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Lionel Milgrom writes to Nick Clegg about Evan Harris
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 12 February 2010
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Yesterday I blogged on a hate campaign by homeopaths against the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris in which they called for complaints to MPs about his position in the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee because of his opinions of homeopathy, a subject which the Committee has investigated.  In that blogpost I provided examples [...]

By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 31 January 2010
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[BPSDB] Sceptics stage homeopathy ‘overdose’: ‘The society [of Homeopaths]‘ chief executive, Paula Ross, said: “This is an ill advised publicity stunt in very poor taste, which does nothing to advance the scientific debate about how homeopathy actually works.”’

It. Doesn’t. Work.

There’s no ‘scientific debate’ to be had about how something works if it doesn’t work and it the quality of your science is represented by nonsense like this.

Comedy gold in parliament and tragedy from Prince of Wales: editorial in British Medical Journal
By David Colquhoun
Posted in syndicated on 17 December 2009
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The Yuletide edition of the BMJ carries a lovely article by Jeffrey Aronson, Patent medicines and secret remedies. (BMJ 2009;339:b5415).
I was delighted to be asked to write an editorial about it, In fact it proved quite hard work, because the BMJ thought it improper to be too rude about the royal family, or [...]

Another thing Milgrom is wrong about
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 25 October 2009
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[BPSDB] So it seems that Lionel R. Milgrom’s legal knowledge rivals his physics for ignorance, delusion, and disregard of reality:

All the while, speaking with a voice of (worthless) authority.

Has Lionel Milgrom libelled Simon Singh?
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 24 October 2009
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Homeopath and former biochemist Lionel Milgrom has previously accused, erroneously, David Colquhoun of a lack of scholarship in an article on chiropractic and suggested that this questions his credibility.  This was shortly after Milgrom himself published an article whose scholarship is currently being elegantly dissected by apgaylard to expose a logical vacuum where the heart [...]

A recommendation to read part three of apgaylard on Milgrom
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 26 September 2009
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apgaylard has published Part III of his wonderful dissection of Lionel Milgrom’s article in Forsch Komplementmed, available here, analysing criticism of homeopathy.  All three parts are below:
apgaylard exposes numerous instances of poor scholarship in Milgrom’s analysis which thus far have gone unanswered by Milgrom, even though Milgrom is keen to highlight, mistakenly, flaws in other [...]

Another recommendation to read apgaylard on Milgrom
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 15 September 2009
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Last week apgaylard published Part I of his rigorous analysis of Lionel Milgrom’s article in Forsch Komplementmed, available here, analysing criticism of homeopathy.  Part II is now online.
I urge you to read it and recognise the serious issues regarding his level of scholarship that it raises.  Particularly so since Dr Milgrom has taken upon himself [...]

Mea Culpa
By David Colquhoun
Posted in syndicated on 13 September 2009
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In July 2008 I wrote an editorial in the New Zealand Medical Journal (NZMJ), at the request of its editor.
The title was  Dr Who? deception by chiropractors.  It was not very flattering and it resulted in a letter from lawyers representing the New Zealand Chiropractic Association.  Luckily the editor of the NZMJ, Frank [...]

A recommendation to read apgaylard on Milgrom
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 11 September 2009
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I meant to plug this when apgaylard first blogged it, but I forgot.  My apologies.
Lionel Milgrom, he of the quantum entaglement, published an article in Forsch Komplementmed, available here.  There are many problems with this apparent scholarly attempt to analyse the predicament UK homeopaths find themselves in and apgaylard is applying his exemplary methodical and [...]

BMJ defends freedom of speech (but censors my comment)
By David Colquhoun
Posted in syndicated on 15 July 2009
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It’s good to see the BMJ joining the campaign for free speech (only a month or two behind the blogs). The suing of Simon Singh for defamation by the British Chiropractic Association has stirred up a hornet’s nest that could (one hopes) change the law of the land, and destroy chiropractic altogether. [...]

Experimenting with phenomena…
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 18 June 2009
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… which aren’t actually there at all

[BPSDB] It’s Homeopathy Awareness Week, and I can think of no better way of stopping people wasting time and money on homeopathy than by making them aware of exactly what homeopathy thinks it is. To this end, we have jdc325, Zeno, APGaylard, AndyD, Zygoma, The Quackometer, David Colquhoun, Orac, and Steven Novella (Homeopathy Awareness Week,
Homeopathy Awareness Week,
Homeopathy Awareness Week,
Homeopathy Awareness Week,
Homeopathy Awareness Week,
Homeopathy Awareness Week, Homeopathy Awareness Week, Homeopathy Awareness Week, Homeopathy Awareness Week) helping to spread awareness of what a great big pile of nonsense homeopathy is. It’s not “herbal,” it’s not “natural,” it doesn’t “work” by “stimulating your immune system” and it’s not a viable alternative to the Western Big Pharma hegemony. This is because homeopathic preparations contain nothing of the ingredient(s) listed on the label (although other stuff may be in there), what with it/them having been diluted out of existence in a strange procedure invented about 200 years ago in Germany (while many modern pharmaceuticals are based on plant extracts, more tightly controlled in terms of dose and purity than herbal medicines themselves); if there’s no active ingredient then obviously it can’t be anything more than placebo, a result repeatedly found in trials of homeopathy, so there’s no reason to try to invent increasingly far-fetched explanations of how homeopathy “works”.

Following Lionel R. Milgrom’s1 editorial, which had very little to do with what Otto Weingärtner2 wrote, it’s the turn of Alex Hankey.3

“As a theoretical physicist, Weingärtner seems an unlikely candidate to have made several useful contributions to understanding homeopathy,4,5 but “seeing is believing,” and he belongs to the ranks of those like myself, for whom seeing particular medical conditions improve by applying homeopathy convince that genuine phenomena await scientific explanation. Characteristic reactions to prescribed remedies result in the most spectacular cases, differing completely from improvements seen in placebo cases, where pathology improves without a “healing crisis.” In my opinion, conducting trials on cases for which such extreme reactions may be expected would be the best way to demonstrate that potentized remedies do indeed have systematic, observable physiologic effects. If a “healing reaction” is induced by taking a homeopathic remedy, as often occurs on the path to cure, only the remedy could have produced it. What better proof could be given of actual physiologic effects of taking a potentized remedy?”

Hankey is right in his implication that a theoretical physicist ought to know better; however, a scientist is well within his job description to try to find out what science is going on behind an apparent observation. The obvious answers are nearly always the right ones, though, and if medical conditions really seem to improve after the patient has taken some water (usually with ethanol or salt in it) from which all traces of an irrelevant substance have been removed, or some sugar pills onto which a drop of this water has been allowed to fall, or some pills which were once in contact with the pills in the previous subclause, then you really need to ask yourself if the patient wouldn’t have got better anyway. The workings of the human immune system give a far more satisfy explanation. Bear in mind that patients with minor acute conditions are often going to get better anyway, and that patients with fluctuating chronic conditions often seek help when they are feeling particularly bad, and then it’s obvious how something called “regression toward the mean” can make people think that whatever they tried last did the trick. But the “healing crisis” is something particularly insidious which homeopaths have invented in order to explain the other possibility - that the patient is going to keep getting worse since the treatment is doing nothing. Once you’re in the mindset that whatever happens to the patient is because of homeopathy, you are lost, rationalizing desperately as random stuff happens. All those boring times when the remedies do nothing at all are filtered out of your memory (“… even Kent said that sometimes with the best intention and the best homeopathic prescribing, the remedy doesn’t work - so what is going on? Entanglement is a much more subtle thing than just intention. I don’t quite know what it means yet.”).

“But some scientists seem prepared to assert that, if a phenomenon does not yet possess a shadow of a scientific theory, then no scientific theory is possible, and the phenomena concerned must lie beyond the domain of science.”

No, we’re prepared to assert that, when presented with a phenomenon whose purported explanation goes against a couple of centuries’ worth of extremely successful science, that we’re going to need pretty good proof that this phenomenon is actually happening. That proof does not exist,6 so there is no reason to make up new science and instead there is perfectly good other science (psychology instead of physics) to explain why people believe things which are not true.7,8 It is the quacks who keep telling us that our science is inadequate to explain their results, but they can’t resist appropriating sciency-sounding language to make their nonsense more impressive9 just like they are always willing to flag up a double-blind randomized, controlled trial of a non-individualized remedy when they think it gives them the result they want10,11,12,13,14,15 but then claim that RCTs don’t work and that remedies need to be individualized when,16 as in the majority of cases,17 it doesn’t. Knowing how something works comes long after we decide whether it works or not at all.

“Weingärtner’s present contribution is to formulate a means of analyzing a series of experiments that contain conflicting

His insight is that you should take an average of lots of measurements. It really is as simple as that. The more times you measure something, the closer the average should get to the true value. That’s why big trials are better than small ones.17

“Many medical disciplines present similar challenges to science.”

Do they? There’s no citation for this. Does he mean that physics can’t be used to gain insight into psychology or does he not realize that biology is also a science? Of course we don’t have all the answers yet as science continues to grow and progress on all fronts.

“The idea that we now possess all the theories we shall ever need to treat either day-to-day or laboratory phenomena is a gross exaggeration of our scientific expertise.”

There would be no reason to be in the laboratory if we had all the theories we shall ever need, and I for one am happy that there is still a job for me to do.

“Many disciplines of science are slowly undergoing revolutions. New forms of fundamental physics are proposed annually.”

Are they? Like the superstring theory review18 Hankey cites (wrongly) from 1986?

“Scientific studies of out-of-body experiences, hypnotic regression, past lives, and the afterlife, are revolutionizing our understanding of the world in which we live, and bringing hope to millions.”

It’s particularly heinous to tack this sentence about paranormal phenomena onto the end of a paragraph about advances in science, since the science here is in the psychology, not the paranormal.

“These minor scientific revolutions prove that the metaphysics of classical physics and Bohr-Heisenberg quantum physics is simply too limiting. Such “materialist” metaphysics bears no relation to the wider world of human experience, only to the narrow world in which the scientific community’s leaders allocate funds for experiment.”

Now that’s just nonsense. Quantum physics bears no relation to “the wider world of human experience” only in the sense that it’s not feasible to derive psychological principles directly from quantum electrodynamics (which isn’t exactly “Bohr-Heisenberg”),19,20,21 even if chemistry is built on physics and biology is built on chemistry.22 I don’t know quite what to say about manner in which “the scientific community’s leaders allocate funds for experiment”. I wonder who these “leaders” are and if I can submit a proposal? We’re currently having to ask the CARIPLO foundation or the European Commission.

“So how does this affect CAM?”

I don’t know, Alex, why don’t you tell me?

“The idea that CAM disciplines can be theoretically understood by extending known laws of biophysics is slowly gaining currency.”

No, not according to people who understand biology or physics it isn’t.

“Many CAM disciplines have excellent phenomenologies.”

… but most have rubbish ones.

“This makes it much easier to frame theoretical hypotheses for how they may work.”

if they work (which they don’t).

“Ayurveda is a case in point. Clinical observations over several millennia have developed a coherent phenomenology that can be tested and verified by theoretical models and predictive experiment.”

Well, my online access to the journals doesn’t go back that far.

“Ayurveda basic concepts are proving highly susceptible to theoretical study.”

No they aren’t: if there’s no citation it isn’t true.

“When this has been achieved for homeopathy,”

… it won’t be, because homeopathy doesn’t work.

“… and associated aspects of energy medicine and vibrational medicine,”

“Associated” according to you, but every quack seems to have their own strange mental map of how different made up things relate to each other.

“… it will become possible to design better experiments. Until that time, Weingärtner’s new approach should rule the roost.”

You already know what counts as a better experiment,17 and why there’s nothing to design.6 You just choose to ignore the evidence rather than admit you might be wrong. You are not doing hit counter javascript

  1.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 205 (2009).
  2.  O. Weingärtner, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 287 (2009).
  3.  A. Hankey, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 203 (2009).
  4.  O. Weingärtner, Homeopathy 92, 145 (2003).
  5.  H. Walach, W. B. Jonas, J. Ives, R. Van Wijk, and O. Weingärtner, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 11, 813 (2005).
  6.  J. Maddox, J. Randi, and W. W. Stewart, Nature 334, 287 (1988).
  7.  J. Kruger, and D. Dunning, J. Personality and Social Psychology 77, 1121 (1999).
  8.  P. Bloom, and D. S. Weisberg, Science 316, 996 (2007).
  9.  A. Sokal, and J. Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures (Economist Books, 2003).
  10.  Orac, Homeopathy in the - cringe - ICU (2007).
  11.  P. B. Hill, J. Hoare, P. Lau-Gillard, J. Rybnicek, and R. T. Mathie, Vet. Record 164, 364 (2009).
  12.  S. J. Baker, and G. J. Baker, Vet. Record 164, 634 (2009).
  13.  G. W. Tribe, Vet. Record 164, 634 (2009).
  14.  M. G. Kerr, C. A. Hebbern, P. Wilson, and J. J. Magrath, Vet. Record 164, 635 (2009).
  15.  P. B. Hill, J. Hoare, and R. T. Mathie, Vet. Record 164, 635 (2009).
  16.  L. R. Milgrom, Evid.-Based Compl. Alt. 4, 7 (2007).
  17.  A. Shang, K. Huwiler-Müntener, L. Nartey, P. Jüni, S. Dörig, et al., The Lancet 366, 726 (2005).
  18.  J. Ellis, Nature 323, 595 (1986).
  19.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 76, 749 (1949).
  20.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 76, 769 (1949).
  21.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 80, 440 (1950).
  22.  H. M. Wiseman, and J. Eisert, e-Print archive physics, arXiv:0705.1232v2 (2007).

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Golden Balls
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 14 June 2009
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[BPSDB] I don’t want to spend too much time picking apart Lionel R. Milgrom’s1 reading of Sir Michael Rawlins’s speech in his J. Alt. Complement. Med. editorial which has very little to do with Otto Weingärtner’s2 recent defence of the attempts of Shang et al. and Maddox et al. to teach homeopaths about doing experiments properly3,4 instead of craply.5,6 Holfordwatch have already taken apart Patrick Holford’s attempt at quote mining it, and Badly Shaved Monkey introduced the subject at JREF and, and I’ve tried to explain how the DBRCT is just the most reliable way of working out if your intervention is actually doing anything or not, to minimize the errors and converge on the right answer in the way which Weingärtner2 describes (and it wouldn’t be necessary to be scrabbling about in the statistical noise if homeopathy worked as well as some of these people claim it does). More recently (I admit it’s taken me a while to get around to finishing this post), David Colquhoun has highlighted the criticism which the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have drawn, whose jobs it is to make sure that medicines work and are worth using, over recommendations related to quackery. The NICE guidelines related to lower back pain are especially important in the light of the British Chiropractic Association’s attempts to sue Simon Singh, but what’s most relevant to this post is the possible illegality of a label on a bottle of “Arnica 30C” pills which says “a homoeopathic medicinal product used within the homoeopathic tradition for the symptomatic relief of sprains, muscular aches, and bruising or swelling after contusions” when (a) the pills contain no Arnica, what with it having been diluted by a factor of 1060, and (b) there is no evidence that these pills will do anything at all; in fact there is positive evidence that homeopathic Arnica pills do nothing.7

It’s also true what Milgrom says about science being “more in hock to powerful interest groups” such as the French homeopathy company Boiron, who were paying two of the co-authors on the discredited4 Nature paper from the Benveniste group.5 Except he said “science” when he meant “quackery” (and see also “Homeopaths in sacka with Big Quacka”).

What remains is the erroneous8 belief that Lüdtke and Rutten and Rutten and Stolper9,10 have discredited Shang et al.3 when in fact Rutten and Stolper10 merely make a bunch of obvious8 false statements about Shang et al.3 while Lüdtke and Rutten9 (having been published in a proper journal rather than the Faculty of Homeopathy’s house fansheet)don’t say much at all; both of them confirm that rubbish trials make homeopathy look more likely. Milgrom writes that

Randomness of experimental reproducibility, however, is not the sole preserve of homeopathy. This phenomenon is exhibited during studies of parapsychology and psi phemomena, and Weingärtner’s arguments are general enough include these. Indeed, it is just conceivable such arguments might be usefully applied to other areas (e.g., the known reduction in effect sizes obtained from RCTs on drugs, compared to effect sizes obtained in real-life practice,11 or tackling another important area of science where random reproducibility exists [i.e., in systems close to chaos]).12

Listen, Lionel: we know that if we’re doing a noisy experiment with a weak effect, that we need to do it well and repeat it many times to build up good statistics and see if the effect is really there. That’s all this means. Bernoulli knew it and Shang et al. knew it. There’s no magical new insight here. We’ve already seen that the effects of homeopathy disappear into the noise as the experiments are done better.3 You can’t just take the badly-done studies with positive effects as proof that homeopathy works and dismiss the negative ones as flawed or subject to (completely unphysical) “non-local” effects. Science would be impossible in a world as you see it. Clearly, science is possible otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write this post and you wouldn’t be able to read it, and this is objectively true despite whatever post-modern harbles-du-jour13 you subscribe too, so give up.

The other editorial related to this article,2 from Alex Hankey,14 will be next.

