Energy and Toxins

One of the things that has always bothered me in the world of "woo" is the bandying about of the terms "energy" and "toxins." Energy, in the world of "woo" is a positive or negative influence, it can effect one's emotions and health, and can have an effect others. A bad day can be attributed to "having bad energy," an illness can be caused by "a blockage of energy flow," and getting picked last for the kickball team can be blamed on either your own "bad energy" or that of the people doing the picking (losing the game could be blamed on "bad energy" on the part of the whole team).  I'll address "toxins" later.

In science, specifically physics, energy is:
...the capacity of a physical system to do "work," the product of a force times the distance through which that force acts. In physics, energy is a term to express the power to move things, either potential or actual. Energy is not a thing itself, but an attribute of something...
-- the Skeptic's Dictionary
Energy is not a substance any more than "mass" or "volume" are, and nothing can be "made of" energy any more than something can be "made of" mass or "made of" volume.

In physics, energy can be measured, calculated and even manipulated and harnessed and it is not measured in terms of "good" or "bad." In the "New Age" world there are no measures, no joules, no footpounds, no volts or calories and it is classified as either "good" or "bad." Also, "New Age" adherents claim that such energy can be "channeled" or "influenced" by such things as crystals, sounds, pyramids and even colored lights.

Let's say that someone goes to a New Age healer and they are subjected to a series of soft, colored lights while they are told to lay motionless with their eyes closed and relax. At the end of the "treatment" they may feel more rested, perhaps more energetic and they get the sense that their "energy" has been "cleansed" or "redirected." But laying down motionless and relaxing with one's eyes closed for a half-hour can elicit the same relaxed and energetic feeling with no colored lights required, it's called taking a nap. The feeling that one's "energy" has been "cleansed" or "redirected" can easily, and more likely, be attributed to both the placebo effect, confirmation bias and good old ignorance -- one believes that colored lights will help so they do. There is no scientific basis for believing that colored lights will do anything, positive or negative, for a persons well being, likewise for crystals, pyramids, and a myriad of other so called "treatments."

"But," say the woo-meisters, "the subtle energies of the universe cannot be measured." Then how do they know they're there? How do they know they are manipulating them? How do they know that it is the manipulation of these "subtle energies" that bring about their desired results and not something as simple as the subject/customer just took a nap? If they want to use terms like "energy" and borrow terms from quantum physics then they have to adhere to the terms and measures defined by quantum physicists.

The subject of "toxins" takes less time to debunk. There are a number of "New Age treatments" that are supposed to "remove toxins from the body." Ear candeling (the burning of hollow candles that are placed, obviously, in the ear), cupping (glass cups are placed on the skin and the air inside is heated), and even foot pads are said to "remove toxins" from one's system. Unfortunately, the exact toxins are rarely or never named nor are they measured, exactly how the candle/cup/foot pad "removes" said "toxins" is never explained and where the supposed "toxins" go is never clarified.

The only way to ascertain whether these "New Age" practices were effective or not would be to first define exactly which "toxins" are going to be removed, to confirm the presence of said "toxins" and their quantity and then to measure them again once treatment was completed. Since no one takes these steps, the claims that the treatments are effective is anecdotal at best.

There is a perfectly sound way of removing toxins from your system however, it's called your liver, kidneys and urinary tract.

"What's the harm?" you may ask. People spend millions of dollars every year on quack cures like ear candeling, light therapy and crystals, and that's their prerogative, but if one person gets sicker or even dies after believing they have been treated by a "New Age" cure, when all they've actually done is waste their money and ignore the actual cause of their illness... well, that's harm a-plenty. 


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