Welcome to my blog

Hello. I am Sherlock and this is my diary. My job title is "osteopath", and my work is problem-solving. This involves detective work, hence my name. Detective work involves reason and science, but is not limited by them. It also involves the eye of experience, and "hunches". Thus, some would regard my activities as those of a quack, a title I assume here with irony. I am writing this blog because I like writing. I am quite opinionated, and perhaps I suffer from a repressed need for expression. I have no particular prior "agenda"; if I have any bees in my bonnet, no doubt they will make themselves apparent by their buzzing. All names and identifying details of any people featuring in these anecdotes have been changed. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Über-Creature shall inherit the Earth

I have often observed how intelligent people can have a stupid side. This is again evident in the wish expressed this week by scientists at SETI to send targeted messages far into space. These messages will announce our existence and inform about our knowledge and culture, and they will be specifically aimed at solar systems thought to contain planets with conditions compatible with intelligent life.

Some scientists (such as Stephen Hawkins) have opined that the only option for humanity's long-term survival, given an expanding population and limited Earthly resources, will be to go and colonise other planets. If that is the case, might not intelligent aliens have had the same idea? But look at our planet, what has happened, historically, when one population has colonised the territory of another? In the worst cases, it has been extinction or slavery of the colonised, in the best, exploitation, subjugation, environmental and societal degradation. And we are talking about colonisers and colonised of the same species. How much more likely would be bad consequences for humankind if the world were colonised by creatures of a completely different biological species, perhaps with a very different emotional perspective from our own?

Governments and companies spend billions trying to keep their secrets out of the hands of possible enemies or rivals. And yet those selectively stupid boffins at SETI wish to broadcast them to the universe at their own expense!

No doubt these partially sighted idealists are thinking of all the possible benefits for mankind that may accrue: knowledge about our universe, exchange of technological advancements, inter-galactic town twinning, and so on. Tell the only true Americans of the benefits of colonisation. If history is anything to go by, the chances of a happy outcome of such an interaction are far outweighed by the chances of an unhappy one.

I explored the question of whether or not we should worry about the end of human life on Earth in a previous post. There I argued that the world would go on quite happily without us, life would flourish, albeit not human, and there were really no good reasons, except perhaps spiritual ones, to anticipate mourning for our impending doom. But there I assumed that it would be lowly forms of Earthly life to take over from us, at least in the immediate future. But now we have another prospect - the supremacy of the alien Über-Creature! We shouldn't need to worry too much personally. It will take a few hundred years for our signals even to reach the nearest likely planet. Or should we?

What if the human race was not exterminated or absorbed by natural or genetically engineered means into the conquerers. What if instead human beings were enslaved as beasts of burden? Now, my background is scientific and I consider myself to have a scientific attitude, open to all possibilities yet without committing unreasonable belief to any. As such I consider reincarnation to be a possibility, but my attitude to its plausibility is neutral. As yet there is no way of proving or disproving it, nor any means to assign it an index of plausibility. So, I think, it is at least possible that you and I will, in future lives, be enslaved by Über-Creatures, and the chances that that will happen sooner will be increased should the galactic meddlers at SETI have their way.

They plan a public consultation on whether they should proceed. You can give your views here. Please tell them their scheme is very stupid.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Alternative confusion

I was at a hardware store recently and in conversation with the owner it emerged that I was a practitioner of osteopathy. This man immediately became very interested and began to recount his (negative) opinion of conventional medicine and to heap high praise upon an alternative practitioner who had treated his family. This man is a homeopath and "bioresonance" practitioner. (When people use the word "bioresonance" they are usually referring to the use of one of these black boxes). The shop owner asked me if I practised bioresonance. "Because osteopathy, naturopathy, energetic medicine, homeopathy, it's all really the same thing", he reasoned aloud, enthusiastic. No I told him, I practise osteopathy. Oh, well I must immediately get in touch with this luminary doctor with a view to establish a working relationship, I was told.

A few weeks later I was at a dinner party and, again in conversation, a lady asked me what I did for a living, and on hearing the answer, asked me hopefully if I did Reiki. No I told her, I do osteopathy.

This troubles me a bit. I understand why people might assume that being "alternative" makes different disciplines similar. But in reality, the therapeutic disciplines classed as non-conventional cover a vast range from those that seem quite reasonable and plausible to those that are no more than mumbo-jumbo. Asking an osteopath if he/she does bioresonance therapy or Reiki is logically akin to asking a plumber whether he/she does landscape gardening - there is no logical connection!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

E = mc2 - Part 3

More and more people come telling me that "everything is energy". This must be the increasing consciousness I also keep hearing about.