.pdf of Sir Michael Rawlins’s presentation

Keep libel laws out of science

(and see also Fusion is a dish best served cold).free hit counter javascript

  1.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 205 (2009).
  2.  O. Weingärtner, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 287 (2009).
  3.  A. Shang, K. Huwiler-Müntener, L. Nartey, P. Jüni, S. Dörig, et al., The Lancet 366, 726 (2005).
  4.  J. Maddox, J. Randi, and W. W. Stewart, Nature 334, 287 (1988).
  5.  E. Davenas, F. Beauvais, J. Amara, M. Oberbaum, B. Robinzon, A. Miadonna, et al., Nature 333, 816 (1988).
  6.  P. B. Hill, J. Hoare, P. Lau-Gillard, J. Rybnicek, and R. T. Mathie, Vet. Record 164, 364 (2009).
  7.  E. Ernst, and M. H. Pittler, Arch. Surg. 133, 1187 (1998).
  8.  P. Wilson, Homeopathy 98, 127 (2009).
  9.  R. Lüdtke, and A. L. B. Rutten, J. Clin. Epidemiol. 61, 1197 (2008).
  10.  A. L. B. Rutten, and C. F. Stolper, Homeopathy 97, 169 (2008).
  11.  M. C. Michel, and M. Goepel, Eur. Urol. 38, 40 (2000).
  12.  N. Hall, and ed, The New Scientist Guide to Chaos (Penguin, 1992).
  13.  A. Sokal, and J. Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures (Economist Books, 2003).
  14.  A. Hankey, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 203 (2009).

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If at first you don’t succeed
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 14 April 2009
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[BPSDB]Otto Weingärtner explains, in the latest issue of J. Alt. Complement. Med.,1 that in clinical trials more accurate results come from those trials which have larger numbers of participants, supporting the methodology of Shang et al..2 Shang et al. ranked trials of both homeopathy and proper medicine according to the “quality” and number of participants, and found that better quality trials of homeopathy with larger numbers of participants tended to show smaller differences between homeopathy and placebo. This is in accordance with Bernoulli’s “weak law of large numbers” which explains how data scatters randomly about the true value but the mean converges to be as close as you like to the true value as you obtain more and more data. By taking more and more data, by performing trials with many participants and by performing meta-analyses to pool the results of trials, the effects of random scatter are slowly averaged away.

Of course, that’s not what Weingärtner thinks that he has explained. He rather thinks that he has come up with some way to excuse the problems with reproducibility that homeopaths think they have. It doesn’t help that homeopaths either don’t understand, cherry-pick, or move the goalposts of trials, seeming to describe trials which show that homeopathy is indistinguishable from placebo as “inconclusive” and only accept as “negative” trails which show that homeopathy is worse. It also doesn’t help that the “positive” trials, which tend to be those of low quality or with fewer participants as well as a few statistical blips (5% of p<0.05 trials come out positive just out of luck, by definition), are all added together with equal strength and set against the “negative” ones. If there are more “positive” trials than “negative” ones then they claim homeopathy works. What they should of course be doing is a meta-analysis to look for the strength of the effect (not just its yes/no existence) which of course turns out to be vanishingly small (so that if there were an effect, which there isn’t, but if there were, it would be so small so as to be useless) when investigated properly.

No, if a homeopath fails to reproduce the possibly anecdote-level (or possibly made up)3,4 positive results which confirm their delusion, then they don’t start to revise their worldview but go looking for someone with a scientific qualification to copy something out of a textbook and pad it out it with nonsense. Weingärtner’s abstract and introduction claim that he will describe an “experimental situation for distinguishing a homeopathic potency and its solvent” but this of course isn’t the discredited5 Rao et al.6,7 and there is no experimental content; he assumes that “every effort is made to exclude artifacts, systematic errors, and things like that” while not actually explaining how one goes about doing so (that’s what double blinding and randomization are for, in the presence of systematic errors the average of many measurements does not actually tend to the correct value). The paper apparently will present ideas from a previous paper in “more detail” and will discuss “nonlocal effects” in “a more comprehensible way” and having read it I can’t imagine the low level of detail and incomprehensibility of the previous paper, which is in German in a journal called “Zeitschrift für Anomalistik” and therefore, frankly, worthless.

It’s not worth going through the “maths” in the paper, unless you consider it a great insight that an experimental result depends on both the experiment itself and on the external factors which influence it, so that you won’t get the same result from the same experiment unless the external factors are the same. That’s why experiments are repeated, so that the external factors average away.

This article has prompted two editorials, one from Alex Hankey and one from Lionel R. Milgrom,8,9 and if they can spin this out to three articles then so can I.


The remarkable claims made in Nature (333, 816; 1988) by Dr. Jacque Benveniste and his associates are based cheifly on an extensive series of experiments which are statistically ill-controlled, from which no substantial effort has been made to exclude systematic error, including observer bias…The phenomenon described is not reproducible in the ordinary meaning of the word… Among other things, we were dismayed to learn that the salaries of two of Dr. Benveniste’s coauthors of the published article are paid for under a contract between INSERM 200 and the French company Boiron

John Maddox, hit counter javascript

  1.  O. Weingärtner, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 287 (2009).
  2.  A. Shang, K. Huwiler-Müntener, L. Nartey, P. Jüni, S. Dörig, et al., The Lancet 366, 726 (2005).
  3.  E. Davenas, F. Beauvais, J. Amara, M. Oberbaum, B. Robinzon, A. Miadonna, et al., Nature 333, 816 (1988).
  4.  J. Maddox, J. Randi, and W. W. Stewart, Nature 334, 287 (1988).
  5.  M. Kerr, J. Magrath, P. Wilson, and C. Hebbern, Homeopathy 97, 44 (2008).
  6.  M. L. Rao, R. Roy, I. R. Bell, and R. Hoover, Homeopathy 96, 175 (2007).
  7.  M. L. Rao, Homeopathy 97, 45 (2008).
  8.  A. Hankey, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 203 (2009).
  9.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 15, 205 (2009).

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Walking into Lampposts
By What the hell is this?
Posted in , syndicated on 15 July 2008
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BPSDBThere’s an excerpt Rowena Ronson’s book, Looking Back Moving Forward [1] featuring an interview with Lionel Milgrom, at Galahomeopathy:

“I think that essentially what goes on between the patient and practitioner with a remedy is a form of entanglement. You can consider that entanglement mathematically because mathematics is a language; a very sophisticated language, but it is a way of talking about something. What I have found is that the discourse of quantum theory, when you really get down to the nuts and bolts, is very similar to the discourse in homeopathy and that has been a real eye-opener for me in the last couple of years. If there is that similarity of discourses then we would be able to use the same sort of concepts as the quantum physicists. A lot of them get rather cheesed off by this because they think that we are robbing their territory.”

No, Lionel, that’s not it. We just want to tell you that you’re wrong about almost everything. We laugh when we read your articles which purport to use quantum mechanics to describe homeopathy but we cringe when we discover how quantum terminology is abused throughout CAM. When they then claim that we’re the “scientific conservatives” who are stuck in an old non-quantum mechanical paradigm, and we get personally attacked because we disagree with them then we start to get cheesed off. I don’t suppose any of the “highly competent quantum physicists (including a Nobel Laureate)” passed [sic.] whom he “continually run[s] [his] ideas” [2] would have anything to add, by the way?

“The remedy is part of the entanglement. So what does it mean to prescribe a remedy? Is it the pills or is it the process? Or is it some combination of both? And what, after all, is the remedy? Is it the pills, or the process, or some combination of both? And are we mistaken if we think the process and the pills are indeed separate? Maybe it is the whole shebang - process, prescription, the giving and the taking of the remedy… try plugging that little lot into a double-blind randomised controlled trial!”

Or, try explaining how Boiron (who make about about € 20 million a year in profits having spent € 47 million on marketing (and only € 2.5 million on research)) can sell over-the-counter homeopathic remedies. Or try explaining why Dana Ullman kept trying to push that terrible [3] paper by Frass et al. [4] onto the potassium dichromate wiki page. It’s obvious that homeopaths like double-blind randomized controlled trials when they are done badly enough [5] that the results happen to go the way the homeopaths want [6-10] (and try to cherry-pick positive results [11] out of trials which don’t [12]).

“… before anything, there are just two people sitting in front of each other but when it clicks then its like being on a trail. You can sense the remedy and I suppose I start to ask questions around my understanding of the remedy picture.”

A short excerpt of the transcript of the Horizon homeopathy episode was posted at JREF to give an example of how this works:

NARRATOR: Scientists believe the mere act of taking a homeopathic remedy can make people feel better and homeopathy has other ways of reducing stress.

LIONEL MILGROM: And is there any particular time of day that you will, you’ll, you’ll have that feeling?


NARRATOR: A crucial part of homeopathic care is the consultation.

LIONEL MILGROM: The stress that you have at work, is that, are those around issues that make you feel quite emotional?


LIONEL MILGROM: The main thing about a homeopathic interview is that we do spend a lot of time talking and listening to the patient. We would ask questions of how they eat, how they sleep, how much worry and tension there is in their lives, hopefully give them some advice about how to actually ease problems of stress.

PATIENT: I just feel I want to have something more natural.


Feel the entanglement!

“… even Kent said that sometimes with the best intention and the best homeopathic prescribing, the remedy doesn’t work - so what is going on? Entanglement is a much more subtle thing than just intention. I don’t quite know what it means yet.”

I know what it means.

There’s no excuse for Milgrom not understanding entanglement (in its actual quantum mechanical sense, when two or more systems share some conserved quantity between them) or quantum mechanics generally if he’s seeking to explain these concepts to homeopaths, let alone apply them to homeopathy itself. (And there’s no real excuse for hiding in post-modernism, not least because he doesn’t seem to understand that either [13,14].)

I’m still waiting for Milgrom to learn enough about quantum mechanics that he could perhaps cast his ideas in terms of, for example, the remedy as a ladder operator on the patient’s wavefunction, or dis-ease [sic.] as a first-order perturbation on the Vital Force’s Hamiltonian, because I realized some time ago that none of his models metaphors actually had any time-dependence in. In other words, there was never any mechanism in there which meant that something could change.

In Milgrom’s model, homeopathy can’t actually do anything.

At least he’s right about that bit.

  2.  L. R. Milgrom, Evid.-Based Compl. Alt. 4, 7 (2007).
  3.  Orac, Homeopathy in the - cringe - ICU (2007).
  4.  M. Frass, C. Dielacher, M. Linkesch, C. Endler, I. Muchitsch, E. Schuster, et al., Chest 127, 936 (2005).
  5.  A. Shang, K. Huwiler-Müntener, L. Nartey, P. Jüni, S. Dörig, et al., The Lancet 366, 726 (2005).
  6.  P. Belon, A. Banerjee, S. R. Karmakar, S. J. Biswas, S. C. Choudhury, et al., Sci. Total Environ. 384, 141 (2007).
  7.  M. A. Taylor, D. Reilly, R. H. Llewellyn-Jones, C. McSharry, and T. C. Aitchison, Brit. Med. J. 321, 471 (2000).
  8.  M. Frass, M. Linkesch, S. Banyai, G. Resch, C. Dielacher, T. Löbl, et al., Homeopathy 94, 75 (2005).
  9.  A. Robertson, R. Suryanarayanan, and A. Banerjee, Homeopathy 96, 17 (2007).
  10.  E. Weatherley-Jones, J. P. Nicholl, K. J. Thomas, G. J. Parry, M. W. et al., J. Psycosom. Res. 56, 189 (2004).
  11.  P. Fisher, Evid.-Based Compl. Alt. 3, 145 (2006).
  12.  A. White, P. Slade, C. Hunt, A. Hart, and E. Ernst, Thorax 58, 317 (2003).
  13.  A. P. Gaylard, Homeopathy 97, 47 (2008).
  14.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 14, 589 (2008).

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That’s the way (aha, aha)…
By What the hell is this?
Posted in , syndicated on 13 July 2008
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.. I Leick it (aha, aha)

BPSDBPhilippe Leick [1,2] wrote a letter [3] (as did many others) to Homeopathy to comment on papers by Lionel Milgrom [4] and Otto Weingärtner [5]. Milgrom responded [6], as did Harald Walach [7] (a coauthor of the Weak Quantum Theory paper [8], previously criticised by Leick [1]) and Leick dealt with this in a JREF thread.

These are the key points from Milgrom (another point is addressed elsewhere on JREF) which Leick deals with, to which I’ll add my own comments:

1. [Leick and his fellow skeptics] ignore research that demonstrates (a) homeopathy’s clinical efficacy over placebo, and (b) differences between solutions potentised beyond Avogadro’s limit and pure water.

Regarding point (a), there is of course a certain irony. Milgrom is well aware that homeopathic remedies work no better than placebo in well designed trials [9] (even if he still clings to some misconceptions about that particular analysis) otherwise he wouldn’t have spent all this time trying to “explain” this effect [10] with weak quantum-mechanical Patient-Practioner-Remedy entanglement [11-21].

It is interesting to note that the idea of Patient-Practitioner-Remedy entanglement really has nothing at all to do with the specifics of homeopathy, namely the alternating dilution of the active ingredient and the banging of the phial on a book or something, and apparently everything to do with the practitioner having the time to listen to the life story of the patient:

“A patient enters the practitioner’s ‘space’ and for a time, becomes during the consultation ‘isolated’ from the surrounding environment. This produces a kind of ‘quantum superposition’ or ‘coherence’ between patient, practitioner, and therapy (in the case of homeopathy, this would be the remedy). When this state interacts with the outside world after the consultation, it gradually undergoes ‘decoherence’ (i.e., collapse of the quantum superposition), possibly to a state of cure.”

It ought to be obvious just from this that the nature of the “therapy” itself is irrelevant.

Regarding point (b), the work by led by Rustum Roy [22] was anything but ignored: it was exposed for the worthless mess it was [23]. Rao and Roy, who claimed to measure changes in water ethanol which was supposed to have had something homeopathically present in it, were last seen trying to measure changes in water that some people had been thinking about.

2. [Leick and his fellow skeptics] exhibit a fundamentalist adherence to (a) the DBRCT as the only way to demonstrate the efficacy of any therapeutic modality; and (b) one, positivist, interpretation of quantum theory.

There’s nothing magic about the double-blind randomized controlled trial, as I’ve previously said: it’s just the best way to work out if there’s something really going on by systematically cancelling out confounding factors. If this Patient-Practioner-Remedy entanglement gave rise to real effects then there would also be a way to test it (we could design a trial with homeopathy versus pharmaceuticals, for example). Regarding quantum theory, there is no room for interpretation when it comes to quantum theory itself and it’s obvious that even within the framework of weak quantum theory [8] Milgrom makes errors, such as not knowing the difference between an operator and a wavefunction, not realizing that states exist whether or not anything occupies those states, and not realizing that “0” is an impossible state. Milgrom has not responded to these criticisms, but instead responds to Philippe saying that I have compiled a list of errors and inaccuracies on my blog, “some of which may be trivial, some of which would shame a second year physics student (such as the claim that quantum mechanics is non-deterministic or giving the units of Planck’s constant as [J/s] in Ref. [20])” with “there is nothing wrong with saying quantum mechanics is non-deterministic” based on Popescu [24,25]. Philippe replies,

“Now, this is a at best a gross simplification. The finer point being missed here is that, while quantum mechanics may not be completely deterministic, this does not automatically mean that Milgrom’s statement is true. Whether the measurement process is deterministic or not depends on the interpretation of quantum mechanics. In the Copenhagen interpretation, it isn’t. In the Many Worlds interpretation, it is. In any case, the evolution of the wave function according to Schrödinger’s equation is fully deterministic.”

There’s room for interpretation when it comes to asking what quantum theory actually means about the fundamental nature of the Universe; however, whenever some element of someone’s interpretation [26] wanders into the realm of things which can be tested, such tests are designed [27] and eventually done [28,29] (by physicists of course, not homeopaths). John Gribbin [30], who prefers the sum over histories and the transactional interpretation, writes that “the one thing you must not do is believe that any quantum interpretation is The Truth. They are all simply crutches for our limited human imaginations, ways for us to come to grips with the weirdness of the quantum world, which never goes away and is outside the scope of everyday experience.” Milgrom’s talk of “collapsing wavefunctions” seems to place him within the slightly outdated [30] Copenhagen interpretation; so much for the physicists being the conservative ones.

The experimental work of Gröblacher et al. leads to the conclusion that a broad class of non-local (i.e. allowing faster-than-light communication) hidden-variable theories must be excluded as possible interpretations of quantum mechanics and the authors go on to speculate on what this might mean: [29]

“We believe that the experimental exclusion of this particular class indicates that any non-local extension of quantum theory has to be highly counterintuitive. For example, the concept of ensembles of particles carrying definite polarization could fail. Furthermore, one could consider the breakdown of other assumptions that are implicit in our reasoning leading to the inequality. These include Aristotelian logic, counterfactual definiteness, absence of actions into the past or a world that is not completely deterministic [31]. We believe that our results lend strong support to the view that any future extension of quantum theory that is in agreement with experiments must abandon certain features of realistic descriptions.”

The implications of Gröblacher et al. may have us finding that reality is even more strange and counter-intuitive [32] than we thought, but it does seems that whatever there is, quantum mechanics describes it. (There’s a good discussion of quantum mechanical determinism in Gross and Levitt’s book [33], but this is based on the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics [34,35] which is probably not the right one.)

3. [Leick and his fellow skeptics] attempt to dismiss opposing arguments by disparaging the scientific views, competence and credibility of their proponents.

Look, if you’re unable to do basic quantum mechanics, and then build a whole theory on top of this inability, there isn’t really a nice way to say “this theory is meaningless because you fundamentally don’t know what you’re doing.” Just because Milgrom doesn’t understand quantum mechanics, that doesn’t make him as clever as Feynman [36]. There’s no room for differing interpretations or philosophies when it comes to Milgrom’s basic errors. If he wants to actually use (rather than just borrow a few technical-sounding terms from) quantum mechanics to explain something then he needs to play by its rules. Even weak quantum theory has rules. (In any case, the time when Milgrom pulled Feynman’s authority over Simon Gates was not at all an attempt to disparage Gates’s competence or credibility.)

