Thursday May 12, 2005
â€¢ Nobody is inviting me to any premieres for the US hit docudrama What the Bleep Do We Know!? â€” in cinemas next week â€” so all I know about it is the Telegraph magazine article that reader Ken Joy sent me. The film features the work of Dr Masaru Emoto, who, the article reports, has a PhD from the Open International University; it doesn’t mention that Bad Science bullied Channel 4′s Dr Bannock into rescinding a similar doctorate.
â€¢ The article, by “health and beauty writer” Kathy Phillips, credulously reports how Emoto photographed molecules of water from the Fujiwara dam in Japan through a microscope. A pretty strong microscope to photograph molecules, you might think. Then he had the water blessed: “When photographed, the water molecule had transformed into a beautiful snowflake shape.” Nice. “[Jars of] water photographed after positive words such as ‘love’ and ‘thank you’ was [sic] taped to them overnight produced beautiful patterns,” writes Phillips. “Those with words like ‘you make me sick’, ‘war’ or ‘hate’ attached, resulted in fractured, wild shapes.”
â€¢ The point of all this, in the film, is that the troubled lead character covers herself in hearts and lies in the bath, because she is made of water, and this affects her in a similar way and makes her feel better. But to me this tells a deeper story about alternative therapies: about intellectual laziness, and how self-centred we can be. After all, how indulgent do we have to be, to put humans at the centre of the universe, and say that if we bless water, then by our human aesthetics its shapes will become “more beautiful”, that water will read whatever language we write. Perhaps, that’s what still most unsettles people about science, that we are no longer at the centre of the universe.
â€¢ But more than that, how sad to let the field of mind-body interactions, the effect of mood on the body, and on health: to let that be monopolised by people like Emoto. There is the huge, fascinating field of psychoneuroimmunology: it presents us with an intellectually challenging, incomplete story, rather than a simplistic, complete one involving nice words on a jam jar. There’s a fascinating and reasonably coherent story about how stress hormones, such as cortisol, can affect depression, illness, and even addiction, through interaction with the amygdala and other parts of the brain. There’s nothing wrong with thinking positively, and there’s no reason to think it won’t work, but why retreat into nonsense?