I understand this point of view. It is nice to think that everything in the universe shares a fundamental nature: it gives a sense of connectedness. And that that essential nature is not static and separate but fluidly merging and in constant transformation. "Everything is matter" would not have quite the same connotations.

It might be better to say "everything has the potential for energetic transformation", at least so long as entropy has not run its full course (and then who knows what might happen... or not?) Pedantic to be sure, but it also affords an insight

It occurs to me that a suitable new-age answer might be: "No, all is ONE". It isn't - not here, not now, in the day-to-day, material world. But we can approximate it in our minds sometimes, which may be just as important if not more.

The energetic property of things is inherent in their separateness. In other words, the very fact of the "all" separating into distinct things, is what causes the tensions under which they become energetic. What is the potential for energetic transformation if not a tension in the structure of the universe: a tension caused by a difference in location or pressure or charge or temperature, for instance?

The tensions are reflected in the minds of humans who find some discomfort in a world of heterogeneous disunity, which is partially resolved with perceptions of unity. The transformational phenomenon we call energy unites us and the universe, approximating it a little, psychologically and physically, to the state of all being one.

E = mc2 - Part 1
E = mc2 - Part 2

Monday, 20 October 2014

Wizardry and empowerment

I've just received a magazine calling itself a health guide. It has articles like "School of Ascension and Illumination" and "Angels of Atlantis" in it. There is also an article about my profession, osteopathy, which churns out a bunch of tired old half-truths, dogma and poorly understood physiology. I have also received an e-mail advertising a forthcoming "Energy Week" full of much of the same thing and offering to help me towards true consciousness and empower me.

This is what I think: Encouraging people to think in terms of magic and gurus is not empowering, it is limiting. So thank you, but no thank you.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Dream coincidence

My companion has suitcase dreams. She has to leave on a train or a boat or a plane, and time is running short, and she can't fit everything in her suitcase, or she can't find the things she needs to put in it, and such like. She doesn't have these dreams every night, but they are quite frequently repetitive, occurring say, a couple of times a month. Two mornings ago my companion woke up and said, “What a night! I've been packing suitcases the whole night.” “How extraordinary”, I said, “So have I”.

I don't have frequently repetitive suitcase dreams like my partner, although I have had them. We had not been planning any imminent trip. Nothing that had happened in the preceding days that I can think of had anything to do with travel. I am aware that dreams may contain content that is disguised in symbolic ways. But that we should both symbolise in the same way on the same night seemed remarkable to me. It is true that the next day I had planned a short hike with a friend which would involve putting a few things in a small back pack, but that is a simple thing I do every week without trauma or stress!

If I discount the possibility that our synchronous dreaming was the result of a common waking experience, I am left with these other possibilities:
  1. It was random coincidence, pure and simple. 
  2. It was some form of thought sharing: thought transference from one to the other, or thought entrainment.
  3. Some kind of outside influence was at work upon both of us: a miasma, the confluence of geocosmic forces, some kind of psychological morphic field, an evil spirit, or such like.
On first sight, the event seemed extraordinary, so I was not inclined to accept that it was a mere coincidence. But then I thought, "Hang on a minute, let's do this scientifically". I calculated the odds against the coincidence to be around 2776 to 1, based on my companion having a suitcase dream on average twice a month, and myself twice a year (the latter estimate perhaps being generous). That would mean, on average, once every 7.6 years, we are likely to have a suitcase dream on the same night. We have been together for thirteen years and it hasn't, that we know of, happened before, so an occasion such as this was due. In fact the odds may be lower than this, because dreams are not random events, even though most of us can't fathom what might trigger them. And correspondingly, we may well have had similarly synchronous suitcase dreams previously: we neither remember all our dreams nor tell each other about all of the ones we do remember. Perhaps this was not an extraordinary event after all.

William of Occam cautioned against unnecessary assumptions and multiple hypotheses when one simple one will do. He would no doubt have accepted the fact above as random coincidence. But the simplest or the most plausible hypothesis isn't necessarily the right one. If we accept it without examining others we simplify our lives but may be no nearer knowing the truth. So, although coincidence here turns out to be a simple and perfectly plausible explanation, this does not necessarily mean that thought transference, morphic fields or naughty goblins are not the true one! (But neither do we have any reason from this experience to believe in any of them!)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

I would be a white willow

Buddhism and Hinduism teach that your actions in this life will determine your situation in your next life. This gives us an element of control over our fate, through the choices we make. The ideal is to progress steadily from life to life, through evolution of the consciousness, from the less advanced to the more advanced forms of life until the attainment of nirvana (bliss) and the liberation from the endless cycle of birth and death.