Regarding epistemology versus ontology, Milgrom still doesn’t get it: the double slit experiment stops working as soon as it becomes possible to know which slit the particle went through whether or not anyone actually knows it [37]. In a DBRCT, the person in charge always has the key regarding who got verum and who got placebo. From the point of view of the patient and practitioner the key might be like a set of “hidden variables” and entanglement should not occur anyway [27,29]. (I’m indebted to this comment for pointing this out.) You can’t get all post-modern about knowledge when experiments [28,29,37] make it this clear.

But Milgrom has indeed “adopted implicitly a post-modern stance. This acknowledges there is no such thing as an objective reality that has only to be unveiled, and exists whether we observe it or not, and irrespective of the method in which it is approached.” There’s an obvious reply to this, but the less obvious one is that objective reality still exists and it is a strange counter-intuitive quantum objective reality. There’s nothing subjective about the result of an entanglement experiment; nothing subjective about the way in which an operator acts on a wavefunction; nothing subjective about whether homeopathy works or doesn’t.

And finally, Milgrom cites this comment thread as an example of “the cynicism and disparagement that is the lingua franca of some sceptical blog-sites.” I can only assume that this is due to Adrian Gaylard’s quoting of an Italian journalist reviewing a book in which Del Giudice et al. are described (without being named) as “fornicating priests” for their part in perpetuating the cold fusion lie. Where have I insulted any homeopaths? It’s not necessary. The facts speak for themselves. Objectively.

  1.  P. Leick, Skeptiker 3/2006, 92 (2006).
  2.  P. Leick, Skeptiker 8/2008, 86 (2008).
  3.  P. Leick, Homeopathy 97, 50 (2008).
  4.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 96, 209 (2007).
  5.  O. Weingärtner, Homeopathy 96, 220 (2007).
  6.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 97, 96 (2008).
  7.  H. Walach, Homeopathy 97, 100 (2008).
  8.  H. Atmanspacher, H. Römer, and H. Walach, Found. Phys. 32, 379 (2002).
  9.  A. Shang, K. Huwiler-Müntener, L. Nartey, P. Jüni, S. Dörig, et al., The Lancet 366, 726 (2005).
  10.  D. E. Moerman, and A. Harrington, Semin. Pain Med. 3, 2 (2005).
  11.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 91, 239 (2002).
  12.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 92, 35 (2003).
  13.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 92, 152 (2003).
  14.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 93, 34 (2004).
  15.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 93, 94 (2004).
  16.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 93, 154 (2004).
  17.  L. R. Milgrom, Forsch. Komplementmed. 11, 212 (2004).
  18.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 11, 831 (2005).
  19.  L. R. Milgrom, Forsch. Komplementmed. 12, 206 (2005).
  20.  L. R. Milgrom, Evid.-Based Compl. Alt. 4, 7 (2007).
  21.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 14, 329 (2008).
  22.  M. L. Rao, R. Roy, I. R. Bell, and R. Hoover, Homeopathy 96, 175 (2007).
  23.  M. Kerr, J. Magrath, P. Wilson, and C. Hebbern, Homeopathy 97, 44 (2008).
  24.  S. Popescu, Nature Physics 2, 507 (2006).
  25.  Compare googling on “quantum+mechanics+non-determinism”.
  26.  A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen, Rev. Mod. Phys. 47, 777 (1935).
  27.  J. S. Bell, Rev. Mod. Phys. 38, 447 (1966).
  28.  A. Aspect, P. Grangier, and G. Roger, Phys. Rev. Lett. 49, 91 (1982).
  29.  S. Gröblacher, T. Paterek, R. Kaltenbaek, C. Brukner, M.  et al., Nature 446, 871 (2007).
  30.  J. Gribbin, Q is for Quantum (Weidenfeld and Nicholson history, 2002).
  31.  J. S. Bell, Dialectica 39, 103 (1985).
  32.  P. Bloom, and D. S. Weisberg, Science 316, 996 (2007).
  33.  P. R. Gross, and N. Levitt, Higher Superstition (John Hopkins, 1997).
  34.  D. Dürr, S. Goldstein, and N. Zanghí, J. Stat. Phys. 67, 843 (1992).
  35.  D. Dürr, S. Goldstein, and N. Zanghí, Phys. Lett. A 172, 6 (1992).
  36.  Your Feynman chaser is at 5:42–6:01 of aParallel Worlds, Parallel Lives 2/6 (other parts of which also feature Max Tegmark [38]).
  37.  M. O. Scully, B.-G. Englert, and H. Walther, Nature 351, 111 (1991).
  38.  M. Tegmark, Phys. Rev. E 61, 4194 (2000).

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Further misunderstanding of coherence
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 8 July 2008
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Comment on “Macroscopic Quantum Coherence in Patient-Practitioner-Remedy Entanglement: The Quantized Fluctuation Field Perspective” [eCAM Advance Access published online on May 14, 2008].

Submitted 8th July 2008

BPSDBAlex Hankey (1) has written to support and defend Lionel Milgrom (2,3), but does so in his own terms of “quantum fluctuation fields” in biological systems (4) rather than Milgrom’s model (often referred to as a metaphor (5)) of patient-practitioner-remedy entanglement (6) via “weak” quantum theory (7). Quantum fluctuation fields are supposed to demonstrate quantum coherence on a macroscopic scale, but the reasoning behind this is flawed; in any case, a link between these two models is not to be taken for granted (8,9).

Neumann et al. (10) have recently reported that they have achieved entanglement between two 13C nuclei in a diamond lattice (controlled via their coupling to an electron in a nitrogen-vacancy defect) and that the quantum correlated state persists for 3–5 milliseconds at room temperature, similar to the spin-spin relaxation time of the electron spins (6 ms). A quantum correlated state involving three spins (the two 13C nuclei plus an electron) persisted for less than 2 μs, because interaction with other spin impurities shortens the relaxation times of the electron’s spin (11). This represents the reality of quantum correlations in solid matter at room temperature - persistence of an entangled state of two of three particles for milli- or microsecond timescales (respectively) represents a breakthrough. It is a long way from the kind of “macroscopic quantum coherence” which Hankey writes about (1). Hankey insists that coherence can be maintained over macroscopic distances in quantum systems at high temperature:

“All quantum field theories in solid state physics provide examples where this kind of assumption is made at a primal level, since the low energy forms of their various quanta are assumed to extend over the whole lattice being considered. Theoretically that is infinite in thermodynamic systems, and, practically, over a whole crystal, or whatever kind of domain is appropriate to the exciton under consideration, be it phonon, electron, magnon or other.”

Solid state physicists use Bloch waves to describe electrons in a crystal - they are made up of normal plane waves multiplied by a function with the periodicity of the crystal. Plane waves are eigenstates of momentum and are of course infinite in extent but no actual particles really have such well-defined momentum. In a thin semiconducting layer at low temperature (of the order of 1 K) it may be possible to see weak localization (12,13), which causes a slight increase in resistance when the charge-carrying particles (electrons or holes) become trapped in quantum-coherent loops. This coherence persists on a timescale called the dephasing time, which at 1 K (-272°C) in a good-quality sample may be of the order of a few picoseconds (14) and coherence may be maintained over length scales of around a micrometre. The dephasing time decreases as temperature increases. At 1 K the momentum relaxation time (the time it takes the particle to change direction significantly) is also just a few picoseconds, and due to the uncertainty principle this sets a limit on how well-defined the momentum can be. Far from extending “over the whole lattice being considered” the wavepacket of the charge-carrying particle in this example extends for about 1 μm at 1 K and only gets smaller as the temperature increases. Recently, Billy et al. (15) have observed a localization length of almost 0.6 mm in a one-dimensional Bose-Einstein condensate of rubidium-87.

Incidentally, an exciton is a bound electron-hole pair, not a general term for phonons, electrons, magnons or whatever (although the electron-like quasiparticles which pass for electrons in a crystal may be considered as excitations of the Fermi sea, for example).

The Mössbauer effect (16,17) is the emission of a gamma ray by an atom in a solid, in which the crystal as a whole recoils a tiny amount (instead of the emitting atom recoiling alone by a relatively large amount, thus reducing the energy of the emitted gamma ray). It relies only on the fact that there is a significant probability (for gamma rays of relatively low energy) that the recoil, which involves just the atom which emitted the gamma ray, will not excite even the lowest-energy vibrational modes (phonons) of the solid (18). It happens because the tiny momentum kick from the emission of the gamma ray involves just one atom, and the low-energy phonons which can take that sort of momentum have very long wavelength so involve lots of atoms. I struggle to understand how this means that the system undergoes “a quantum interaction as a coherent whole”. It is actually the failure to interact which means the momentum kick is not lost to phonons and is therefore taken up by the entire crystal.

Regarding David Chalmers (19) it seems that Chalmers’ dismissal of Penrose’s “nonalgorithmic processing” actually invalidates Hankey’s “putting together” (20) of Penrose and Chalmers (21). Chalmers has already considered Penrose’s ideas on conciousness and quantum gravity (22), and even if they were right (which is somewhat controversial, to say the least (23,24,25)) they are not what Chalmers was looking for in his “innocent version of dualism”. He is not particularly interested in general quantum mechanics either, which seems to further negate what Hankey is trying to suggest (and probably what Milgrom is trying to suggest, or at least what Hankey is trying to suggest about what Milgrom is trying to suggest). Chalmers also dismisses vitalism and therefore the “life force” which would be “equated with quantized instability fluctuations” (4). In any case, the non-trivial quantum effects (23) which Hagan et al. discuss (22) would take place in microtubules of diameter 25 nm and coherence might last for 0.01–0.1 milliseconds, although Tegmark calculated times of less than 0.1 ps (24). We are still a long way from macroscopic time- and length-scales.

Regarding phase transitions and the critical point (26), Hankey writes

“As the temperature T approaches the critical temperature Tc from above, the increase in specific heat means that extra heat energy is lost; implying that systems of critical fluctuations have anomalously low energy/heat content. This translates into low entropy content, since, by dq = TdS, heat change dq is directly related to entropy change dS.”

The third law of thermodynamics states that minimum entropy S of a system is to be found at the absolute zero of temperature. The entropy only increases as the internal energy q and therefore the temperature T is increased, by dq = CdT (where C is the heat capacity and is almost always positive). The high value of the specific heat at the critical temperature Tc
means that to increase the T through Tc requires an anomalously large input of heat energy. This translates via dq = TdS to a large increase in entropy. Hankey seems to imply that a low-entropy state exists at Tc, but since entropy is a state function this cannot be true, and systems of critical fluctuations do not have anomalously low energy/heat content. It is just that a system at a temperature just below Tc has quite a low energy/heat and entropy content compared to a system just above Tc.

This would already seem to render most of Hankey’s further reasoning untenable. The correlation length does become very large at the critical point, but this is not related to low entropy and it certainly has nothing to do with macroscopic quantum coherence. This is because the correlation length in a statistical mechanical sense is not directly related to the phase correlation length in a quantum mechanical sense. Spins, for example (26), correlate because they line up in each other’s magnetic fields, not because there is some quantum phase interaction. (If the long-range correlation were quantum mechanical in nature then we would only be able to understand it by creating a wavefunction which contained all the particles’ spin states combined in a non-trivial way; this is not usually necessary, unless T→ 0 (27).)

In conclusion, the link between coherence of some property near the critical point and coherence of the quantum phase is spurious and nothing to do with low entropy; Hankey’s “quantized fluctuation fields” (4) do not seem to have anything to do with Milgrom’s hypothesis of patient-practitioner-remedy entanglement (2,6) based on “weak” quantum theory (7) to explain what is only the placebo effect (28), apart from the vague appeal to quantum theory. Milgrom’s work is not physics and neither for that matter is Hankey’s.


  1.  Hankey A. Macroscopic Quantum Coherence in Patient-Practitioner-Remedy Entanglement: The Quantized Fluctuation Field Perspective. eCAM Advance Access published online on May 14, 2008.
  2.  Milgrom LR. Journeys in the country of the blind: Entanglement theory and the effects of blinding on trials of homeopathy and homeopathic provings. eCAM 2007; 4:7-16.
  3.  See for an examination of some of the criticisms made by
    Milgrom on those who maintain a skeptical attitudes towards his work; notes a misconception from Milgrom, which seems to
    be common amongst homeopaths, regarding Shang et al. (29); see
  4.  Hankey A. CAM Modalities Can Stimulate Advances in Theoretical Biology. eCAM 2005; 2:5-12.
  5.  Milgrom LR. Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy. Homeopathy 2007; 96:209-219.
  6.  Milgrom LR. Towards a New Model of the Homeopathic Process Based on Quantum Field Theory. Forsch Komplementmed 2006; 13:174-183.
  7.  Atmanspacher H, Römer H, Walach H. Weak Quantum Theory: Complementarity and Entanglement in Physics and Beyond. Found Phys 2002; 32:379-406.
  8.  Hankey A. Weak Quantum Theory: Satisfied By Quantized Critical Point Fluctuations. J Alt Comp Med 2006; 12:105-106.
  9.  Eq. (1) of Ref. (8) appears to be in error, since
    it seems to represent the commutation relation of a wavefunction &#X3C8; with
    its Hermitian adjoint
    &#X3C8; (or possibly the
    complex conjugate
    &#X3C8;* is intended as in Eq. (4)) rather than the
    commutator of two complementary observables as in Eq. (1) of
    Ref. (7). We also note that Eq. (5) of
    Ref. (8) does in any case contain Planck’s constant; see
  10.  Neumann P, Mizuochi N, Rempp F, Hemmer P, Watanabe H, Yamasaki S, Jacques V, Gaebel T, Jelezko F, Wrachtrup J. Multipartite Entanglement Among Single Spins in Diamond. Science 2008; 320:1326-1329.
  11.  Gaebel T, Domhan M, Popa I, Wittman C, Neumann P, Jelezko F, Rabeau JR, Stavrias N, Greentree AD, Prawer S, Meijer J, Twamley J, Hemmer PR, Wrachtrup J. Room-temperature coherent coupling of single spins in diamond. Nature Physics 2006; 2:408-413.
  12.  Lee PA, Ramakrishnan TV. Disordered electronic systems. Rev Mod Phys 1985; 57:287-337.
  13.  Chakravarty S, Schmid A. Weak Localization: The Quasi-Classical Theory of Electrons in a Random Potential. Phys Rep 1986; 140:193-236.
  14.  Berkutov IB, Komnik YF, Andrievskii VV, Mironov OA, Myronov M, Leadley DR. Weak localization and charge-carrier interaction effects in a two-dimensional hole gas in a germanium quantum well in a SiGe/Ge/SiGe heterostructure. Low Temp Phys 2006; 32:683-688.
  15.  Billy J, Josse V, Zuo Z, Bernard A, Hambrecht B, Lugan P, Clément D, Sanchez-Palencia L, Bouyer P, Aspect A. Direct observation of Anderson localization of matter waves in a controlled disorder. Nature 2008; 453:891-894.
  16.  Mössbauer RL. Kernresonanzabsorption von Gammastrahlung in Ir191. Naturwissenschaften 1958; 45:538-539.
  17.  Mössbauer RL. Kernresonanzfluoreszenz von Gammastrahlung in Ir191. Z Physik 1958; 151:124-143.
  18.  Eyges L. Physics of the Mössbauer Effect. Am J Phys 1965; 33:790-802.
  19.  Chalmers DJ. Facing up to the problem of conciousness. J Conciousness Studies 1995; 2:200-219.
  20.  Hankey A. Self-Consistent Theories of Health and Healing. J Alt Comp Med 2008; 14:221-223.
  21.  See and
  22.  Hagan S, Hameroff SR, Tuszynski JA. Quantum computation in brain microtubules: Decoherence and biological feasibility. Phys Rev E 2002; 65:061901.
  23.  Wiseman HM, Eisert J. Nontrivial quantum effects in biology: A skeptical physicists’ view. arXiv [physics.gen-ph] 2007; arXiv:0705.1232v2.
  24.  Tegmark M. Importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes. Phys Rev E 2000; 61:4194-4206.
  25.  Rosa LP, Faber J. Quantum models of the mind: Are they compatible with environment decoherence? Phys Rev E 2004; 70:031902.
  26.  Onsager L. Crystal Statistics. I. A Two-Dimensional Model with an Order-Disorder Transition. Phys Rev 1955; 65:117-149.
  27.  Latorre JI, Orús R, Vidal J. Entanglement entropy in the Lipkin-Meshkov-Glick model. Phys Rev A 2005; 71:064101.
  28.  Moerman DE, Harrington A. Making space for the placebo effect in pain medicine. Semin Pain Med 2005; 3:2-6.
  29.  Shang A, Huwiler-Müntener K, Nartey L, Jüni P, Dörig S, Sterne JAC, Pewsner D, Egger M. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. The Lancet 2005; 366:726-732.

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Weak quantum theory and quantum critical point fluctuations…
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 8 July 2008
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… do not in fact have anything to do with each other

BPSDBWhile writing my eLetter regarding Alex Hankey’s (1) support and defence of Lionel Milgrom (2), I took a look at a short letter written by Hankey entitled “Weak Quantum Theory: Satisfied by Quantized Critical Point Fluctuations” (3). Only the first page is freely available, but I’m assuming his reference to Walach is Ref. (4) and the reference to weak quantum theory is Atmanspacher et al. (5).

