Woo Woo Science

By Berard, Marc | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Woo Woo Science


Berard, Marc, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


A Review of The Living Energy Universe by Gary Schwartz and Linda Russek Hampton Roads Publishing, $21.95, hardcover 303 pp.

THE Living Energy Universe is a book of bold claims. There is, we are told, scientific evidence for many things such as God and life after death. But the claim that sets this book apart from others in the genre is the claim that everything in the universe "remembers." The evidence for this latter claim--that the authors wistfully hope is "Destined to win over even the staunchest of skeptics"--falls far short of being convincing. What Schwartz and Russek have done is to take the basic concept of feedback loops and introduce wild speculation and anecdotes as if they were evidence. They then treat these speculations as proven facts so they can build even wilder speculations on top of this flimsy foundation. Then they slap a third level of speculation on top of the first two, and so on. The end product is like a house of cards with a bowling ball--representing the Second Law of Thermodynamics--thundering down upon it.

During the course of the book, Schwartz and Russek tie what they call Systemic Memory Theory (SMT) to a wide range of paranormal claims. They see the phenomena as real events that are explained and even predicted by SMT. Because of this, I am inclined to refer to what the authors are doing as "Woo Woo Science," and the SMT as the "Grand Unified Woo Woo Theory." Among the paranormal phenomena mentioned are cellular memory, out-of-body experiences, after death contact, reincarnation, psychometry telepathy, qi, homeopathy, aroma therapy, herbalism, energy medicine, crystal healing, distant healing, spirit medicine, acupuncture, kinesiology akashic records, kaballa, and karma. As there is little more that anecdotal evidence for these claims, they do not lend support to the SMT theory. Unproven claims do not support unproven theories.

The Theory: Physical Systems. The theory begins with feed back loops. Two tuning forks, A and B, are used as an example. A is struck and starts to vibrate. The vibrations (al) travel out to the second fork, B, causing it to vibrate in resonance. The new vibrations (b1) were caused by (al) and are said to contain the history of (a). These vibrations which contain hi + al go back and strike the first fork A, and alter the manner in which it vibrates. The first fork is now vibrating in a pattern (a2). This (a2) is the result of (bl), which was originally generated by (al). Therefore the vibration (a2) contains the history of (bi) and (al). B is struck by the new vibration pattern, altering its vibrations, resulting in b2 = a2+bl+a1. As the loop goes on, its "history" accumulates. The history is termed "memory," and that it changes with each iteration is termed "evolutions."

It's at this point that we first encounter unsupported speculations backed up by false comparisons; that is, they mix their own invented definitions in with regular scientific definitions as if they were equal. All of this is somehow supposed to prove that the system has memory; that it evolves; and therefore it is alive. Note that this example does not take into account the unavoidable signal decay.

The authors repeatedly state that if SMT is true, then it is true at every level, from subatomic particles to galaxies and to the universe itself. Since they redefined a feedback loop as "living, remembering, evolving," then subatomic particles also remember, evolve, and are alive, as are galaxies. In other words, everything remembers, evolves and lives.

Another unsupported speculation in SMT is the idea of "emergent properties." The claim is that studying atoms or subatomic particles will not provide a clue as to what gives a water molecule its "waterness." Instead, SMT says, the properties of water come from how the atoms resonate in a systemic feedback loop. This appears to contradict a basic principle of chemistry--the idea that it really is the structure of atoms that gives substances their properties. …

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