Here is an interesting little exercise in self-knowledge which is based on the idea of karma. You must decide what you would be in your various reincarnations, starting as a flower, tree or some other kind of plant, then moving through the animal kingdom from less to more advanced forms of life. You could include some kind of invertebrate animal, a fish, reptile or amphibian, a bird, and as many mammals as you like. Here is mine.

I would be a white willow,
with silvery leaves blown swirling in the breeze,
which freshens the valley where I stand,
and the tumbling stream my constant companion.

I would be a mayfly,
rising on a sunny evening at the dawn of summer,
to live my life out in a single euphoric day,
before falling again to the water that bore me.

I would be a dragon fly,
cobalt blue and shiny,
flying zig and flying zag, beholding the world,
with my strange eyes and strange brain.

I would be a salmon from the deep Atlantic,
ascending a clear river with leaps and thrusts of my tail,
driven by primeval urge back to my origin,
and exhausted by my trials, to mate and die.

I would be a kingfisher,
and I would dart like a brilliant arrow,
beneath the willows,
you might catch but a glimpse.

But I would be an eagle too,
circling the highest peaks in the rarest air,
a master of the currents,
and surveyor of the world far below.

I would be a bear in the forest,
solitary, powerful and moody,
in winter asleep in my den,
in summer catching salmon up by my friend the willow.

And I would be an otter,
playing in the water,
fishing or just having fun,
with my playful mate.

When I re-read this after I had written it, I could see several themes. The most striking of all is that almost all of these forms of life live near or in water. I do love water, I suppose you could say it is “my element”. The second is that five of the seven animals are naturally solitary rather than gregarious, which reflects my own nature. The third is that, even so, there is another, contradictory characteristic, which is joyful: the beauty of nature, the fun-loving character of the otter, the bear enjoying fishing in the company of his “friend”, the euphoria of the rise of the mayfly. And lastly, the value placed in all-consuming, noble purpose, like the mayfly, like the salmon.

Try thinking about which forms of life you would like to develop through, and write a few lines about each. It doesn't have to be great literature or poetry – just write it as it comes out of your head. Then try to decipher it to reveal clues about what makes you tick.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Esoteric therapies and reasons to believe

I work in a field and live in a place both of which attract a high proportion of people with esoteric inclinations. In my daily work I am faced with expectations of a shared belief in the premises of a whole range of esoteric notions and practices, in particular therapeutic ones. Most of which, in my experience, I don't share. “Why?” I am sometimes asked, or challenged, over lunch or dinner tables. But it is not a thing I am able to explain in a few words over those tables, so here is the mid-length version.

First, what do I mean by esoteric therapies? Let me attempt a description which doesn't fall too foul of my own contradictions, fallacies and idiosyncrasies. Physiology is a verifiable science which anybody can learn about and apply regardless of their belief system. As a body of knowledge it is not esoteric as access to it requires no special membership or uncommon perceptive abilities. But esoteric practices deal in objectively unverifiable phenomena, whose existence is established only through faith in them and a supposed uncommon ability to observe and manipulate them. I am talking of phenomena such as “life force”, “vital energy” or “subtle energy”. Even many esoteric therapies make reference to established physiology. However, they also claim direct and mechanistic physiological effects through means and agencies with no known basis in physiology, being based instead on a notion, an intuition, a belief, or a faith. A brief list could include therapies such as (in alphabetical order): applied kinesiology, bioresonance, craniosacral therapy (some variants), homoeopathy (at high “potencies”), radionics, reiki, “vibrational medicine”.

Caveat number 1: Am I saying these therapies don't work? Absolutely not. Of course though, we have to define what we mean by “work”. An acceptable definition might be on the lines of “achieving the expectation agreed when the patient is taken on”. Generally this would include a medium-term improvement in the symptoms for which the patient sought treatment. I am quite sure that all esoteric therapies are capable of achieving this, but whether they can do this more effectively than an elaborate placebo is an entirely different question; with, I suspect, a different answer. Another way of putting this would be, is the effect due to the claimed mechanisms or to other (probably much simpler and cheaper) things?

Caveat number 2: Am I saying I disbelieve in “life force”? No, I keep an open mind. I am open to the existence of a transcendental domain, for in my opinion only from this could a specific “life force” derive, if indeed it can be said to manifest at all. I do not positively believe nor do I disbelieve – that is the real meaning of keeping an open mind.

