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.

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. This transformational phenomenon we call energy unites us and the universe, approximating it a little 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.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

My five most popular posts


This blog was started nearly 3 years ago so I thought it might be a good idea to review the most popular posts. An author's most popular writings are not necessarily those he/she considers his/her best, and I have to say I have been quite surprised by your choices. Here are the top five:

(1) Bottom-dwellers shall inherit the Earth

I didn't think too many people would be interested in this cryptically-titled rant, but it picked up almost twice as many hits as any other post, mainly from America. Perhaps that can be accounted for by it's biblical reference?


My theory about this subject is not esoteric and it is rather vague, but it fits, and I think it is pretty much the most that can be said given our current state of knowledge. Predictably a lot of hits from China.


This one was a dark horse. A very large number of hits from Russia, where there is perhaps slightly easier access to the Tashkent scene than from many other parts of the world. 'Nuff said maybe.


I have produced more complete posts about coping with stress (just click on “stress” in the keywords list on the right) but this little trick to help train oneself out of negative thought patterns seems to have caught peoples' interest.


A patient's attitude to the treatment makes a world of difference. Here I gave some pointers from my experience as a clinician.

And now I have to eat some humble pie. Three months ago I published a spoof post entitled The amazing secret of how to cure chronic back pain forever in one simple step, between two posts I thought might have received more attention. The idea was to test my theory that people in general are a pretty superficial lot by attracting a large number of hits to this most superficial post. Well, I was wrong and I apologise. It received not appreciably more nor less hits that its neighbours (i.e. not many). Well done, readers! You are clearly anything but superficial, just surprisingly interested in Tashkent.

A little disappointingly, very few people have commented on my posts. I would welcome a few more comments, so long as they are constructive and without aggressive or hostile intent.

Finally, if you are stimulated to read any of the above posts, don't stop there – please do browse, you might find some interesting or useful stuff.             

Sunday, 20 April 2014

E = mc2 - Part 2


In my post e = mc2, I was perhaps a little pedantic in my disingenuous assumption that there were only one correct usage of the word “energy” (the scientific one). Of course this is not true. The word may legitimately be used in different ways.

Oriental philosophy and traditional medicine has developed some concepts the words for which have been translated into western languages using words such as “energy” or “force”, notably prana from Sanskrit and qi (chi) from Chinese. Psychiatrists such as Freud (in connection with his conception of the libido) and Reich (in connection with his orgone) have described psychological phenomena in terms of some kind of energy. In common language lay people often equate feelings of enthusiasm and psychological well-being with feeling energetic. So no, there is no one “correct usage” of the word “energy”; all of the above usages have equal legitimacy in describing the human condition.

It is just that I think that it is a word often used so loosely as to impoverish any meaning attached to it, and also, personally, I have a problem with some of the ideas entailed in common usages of the word. The usage as a translation of qi and prana, as well as those of Freud and the Reich, are better understood as metaphors rather than relating to any kinds of substantive entities.

Is this distinction important? Perhaps, perhaps not. However, I would point out that since the late 60s an army of alternative medical practitioners has grown up claiming possession of the special knowledge and the amazing methods which allow them precisely and at will to manipulate the flow of your energy or life force. This depends upon the belief in an “energy” that is present in living things and vitalises them, quite apart from the forms of energy known to physics and chemistry, that is however some kind of substantive entity, some sort of “spiritual stuff”. Perhaps there is such stuff – the God Particle? But even if that is so, I have a suspicion that a good many of its New Age advocates do not actually know very much about what they speak of, and that a good many alternative “energy” therapists are well deluded by their own egos.

But what about the traditional Oriental systems like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)? Traditional (and traditionalist) practitioners of TCM believe in qi, and believe that all therapeutic efforts act through its medium. I have considerable respect for TCM. I am not sure that its translation as “energy” is good, and I am not sure that anybody not brought up in the Orient can truly understand the meaning of“qi”as intended by native speakers. But let's let that pass. My suggestion is this: perhaps we could understand the effects of TCM more truly and more deeply (and therefore, if we are practitioners, become better ones) if we relinquished this mechanistic notion of qi as an entity, simple, substantive, and manipulable.

E = mc2 - Part 1
E = mc2 - Part 3