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What thought process is going on in people who casually accept the impossible as true? Take, for example, a recent news report of a Canadian man who apparently has suffered from pain for years. The reporting in the article, not surprisingly, is horrific. There isn’t a hint of journalistic skepticism, no consultation with a medical expert, and not even a token attempt at balance…The core of the story is that Eric Bertrand, who has suffered muscle pain for years despite treatment from real doctors, was finally pressured by his family to consult an alternative practitioner….Bertrand consulted Ottawa practitioner, Tony Brunelle, who is a chiropractor…Brunelle used a technique known as applied kinesiology to diagnose Bertrand’s problem…
Bertrand was told to keep an outstretched arm held strong while answering questions about various organs in his body. He was to reply that the organ in question was healthy and if Brunelle couldn’t easily budge the arm that would prove it. When the doctor asked about Bertrand’s liver, the arm slid down with ease. He repeated the process, listing different liver ailments until the arm once again slid down.
Diagnosis: liver parasite.
…This is a good description of applied kinesiology, which was developed by a chiropractor. The idea is that the body is all connected in some vague way by magical life energy (the kind of vitalistic force that traditional chiropractors believe in), so that when there is a problem with one part of the body (like the liver) then the muscle that corresponds to that organ through this mysterious energy connection will be weak. Not only that, just thinking about your unhealthy organ will make your muscles generally weak (the whole “mind-body” thing), or (as in this case) falsely stating that the organ in question is healthy will significantly weaken your muscles…I have no idea how accurate this report is, but even if we accept the report what can we make of that? Since Bertrand was treated for his apparent underlying condition, he may have been on the mend in any case. Chronic pain is also tricky, and often has a huge psychological component. Chronic pain medications also have an effect, and we have no idea from the article what other variables were changed recently. But all of those variables aside, we often see similarly profound subjective effects from pure faith healing. People with chronic conditions walk out of the faith-healer’s tent feeling much better. I have personally seen this myself. There are physiological and psychological mechanisms for this – the release of endorphins, for example. Essentially this is just a placebo effect, and tends to be short lived. In cases that I have seen the recipients of the faith healing were impressed by their reduction in symptoms (even though objectively they were no different), but paid for their short term pain reduction with later worsening. The power of self deception is well documented, and pain is particularly subject to psychological factors. Even an improvement in mood from the offer of a treatment is enough to reduce the experience of pain…This irresponsible article will now drive more people to consult pseudoscientists for their medical conditions, and to believe in magic.” Steven Novella, MD, Neurologica blog (25th June 2012)