So, why am I unconvinced in esoteric therapies?
Reason number 1: They frequently abuse science. Example: many esoteric scientists today talk about “quantum” effects. It is a fashionable buzzword. I asked my father to explain quantum mechanics to me. My father had been a post-doctoral research physicist, and he chuckled at my question. He told me that it is such a specialist, complex and abstruse field that even most physicists can't really understand it. One meaning of “abstruse” is “esoteric”. That is why esoteric therapists like “quantum” things. But they don't understand them.

Reason number 2: They are fond of dogma. I asked someone why they believed such and such a thing and they said it was a feeling. That is one kind of good answer, I think. But while the journey from feeling through to an interpretation may be the justifiable province of intuition, the onward journey to a detailed theoretical model is not, and especially so if it is sold (literally) as established fact. When that happens we are in the realm of fantasy and dogma, not of reality and science. Esoteric therapies tend to inhabit the former realm and not the latter.

Reason number 3: They thrive on the easy comfort of a convenient belief. Many things are possible, but that is no reason to commit to a belief in them. Belief must be earned. Only a belief forged or gifted through trial and tribulation is a worthy belief. For something to earn my belief, I need to start with some criteria. And when we are talking about therapies offered with a theoretical base, only rational criteria will do. MY own criteria go something like this:
  • I do not believe it “works” just because somebody tells me it does. Wouldn't that be a little foolish? I might give credence to such anecdote if told at first hand by somebody whose reason, honesty and perspicacity I know and esteem. I might do so too, if the anecdotes are so numerous, from so many different sources, and so impressive in their specificity, clarity, detail and implications that it would seem foolish to discount them. On the other hand, if the person talks a lot and has a lot of charisma, I have to say I tend to have a prejudice against their stories. I also tend to scepticism about the opinions of experts and authorities of all kinds.
  • I do not believe it “works” just because it fits in with my lifestyle or sense of identity or because it gives me an easily won comfort to do so. These seem to me to be somewhat superficial reasons for holding beliefs.
  • I am inclined to believe a proposition more readily the more it seems plausible. Plausibility is a good rule of thumb. However, plausibility can only ever be based on our current understanding of the way the world works. That is its limitation. I understand that limitation. I do not discount absolutely propositions which do not fit my world view. But my world view is not just something that happened. I have thought about it for 53 years; it must be worth something, to me. A balanced attitude, I think, is to say: “That seems plausible, let's observe it further and see what happens”, or “That seems entirely implausible, I may be wrong and I'm ready to be proved wrong, but as things stand I'm not going to spend my time or money on it.”
  • I am inclined to believe a proposition more readily the greater the supporting evidence from well planned and conducted systematic studies. To me that seems sensible. This helps to cut through the lapses and faults in perception, thinking, logic, memory, judgement, objectivity, honesty and sanity that plague individual human beings, the egos, dogma and inconsistency of “experts” and authorities, the self-interest of the trade.
  • However, in the absence of much of the former, I am well disposed towards collective therapeutic experience of thousands of years (e.g. ayurveda, TCM), so long as the utility of its propositions are not actually disproved or convincingly refuted.
I think it fair to say that esoteric therapies frequently do not satisfy my criteria for belief.

I'd like to look briefly at the ideas of “vital energy” or “life force” that underlie many esoteric therapies. Many esoteric therapies based upon these ideas also like to use words like “quantum” and “vibration”. In my opinion these words are red herrings. They are effective in dressing up ritual to create the makings of an elaborate and effective placebo. But it is my belief that any effect of these therapies above that of placebo is determined not by the specific characteristics of the therapy, but those of the therapist, in particular three: charisma, empathy, intent. However, a therapist who can effectively apply charisma, empathy and intent has no need for a theory of life force, other than perhaps to sustain the belief of the therapist.

The use of such words as energy, force, vibration, implies a mechanistic explanation. But firstly, these very same therapies often are at pains to exude a spiritual aura. Why does an effect deriving from the spiritual domain need a mechanistic explanation, if not to also take advantage of the false credibility scientific sounding language may afford? I have used three words above: charisma, empathy and intent. The last two, combined, are implicit in a very simple action that ordinary people have done for centuries: prayer. It is not such a far-fetched thing to suggest that prayer can help the prayed-for (indeed people used to like the idea): here is an scientific article published in 2001 in the British Medical Journal which claims to demonstrate such an effect.

Is it divine intervention, or is it a vibration, or both? I do not know, but I would take a bet, if such a thing were verifiable, that many esoteric therapists, with their energies and vibrations, do not know either.