Monday, 11 February 2008

Blink 3: The Homeopathy Confusion

While there are so many things to say about homeopathy and the various reasons for which it is a perennial target for sceptics' rants, today I'll confine myself to just one: what it actually is. It seems there's some confusion on this score, which may well be contributing to the public's continued acceptance of it as a valid therapy.

It is not a herbal remedy.

This cannot be stated strongly enough, because it's a commonplace confusion and could hardly be farther from the truth. Homeopathy operates on two main premises - known as "like cures like" and "the law of infinitesimals". They take an agent known to produce the same symptoms as that which they are trying to cure, and they dilute it. Then they take a drop of that solution and dilute it again. The end result of this process which may be repeated many times is that the final solution is chemically recognised as pure water. In some cases, you would need a sample of that solution the same size as the galaxy to find but one molecule of the original agent. One molecule.

In answer to this, homeopaths came up with the idea that the water retains a spiritual memory of the agent, which is created by agitation of the solution at each stage.

Let's look at that again - a spiritual impression. This piece of information is not widely advertised by homeopaths; they are quite content for the general public to remain ignorant of its actual claims and go on thinking of homeopathy as something to do with herbal preparations. Rather than herbs, however, it relies on belief in the healing powers of spiritual impressions in water.

I have no problem with someone using homeopathic "remedies", in principle - as long as they are fully informed of the purported methods by which it operates, and the fact that they are buying into a spiritual belief system - not science, or herbology.

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