Atmanspacher et al. (5) give the following as their Eq. (1),

[P,Q] = PQ − QP = i

in which ℏ = h/2π (and h is Planck’s constant). This is the commutator for two complementary observables P and Q. An example of two such observables would be the position in the x-direction, x, and the momentum in the same direction, px:

[x,px] = xpx − px x = i

The momentum operator px actually has the form

px = −i

and is intended to operate on a wavefunction ψ like this:


in which ∂ψ/∂x just means “the rate of change of the wavefunction in the x direction”.

The position operator x is in fact just x, so we can expand Eq. 2 like this:

[x,px]ψ = −ix
 + i

The second term now contains “the rate of change of ‘x times the wavefunction’ in the x direction” and the general rule for dealing with this is

∂(f g)
 = f
 + g

where f and g are any general functions of x, so

[x,px]ψ = −ix
 + ix
 + iℏψ

in which the first two terms cancel out and ∂x/∂x = 1 so we are left with

[x,px]ψ = iℏψ    (8)

so that

[x,px] = iℏ    (9)

However, Hankey actually writes that

“In weak quantum theory, observables or weak quantum fields are postulated not to obey the usual quantum commutation relations, characteristic of ordinary quantum fields:

[ψ,ψ]=ψ×ψ − ψ×ψ = ih


Firstly, we note that this equation appears to be referring to wavefunctions rather than observables, and that the distinction seems to be lost on Hankey. (Operators are functions which operate on wavefunctions to produce other wavefunctions, they are not in themselves wavefunctions.) Secondly, he has h on the right hand side instead of ℏ so he is out by a factor of 2π. Thirdly, he is taking the commutator of a wavefunction ψ and its Hermitian adjoint ψ (or possibly the complex conjugate ψ* is intended as in Eq. (4)) rather than the commutator of two complementary observables.

Now ψ* ψ = |ψ|2 and for a normalized wavefunction,

|ψ|2 dx = 1    (10)

For concreteness let us consider the particle in a 1-dimensional box (length L) which has wavefunctions of the form

ψn = 

nπ x


where n is a positive integer. In this case, ψn* = ψn so it is easy to see that [ψn , ψn*]=0 and Hankey’s Eq. (1) is invalidated. For completeness, using

px* = i

(i.e. changing the sign of the imaginary part of px which is all of it) we find

[px,px*]ψ = px px* ψ − px* px ψ = −iℏ×iℏ 
 ψ = 0

since i and ℏ are constants (i.e. they do not change with x). An operator A is actually “self-adjoint” if A = A. Operators corresponding to observable quantities always have this property, and would always give [A,A]=0. Ladder operators, which raise or lower the eigenvalues of other operators, are not self-adjoint. In fact, if X is a lowering operator for N then X is a raising operator for N (and vice-versa). But in this case it should be generally the case that X and X commute. Assuming [N,X]=cX (c is real and positive) and N|n〉=n|n〉,


NX|n =  (XN + [N,X])|n〉      (14)
  =  (XN + cX)|n〉      (15)
  =  XN|n〉 + cX|n〉      (16)
  =  Xn|n〉 + cX|n〉      (17)
  =  (n+c)X|n

so if N operates on the state |n〉 to give the eigenvalue n, then X acts on |n〉 to give a state X|n〉 on which N operates to give n+c, where c is the commutator of N and X. X acts to lower the eigenvalue by c, so [N,X]=−cX:


NX|n =  (XN + [N,X])|n〉      (19)
  =  (XN − cX)|n〉      (20)
  =  XN|n〉 − cX|n〉      (21)
  =  Xn|n〉 − cX|n〉      (22)
  =  (nc)X|n

We find that the eigenvalue of the N operator on a state |n〉 which has been raised and then lowered,


N X X |n =  (−cX+XN)X|n〉      (24)
  =  −cXX|n〉+XNX|n〉      (25)
  =  −cXX|n〉+X(n+c)X|n〉 (using Eq. (18))      (26)
  =  −cXX|n〉+(n+c)XX|n〉      (27)
  =  nXX|n     (28)

is n, as it was originally. We can also lower and then raise the state (as long as we are not starting in the lowest possible state),


N X X |n =  (cX+XN)X|n〉      (29)
  =  cXX|n〉+XNX|n〉      (30)
  =  cXX|n〉+X(nc)X|n〉 (using Eq. (23))      (31)
  =  cXX|n〉+(nc)XX|n〉      (32)
  =  nXX|n     (33)

and again we obtain n, meaning that it does not matter what order we apply the raising and lowering operators, which means that they commute: [X,X]=XXXX=0. So, we have disproved Hankey’s Eq. (1) for particular cases of self-adjoint and non-self-adjoint operators. The commutator, Eq. (1), only applies to pairs of complementary operators such as position and momentum. It does not apply to an operator and its adjoint, or to a wavefunction and its complex conjugate, at least in the cases I’ve just examined.

Hankey’s Eq. (3) looks a bit like the standard deviationX = √〈X2〉−〈X2 for some operator X, where 〈X〉=〈ψ|Xψ〉) and as he correctly points out all the quantities in his Eq. (3) are numbers and so “commute with everything”. They are all actually real numbers, equal to their complex conjugates, so it therefore makes no sense whatsoever for him to try to construct the commutator in Eq. (4) or to substitute in from Eq. (3). In fact he seems to have lost the distinction between wavefunctions and operators again.

This was all an attempt to find an object which obeys a “more general commutation relation” which does not involve Planck’s constant (but presumably a much larger number) but Hankey’s Eq. (5) contains h anyway (6), so it’s not as if he’s completely escaped from the constraints applied by Planck’s constant, despite have escaped from the constraints of reality.


  1.  A. Hankey, Evid. Based Comp. Alt. Med. (eCAM) Advance Access published online on May 14, 2008.
  2.  L. R. Milgrom, Evid. Based Comp. Alt. Med. (eCAM) 4, 7 (2007).
  3.  A. Hankey, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 12, 105 (2006).
  4.  H. Walach, Forsch. Komplementmed. 10, 192 (2003).
  5.  H. Atmanspacher, H. Römer, and H. Walach, Found. Phys. 32, 379 (2002).
  6. Also note that the commutation relation for the x and y
    components of
    angular momentum is [Lx,Ly]=iLz, i.e. not exactly
    iℏ, but nobody is suggesting that this is therefore “weak” quantum

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The futility of transcendental speculations
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 9 May 2008
Stats: and Comments Off

BPSDBLionel Milgrom’s latest paper, “A New Geometrical Description of Entanglement and the Curative Homeopathic Process” [1], as introduced by Alex Hankey (“Self-Consistent Theories of Health and Healing” [2]) quotes Hahnemann saying that

“The unprejudiced observer is well aware of the futility of transcendental speculations which can receive no confirmation from experience.”

Milgrom’s futile transcendental speculations have been going on for six years. This latest paper is light on equations but heavy on pictures and mysticism and further from science (and indeed reality) than ever. But it’s still possible to find some things which are meaningful enough to be wrong.First we find complaints and special pleading to be allowed to overturn evidence-based medicine (EBM) and the double-blind randomized-controlled trial (DBRCT):

“EBM and the DBRCT, like much of biomedical science, are rooted in the reductionist philosophy of logical positivism combined with local realism. The latter states that: (a), the universe is real and it exists whether we observe it or not; (b), legitimate conclusions and predictions can be drawn from consistent experimental outcomes and observations; and (c), no signal can travel faster than light [3,4,5]. In questioning (a) and (c) above, quantum theory transcends local realism [4] and the reductionism of biomedicine [5]. Attempts at explaining homeopathy’s efficacy have made use of concepts generalized from the discourses of semiotics [6,7] and quantum theory [8,9,10].”

EBM just means that someone’s checked that it actually works - if it could be demonstrated that homeopathy worked at actually curing diseases then it would be part of EBM. In fact anything in CAM would quickly become part of EBM if it worked. What we actually get is subjective reports of improvements in self-limiting or cyclic conditions, while journals publish flawed, biased articles on effects at the fringes of statistical significance [11,12,13,14,15].

There’s nothing magical about DBRCTs either, they are just the most rigorous way of trying to sort out if there is actually any weak effect there. If homeopathy really worked as well as its proponents seem to suggest then the results should be blatantly obvious and there would be no need to dig so hard to find them. Let’s pedantically consider each letter.

T for Trial
You have to test something to make sure that you aren’t just remembering the positive anecdotes and forgetting the negative ones.
C for Control
You compare your treatment group with a group receiving no treatment, to make sure that it’s really the treatment having an effect. It’s usual to give the control group a placebo.
R for Randomized
To make sure that the patients in the treatment and control group are similar, so that similar disease progressions would be expected in each group if the treatment were ineffective. Otherwise you could deliberately or subconciously put the healthier people into the treatment group and then of course they likely to be healthier at the end of the trial. It’s good to have large groups.
B for Blind
The patient shouldn’t know whether they are getting the treatment or the control because this could bias their self-reported symptoms and also their expectations.
D for Double
The doctor shouldn’t know whether a patient is in the treatment or control group either, or else he or she can deliberately or subconciously influence the patient.

A DBRCT is just the best way of minimizing all the possible biasing factors in the case that the effect of the treatment is less than blatantly obvious. So it’s not surprising that good quality DBRCTs tend to come out negative for homeopathy while less well-controlled trials show positive effects - that shows exactly that the positive effects of homeopathy are nothing to do with the remedies themselves [16,17,18,19].

And then, on with the entanglement, as if I haven’t already explained how the Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger [20] system actually works, or why most of what he says about entanglement isn’t correct.

“Entanglement is said to occur in a quantum system when its seemingly separate parts are so holistically matched or correlated, measurement of one part of the system instantaneously (i.e., not limited by the speed of light and without classical signal transmission) provides information about all its other parts, regardless of their separation in space and time, or their size [21].”

Italics are his. I’ve tried to explain entanglement in other posts, and I’ve tried to clarify that “size” doesn’t mean “number of interacting particles” since even maintaining seven nuclear spins in a state of coherent quantum phase is quite hard [22]; macroscopic coherent states do not persist for very long at all [23,24]. Superconductors and superfluids work because of ways in which the particles in question are prevented from interacting [25,26]. Apparently,

“the Memory of Water [27] also relies on macro-entangled coherence, albeit between large numbers of water molecules [28].”

which isn’t true at all, and not just because there is no such thing [29]. The Memory of Water is supposed to be a physical effect whereby the structure of a sample water depends on what used to be in solution in it: it’s nothing to do with coherence of the quantum phase. (Del Giudice et al. [28] seem to be talking about coherence of dipoles in an electric field, not coherence of the quantum phase.) Milgrom then goes on to explain:

‘Nonlocal correlation is not the only prerequisite for entanglement. A quantum system’s processes must also be describable in terms of a “non-commuting algebra of complementary observables.” [4]’

All this means is that it matters what order you do certain pairs of measurements in, since eigenstates of one operator are not eigenstates of another. I just found the quote marks interesting, as if he’s pasted that in without knowing how to explain it. To be fair, I can’t be bothered to explain it either. But this complementarity means, according to Milgrom, that

“To fully explain quantum phenomena, therefore, it is necessary to have two different but complementary concepts. The answer one obtains performing two different sets of observations depends entirely on the order in which they are performed; yet both are necessary in order to acquire a complete picture of the system.”

A “complete picture of the system” is not actually possible in these terms. It is impossible to have a system in two complementary states at the same time. A “complete picture” in terms of macroscopic variables (such as position and momentum) therefore does not exist. We just have the idea that there’s a wavefunction which exists but is not directly observable, on which we can operate in various ways in order to obtain observable results.

Having misunderstood and misrepresented quantum theory, Milgrom now goes on to do the same for weak quantum theory (WQT) [30]. Leick has already pointed out [31] that

‘Milgrom writes “Complementarity and indeterminacy are epistemological in origin not ontological”, [5] which is a serious misquote of the original paper, where it says that “[...] there is no way to argue that complementarity and indeterminacy in weak quantum theory are of ontic rather than epistemic nature.[...] one would expect them to be of rather innocent epistemic origin in many cases.” [30] The difference between the two versions cannot be emphasized enough, as quantum effects such as entanglement are due to the ontic nature (ie not simply to our incomplete knowledge) of complementarity and indeterminacy!’

But what does it mean that WQT “relaxes several of its nanoscopically limiting axioms, including dependence on Planck’s constant.”? Planck’s constant h is what connects quantum theory with reality - it turns out that light comes in photons and the energy of each photon is proportional to the frequency of the light, with the constant of proportionality being h. This is how Planck was able to solve the problem of black-body radiation. If “complementarity and entanglement are not restricted by a constant like Planck’s constant” then what do we have in its place, to connect WQT with reality? The simple answer is that there is no connection to reality so it’s not even a sensible question. The more involved answer is that “WQT has no interpretation in terms of probabilities” which amounts to more or less the same thing. How can Milgrom then write that “the product 〈ΨPPRPPR〉=|ΨPPR|2 presumably represents the probability of cure”? (If ΨPPR is properly normalized then 〈ΨPPRPPR〉=1 and it says nothing about the “probability of cure” or anything - to find that he’d have to define an “cure” operator and calculate its expectation value.) By the way, it’s often more convenient to work with ℏ = h/2π so you’ll see that in some equations later on.

I have already wondered what use WQT would be in answering objective questions like “does homeopathy work?” if it doesn’t seem to have any interpretation in terms of observables. Medical effects are quantifiable. Anyway, Milgrom then goes on to introduce Walach’s use of semiotics [7] and there’s a box-out which contains the unintentionally ironic Hahnemann quote. Semiotics is more linguistics than science, it’s got no place here. The way we interpret signs and produce meaning has got nothing to do with the molecular biology of how actual pharmaceuticals work.

The rest of the quote in the box-out explains that the observer

“can take note of nothing in every individual disease, except the changes in the health of the body and of the mind (morbid phenomena, accidents, symptoms) which can be perceived externally by means of the senses… All these signs represent the disease in its whole extent, that is, together they form the true and only conceivable portrait of the disease.”

The first part of that may have been true a couple of hundred years ago but it isn’t true now. The second part was never true: we now know about
germs, viruses, genes, DNA and molecular biology. Symptoms are part of the body’s reaction to an underlying pathology. They are not the pathology itself. The same pathology can present in different ways in different people, and many symptoms are shared between different diseases.

A few kets finally turn up now, as Milgrom once again formulates his patient, practitioner and remedy wavefunctions. He then decides to attach one of Walach’s semiotic sign-object-meaning triangles (each corner of which seems to represent an operator or possibly the expectation value of it) to each of the three corners of the patient-practitioner-remedy triangle. It’s meaningless, but where it becomes actually wrong is in the invocation of complex numbers and a strange sort of quantum origami. Already in part C of his Fig. 2 the bra-ket notation seems to have broken down - and how he manages to fold the “corners of the large triangle to create a pyramid with a hexagonal base” is beyond me, since a pyramid with a hexagonal base needs six sides and a triangle only has three corners. This folding appears to have turned the states into their complex conjugates, but then Milgrom reflects the whole thing so that it’s upside down and then unfolds it and it turns out to be twisted through 60°. How is that supposed to happen? It’s nonsense mathematically (not to mention scientifically) and I don’t even think it makes geometrical sense. Which directions are real and which are imaginary doesn’t seem to be made clear for fairly obvious reasons - taking the complex conjugate means mirroring in the Real line but each of the three corners is flipped over a different line in the 2-d plane, and then the whole “pyramid” is mirrored in the whole 2-d plane which apparently represents the “homeopathic operator, Πr”. This is all I suppose taking place in the

‘“therapeutic state space” [32] (an analogue of the complex mathematical Hilbert space more familiar from orthodox quantum theory) [4].’

In the nicest possible way, how many readers of J. Alt. Complement. Med. are familiar with Hilbert spaces? He seems to think that in an equation such as 〈ΨPPRrPPR〉=⟨&#X394; S x⟩ that it’s the operator which is making the complex conjugate 〈ΨPPR| out of |ΨPPR〉, which just isn’t the way it works at all. (Anyway, if you fold over the corners of an equilateral triangle so that you are left with a regular hexagon, the triangles will meet in the middle when they are flat against the hexagon - the pyramid they define has zero height. And each wavefunction exist in its own Hilbert space so I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean to put them all in each others’ spaces.) It’s hardly worth looking at his Fig. 3 where he does it all again only with tetrahedra. The lack of any explicit conceptual difference between Figs. 2 and 3 demonstrates how arbitrary and meaningless it is, since he can apparently produce two completely different pictures to represent what is supposed to be the same things, and this makes it useless trying to work out on which level to take it seriously - there isn’t a level on which it makes any sense. (There are probably lots more versions of this quantum homeopathic origamy nonsense coming soon to “peer reviewed” journals with low editorial standards near you.)

Meanwhile, there’s a second box-out on the Kochen-Specker theorem [33]. This is a theorem which says that it’s not possible to find a direct correspondence between quantum mechanical observables and classical quantities. The first half of the box seems to be ok, up until the part where he he claims that

‘signs and symptoms of disease are considered observable manifestations of an “invisible” disturbed vital force, Vf.’

This is apparently because Auyang [4] said

“Eigenvalues are analogous to symptoms of a disease, which are disturbances of the body that show up and indicate something that does not show up. Just as a cold persists though its symptoms are suppressed, so a quantum system’s wave function has a definite amplitude, even though it has no eigenvalue…”

and Milgrom has taken this analogy far too seriously. Common cold viruses are not invisible. (I’m not sure what “no eigenvalue” means in this context either: is it that the eigenvalue is zero or that the state is not an eigenstate? Measurement is supposed to collapse a mixed state into an eigenstate.) There’s a mention of self-adjoint operators, which are those operators which operate on states to give physical observables. (There are, for example, ladder operators which operate on states to give new states.) It’s not exactly true that “they consist only of real numbers” because for example the momentum operator for the x direction is −i ℏ ∂/∂x - rather, it means that the operator is a Hermitian matrix which is equal to its own conjugate transpose and it has real eigenvalues (but see also the spectral theorem).

