Warning to the Reader: By its very nature, looking into possible explanations from Physics for what many physicians call pseudoscience means getting into some pretty complex subjects. Therefore, anyone considering trying homeopathic remedies needs to take personal responsibility to pursue suggested sources and try to gain an understanding of the principles suggested here. This will take some time. There are too many elements that adequately cannot be covered in a posting like this one. Today’s presentation merely suggests the tip of a probable iceberg.
Typical Ways Remedies Are Provided
Many people believe firmly in the efficacy of homeopathy. Others claim nothing but a placebo effect is at work and there is no science behind homeopathy. It is very easy to find many articles debunking homeopathy. For example, see the Smithsonian Magazine’s “1,800 Studies Later, Scientists Conclude Homeopathy Doesn’t Work.”
It is a bit harder to open one’s mind up in the face of so many criticisms and investigate whether there are indeed possible explanations for remedies that have so many adherents. According to one estimate, “Homeopathy is the leading alternative medicine used by Europeans. Homeopathy appears to be responsible for the well-being of the French, who are ranked #1 in the world in the performance of their health care system. In France, 40% of the population uses homeopathic medicines and around 30% of physicians prescribe them. Americans, most of whom do not use homeopathy, rank #37 in the performance of their health care system.” Also noted in this source, “England’s Royal Family are vocal advocates of homeopathy,” in the Netherlands, “45 percent of physicians consider homeopathic medicines effective” and from an A.C. Nielson survey, over 100 million people in India “depend solely on homeopathic medicine. “
Here are the basic principles of homeopathy as stated by the American Institute of Homeopathy:
The First Principle: Let Likes Cure Likes. (Substances that cause symptoms, when used in greatly diluted form, stimulate healing of the original symptom.)
“The guiding principle of Homeopathy is stated as “let likes cure likes,” similia similibus curentur. While the concept of “like curing like” dates back to the Greek Father of Medicine, Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.), it was German physician Dr. C. F. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) who first codified this principle into a system of medicine.”
The Second Principle: The Minimum Dose. (To minimize side effects, Hahnemann diluted (he called it potentization) the substance that produced specific symptoms with “vigorous agitation of the solution called succussion, until there is no detectible chemical substance left.” Hahnemann maintained that the more dilutions the stronger the homeopathic remedy, reducing any possible side effects, making homeopathic remedies extremely safe.)
The Third Principle: The Single Remedy. (To prevent possible complications or confusions from using more than one remedy at a time, start with a single homeopathy solution.)
The First Principle certainly has a lot of history behind it. The third principle even makes scientific sense. It is the Second Principle that gives people, particularly most orthodox scientists, problems—even causing some of the latter group to become almost apoplectic in their rejections.
The central stumbling block in a belief in homeopathy, at least for anyone with a scientific turn of mind, is the completely illogical nature of the idea. It’s not so much that the principle is totally outrageous or only several hundred years old. After all, as noted above, the idea that “like cures like” has clear roots going back perhaps thousands of years in Thaumaturgy. The “Law of Similarity” was one of the laws of magic long before Samuel Hahnemann invented homeopathy in the 1790s.
Criticisms of Homeopathy
Where most scientists balk when they try to find a science behind homeopathy is the idea that by diluting something multiple times, each successive dilution will make the medicine stronger. This concept, according to debunkers and some tests, can end up with no molecules of the original substance present at all. A typical 4C (representing the number of dilutions) remedy starts with a tincture of something that in larger amounts can cause a symptom; takes one part of the tincture to 99 parts of alcohol or water; takes one part of the resulting solution to 99 parts of alcohol or water; takes one part of the result to 99 parts of alcohol or water; and finishes by taking one part of the last dilution to 99 parts of alcohol or water. Skeptics liken this to taking a teaspoon of something, throwing it in the ocean, walking five miles down the shore and taking out a teaspoon of ocean water. How, they ask, can this possibly have any effect—other than a salty taste! Indeed, this was my reaction when I first heard about homeopathy while living in Europe many years ago. My attitude never changed until 2005 when, because I respected a naturopath I was seeing, I took her advice about a problem and tried a homeopathic remedy. It worked! The typical explanation for any benefit from such treatment is the Placebo Effect.
At the very heart of the Placebo explanation is a relationship between the body and mind, that is when a patient expects a medicine to do something, the body’s own chemistry may do something like what a real medicine might do. The problem I found with this reasoning as far as homeopathy is concerned is that because of my own beliefs I never expected the suggestion to work. Yet it did and immediately relieved the problem. This was duplicated every time.
