hidden” in the quantum world that influences biology are now demonstrated to be wrong. There cannot exist any force that matters except in theoretical physics. Now of course, we could – once we are knowledgeable and clever enough – exploit these for our purposes, but that is very different than those forces playing a role in our biology, physiology, consciousness, or evolution. That door has been closed (at 9 sigma confidence).

    So until you actually ARE a theoretical physicist I would suggest you refrain from making such confident statements. Particularly when it involves TWO fields you obviously are not particularly expert in.

  14. gandocson 24 Feb 2014 at 9:10 am

    Generally I never leave a comment on blogs, but this latter very prideful comment made me a little bit upset.

    I have to protect @kincadeda’s claims, because he has absolutely right.

    In a past few years, there are a growing number of scientific evidence, that quantum processes play a significant role in different biological phenomenons, like photosynthesis, birds navigation, human consciousness, DNA point mutation or even smell.

    I would recommend some further readings especially for those whom “Has a chill run down your spine whenever you see the word “quantum” applied to a health claim” and for those who think it seriously:
    “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.”

    First of all a good review:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110615/full/474272a.html

    And some technical (but very interesting) papers:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v446/n7137/full/nature05678.html
    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/29/12766
    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140109/ncomms4012/full/ncomms4012.html
    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2010/feb/04/quantum-mechanics-boosts-photosynthesis
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0303264713000440
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20234806

    And at the end a highly speculative, provocative and controversial paper:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1571064513001188
    (One of your favorite “crank” has also commented this paper…)

    For those who does not like to read scientific papers I would like to show some interesting presentations in this topic:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwgQVZju1ZM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZXS-cQ8Vj8

    There are many scientists and research groups working in the field of quantum biology:
    http://www2.surrey.ac.uk/physics/people/jim_al-khalili/
    http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/quantum_biology/

    According to my personal opinion the fanatic and sometimes arrogant skepticism (what is represented by some comment here and is rooted in a smattering of knowledge) is at least as harmful for the progress of the science as the pseudoscientific explanation of a given question.

    Regards,

    G.

  15. Steven Novellaon 24 Feb 2014 at 12:03 pm

    gandocs – I have to disagree with your overview.

    Even the very links you provide indicate that the relevance of quantum effects are “rare” in nature, in very specific situations. There is continued skepticism among scientists about this “emerging field” – specifically, if it has any broad applicability beyond a couple special cases. Advocates have to take an admittedly “broad” definition of “quantum biology.”

    In other words, sure, there are some special cases where identifiable quantum effects are operating at the level of molecules and photons (as with the photosynthesis example) that have macroscopic effect.

    This is also not what I and others are talking about when we criticize “quantum medicine.” Of course quantum effects are meaningful and deepen our understanding of what is happening. Quantum explanations are also needed to understand certain macroscopic phenomena. But for the most part such effects are lost to decoherence before you get to anything macroscopic.

    You also have to ask – which quantum effects? Generally, quantum quacks are talking about non-locality and the observer effect – things which absolutely do not exist outside of careful experiments. The examples you are linking to deal with coherence at the level of photons, and the new information has to do with these effects surviving long enough at ambient temperature to affect energy transfer. (And remember, this is all still too new to make any firm pronouncements. Nothing is settled.)

    The bottom line is that your examples do not make kinkadeda’s claims correct or invalidate our position.

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