The Kochen-Specker theorem [33] knackers hidden variable theories, in which the quantum mechanical correlations leading to entanglement are explained by theorizing that the system somehow already “knows” which state it’s going to turn out to be in when you measure, even if this information is not available from the wavefunction. It turns out that you can’t have definite values of all the hidden variables corresponding to quantum mechanical observables all the time which are independent of the way in which they might be measured. This is because for classical quantities it shouldn’t matter in what order you measure certain properties, but for certain complementary pairs of quantum mechanical observables it does indeed matter in what order you measure. This is actually only a problem if the Hilbert space has three or more dimensions [34], and Milgrom decides that since his homeopathy Πr mirror is a 2d plane, so the “therapeutic state space” is this 2d plane on which the Kochen-Specker theorem need not apply. In fact he’s drawn his mirror as a 2d plane embedded in a 3d space, and if he wants a pyramid which goes upside-down then he needs at least a 3d Hilbert space to do it in. It’s clear that in the real world there are wavefunctions which really do “exist” in Hilbert spaces with three or more dimensions out of which observable quantities can be extracted with the appropriate measurement operators: the theorem just says that these very observables were not some how “in there” before we did the extraction. What comes out actually depends on the interaction between the measuring operation and the wavefunction, so the intrinsic properties of the wavefunction (and I maintain that it does have them) are not those which correspond exactly to things we are intuitively familiar with, such as position or momentum. So I don’t think that the Kochen-Specker theorem is particularly relevant to what Milgrom is trying to do, and he wouldn’t be able to get around it anyway because he’s working in 3d not 2d. (What he’s drawn isn’t a Hilbert space anyway: states exist as rays in a Hilbert space, not polygons.)

On to Fig. 3 anyway. As I mentioned, for some reason this time he folds up the big triangle into a tetrahedron. Does this represent a mathematical transformation of some kind? (No.) There are no brakets arounds the Ψs this time, perhaps that’s the difference. The practitioner has a wavefunction ΨPr and therefore a triangle, but then apparently “sits at the center of tetrahedron” too. There’s clearly no special reason for this apart from Milgrom wanted it that way and thereby made it up (and in the text it’s “the patient notionally at the tetrahedral epicenters”.). And then of course the practitioner also has an operator Πr which is supposed to be a mirror which somehow also twists the tetrahedron in a way which doesn’t make a huge amount of sense (and I don’t think this is a self-adjoint operator if it flips between these two states). Then there’s another box-out regarding chirality and there’s nothing wrong with it, apart from that it’s almost totally irrelevant, only serving to remind us that Milgrom used to be a chemist.

The final step is to combine the original tetrahedron and the twisted one into the shape called the stella octangula which Hankey got so excited about. (But he also folds up the big triangle into a small flat triangle which apparently introduces a 60° twist. I don’t think he runs with this; he was just getting carried away. I don’t know why the Ψs have now moved to the corners where previously we had operators.) The twisting is supposed to be the practitioner showing the cure to the patient or some nonsense like that. It’s not a real-space twist: it doesn’t matter which way the patient is “looking” or “going”. States evolve through Hilbert space according to the time-dependent Schrödinger equation:

HΨ = iℏ 
∂ t

where the left side has the Hamiltonian operating on Ψ (which classically involves the kinetic and potential energies, where the former involves taking derivatives with respect to space - stationary states are energy eigenstates) and the right side involves taking the derivative with respect to time. (This equation is completely deterministic, by the way.) How should we describe pointing “the patient in the direction of cure” now exactly?

The problem I always have with Milgrom is that I try to read it as if it were science. I assume that there’s sense and meaning in there but the concepts are difficult and require work to get to. The problem is that there’s no sense or meaning, and I end up doing a lot of work trying to get the right level into focus when there is no right level. It’s meaningless. I don’t think it’s even correct geometrically. It’s nearly finished though so that’s good.

We only have to deal with the stella octangula’s role in quantum teleportation first [35,36,37,38]. I’m not interested in the stuff about the Platonic solids or the “classical four elements”, or the Merkabah. (Read Finding Moonshine if you want a more sensible discussion about symmetry and that.) It’s the link back to quantum mechanics which is more troubling, since some might see that and think Milgrom’s on to something. Let me assure you he isn’t. The picture which Aravind [38] draws is a representation of operations described by Bennett et al. [36] when dealing with a entangled state of two spin-1/2 particles - it gives a way of understanding which combinations of spin states are more entangled than others, or something. The corners of a tetrahedron A, B, C and D represent four Bell states while the centre E represents a totally unpolarized state. Aravind explains:

“The twirl operation can also be visualized readily on the Horodecki diagram. The effect of a twirl on an arbitrary Bell diagonal mixture is to project it orthogonally onto the line AE containing the Werner states. For a non-separable state in the A-sector of the tetrahedron, this reduction is achieved without any loss in entanglement but for states in the B, C and D sectors there is a complete loss of entanglement. The proper way to reduce the latter states is to either subject them to a modified twirl [36] that projects them onto Werner-like states in their own sectors or else to transfer them into the A-sector (by a suitable unilateral rotation) and then apply the standard twirl.”

There’s an octagon embedded in the tetrahedron, formed by the intersection of the tetrahedron and its inverse, within which lie all the separable states. How does this compare to Migrom’s picture? Milgrom built up his intersecting tetrahedra from at least three “particles” so he would need a different shape (probably in more than three dimensions) to represent all their states; the centre, representing complete unpolarization and being the most unentangled state in Aravind’s picture, is the patient (probably) in Milgrom’s picture, but the patient is also a face; in Aravind’s picture the vertices of the tetrahedron represent maximally-entangled Bell states, while Milgrom seems to have expectation values or operators or something. So it’s clear that just because he has contrived to arrive at the same shape doesn’t mean that he’s somehow doing something connected to what these guys are doing. (It may not be a total coincidence either that Sandu Popescu [39] is acknowledged by Aravind [38] and cited by Milgrom [40] in his reply to Leick [31].)

To conclude, then: in order to avoid facing the fact that quantum mechanics is simply not relevant to the system of a homeopath and a patient [41], Milgrom concludes that the “state functions representing each of the Px, Pr, Rx, and the PPR entangled state are not related to quantifiable physical observables”, admitting how useless it all is for actually working anything out; but when he states that “it is clear that the nature of the therapeutic process requires its initial separation and ‘isolation’ from the usual external environment, as a necessary prerequisite for the coherence of entanglement to occur, and cure to begin,” he admits something I think we already knew: that it is necessary to be out of touch with reality to be a homeopath.

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  25.  J. Bardeen, L. N. Cooper, and J. R. Schrieffer, Phys. Rev. 108, 1175 (1957).
  26.  L. Landau, Phys. Rev. 60, 356 (1941).
  27.  M. Schiff, The Memory of Water: Homoeopathy and the Battle of Ideas in the New Science (Thorsons, 1995).
  28.  E. Del Giudice, G. Preparata, and G. Vitiello, Phys. Rev. Lett. 61, 1085 (1988).
  29.  J. Teixeira, Homeopathy 96, 158 (2007).
  30.  H. Atmanspacher, H. Römer, and H. Walach, Found. Phys. 32, 379 (2002).
  31.  P. Leick, Homeopathy 97, 50 (2008).
  32.  L. R. Milgrom, Forsch. Komplementmed. 13, 174 (2006).
  33.  S. Kochen, and E. Specker, Indiana Univ. Math. J. 17, 59 (1968).
  34.  A. Peres, J. Phys. A 24, L175 (1991).
  35.  R. Horodecki, and M. Horodecki, Phys. Rev. A 54, 1838 (1996).
  36.  C. H. Bennett, D. P. DiVincenzo, J. A. Smolin, and W. K. Wootters, Phys. Rev. A 54, 3824 (1996).
  37.  C. H. Bennett, G. Brassard, S. Popescu, B. Schumacher, J. A. Smolin, and W. K, Wootters Phys. Rev. Lett. 76, 722 (1996).
  38.  P. K. Aravind, Phys. Lett. A 233, 7 (1997).
  39.  S. Popescu, Nature Physics 2, 507 (2006).
  40.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 97, 96 (2008).
  41.  H. M. Wiseman, and J. Eisert, e-Print archive physics, arXiv:0705.1232v2 (2007).

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Inconsistent with health and healing
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 27 April 2008
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BPSDBIn his editorial introducing Lionel Milgrom’s latest paper, “A New Geometrical Description of Entanglement and the Curative Homeopathic Process” [1], Alex Hankey (“Self-Consistent Theories of Health and Healing” [2]) can’t even spell homeopathy: he cites Simon Baker’s letter to eCAM (in response to “Journeys in the country of the blind” [3]) as “Re: Homeoathy and hubris”. There’s also a citation to a letter written by someone called “Chrastana”. (This is after Lionel Milgrom got confused between Simon Gates and Simon Baker and ended up replying to Simon Bates.) There’s clearly little hope for any sort of scientific or technical accuracy when basic proof-reading is clearly beyond both Hankey and the staff of J. Alt. Complement. Med in which this is published.

It doesn’t take long for Hankey to have a dig at so-called “scientific conservatives” as if the ones who are desperately trying to dig a 200-year-old quasi-mystical idea out of the deep grave marked “contradictory to all of current modern physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine” are the innovators, not the scientists who have shown why we need to leave Hahnemann’s ideas behind. To summarize: the past couple of hundred years have seen the development of the germ theory of disease, the discovery of viruses, the development of genetics, the discovery of DNA and of its structure and the birth of molecular biology generally, the development of atomic theory and the arrangement of elements into the Periodic table, and the formulation of quantum mechanics and special and general relativity. All of these things are very well confirmed by experimental evidence and most of them contradict the principles of homeopathy. The germ theory of disease contradicts those who still believe in miasmas, molecular biology basically contradicts all that stuff about the Vital Force, and atomic theory explains that the kind of dilutions frequently used by homeopaths contain nothing of the supposedly active ingredient (as if containing a tiny amount of it would really make any difference anyway). But sadly, quantum mechanics, if understood poorly enough, seems to give the homeopaths hope that they haven’t actually been wasting their lives. In the final insult they then claim that it’s the rest of us who are stuck in an old paradigm. When Philippe Leick said that [4]

“the claim that dilutions beyond Avogadro’s limit can have any specific effect linked to the properties of the original substance… if
solved to the satisfaction of the adherents of homeopathy, probably will revolutionize physics.”

he was pointing out just how much we’d have to throw away if it were true (which it isn’t).

One thing which has come out of quantum theory of the solid-state is the transistor, and therefore the computer, without which none of this would be happening. David Chalmers and Roger Penrose are invoked by Hankey to explain what’s wrong with modern science, in that it apparently doesn’t have a theory of consciousness.

Now the only Penrose I’ve read is the The Road to Reality [5], so I’ve mainly bypassed all that quantum-gravity–consciousness [6] nonsense [7,8]. (In The Road to Reality Penrose complains that string theory [9] is useless because so far it’s only been able to create the graviton, and then tries to explain his twistor theory, which he’s been working on for 40 years, and which has so far only been able to create half a graviton. But he’s an extremely clever mathematical physicist even if I think he’s wrong about a couple of things. His insights into thermodynamics and entropy are interesting [10,11].)

But when it comes to the philosopher David Chalmers, Hankey cites “Facing up to the problem of consciousness” [12] which is a bit shorter than Penrose’s and is dealt with in another post, in which I try to argue that Chalmers’ dismissal of Penrose’s “nonalgorithmic processing” knackers Hankey’s “putting together” of Penrose and Chalmers. Chalmers has already considered Penrose’s ideas, and even if they were right (which I for one am not sure about) they aren’t what he was looking for. He isn’t particularly interested in general quantum mechanics either, which further knackers what Hankey is trying to suggest (and probably what Milgrom is trying to suggest, or at least what Hankey is trying to suggest about it). Chalmers also basically knackers all of homeopathy and frankly quite a lot of CAM by dismissing vitalism.

Hankey says that “creative thinkers… recognise such laws as necessary bases from which to depart…” and in doing so misses the point that you have to understand a rule completely in order to know its limitations (these guys only think they understand the rules based on some
popularizations) and the Dalai Lama quote about “The most important rule is to know how to break the rules” was probably about politics rather than science, in which the rules really can be broken because they are made up and imposed by humans rather than being discovered facts about the universe. Every research scientist, meanwhile, is trying to test, extend, and validate whatever laws have so far been discovered in whatever field he or she happens to be working in (and maybe even helping to discover new laws). It’s what we do all day.

It’s interesting how Hankey and those like him immediately react to criticism by complaining about the attitude of the complainants rather than by pointing to evidence for their positions: it’s becauese they lack the tools to deal with criticism, what without having any actual evidence. He just has philosophy and mysticism, understood at the same superficial level as he understands quantum physics.

In the end Hankey sees all of Milgrom’s work as having “striking confermation” because of the shape he makes up at the end is bit similar to another shape Hankey can think of. Analysis of Milgrom’s work will have to wait until another day - until then you can make do with “mere chemistry”.


  1.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 14, 329 (2008).
  2.  A. Hankey, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 14, 221 (2008).
  3.  L. R. Milgrom, Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 4, 7 (2007).
  4.  P. Leick, Homeopathy 97,
    50 (2008)
  5.  R. Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (Jonathan Cape, 2004).
    S. Hagan, S. R. Hameroff, and J. A. Tuszy&#X144;ski, Phys. Rev. E 65, 061901 (2002)
    M. Tegmark, Phys. Rev. E 61, 4194 (2000)
  8.  H. M. Wiseman and J. Eisert, e-Print archive physics, arXiv:0705.1232v2 (2007).
  9.  B. Greene, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (Vintage, 2005).
  10.  R. Penrose, J. Stat. Phys. 77, 217
  11.  J. Bricmont, Physicalia Magazine 17, 159 (1995).
  12.  D. J. Chalmers, J. Conciousness Studies 2, 200 (1995).

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Consciousness… consciousness of other people… consciousness of beer… unconsciousness…
By What the hell is this?
Posted in syndicated on 27 April 2008
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In his editorial introducing Lionel Milgrom’s latest paper, “A New Geometrical Description of Entanglement and the Curative Homeopathic Process” [1], Alex Hankey cites “Facing up to the problem of consciousness” [2] by philosopher David Chalmers, which merits a blog post of its own. Hankey’s editorial itself is dealt with in the post entitled Inconsistent with health and healing.

Consciousness… consciousness of other people… consciousness of beer… unconsciousness…

BPR3Chalmers distinguishes the ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ problems related to explanations of consciousness. The easy problems relate to the explanation of what he redefines as awareness;

  • the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli;
  • the integration of information by a cognitive system;
  • the reportability of mental states;
  • the ability of a system to access its own internal states;
  • the focus of attention;
  • the deliberate control of behavior;
  • the difference between wakefulness and sleep.

whereas the hard problem is that of explaining experience:

“When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience.”

Chalmers maintains therefore that what is required to explain experience is something which does not fit into or arise out of cognitive science and neuroscience,

“These methods have been developed precisely to explain the performance of cognitive functions, and they do a good job of it. But as these methods stand, they are only equipped to explain the performance of functions. When it comes to the hard problem, the standard approach has nothing to say.”

and even some sort of quantum mechanical effect or Penrose’s “nonalgorithmic processing” can’t be the missing ingredient, because these are physical effects which should already be covered by the time that cognitive science and neuroscience have done their stuff. Chalmers still wants to know why any such purely physical process should give rise to experience - “Experience may arise from the physical, but it is not entailed by the physical… When it comes to a problem over and above the explanation of structures and functions, [reductive] methods are impotent.” He then goes on to explain that he’s not being vitalist, but he admits that his position, in which he wants to “take experience itself as a fundamental feature of the world, alongside mass, charge, and space-time,” qualifies as a variety of dualism. He maintains though that it is an “innocent version of dualism… nothing in the approach contradicts anything in physical theory.” Well he says that, but he can’t know that without knowing something that nobody else does about cognitive science and neuroscience, or making his idea so nebulous that its connection to reality can be wherever it’s easiest to hide. The fact that this idea’s “overall shape is like that of a physical theory” is useless if he’s already decided that there’s nothing physical about it. (Incidentally, he mentions Maxwell’s introduction of electromagnetics as “new fundamental components of a physical theory” in addition to the wholly mechanical processes that previous physical theories appealed to” but it’s important to remember that electromagnetics led to special relativity [3] (and from there to general relativity) which changed mechanics quite a lot, so it’s not necessarily safe to go adding new fundamental entities without expecting anything else in the rest of physics to have to change. Anyway, mass and charge are fundamental because they are conserved quantities (once we realize that energy has mass [4]) and conservation laws relate to symmetry; it’s hard to argue that “experience” is a conserved quantity.)

But finally we get to the three principles which Chalmers thinks might go into a theory of consciousness:

  1. Structural coherence
  2. Organizational invariance
  3. The double-aspect theory of information

The first two of these are described by Chalmers as nonbasic principles but he considers the third and final one to be his “candidate for a basic principle that might form the cornerstone of a fundamental theory of consciousness.”