Possible Explanations from Physics
Contemporary ideas in physics may hold the key to explain why empirically, homeopathy does seem to work for some people. Is it possible that after many years of searching for scientific validity, the answer lies in quantum mechanics, string/branes, the Uncertainty Principle, multiple dimensions and the reversibility of time? Let’s start with the last idea, the idea of time reversal.
Homeopathy and the Reversibility of Time
In real life, time and events seem to flow in only one direction, called the “Arrow of Time.” If you break an egg into a pan and fry it, that’s one thing. There is no way to reverse that process, that is, have the egg start fried and work backward to flying up into the shell and closing. However, physicists have held as a sacred principle for a very long time that all physical processes are reversible. This is a result of the time symmetry of the underlying laws of physical operations. That is, there is nothing inherent in any theory that says time only flows in one direction. This has been proven mathematically. This belief was bolstered with the discovery of a subatomic particle that behaved very strangely with respect to time unlike other. It took trillions of times longer in decaying than being produced. It was named the kaon. More strange quarks like this have been discovered. The principles underlying their behavior can be compared to looking in a mirror at a sphere that has been set to spinning. In the mirror, the object looks as if it is spinning backwards. These quarks can change between matter and antimatter. While the theories behind this are far too complex to include in this blog, here are a few links:
As the physicists suggest, there is no inherent reason for time reversal not to be possible. Even eminent scientists like Richard Feynman and John Wheeler, basing their work on earlier developments by others like James Maxwell (1831-1879) and Michael Faraday (1791-1867), theorized that radio waves could be received both after and before transmission.) Why, then, could not time reversal come into play with homeopathic remedies? By diluting a substance to near non-existence, maybe the strange quarks that remain operate as if they represented the original, beginning condition, but without its toxicity.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
In similar fashion, one can explore the concept of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as it relates to quantum mechanics and homeopathy. In its simplest form, the Uncertainty Principle states to know the velocity or position of a quark, you have to measure it. By measuring it, you effect it. Therefore, you cannot know everything about quarks by physical experiments—only thought experiments based on observing experiments at the quantum level are useful.
Given so many uncertainties, and if indeed quantum mechanics might be involved in the working of homeopathy, then the best way to approach and understanding is through our own thought experiments. This will require some work on the reader’s part since the details are too long to cover in a blog post. As a start, should readers wish to look into this topic, first read a easily-understood article on one famous thought experiment, Quantum Suicide, the Uncertainty principle and the Many-Worlds Theory. Pay particular emphasis to the section on “The Implications of Quantum Physics. Then with that background, consider the ways in which quanta particles being able to exist in multiple states at the same time, known by the fancy term of coherent superposition, might have some implications for the workings of homeopathic dilutions.
There are several other lines of investigation that open the possibility for a scientific basis for homeopathy. One involves the “Memory of Water” hypothesis. Briefly, this suggests that water, one of the main substances in successive dilution has a memory because of a “dynamic ‘ordering’ of water’s constantly switching network of intermolecular hydrogen bonds, induced by the manufacturing process of homeopathic remedies. This could lead to a long-range molecular ‘coherence’ between trillions of mobile water molecules.”
Most promising, perhaps, is a central principle of quantum physics—Quantum Entanglement. This means that “multiple particles are linked together in a way such that the measurement of one particle’s quantum state determines the possible quantum states of the other particles. This connection isn’t dependent on the location of the particles in space. Even if you separate entangled particles by billions of miles, changing one particle will induce a change in the other.” This “entanglement” has been expanded by some researchers to “quantum macro-entanglement among patient, practitioner and remedy to form a PRR entangled state, from which the possibility of cure may manifest.”
In sum, putting together at least what seem to be possible rational explanations for homeopathy and some empirical evidence, perhaps the subject deserves some consideration without accepting the popular scientific debunking.
Note: “In 1938, when the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) was enacted, the bill’s senatorial sponsor, Dr. Royal Copeland, himself a homeopathic practitioner, added a provision to the law recognizing the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States alongside its counterparts, the U.S. Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary.” The FDA, in December, 2017, issued a DRAFT document, titled Drug Products Labeled as Homeopathic Guidance for FDA Staff and Industry. This draft guidance, when finalized, will represent the current thinking of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA or Agency) on this topic. It does not establish any rights for any person and is not binding on FDA or the public.
The Guidance identifies a risk-based approach for enforcement when products have reported safety concerns, contain ingredients associated with: potentially significant safety concerns; have administration routes other than oral and topical; are products intended for the prevention or treatment of serious and/or life-threatening disease and conditions; are meant for vulnerable populations or have been adulterated.
Since this risk-based approach is used (supposedly) by the FDA with respect to marketing unapproved new drugs it seems quite reasonable.