I have preferences in the way that I learn about my mistakes. One of my favorite type of discovery is of the type that might spawn the phrase “I think I understand what you mean, and I believe you are incorrect.”. This would be a thoroughly enjoyable statement if the assertion of incorrectness could be stripped from it. Communication has occurred, and there is a feeling that information was accurately exchanged. Whatever the outcome this statement suggests that a framework for discovery, human advance, and culture exists.
One of my least favorite ways to learn about being wrong could be summed up with the following hypothetical phrase: “I don't understand what you are saying, therefore you are wrong.”. I casually picture the speaker of that phrase as a snot-nosed kid with his fingers firmly implanted in his ears. He spits out the phrase -breathily- in between loud stanzas of atonal “LALALALALALALA”.
Unfortunately there is the well fit converse ignorance; the person who wishes to appear correct by being incomprehensible. I recently picked through a load of that stuff while browsing some intellectual property. I quickly became more interested in the properties of the intellect that produced the intellectual property.
I discovered a patent published by one Konrad E. Werner Kropp (5012110) that defied logical understanding. I was amazed that something that was so densely bizarre and flawed could be the product of a literate person. I formulated bad puns using Mr. Kropp's last name: “this is total Kropp”, or “ What a load of Kropp”, or “this is Kroppy”. The patent had so many layers of strangeness that I had read it through a couple of times before I realized that Mr. Kropp's initials were “KEWK'. Imagine my many minutes of amusement thinking of “Kewky Kropp”.
As far as I can tell Kewky's device is a wooden box with a bunch of magnets in it. In the center there is a coil of wire (it sounded like he used an old coil AM radio antenna with the solid core removed) where a bottle of pure water (or saline, or oil) is added. Then Kewky whistles at the water and magically transforms it into a curative liquid. The liquid is so magical that it can apparently cure just about anything. There is no definitive guidance concerning which tune should be whistled for any particular ailment.
I have known people who grasped portions of complex topics with amazing tenacity. In undergraduate physics and chemistry I befriended a fellow student (lets name him Clyde) who had suffered significant brain damage as the result of a motorcycle crash. Clyde was a affable enough fellow, but he responded to mundane conversational cues a couple of beats late. Whenever one of the great constants of nature (like Planck's constant = 6.626068 × 10-34 m2 kg / s) was mentioned (the first time in a day, Clyde would only do this once per day for each constant) Clyde's hand would slowly go up. If the professor called on him Clyde would recite the value of the constant to seven or more significant figures and put down his hand. If the professor did not call on him Clyde's hand would remain up throughout the rest of the lecture. Sometimes, if my mind was wandering away from the lecture, I would play a silent game of “guess which constant Clyde caught” when his hand was going up.
The values and units of the great constants describe how the technology of mankind weaves the concepts of science into a working tapestry of understanding. The significant digits of the constants illustrate the greatest resolution with which we can project our understanding onto what really is. The constants are very cool, but I have never bothered to memorize them to nine significant digits. On a great day I might be able to tell you that Planck's constant was a little less that seven times ten to the minus thirty-fourth power. On a typical day I could say that it was “really-really-really small”.
Regardless of the precision or familiarity with the constant it's use in a conversation draws upon allusion to those theoretical constructs that use it. The gravitational constant assumes gravity, and acceleration, and inertia, and may even inspire thoughts of gravity waves and black holes. I do not hear the term “gravitation constant” and think that it would be nice if someone decided that it was actually orders of magnitude smaller that I had grown up believing so that interstellar spaceflight could become routine. If someone told me a profoundly specific value for the gravitation constant I would assume that they could answer a question like “how did you come up with that number?”. I would also think the answer would be something like “I read it in a book” or “I performed a series of mind numbingly sensitive experiments”; not “I ate some bad cheese and it just came to me”.
Homeopathy is supposedly derived from the theories of Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann who died in 1843. Hahnemann lived during a period where medicine often was more harmful that no treatment at all. Offering patients elixirs that would at least not kill them must have been a significant leap forward in medical technology. His theory was to treat “Like with Like”. Somewhere he got the idea that highly diluted materials would do this best. Certainly if the material was highly toxic better medical outcomes would be expected if it was highly diluted.
Typical homeopathy uses dilutions in the range of ten to the minus sixty. These magnitude of these dilutions make Pklanck's constant look unbelievably huge. At such phenomenal dilutions it would be nescesary to consume a vial containing an amount of fluid equal in mass to the entire plannet to have a descent chance to consume a single molecule of the material. For some reason these lavels are too concentrated for some pratitioners who believe they can achieve the same effects without ever touching the original material.This is where Kewky's invention, and the dozens inspired by it, come into play.