Structural coherence
“Any information that is consciously experienced will also be cognitively represented.” No argument there: put someone in an fMRI machine or PET scanner and watch the correlations between what they report and what’s going on in their brain. You have a cortical map of your body, and other parts of the cortex map visual or auditory fields.
Organizational invariance
“Any two systems with the same fine-grained functional organization will have qualitatively identical experiences.” The thought experiment here is to consider two conscious systems which have the same structure but are built from different components, and imagine that they might have different experiences, and then imagine progressing piece by piece from one to the other. The experience should surely need to change as we went from one system to another, but Chalmer decides this has to happen suddenly at one step in the progression rather than smoothly across the whole range; is there any real reason for that, or is it just that he is thinking in terms of mutually exclusive experiences of the same external phenomenon? One system might see red and have the experience of red, and another might see red and have the experience of blue, but is there one in the middle which would have the experience of grey or purple? This is the sort of question which reminds me why I have little patience for philosophy. It’s the sort of thing students discuss in pubs. Maybe we could sort it out in this case by examining the visual cortex, but then we’d probably be back to “awareness” rather than “experience”.
The double-aspect theory of information

Shannon [5] introduced the concept of information entropy to quantify the information content of a message. You can actually get an idea of the entropy of a Word document or something by seeing how much you can compress it with winzip (OpenOffice documents are already compressed). Documents which compress a lot contain a lot of repeated information* and have a low entropy, whereas a truly random string of bits is incompressible and has high entropy. But information entropy doesn’t say anything about meaning: that seemingly random string of bits might turn out to be an OpenOffice document, once you’ve installed the software on your computer which allows it to make sense of it and translate it into text on the screen… and then it might turn out to be in a language which you don’t understand, until you learn that language and then you have the mental software to translate the text into mentalese [6]. It’s fine to represent information as if it lived in its own information space, because on a certain level that string of bits and the pattern of lights on the screen have the same information content even if they have completely different physical forms, but it doesn’t give the information space any physical reality. You always find that the information is encoded in some physical medium, whether it be magnetic domains on a hard disk, charges on the gates of transistors, the orientations of liquid crystal molecules, or firing patterns of neurons. In some sense it’s the same information, but it relies on either the computer or the human having the right software in order to get the meaning out. How that translation into mentalese [6] leads to “experience” of that information isn’t at all obvious. It still seems like “awareness” to me. What’s fundamental about information? It’s just an arrangement of something which isn’t quite as random as it could be.

(* - recently I had to make some posters in PowerPoint and I noticed that even simple edits caused the file size to increase significantly, but I discovered by accident that using “Save as” instead of “Save” cause the filesize to decrease back to its original value, even if you didn’t actually change the filename or anything.)

So what we are left with probably isn’t as exciting as Hankey seems to make out.


  1.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 14, 329 (2008).
  2.  D. J. Chalmers, J. Conciousness Studies 2, 200 (1995).
  3.  A. Einstein, Annalen der Physik 17, 891 (1905a).
  4.  A. Einstein, Annalen der Physik 18, 639 (1905b).
  5.  C. E. Shannon, Bell System Tech. J. 27, 379 (1948).
  6.  S. Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Windows into Human Nature (Allen Lane, 2007).

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Weak Quantum Theory isn’t that weak
By What the hell is this?
Posted in , syndicated on 13 January 2008
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Weak Quantum Theory isn’t that weak

Another comment on “Journeys in The Country of The Blind: Entanglement Theory and The Effects of Blinding on Trials of Homeopathy and Homeopathic Provings” [eCAM 4 (1) 7-16 (2007)].

Submitted 13th January 2008

I certainly am entertained by Milgrom’s new notion of “the importance of isolation from the external environment (the consultation) in order for coherence and decoherence to bring about the possibility of cure.” It formalizes the position that homeopaths, and the people who feel a subjective benefit in going to them, have lost contact with reality. Indeed, my experience is that a lack of coherence is often seen in homeopaths with whom I try to interact. I am also pleased to note that Milgrom admits that “the wave functions of orthodox quantum theory represent quantifiably measurable observables of physical particles. This is not what the ‘wave-functions’ in PPR [patient-practitioner-remedy] entanglement or WQT [weak quantum theory] [1] represent… They represent more qualitative and subjective observables”. This makes it clear that WQT [2,3,4,5] is useless for answering objective questions such as “does homeopathy work?”

Quantum mechanics is irrelevant to homeopathy,[6] but in any case it seems that Milgrom cannot even follow the relaxed rules of WQT.[5] Greenberger et al. give the following as their Eq. (19) based on a gedanken experiment in which a particle at rest at the centre of the apparatus decays into three similar components each with the same energy [7]:

[|a1|b2|c3+|a′⟩1|b′⟩2|c′⟩3]     (1)

Milgrom [8] uses this for his Eq. (1) as a “maximally entangled state” between the patient (Px), practitioner (Pr) and remedy (Rx) each of which are considered to be in either a positive “up” state (respectively: well, helpful, curative) or a negative “down” state (respectively: unwell, unhelpful, non-curative):

[|Px↑⟩|Pr↑⟩|Rx↑⟩+|Px↓⟩|Pr↓⟩|Rx↓⟩]     (2)

However it is clear that Milgrom misunderstands the meaning of Eq. (1). In the gedanken experiment of Greenberger et al., the fact that the particle is at rest immediately prior to decay constrains the three decay products to have net zero momentum, and since they are considered to each have the same mass then they must be emitted 120 apart. The source is surrounded by six apertures: a, b, and c at 120 separation, and a′, b′, and c′ also at 120 separation (but with the separation between a and a′ smaller than 120). Most decays will lead to the three particles missing the apertures entirely, but a few will lead to the three particles passing through a, b, and c and a few will lead to them passing through a′, b′, and c′. The point is that states such as |a⟩|b′⟩|c′⟩, or even |a⟩|a′⟩|b⟩, are forbidden by the rules of conservation of momentum, and the entanglement exists because we know that if a particle has been emitted through a then the other two particles must have been emitted through b and c rather than b′ and c′. So of all the possible combinations of apertures only two are physically permitted, and they are represented as the two terms in Eq. (1). As soon as we know that any one particle has gone through a given slit, we immediately know whether the state is |a1|b2|c3 or |a′⟩1|b′⟩2|c′⟩3 and in that sense, the superposition given in Eq. (1) has “collapsed” to one of the two equivalent possibilities. Milgrom is wrong in his first response: it is not the case that “the whole entangled state disappears” when the superposition of two entangled states collapses into one state or the other, but it seems he concedes this point in a later response (while maintaining that “the PPR entangled-state wave function does indeed for all intents and purposes disappear” which is still wrong, as will be shown below).

Equation (2) is meant to show entanglement between patient, practitioner and remedy. It would seem to indicate that only two states are allowed. The patient is well, the practioner is helpful and the remedy is curative; or the patient is unwell, the practitioner is unhelpful and the remedy is non-curative. The unphysical entanglement situation here means that if we know that the patient is unwell then the remedy and the practitioner must both be useless. There are no states included in which the remedy and the practitioner are beneficial to an unhealthy patient, who can then flip to the healthy state. There is no time-evolution in any of Milgrom’s equations. We are left with the trivial but useless tautology that a helpful practitioner and a beneficial remedy mean a healthy patient - if the remedy is curative then the patient must already be healthy. There is in any case no reason given for such an entanglement (created in Eq. (1) by conservation of momentum) to come about.

In his Eq. (4), Milgrom then goes on to consider PPR without the practitioner, such as might be the case with an over-the-counter homeopathic remedy. (Homeopaths seem to insist on an individualized remedy prescribed by a practitioner, except when it suits them [9,10].) He represents this by setting

|Pr⟩=0     (3)

and substituting this into Eq. (2) instead of |Pr↑⟩ and |Pr↓⟩. This is invalid, since “0” is not a state: the states of Pr continue to exist whether or not there is anything in them. It is unclear whether Milgrom would rather mean ⟨Pr|Pr⟩=0 (which makes Pr non-normalizable and therefore not a state) or |Pr⟩=|0⟩, but the second case seems slightly more likely. WQT [2] may have relaxed some of the “constraints” of “orthodox” quantum theory (which connect it to reality) but as long as WQT preserves the algebraic formulation of the latter [11] then these rules are as true for WQT as they are for “orthodox” quantum theory.

There is nothing particularly special about the state |0⟩ - it is conventionally the ground state - and if we assume it to be properly normalized, ⟨0|0⟩=1, Milgrom’s Eq. (4) becomes

[|Px↑⟩|Rx↑⟩+|Px↓⟩|Rx↓⟩]|0⟩     (4)

such that

⟨&#X3C8;PPR|&#X3C8;PPR =

Since ⟨0|0⟩=1 by normalization this term can be removed, and when the remaining terms are multiplied out

⟨&#X3C8;PPR|&#X3C8;PPR =

Again, the states should be considered to be properly normalized such that ⟨Px↑|Px↑⟩=1, so that the first half of Eq. (8) is

 [1×1 + 1×1] = 1    (9)

and if we assume no overlap between up and down states for each of Px and Rx (for example, ⟨Px↑|Px↓⟩=0) the second half of Eq. (8) is

 [0×0 + 0×0] = 0    (10)

so that overall, ⟨&#X3C8;PPR|&#X3C8;PPR⟩=1 (meaning only that the &#X3C8;PPR state was normalized). In fact it doesn’t matter what we use for |Pr⟩ as long as it is a normalized state. The &#X3C8;PPR “PPR wavefunction” has not “collapsed to zero” due to the absence of the involvement of the practitioner. The lack of any sort of physical explanation of how the entanglement of Eq. (2) is supposed to be created means there is no way to work out how the case of PPR entanglement without the practitioner should be treated. But of course entanglement between two states is possible in general [12,13].

It is noted that Milgrom has sometimes [13,14] treated Px, Pr and Rx as non-commuting operators rather than states, with [Px, Pr]=iRx somewhat analogous to the commutation relation for angular momentum. Also, Milgrom has written [13] ⟨&#X3C8;PPR|&#X3A0;r|&#X3C8;PPR⟩=⟨Rx⟩ in which ⟨Rx⟩ is the ‘expectation value’ but not of the ‘remedy operator’ Rx (compare his Eq. [2]) but of &#X3A0;r. More recently, he has written [14] ⟨&#X3C8;PPR|&#X3A0;r|&#X3C8;PPR⟩=⟨(&#X394; Sx)⟩ where the expectation value of the &#X3A0;r operator is now ‘the overall change in symptoms’. Such shifting of concepts, meanings and rules ruins any connection to quantum theory, whether “weak” [2] or not, and whether “metaphorical” or not.

Another version of Eq. (1) is given as Milgrom’s Eq. (8):

[|PRx↑⟩|PPl↑⟩|PO↑⟩+|PRx↓⟩|PPl↓⟩|PO↓⟩]     (11)

Here there is actually some comment on the six missing combinations (forbidden by conservation of momentum in Eq. (1) and thus creating the entanglement) but again with no insight into what mechanism means that only these two states are allowed. If all eight states were allowed there would be no entanglement, since distinguishing between |a⟩ and |a′⟩ would not tell us anything about whether we had |b⟩ and |b′⟩, or |c⟩ or |c′⟩. This point is alluded to in earlier work [13] but without any suggestion of how maximum entanglement might arise. This is then developed into a kind of “welcher-Weg” [15] thought experiment. But Eq. (11) would not “collapse… so that &#X3C8;ent=0”. As before, it would collapse to either |PRx↑⟩|PPl↑⟩|PO↑⟩ or |PRx↓⟩|PPl↓⟩|PO↓⟩ depending on the result of a measurement capable of resolving the up or down state of any of PRx, PPl, or PO. Once again, there has been a redefinition of terms: |PRx↑⟩ (for example) is not the state of a remedy prover experiencing symptoms but now represents all provers on the remedy who show symptoms. Milgrom has again confused occupancy of a state with the state itself.

In summary, Milgrom seems to have copied out a few equations from articles, textbooks and popularizations of quantum physics, assigned arbitrary and shifting properties to the entities within them, and then claimed to have a model/analogy/metaphor for homeopathy. The more seriously the metaphor is taken, the less sense it makes. It would be simpler to set up something called “Weak Number Theory” in which 2+2 doesn’t have to be four, and he can pretend to prove whatever he likes with that.

The author acknowledges fruitful discussions with Philippe Leick.

  1.  H. Walach, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 11, 549 (2005).
  2.  H. Atmanspacher, H. Römer, and H. Walach, Found. Phys. 32, 379 (2002).
  3.  H. Walach, Forsch. Komplementmed. 10, 192 (2003).
  4.  P. Leick, Skeptiker 3/2006, 92 (2006).
  5.  P. Leick, Homeopathy 97, 50 (2008).
  6.  H. M. Wiseman, and J. Eisert, e-Print archive arXiv:075.1232 [physics.gen-ph] (2007).
  7.  D. M. Greenberger, M. A. Horne, A. Shimony, and A. Zeilinger, Am. J. Phys. 58, 1131 (1990).
  8.  L. R. Milgrom, Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 4, 7 (2007).
  9.  M. Frass, C. Dielacher, M. Linkesch, C. Endler, I. Muchitsch, E. Schuster, et al. Chest 127, 936 (2005).
  10.  Orac, Homeopathy in the - cringe - ICU, (02.07.2007, accessed 12.01.2007).
  11.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 11, 831 (2005).
  12.  A. Aspect, P. Grangier, and G. Roger, Phys. Rev. Lett. 49, 91 (1982).
  13.  L. R. Milgrom, Homeopathy 92, 152 (2003).
  14.  L. R. Milgrom, Forsch. Komplementmed. 12, 206 (2005).
  15.  M. O. Scully, B.-G. Englert, and H. Walther, Nature 351, 111 (1991).

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By What the hell is this?
Posted in , syndicated on 27 December 2007
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It seems that Lionel R. Milgrom, “scientist, writer, homeopath,” has replied to my eLetter. He addresses only the point about what happens to the three-way entangled wavefunction when one of the three components collapses, and I will reply when I’ve had another look at Greenberger et al.

But first I want you to image a normal pack of 52 playing cards, and that I deal them out half to you and half to me. Neither of us look at the cards we’ve been given so neither of us know which 26 out of the 52 we have. But if you pick up your cards an examine them, you’ll know not only which cards you have but which cards I must have. Our hands of cards are entangled, in the sense that whichever ones I have are the ones you don’t have. However, if I had another pack of cards under the table and was cheating then I could break the entanglement. Now this is a classical physical system in which the cards all have definite values even before you look - in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics the first card would be a superposition of all 52 until you look and collapse its wavefunction. All the other cards’ wavefunctions would then instantaneously reduce to being a superposition of the other 51, and so on until you’ve collapsed all 26 of your cards and you know which 26 are left for mine. Nobody seriously believes that playing cards can exist in superpositions of values but this is at least a vaguely workable analogy for quantum entanglement. It can’t really get to explaining the possible violation of the Uncertainty Principle present in the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen thought experiment but it’s the best I’ve thought of so hit counter javascript

By What the hell is this?
Posted in , , syndicated on 1 December 2007
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I thought I would have a look at the paper by Cyril W. Smith, “Quanta and coherence effects in water and living systems”,1 since he cites himself in his “Apologia Homeopathica2 which preludes Lionel Milgrom’s “Towards a Unified Theory of Homeopathy and Conventional Medicine3 and he also knows how to spell ‘Del Giudice’.4 The result is the rather long and tedious blog posting which follows. On the plus side, I discovered HEVEA during the pained process of writing this, and that’s going to make blogging in LATEX a whole lot more feasible.

1  Introduction

It seems, initially at least, like it might be quite interesting, dealing with some non-trivialities5 such as the Josephson6 and Aharonov–Bohm7,8,9 effects. These require some explanation. In fact, he seems to be quite interested in the ‘magnetic vector potential’ (usually given the symbol A with the magnetic flux density being B) and there’s a lot to explain here too and it’s hard. However, before we get too concerned that Smith might know what he’s talking about, let’s see how he actually measures the ‘resonant frequencies’ which characterize his whole theory. He doesn’t use an NMR machine, he uses dowsing:1

“Measurement by dowsing is no more subjective than early investigators describing what they saw through a microscope or telescope. The author is seated at a table facing the tube of imprinted water, which is resting between the hands and arms (facing West gives best sensitivity). Being left-handed, the author uses the left hand to hold the pendulum and the right hand to tune the frequency source. Where possible the writer prefers to use a toroidal coil fed from the electrical oscillator.

“A dowsing technique that leaves one hand free is essential for these measurements. The pendulum can be any small weight suspended from a length of dental floss (no twist spun in) to provide a period of about half a second. Its movement is sensitive to muscle tremor, and when the oscillator excites a resonance in the water the pendulum indicates this with a recognizable response after much practice. The frequency is read off the oscillator dial.”

Later on in section 3.1 there’s some stuff about electrosensitive patients.

