Sunday, February 13, 2011

Homeopathy and Water's Selective Memory

Born of the imagination of German Doctor Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700's, the practice of homeopathy is based on Hahnemann's set of three "natural laws". The first, "The Law of Similars" is the belief that like cures like. This means that practitioners are meant to treat a patient's ailment using a substance which causes the same symptoms in a healthy person. In other words, if a patient has a headache, then giving them something that causes headaches will naturally cure them. Like all of his laws Hahnemann gave no specific explanation as to why this would be the case and based his belief in this concept on elements of sympathetic magic and a personal experience he had with a common malaria treatment for the time which caused him to develop fever-like symptoms similar to malaria.

The second law of Homeopathy, you don't talk about..oh wait..that's Fight Club, sorry, "The Law of Infinitesimals" proposes that diluting the active ingredient in a remedy actually makes them stronger. This dilution process begins with the creation of a "mother tincture".

A mother tincture is created by diluting the prescribed "remedy", which can be derived from either, plant, animal, mineral or even synthetic sources, into either pure alcohol or an alcohol water mixture and then allowing that mixture to sit in a dark place for 30 days or more. This mother tincture is then diluted to various degrees to create either "X" (1:10) or "C"(1:100) dilutions of homeopathic "medicine". In creating C or centesimal dilutions for example, one part of the mother tincture is added to 99 parts of water, creating a "1c" dilution. Take one part of this diluted solution, add it to another 99 parts water and you have a "2c" dose of homeopathic medicine. This process is repeated until the desired "potency" is achieved and the final product is then dripped onto sugar pills or infused into ointments and sold as medicine.

For those you keeping score at home, at a dilution of just 12c (one of the most common doses I found when I made my trip to the local pharmacy to research these products) there is only a 60% chance that you're water has left within it even a single molecule of the prescribed cure. And at any dilution beyond 13c, one can safely assume that not a single molecule of the original solution remains.Yet homeopathic remedies can easily be found in dilutions of 200c and even higher, such as the popular flu and cold remedy Oscillococcinum, available at Wal-mart and Walgreens as well as CVS stores.

The third and final law of homeopathy "The law of Succussion", states that shaking a homeopathic preperation also adds to the potency of the mixture. Modern practitioners have decided that this process, which they have dubbed "potenization", allows water to "remember" the "vibrations" of the active ingredient it once contained. This attempted explanation is obviously problematic for a number reasons, probably the least of which being that if water has a memory, which it doesn't, it seems unlikely that one could randomly shake it into remembering the (also non-existent but presumably unique) vibrations of specific substances which it no longer contains. After all, as many before me have pointed out, if water can remember it once had a single drop of caffeine in it, how does it manage to forget all the other potentially harmful chemical it has no doubt contained over the course of it's existence.

Supporters and practitioners of homeopathy are quick to point out that critics of the practice like myself fail to emphasize that homeopathy is a holistic practice meant to treat "the whole person" not just the body. Therefore, practitioners maintain, in order for the treatment to work it must by tailored to the individual needs of the patient on every level of their being. This is of course little more than a method of muddying the waters when it comes to defending the inability of homeopathy to stand up to scientific testing and does nothing to explain the illogical and physics defying beliefs upon which the practice is based.


When attempting to explain a belief system like homeopathy, it's important to go directly to the source to ensure you are examining what it's followers actually believe and the practices they truly follow. So some of the pages sighted in today's source links lead to new age, alt-med, and pro homeopathy websites, this is NOT an endorsement of views included on those pages.

Source: The Skeptics Dictionary, UK Skeptics,, Wikipedia, Herbs 2000, Healthy New

For an entertaining example of a homeopathic preparation, Michael Marshall and Mike Hall from 10:23 and The Merseyside Skeptics create their own homeopathic vodka.

Posted by Youtube user: ten23campaign

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