Kewky's patent is almost impenetrable. There are many areas where he simply assumes knowledge. For instance: “The information energy may be imparted to the substrate ...with frequencies which differ according to the desired character of the transformed properties”. I read phrasing like that and my immediate reaction is to say: “I don't understand what you are talking about, therefore you must be wrong.”. How embarrassing! If I take a couple of minutes to stop my bile from spinning I can fashion a more constructive criticism. I prefer something like: “How do you know the frequencies associated with the character of your transformed properties?” I like that question because it sounds like one that might have an actual answer.
The process of imparting “informational energy” on liquids by waving magnets around them is an entire field of research in homeopathic practice. The effectors, which can be magnets (or moonlight, or sunlight, or sound waves, or laser beams), are called “imponderables”. I had previously thought of an imponderable as a philosophical question which could not be answered, and where the examination of the question raised more questions (Like: “if a tree falls in the forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”). In the practice of homeopathy the imponderables apparently are effectors whose activity is unmeasurable and unknowable. Yet despite the fact that one cannot know about them there are folks that can design complete apparati to utilize their effect for maximum potential. But what do the imponderables effect?
Kewky injected (IM) a 0.9% saline solution that had been magically transformed in his apparatus to 'normalize' a woman's gut flora. This is an interesting claim, but the wonders of the internet provide long lists of health benefits possible through the use of magically-transformed water. One malady that can supposedly be treated with magnetically “altered” homeopathic fluids is prolapsed rectum. I would think that a prolapsed rectum would be an easy thing to demonstrate the healing of. Even if a person began feeling better you could visually decide whether they had been cured.
There is also the problem of negative effects. I found it difficult to get information about magnetically transformed water ever causing harm. If a special waving of the magic wand creates a rectum de-prolapsing fluid shouldn't there be a wand-waving sequence that causes prolapsing. Perhaps warnings should be placed on all items that have any magnetic field “Danger rectums may prolapse while using this device”.
Songs transmitted on the radio have electromagnetic informational energy. What if Justin Bieber records a song whose very transmission over FM radio causes entire market areas to suffer prolapsed rectums?
The Earth itself has a magnetic field. What if just visiting certain locations caused a prolapsed rectum?Kurt Vonnegut called Ithaca New York “The country's rectum”. It would be uncomfortably ironic if visiting Ithaca caused prolapsing of a visitor's rectum.
Strange as the imponderables are there is an even weirder branch of homeopathic medicine. In this one the vial of water is just placed next to a material whose properties it is supposed to take on. Kewky references this approach in his patent. In some cases one need only write the name of the substance on a scrap of paper and store the vial of water near it.
There should be some measurable effect other than the magical cure. There should be something to tell if anything is going on. One of the important aspects of Kewky's patent is that it actually provides a bit of intermediate evidence. Kewky provides actual spectrophotometric data showing that his water has been altered.
Kewky ran his samples on a Perkin Elmer Lambda 3 UV-Visible spectrophotometer, and noticed differences. Here is a bit of real data. I can look at this and formulate a conclusion.
For those of you not familiar with spectrophotometers; these are common laboratory instruments. They basically shine a beam of light through a sample and then run the sample attenuated beam through a prizm. The resulting rainbow (which extends into the invisible UV and IR ends of the spectrum) is measured for intensity with a photocell. The spectrophotometer can produce a plot of the frequency of light vs the signal intensity through a sample. It is important to note that the darker the sample the more sensitive the spetrophotometer needs to be in order to produce an accurate spectrum. Some samples are dark to light outside of the visible spectrum. Water, for instance, is very dark to light just a little into the UV end of the spectrum. Here is a plot of the absorption spectrum of water (notice how the line shoots up just to the left of the rainbow designated visible light spectrum).
So, as I see it, Kewky's only real data was produced on an instrument rigged to be highly inaccurate in a portion of the spectrum that would be the most sensitive to machine inaccuracies. Kewky could go to almost any laboratory in the world and have this data reproduced with much greater sensitivity.
My friend Clyde would listen to lectures till the name of a constant leaped out for his attention. I poured through thick layers of apparently purposefully misleading Kropp and found data. This blog entry is me slowly raising my hand. I can thankfully now say: “I think I understand what is being presented in this, and they are wrong”.