So much for physical explanations, then. I’ll just try to say that the magnetic vector potential is an entity which seems to exist such that the actual magnetic field circulates around it. If you work with the one component of the (scalar) electric potential plus the three spatial components of the magnetic vector potential it comes out simpler than working with three components each of the electric and magnetic fields, when it comes to special relativity and quantum mechanics.10,11,12,13

1.1  Magnetic fields

“From measurements on more than 1000 cultures of Escherichia coli14 grown in a range of alternating magnetic fields, mean generation time variations were found corresponding to integral changes in the number of magnetic flux quanta linking an individual bacterial cell during division.”1

A magnetic flux quantum is h/2e = 2.07×10−15 Vs, a tiny number in SI units. However, E. coli are also small, being about 1 µm in size, so a flux density of a few millitesla might correspond to roughly one flux quantum per bacterium. The Earth’s magnetic field produces something like 30–60 µT at the surface. Aarholt14 et al. actually suggest that for a 50 Hz square-wave magnetic field, the mean generation time falls sharply when the field strength reaches 480 µT, and rises again when it reaches 800 µT. And for the 16.66 Hz field, there’s a decrease in mean generation time from 800 µT to 1.5 mT, and this is supposed to be a “very sharp transition” suggesting the “possible existence of some quantum effect”. And the apparently there is ‘periodicity’ of about 850 µT. I’d quite like to see the power spectrum, because it just looks like noise to me. And the y-axis is normalized to the zero-field mean generation time (given as about 50 minutes) so that we are actually talking about changes of a couple of percent - one or two minutes. They gave the cells 10–12 hours to grow, which is about 12–14 generations. If we assume 12 hours (720 minutes) and a 50 minute generation then the 104 cells they start with would become 104×2720/50=2.2×108 but if the generation time were one minute either way we should end up with 2.6×108 or 1.8×108. A similar spread (20% either way) would occur by being 15 minutes out in the total growth time (they load up the cells at the beginning and measure them afterwards at room temperature, but taking about 15 minutes it seems). I’ve no idea what the accuracy of their cell counting method would be - they do it turbidimetrically, which means that they measure the murkiness of the suspension, and not even by scattering of light but by absorption. I appreciate that they didn’t want to count the cells in thousands of cultures by eye though. There’s an appendix explaining that they did some statistics.

Now apparently a field strength of 480 µT corresponds to one flux quantum for a dividing cell, and a field strength of 800 µT corresponds to one flux quantum for a normal cell - his calculation is working out the area of the cell though, not the number of cells per unit area. (The fields above correspond to 24–40 million flux quanta per square centimetre.) The field is always quantized (as the authors indeed point out) so shouldn’t there be an increasing fraction of cells linked by flux as the field increases to the point where the number of flux quanta is equal to the number of cells (in a two-dimensional slice)? What’s so special about having 24 million flux quanta per square centimetre? I’m not sure, they didn’t follow it through.

For comparison, the Shubnikov–De Haas effect15 really is a quantum effect, and it is what happens when a conductor is put in a strong magnetic field at low temperature.16 As the field increases, the resistance of the sample oscillates. The oscillations are periodic in 1/B (with the period inversely proportional to the number of electrons or holes per unit area) and their amplitude depends on the temperature and the effective mass of the electrons or holes. When the field gets strong enough that there is roughly one magnetic flux quantum per electron or hole, we get the quantum Hall effect.17

1.2  Josephson effect

Brian Josephson predicted6 what would happen if two superconductors were separated by a narrow non-superconducting barrier. Superconductors are characterized by being able to pass a current with no electrical resistance (and by expelling magnetic field). In conventional “BCSsuperconductors18 the electrons are attracted to each other (because as one passes through the lattice of positive ions making up the structure of the metal, the ions are attracted to the negatively charged electron, but they move so slowly, being thousands of times heavier that the electron, that the electron is already gone by the time they have moved and so there’s a slightly postively charged region there where the ions are a bit closer together to which another electron is attracted) and form “Cooper pairs”. These pairs can behave in a fundmentally different way to individual electrons by all condensing into the same quantum state. (Individual electrons are fermions (as are protons and neutrons) and you can only have one fermion per state. Photons of light are bosons, and you can have as many bosons per state as you like. This is why stuff is solid but light isn’t. But an even number of fermions bound together behaves like a boson and that’s what happens here.)

The phase of a wavefunction is not directly observable, but the phase difference can give rise to interference phenomena, and as such the current tunnelling across from one superconductor to another depends on the phase difference across the junction. This effect relies on having two bosonic gases at low enough temperature that they are condensed into the ground states, separated by a thin enough barrier that the wavefunction (which decays exponentially in the barrier) can tunnel across. As for whether this can happen in an organism,19,20,21 we seem to get back towards electric dipoles4 which apparently points to the correlation being among electron pairs22 although an “appropriate modelling of the microscopic mechanism of the above correlation has not yet been formulated”. I’m fairly sure that these are electrical correlations, not quantum ones, and that it’s not obvious to me that it should be the same thing. (For the interaction of the wavefunction of a charged particle with an electric field, look up the Stark effect.23) Your television aerial might be electrically correlated with the transmitter, it doesn’t mean there’s anything non-trivially quantum going on. Oh well, even if the experimental data in Ref. 21 looks interesting there’s only a short bit in Ref. 1 about it so I’ll move on.

1.3  Aharonov–Bohm effect

The strange thing about the magnetic vector potential is that it can be non-zero even in regions of space where there is no magnetic field, and that the slope of the magnetic vector potential can be anything you like without changing the magnetic field which comes out. And the even stranger thing seems to be that the physics follows the maths. It’s fields that ought to have effects on particles, but the Aharonov–Bohm effect7,8,9 demonstrates that a magnetic vector potential in a region of space where the magnetic field is zero has an effect on the phase of the wavefunction of the particle. The phase isn’t observable either, but phase differences lead to interference and the idea here is to take (for example) a coherent beam of electrons24,25 (coherent in the sense that they all have the same de Broglie wavelength, such that each electron is coherent with itself over a certain length and all the electrons have the same coherence length - this requires high but accurately defined kinetic energy), split it in two and pass the two beams through different regions of non-zero magnetic vector potential (but where there is no actual magnetic field) and see if the interaction between the magnetic vector potential shifts the phases and therefore shifts the interference pattern when the two beams meet again. Smith claims that he “has demonstrated this effect for coherence propagating in water” but the citation appears to be to a 1995 paper in Neural Network World which I can’t get hold of.

1.4  Water memory

Water doesn’t have memory,26 and there isn’t much more to say about it. I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of letters in Homeopathy basically ruining the special issue27 on the subject. It’s still interesting to read the paper he cites by Scully et al. though,28 which considers a Carnot heat engine in which quantum coherence has been included. The trick here is that in a normal heat engine there needs to be a high temperature source of thermal energy and a low temperature sink in which to dump entropy. With a single quantum heat bath, a coherent state acts as the entropy sink, or something. It’s interesting29,30 but as I say, water doesn’t have memory, and it’s irrelevant. However, there’s an interesting point about using light from an LED to measure the “imprinted frequency” of water, which seems like a parody of laser interferometry, except that it won’t work because the light from an LED isn’t pure enough. I’d like to know what he thinks he’s actually doing, because no details or citations are given.

1.5  Chemical reactions

Amino acids (apart from the simplest one, glycine) can exist in two mirror-image forms. This is because there’s a carbon atom in the middle which has four different groups attached, and there are two possible arrangements (called enantiomers) labelled L and D. Most of the amino acids used by lifeforms are L enantiomers although some bacteria have D-amino acids in their cell walls. Apparently, microwave cooking can convert L-acids to D,31 but then “cooking” does all sorts of other things which would be bad for an organism.

As well as apparently affecting bacterial growth rate14, magnetic fields also mess with the lac operon system32 of E-coli. I don’t know why this is mentioned under “chemical reactions” rather than “magnetic fields”, because it uses the same 50 Hz fields as before.14 But this time, there’s a sharp downward spike (in the rate of &#X3B2;-galactosidase synthesis) at 0.3 mT and a broader upward bump at 0.5–0.6 mT - field values completely different to the significant ones found previously at 50 Hz (and knackering their explanation in terms of magnetic flux quanta which would be why this isn’t in that section).14 But the ratio between the two field values is similar (it was 1.7:1 before, now it’s about 1.9:1, let’s call it 2:1), so that’ll do.

2  Discussion

2.1  Coherence

“A number of pendulum clocks with all the pendulums swinging exactly together in position and time are coherent.”

Yes they are, but that’s not a very useful analogy for quantum coherence. If you reached in and stopped one pendulum the others would just carry on. To try to make the analogy more useful we could imagine that the pendulums are connected by springs, representing electromagnetic interactions. There would still be nothing particularly quantum about this coherence, though. I think we would have to imagine having two pendulums connected by a spring, but oscillating in antiphase (i.e. moving in opposite directions at any given moment) very quickly so they just looked like a blur and you could only tell that the exact midpoint of the spring was stationary. If you did something to one then the other’s behaviour would change completely and you’d see the midpoint not be stationary any more, because they’re entangled. But it’s not a very good analogy because you would imagine the disturbance travelling down the spring, and the thing about entanglement is that the disturbance happens everywhere instantly - it can do something unphysical like that because wavefunctions aren’t physically observable.33

3  Methods

If you’ve come this far, then well done, you’re about to be rewarded with some top-notch woo.

3.1  Electrically hypersensitive patients

He gets electrically hypersensitive patients to “imprint their body frequencies into water” by banging a test tube on the table. This is interesting, because such people don’t actually exist. The tube is wrapped in aluminium foil to “protect against frequency contamination by handling and the electric environment” and then the “imprints are permanent unless overwritten or erased”. Smith “measures” the imprinted frequencies by dowsing.

3.2  Dowsing

I quoted this in all its insanity earlier - the frequencies can be anywhere from millihertz to gigahertz - that’s 12 orders of magnitude - and the table in Ref. 2 quotes three or four significant figures. If those frequencies really are supposed to be something like the precession of protons (could be - he says the imprint is erased by “removing the geomagnetic field” but remember that you can’t get any energy out of a static magnetic field) then why don’t they work like this and be strongly field-dependent?

3.3  Frequencies and water

“Bioinformation seems to be coded as a frequency of alternating magnetic vector potential. Imprinting a frequency into water (or living systems) may be performed by proximity, contact, succussion, vortexing (the direction of rotation is significant), applying the field of a permanent magnet or an alternating magnetic (B) field at any frequency less than that being imprinted… Bioinformation can be transmitted on a light or laser beam, or even over the internet (Benveniste, 1993). It also can be stored on a CD (Senekowitsch et al., 1995). Coherence on a light beam seems to travel in either direction. In laser acupuncture, the therapist picks up the patient’s stress traveling back along the beam.”

That’s an impressive amount of nonsense packed into just a few sentences. What energy is causing or sustaining the “alternating magnetic vector potential”? Oscillating fields tend to radiate photons which don’t need dowsing to be detected. Maxwell’s Equations along with the definition of A make it clear that a time-varying magnetic vector potential creates a time-varying electric field. It’s downhill from there, with a reference to Benveniste and something a bit similar to Peter Chappell’s suggestion that “Right now AIDS in Africa could be significantly ameliorated by a simple tune played on the radio across Africa” and lasers and that.

“The technique for imprinting the frequency on an acupuncture point into water is to take a pipette with a fine tip containing water, place the tip on the acupuncture point so the water makes contact, and bring a permanent magnet up close to effect the imprint. Remove it and measure the pipette.”

I think I’m going to coin the term ‘woonification’ to describe this process.

“A sequence of seven unidirectional electric pulses will also effect a copy. For example, these might be the dial-up pulses on a phone or pulses radiated from a computer or calculator. This seems to be an electric potential effect rather than an electric field or magnetic vector potential effect. Seven unidirectional pulses are needed; six is not enough. This implies that binary 0–7 is involved in information storage.”

And then he appears to be doing computation with this completely imaginary phenomenon:

“An extension of this technique enables the arithmetical operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and raising to a power to be performed on a frequency imprinted into water. It also enables a homeopathic potency to be copied at a different potency value (Smith, 2001).”

(His paper isn’t actually listed in the conference proceedings I found, is it?)

4  Results


4.1  Oscillations in living systems

I think I may have exhausted “fair use” in terms of the amount of material I’m quoting for review purposes. There’s all sorts of hilarious stuff here about the frequencies of acupuncture meridians and how they can be synchronized and entrained and all that. There’s mention of a “healing frequency of 7.8 Hz.”

4.2  Oscillations of aqueous systems: Frequencies and water

This has something in it about far-infrared spectrum of water but also indicates (and this might be able to win the $1 million challenge if it were true) that “serial dilution and succussion can also be followed by frequency measurements”. He points out that 11-fold (11X?), 13-fold and 19-fold come out blank, which is funny. It implies the other ones aren’t.

4.3  The environment

He says that

“a rod in a coherent system has its resonance frequency proportional to its physical length, which differs from musical instruments where the larger the instrument, the lower the pitch. Perhaps this is the reason that DNA needs to be so long.”

Of course, the frequency of matter waves in a box is one of the simplest quantum mechanical systems there is and everyone studies it at the beginning of a physics course. The longer the box, the lower the frequencies. His mention of DNA shows how not even molecular biology is safe from his witterings.

5  Conclusion

“In a recent guest editorial (Smith, 2003b)34, this author wrote ‘Environmental medicine and alternative and complementary medicine need each other.’ They also need physics-quantum physics.”

What they seem to have is people who abuse the terminology without really knowing what they are talking about.


  1.  C. W. Smith, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 10, 69 (2004).
  2.  C. W. Smith, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 13, 693 (2007).
  3.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 13, 759 (2007).
  4.  E. Del Giudice, G. Preparata, and G. Vitiello, Phys. Rev. Lett. 61, 1085 (1988).
  5.  H. M. Wiseman and J. Eisert, e-Print archive physics (2007).
  6.  B. D. Josephson, Phys. Lett. 1, 251 (1962).
  7.  W. Ehrenberg and R. E. Siday, Proc. Phys. Soc. B 62, 8 (1949).
  8.  Y. Aharonov and D. Bohm, Phys. Rev. 115, 485 (1959).
  9.  Y. Aharonov and D. Bohm, Phys. Rev. 123, 1511 (1961).
  10.  R. P. Feynman, Rev. Mod. Phys. 20, 367 (1948).
  11.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 76, 749 (1949).
  12.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 76, 769 (1949).
  13.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 80, 440 (1950).
  14.  E. Aarholt, E. A. Flinn, and C. W. Smith, Phys. Med. Biol. 26, 613 (1981).
  15.  P. T. Coleridge, R. Stoner, and R. Fletcher, Phys. Rev. B 39, 1120 (1989).
  16.  D. Chrastina, Ph.D. thesis, University of Warwick, U.K. (2001).
  17.  K. v. Klitzing, G. Dorda, and M. Pepper, Phys. Rev. Lett. 45, 494 (1980).
  18.  J. Bardeen, L. N. Cooper, and J. R. Schrieffer, Phys. Rev. 108, 1175 (1957).
  19.  E. del Giudice, S. Doglia, M. Milani, and G. Vitiello, Nucl. Phys. B 251, 375 (1985).
  20.  E. del Giudice, S. Doglia, M. Milani, and G. Vitiello, Nucl. Phys. B 275, 185 (1986).
  21.  E. del Giudice, S. Doglia, M. Milani, C. W. Smith, and G. Vitiello, Physica Scripta 40, 786 (1989).
  22.  H. Frölich, Phys. Lett. A 26, 402 (1968).
  23.  J. Stark, Annalen der Physik 43, 965 (1914).
  24.  A. Tonomura, N. Osakabe, T. Matsuda, T. Kawasaki, J. Endo, S. Yano, and H. Yamada, Phys. Rev. Lett. 56, 792 (1986).
  25.  N. Osakabe, T. Matsuda, T. Kawasaki, J. Endo, A. Tonomura, S. Yano, and H. Yamada, Phys. Rev. A 34, 815 (1986).
  26.  J. Teixeira, Homeopathy 96, 158 (2007).
  27.  P. Fisher, Homeopathy 96, 141 (2007).
  28.  M. O. Scully, M. S. Zubairy, G. S. Agarwal, and H. Walther, Science 299, 862 (2003).
  29.  M. O. Scully, Phys. Rev. Lett. 87, 220601 (2001).
  30.  M. O. Scully, Phys. Rev. Lett. 88, 050602 (2002).
  31.  G. Lubec, C. Wolf, and B. Bartosch, The Lancet 334, 1392 (1989).
  32.  E. Aarholt, E. A. Flinn, and C. W. Smith, Phys. Med. Biol. 27, 606 (1982).
  33.  A. Peres and D. R. Terno, Rev. Mod. Phys. 76, 93 (2004).
  34.  C. W. Smith, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 9, 1 (2003).

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Both Barrels
By What the hell is this?
Posted in on 6 November 2007
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So I got an email today from the Commissioning Editor of eCAM which said that there ‘was a system error that prevented from letters to come through to me’ and a little while later I got the email saying my eLetter in reply to Milgrom (in which I have apparently given him both barrels) had been published.

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Also appearing is “WQT confirmed as only metaphor. But the mathematical criticisms have not been addressed.” from Simon Baker, “A placebo effect is not efficacy” from Austin Elliott and “Homeopathy, hubris, and the Third Reich” from Lionel R. Milgrom ‘BSc, MSc, PhD, CChem, FRSC, LCH, MARH’ himself. I don’t know what the point of Milgrom’s eLetter is exactly, but it certainly isn’t a reply to mine, so we’ll just have to wait for that.

In the meantime, these are his first two citations:

We can all read them (Curr. Oncol. is open access and Blue Wode posted a link to the other at the JREF forums) and it’s the second which apparently fulfills Godwin’s Law, so let’s see if they say what Milgrom says they say.

Lionel Milgrom and the Nazis
By jdc325
Posted in on 6 November 2007
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There’s been some letters to the eCAM journal The e-letters from Daniel Chrastina, Austin Elliot and Simon Baker make for interesting reading. Lionel Milgrom responds to these letters with a rant about Edzard Ernst ‘bringing up the Third Reich’.
My response to Milgrom’s Nazi complaint follows.

