Thursday, May 28, 2009
The Science Behind Voodoo; And "No Touch Knockouts"
Readers may find this article in "The New Scientist" to be an interesting yet profound explanation for our ongoing study of "The No-Touch Knockout". I have written about my views on the subject HERE, but the article in "The New Scientist" made me think about the power of belief in health practices shuch as Chi Kung and the cultivation of Chi.
Once again, the scientific mind puts the burden of discovery in the power of suggestion.
Here are a few excerpts from "The Science of Voodoo: When Mind Attacks Body":
Late one night in a small Alabama cemetery, Vance Vanders had a run-in with the local witch doctor, who wafted a bottle of unpleasant-smelling liquid in front of his face, and told him he was about to die and that no one could save him.
Back home, Vanders took to his bed and began to deteriorate. Some weeks later, emaciated and near death, he was admitted to the local hospital, where doctors were unable to find a cause for his symptoms or slow his decline. Only then did his wife tell one of the doctors, Drayton Doherty, of the hex.
Doherty thought long and hard. The next morning, he called Vanders's family to his bedside. He told them that the previous night he had lured the witch doctor back to the cemetery, where he had choked him against a tree until he explained how the curse worked. The medicine man had, he said, rubbed lizard eggs into Vanders's stomach, which had hatched inside his body. One reptile remained, which was eating Vanders from the inside out.
Doherty then summoned a nurse who had, by prior arrangement, filled a large syringe with a powerful emetic. With great ceremony, he inspected the instrument and injected its contents into Vanders' arm. A few minutes later, Vanders began to gag and vomit uncontrollably. In the midst of it all, unnoticed by everyone in the room, Doherty produced his pièce de résistance - a green lizard he had stashed in his black bag. "Look what has come out of you Vance," he cried. "The voodoo curse is lifted."
Vanders did a double take, lurched backwards to the head of the bed, then drifted into a deep sleep. When he woke next day he was alert and ravenous. He quickly regained his strength and was discharged a week later.
Take Sam Shoeman, who was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer in the 1970s and given just months to live. Shoeman duly died in the allotted time frame - yet the autopsy revealed that his doctors had got it wrong. The tumour was tiny and had not spread. "He didn't die from cancer, but from believing he was dying of cancer," says Meador. "If everyone treats you as if you are dying, you buy into it. Everything in your whole being becomes about dying."
The "Nocebo Effect"
The placebo effect has an evil twin: the nocebo effect, in which dummy pills and negative expectations can produce harmful effects. The term "nocebo", which means "I will harm", was not coined until the 1960s, and the phenomenon has been far less studied than the placebo effect. It's not easy, after all, to get ethical approval for studies designed to make people feel worse.
What we do know suggests the impact of nocebo is far-reaching. "Voodoo death, if it exists, may represent an extreme form of the nocebo phenomenon," says anthropologist Robert Hahn of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, who has studied the nocebo effect.
Depressed after splitting up with his girlfriend, Derek Adams took all his pills... then regretted it. Fearing he might die, he asked a neighbour to take him to hospital, where he collapsed. Shaky, pale and drowsy, his blood pressure dropped and his breaths came quickly.
Yet lab tests and toxicology screening came back clear. Over the next 4 hours Adams received 6 litres of saline, but improved little.
Then a doctor arrived from the clinical trial of an antidepressant in which Adams had been taking part. Adams had enrolled in the study about a month earlier. Initially he had felt his mood buoyed, but an argument with his ex-girlfriend saw him swallow the 29 remaining tablets.
The doctor revealed that Adams was in the control group. The pills he had "overdosed" on were harmless. Hearing this, Adams was surprised and tearfully relieved. Within 15 minutes he was fully alert, and his blood pressure and heart rate had returned to normal.
The above picture is one I took at a seminar in Portland. Jack Hogan demonstrates a "No-Touch Knockout", this one successfully. That is to say, I have seen others fail miserably. As for the ones that work, there is definately something going on. Call it the power of suggestion, hypnosis, Mesmerism, Voodoo or whatever, the effect appears to be real from what I have seen. The United States Military (and others, no doubt) are also dabbling with this phenomonen as Jon Ronson describes in "The Men Who Stare At Goats".
-- I think that what all these studies confirm is that the power of suggestion and visualization affect us on a physical level both for better, and for worse. If we believe in healing through Chi cultivation, it will work for us. If we believe our instructor will knock us out, it is likely he will. Just because it is our mind controlling the event, it doesn't make the experiance less valid...