I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
By What the hell is this?
Posted in on 24 October 2007
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Lionel Milgrom has his paper out again, and this time it’s called “Towards a Unified Theory of Homeopathy and Conventional Medicine”.1 As a kind of prelude to this, in the same issue of J. Alt. Comp. Med there’s also a short article by Cyril W. Smith entitled “Apologia Homeopathica” which is rather interesting for a couple of reasons.2

free hit counter javascriptNow it’s never been obvious if Milgrom’s familiar “Patient-Practitioner-Remedy” (PPR) entanglement idea is founded in real quantum mechanics, in ‘Weak Quantum Mechanics3 (WQT, something which has the weirdness of proper quantum mechanics with none of the grounding in reality, described by Milgrom as being a use of “quantum mathematics”), or in a fantasy world for which the quantum mechanics is only a “metaphor”. But the idea seems to be that in a double-blind randomized controlled trial (DBRCT) in which neither the patients nor the practitioner know who gets a remedy and who gets a placebo there is some sort of “entanglement” (I’m fairly sure that Milgrom thinks this term means something it doesn’t) so that the beneficial effects (sic.) of the homeopathic remedy are spread across patients in both verum and control groups, or something. This provides an excuse for why homeopathy works identically to a placebo, in good-quality trials at least.4 It doesn’t seem to have been explained why such entanglement doesn’t apply to conventional medicine, for which DBRCTs are generally used to find out if it works or not. Things get even more confusing when Milgrom cites “fully peer-reviewed papers showing that homeopathy does indeed have effects beyond placebo”5-9 - the Linde5 et. al. trial concludes that “we found insufficient evidence from these studies that homoeopathy is clearly efficacious for any single clinical condition” and the other references are to the journals “Homeopathy” (twice) and “Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” (twice) where one might not be surprised that the peers doing the reviewing are sympathetic to homeopathy already. (We will see if either of these journals ever publish the letters critical of Milgrom10 or the ‘Memory of Water11 which have been written by myself and others.) In any case, if homeopathy really had statistically significant effects beyond placebo then there’d be no need for all this PPR-entanglement gubbins to explain why it doesn’t. Milgrom seems to then suggest that even if it is only a placebo, that wouldn’t be so bad anyway:

“The placebo effect has always been part of every doctors kitbag, and is enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath. Also, homeopaths say their therapy encourages the body to heal itself, suggesting at the very least a more humane appreciation of the placebo effect.”

Or does “encouraging the body to heal itself” suggest that homeopathy is supposed to act on the immune system?

Regarding ‘entanglement’ though, I keep wondering if there’s a way to sensibly explain it in words. Milgrom cites as an example of “naïve criticisms” from those who don’t realize that “[e]ntanglement in a quantum system occurs if its seemingly separate parts are so holistically matched that measurement of one part of the system instantaneously (i.e., not limited by the speed of light and therefore without classical signal transmission) provides information about all of its other parts, regardless of their separation in space and time, or their size.12” But there’s a crucial difference between the physical size of a system and the number of elements in it and whether they are interacting. Two photons several kilometres apart may count as a system which is large in spatial extent but it only has two particles in it.13-15 A piece of superconducting metal can be as large as you like and contains loads of particles but they pair up over sub-millimetre scales and are prevented from interacting.16 Quantum computers based on NMR have been demonstrated involving seven nuclear spins on one molecule.17 Interactions tend to destroy delicate entangled states. Milgrom is proposing entanglement between humans and that’s just nonsense within proper quantum mechanics18-20 and therefore probably nonsense within reality.

I also notice that maybe he’s even realized that the Copenhagen Interpretation is a bit dated. He probably has to ditch his idea that a patient knowing whether he’s getting the placebo collapses the PPR wavefunction if he doesn’t believe in nonunitary state evolution anymore. He is at pains to point out that it’s all only a metaphor, but on what level? Is the quantum mechanics real or not? If not, how does it help anyone understand what’s going on? WQT isn’t grounded in reality, it’s just wishful drunken student thinking that “mind-matter duality” is equivalent on some meaningful level to wave-particle duality. It occurred to me earlier that the Vital Force gyroscope doesn’t actually go round because there’s no part of the wavefunction that has time in it. The k parameters just refer to the shape in whatever passes for space in the metaphor. So the stuff about “applying torques” doesn’t make sense - it involves things changing with time and his equations don’t. Milgrom suggests the Vital Force is a near equivalent to the homeostatic immune system, without elaboration or citation. The Vital Force is actually closer to medieval ideas of the soul and it doesn’t actually exist in the same way that the immune system does.

I think he needs to force this equivalence because he wants to unify homeopathy with proper medicine. The idea being that the homeostatic immune system responds liked a damped harmonic oscillator just like the Vital Force does. Except he doesn’t put it like this, because his equations don’t have damping in and would oscillate forever instead of settling down into whatever state they should be in. But his mathematical model of the homeostatic immune system considers only side effects (of proper medicines, I think) which of course homeopathic medicines don’t have (they only have beneficial effects, because any maleficial effects aren’t due to homeopathy in the mind of the practitioner). What the main effects of drugs look like in this model I don’t know but I’d expect that would be of vital importance. Do they just correct the original deflection of the gyroscope due to the disease? But is the initial deflection in the right direction for ‘very low potency’ (i.e. undiluted) homeopathic remedies, which are simply poisons? And anyway, it makes no sense what he does, taking a small-angle approximation and extrapolating back out to large angles with it.

I’m not sure what I make of Milgrom’s assertion that proper biomedicine is reductionist, as he tries to reduce all states of wellness and illness to states of a (metaphorical) quantum gyroscope, and actions of proper medicine and homeopathy to ladder operators - it’s just reductionism in a different dimensional space.

I’m happy to note that Milgrom has now learnt to spell John Gribbin’s name21 and maybe in the next paper he’ll get Sunny Y. Auyang22 right too. He doesn’t misspell Del Giudice23 because he doesn’t cite him at all. (Smith cited another paper with him on 24 and got it right.)

Smith’s article2 seems to be in support of Milgrom but it turns out that Smith’s idea of why homeopathy works (sic.) is completely different. He’s interested in the precession frequencies of proton spins (i.e. hydrogen atom nuclei) lined up in magnetic fields, which is the thing studied by one kind of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).25 He reckons that placebos can turn into homeopathic remedies by “proximity or impact” with them, and that “everything will be erased” if the remedies are placed in a steel box and therefore no longer have the magnetic field of the Earth to line up with. This is nonsense: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses strong magnetic fields, wouldn’t be safe to do on humans if proton precession was that big a deal in terms of actual chemical behaviour. And it also provides an interesting counterpoint to the argument of whether airport x-ray scanners neutralize homeopathic remedies: does it mean that you can’t take them through the magnetic scanner either? But at least it’s nonsense in terms of proper quantum mechanics rather than WQT and doesn’t merely claim that proton spins (which are real) are only a metaphor or model for something else. Smith ruins it by linking homeopathy to acupuncture via electrosensitivity:26

“… my work with electrically hypersensitive patients has shown that coherent frequency is the relevant parameter.27 Thus, I would represent Milgrom’s Vital Force parameter, S2 and homeopathic potency parameter ΔS2 by patterns of coherent frequencies for both the patient and the remedy.”

Why doesn’t Milgrom reply, “get your hands off my concepts”? Smith continues:

“The frequency pattern for a patient arises from the endogenous frequencies of acupuncture meridians.”

And it goes downhill from there, with a table of numbers which isn’t explained well enough what it is that it can mean anything. Where’s the evidence that homeopaths and those interested in the theory of it are ready to constructively criticize each other? Do Smith and Milgrom not realize or care that their work is contradictory? I think they’re both wrong but at least one of them must be.

  1.  L. R. Milgrom. J. Alt. Comp. Med. 13, 759 (2007).
  2.  C. W. Smith. J. Alt. Comp. Med. 13, 693 (2007).
  3.  H. Atmanspacher, H. Römer, H. Walach. Found. Phys. 32, 379 (2002).
  4.  A. Shang, K. Huwiler-Müntener, L. Nartey, P. Jüni, S. Dörig, J. A. C. Sterne, et al. The Lancet 366, 726 (2005).
  5.  K. Linde, N. Clausius, G. Ramirez, D. Melchart, F. Eitel, L. V. Hedges, et al. The Lancet 350, 834 (1997).
  6.  R. T. Mathie. Homeopathy 92, 84 (2003).
  7.  M. Van Wassenhoven. Homeopathy 94, 107 (2005).
  8.  P. Bellavite, R. Ortolani, F. Pontarollo, V. Piasere, G. Benato, A. Conforti. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 3, 293 (2006).
  9.  P. Bellavite, R. Ortolani, F. Pontarollo, V. Piasere, G. Benato, A. Conforti. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 3, 397 (2006).
  10.  L. R. Milgrom. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 4, 7 (2007).
  11.  L. R. Milgrom. Homeopathy 96, 209 (2007).
  12.  L. J. Landau. Lett. Math. Phys. 14, 33 (1987).
  13.  A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, N. Rosen. Rev. Mod. Phys. 47, 777 (1935).
  14.  J. S. Bell. Rev. Mod. Phys. 38, 447 (1966).
  15.  S. Gröblacher, T. Paterek, R. Kaltenbaek, C. Brukner, M. Zukowski, M. Aspelmeyer, et al. Nature 446, 871 (2007).
  16.  J. Bardeen, L. N. Cooper, J. R. Schrieffer. Phys. Rev. 108, 1175 (1957).
  17.  L. M. K. Vandersypen, M. Steffen, G. Breyta, C. S. Yannoni, M. H. Sherwood, I. L. Chuang. Nature 414, 883 (2001).
  18.  M. Tegmark. Phys. Rev. E 61, 4194 (2000).
  19.  S. Hagan, S. R. Hameroff, J. A. Tuszynski. Phys. Rev. E 65, 061901 (2002).
  20.  H. M. Wiseman, J. Eisert. e-Print archive physics (2007).
  21.  J. Gribbin. Q is for Quantum (Weidenfeld & Nicholson history, 2002).
  22.  S. Y. Auyang. How is Quantum Field Theory Possible? (Oxford University Press, 1995).
  23.  E. Del Giudice, G. Preparata, G. Vitiello. Phys. Rev. Lett. 61, 1085 (1988).
  24.  R. Arani, I. Bono, E. Del Giudice, G. Preparata. Int. J. Mod. Phys. B 9, 1813 (1995).
  25.  L. R. Milgrom, K. R. King, J. Lee, A. S. Pinkus. Brit. Homeopathy J. 90, 5 (2001).
  26.  M. Haake, H.-H. Müller, C. Schade-Brittinger, H. D. Basler, H. Schäfer, C. Maier, et al. Arch. Int. Med. 167, 1892 (2007).
  27.  C. W. Smith. J. Alt. Comp. Med. 10, 69 (2004).
Well that about wraps it up
By What the hell is this?
Posted in on 20 October 2007
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So there’s another thread at and it drifted into a discussion about how scientists with religious beliefs can reconcile the two things. I’m with J. B. S. Haldane, who said

“My practise as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.”

I’m going to try to summarize my position and respond to other viewpoints by paraphrasing rather than quoting anyone else’s contributions to the thread, firstly to make it more self-contained and easier to follow, and secondly not to take anyone else’s words out of context without asking. They can always add a comment if they really want to. Or set up their own blogs. And you can check my sources.

free hit counter javascriptActually I ought to say that when I read a scientific paper, I only care about whether what’s in the paper is any good or not and it matters not one jot what the authors believe1 - nobody actually writes “we couldn’t reproduce this result so we assume an interventionist God only responded to our prayers the first time.” And I don’t assume that Lionel Milgrom’s quantum homeopathy noodlings ought to mean that his work on the chemistry of porphyrins isn’t valid, for example. (Although I admit that in practice it’s hard to ignore the reputation of an author.)

One standard justification for being atheist is to assert that you want a worldview built on logic and testable hypotheses, not stuff which is made up. My justification is a bit different. I think we ‘know’ that science works (and if you don’t believe me, then how do you think you are reading this blog?) but how’s the scientific method supposed to work if there’s a deity messing about behind the scenes? And if there’s a deity which doesn’t intervene at all within our experience then why bother taking it into account with the way you do anything?

One kind of worldview might be called ‘experimental theology’ in that (scientific) experiments reveal the way in which God works. But I call the things that experiments reveal ‘laws of nature’ and if you want to call them ‘god’ that’s fine but I don’t think that’s what most people have in mind when they refer to God. But what do most people have in mind when they refer to God? I think a lot of human psychology has been projected onto the judeo-christian god, and it shouldn’t entirely be applicable. But anyway. There was a paper in Science (which I blogged about) which reviewed the discord between intuition and science and said that

“… both adults and children resist acquiring scientific information that clashes with common-sense intuitions about the physical and psychological domains”

and that

“… when learning information from other people, both adults and children are sensitive to the trustworthiness of the source of that information… [children] prefer to learn from a knowledgeable speaker than from an ignorant one, and they prefer a confident source to a tentative one.”

So it’s probably true that most people, regardless of the content of their beliefs, will believe whatever fits with their own intuitive worldview when it comes from someone who sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, and that most people (without at least a PhD in the relevant subject) have to take what’s told to them about ‘How Things Came To Be’ on some level of trust. Some of those things, however, (like relativity or quantum mechanics) are extremely counter-intuitive. Whereas stories about intelligent agencies doing stuff which is actually only done by dumb physical laws fit right in with our intuitive worldview, which pays more attention to the actions of other humans and tends to see patterns even when they are not there.

For many religious people, their religious teachings will have provided reliable advice, knowledge and guidance in areas of their life which they do know something about. Based on that, it’s not illogical to apply those same teachings and ideas to an area they don’t know about and can’t test themselves. Creationist religious teachings usually claim to be a reliable source of knowledge about the world. They are keen to assure that God’s Word as revealed in the Bible is completely reliable on the details of Creation, since unlike scientists who have to make guesses, God was supposedly there at the time.

Well religion sometimes seems to claim (falsely) to have a monopoly on morality and living a good and fulfilling life - and priests/ministers/vicars often turn out to be good counsellors. I don’t really have a problem with whatever gets people through the day, except when they (often hypocritically) go against science - which I think is what the thread was about in the first place. However, I think people should get their advice, knowledge and guidance from people who really understand how human psychology is, not from people who have a slightly idealized (and sometimes hypocritical) view of how it should be.2

What I’m actually curious about is understanding how scientists with religious views reconcile the two things. I used to think it was possible but I changed my mind when I learnt a little bit more about quantum mechanics and determinism versus predictability and that. Maybe I’m reducing things to an absurdity, but it seems to me that if all God does all day is make sure that everything happens exactly according to the physical laws then that seems like a really really boring job. One viewpoint seems to me to be that God intervene but only when a scientist isn’t watching carefully. Or is it a ‘fuzzy signal’ such that God can command or intervene, but not all the time because that would turn the universe into nothing but a doll’s house, making it hard to tell what God is actually doing? Does that mean that since the enlightenment, with natural philosophers wandering about paying attention to everything, God has had to ease off a bit to avoid being found out? (I think sometimes God gets the credit when people are just being nice to each other.) Another viewpoint seems to be to assume that God can act in any system too complicated for us to have been able to predict what was going to happen, like in a human brain or a country full of people. But I think that these systems are deterministic anyway even if they are unpredictable.

God is supposedly outside of time (as well as space) so it’s not quite analogous to setting something off and knowing exactly what is going to happen in a sequence of events. Maybe it’s like drawing something in CorelDRAW (other drawing packages are available) - if there’s a bit which needs to go in but doesn’t fit you can rearrange the bits you’ve already done to make space. However I think that this implies that you might as well try to change the past as change the future when you pray.

I’m not trying to project any of these viewpoints onto anyone, I’m just ‘showing my working’ regarding my atheistic viewpoint. It overlaps with agnosticism in the sense that there could be a God who is acting with a vanishingly small influence, or who lit the blue touch paper 15 billion years ago and stood back, but in those cases his existence or otherwise has no bearing on my life now so I’m going to ignore it. But I have thought about it, and I know what I believe, and I’m comfortable with it.

Now we come onto the subject of why scientists don’t always apply scientific thinking towards their beliefs. Perhaps they’re a bit dualist and think that some things are ‘spiritual’ or whatever and out of the realm of scientific applicability. Or that it would somehow be wrong or missing the point to analyse your relationship with God in the same way that it would feel wrong to analyse your relationships with other people.

I understand why it would be inappropriate to actually psychologically test your relationships, but I’m interested in knowing what sort of psychology is going on which makes someone feel like its inappropriate (or missing the point) to argue the existence of God. Is God going to be offended by the implied lack of trust or something? I’m about to have a cup of tea - testing it by mass spectrometry to find out what’s in it would be to miss the point of the experience but I don’t think there’s anything supernatural about tea.

  1.  The postmodernists think that facts only exist when they are discovered, and the facts which are discovered depend on the prejudices of the scientists doing the discovering, or something. Lionel Milgrom is of this opinion, stating that “All truth, even scientific truth, is relative not absolute,” (which may be true for him, but it isn’t true for everyone) “which is the reason why science progresses.” Science progresses because we get better approximations to and knowledge of the truth.
  2.  There may be a good evolutionary reason why humans believe in moralizing gods.
Homeopathy and the memory of water: Milgrom and the philosophy of science
By apgaylard
Posted in on 12 October 2007
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The journal Homeopathy has published a special issue on the memory of water.  The contents have been discussed quite widely (see Philip Ball’s contributions, for example).  An important aspect of this has been the journal club set up by Ben Goldacre at Bad Science.  This has enabled a lot of well informed analysis from people who [...]

Appealing To Authority
By apgaylard
Posted in on 10 October 2007
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I’ve come across some interesting authoritative statements recently.  I have read about a Nobel Laureate along with a distinguished academic with a host of articles in Nature endorsing surprising views.

This prompted me to think about a common logical fallacy: The “Appeal to Authority” (argumentum ad verecundiam) and to test these pronouncements against its definition.

Here is [...]