Deepak Chopra and Maharishi Ayurvedic Medicine

by Thomas J. Wheeler, Ph.D.

reformatted & cached from National Council against Health Fraud article

The following article originally appeared in BASIS, the newsletter of theBay Area Skeptics and is reprinted with permission. It is copyright protected but may be freely reproduced and distributed provided that is not sold and full credit is given.

The following is based on a response I prepared to a question posted to the Internet SKEPTIC Discussion Group, asking for information on the validity of the theories of Deepak Chopra, M.D. I teach an elective course for medical students on the subject of "alternative medicine"*, and have accumulated material in this area over the last few years.

What follows is not an investigative report, but rather a summary of material which I already had on hand. I should point out that I do not have Chopra's books and have not read them; I am, for the most part, merely summarizing statements and opinions of others. I have focused on points related to medical claims, rather than those dealing with transcendental meditation.

*Note: I follow the standard set by Kurt Butler (Ref. 1, p. 2): "The word 'alternative' appears in quotation marks because the methods it characterizes are not true alternatives, A true alternative to an effective health-care method is another method that has been proven effective. The methods described herein are ineffective, unproven, or both."

What is Ayurveda?

To introduce the subject, I quote from a book by Kurt Butler(Ref. 1, pp. 110-111):

    Ayurvedic medicine is Indian folk medicine with roots going back about two thousand years. It is promoted in America by disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the transcendental meditation (TM) guru.

    By far the most publicized practitioner is Deepak Chopra, M.D., a Western-educated Indian physician who turned to Ayurvedic medicine after converting to the TM religion. Chopra's books include Creating Health: Beyond Prevention, Toward Perfection[Houghton Mifflin, 1987], Return of the Rishi: A Doctor's Search for the Ultimate Healer [Houghton Mifflin, 1988], Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine [Bantam, 1989], and Perfect Health [Crown Publishers, 1990]. All are dedicated to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose "extraordinary insight" and "timeless knowledge" enabled Chopra to restructure his reality.

The following summarizes some points in Butler's discussion(pp. 111-117) of Chopra and Ayurvedic medicine. (Comments in square brackets are my own):

    The beliefs and practices of Ayurvedic medicine fall into three categories: (1) some that are obvious, well established, and widely accepted by people who have never heard of Ayurveda[e.g., don't overeat]; (2) a few that proper research may eventually prove valid and useful [herbal remedies may contain useful drugs, but their dangers and limitations often have not been scientifically investigated}; (3) absurd ideas, some of which are dangerous.

    The third category of Ayurvedic medicines includes Dr. Chopra's advice for preventing and reversing cataracts. Each day, he advises, brush your teeth, scrape your tongue, spit into a cup of water, and wash your eyes for a few minutes with this mixture.

    Since Ayurveda attributes many diseases to demons and astrological influences, it is not surprising that incantations, amulets, spells, and mantras are commonly used remedies." Some Ayurvedic remedies employ animal urine and feces [however, it was not stated that Chopra advocates these].

    Chopra's own words show how he has given up critical thinking in favor of ancient dogma. He says that a good Ayurvedic physician can tell a meditator from a nonmeditator, diagnose illness, and prescribe appropriate remedies, all by feeling the patient's pulse." [Traditional Chinese medicine also claims to be able to detect many qualities and symptoms from the pulse, a claim which is rejected by scientific medicine.]

    Chopra espouses Ayurveda's mystical medicine the way one might believe in a religion: Ayurveda's approach to physical disorders is not basically physical at all...Faced with any illness, the vaidya (Ayurvedic physician) turns directly to Nature's intelligence, where he finds the real cure. The herbs, minerals and metals that he uses think the way we do...Ayurveda works because it corrects a distortion in consciousness... Chopra repeatedly asserts that 'for every thought there is a corresponding molecule. If you have happy thoughts, then you have happy molecules.'...Chopra also asserts that masters of Ayurvedic medicine can determine an herb's medicinal qualities by simply looking at it. Scientific study is therefore unnecessary.

    Chopra promotes the Ayurvedic claim that certain exercises and asanas (yogic positions) can stimulate endocrine glands to excrete their hormones. Since he is an endocrinologist, he should not find it difficult to perform studies to test this concept...As far as I know, he has never conducted any such study.

The next section of the book deals with Chopra's endorsement of claims of Maharishi Transcendental Meditation regarding effects of TM on crime and war, etc., and the ability to levitate. Butler challenges Chopra to produce someone who can levitate, as demonstrated by the following test: sit on a scale and reduce body weight by 5% for 15 sec using mental power alone.

    Chopra is the ideal propagandist for Ayurveda because, as a medical doctor, he can give it a respectable scientific aura. He occasionally gives therapeutic drugs and surgery their due for infections, cancers, and heart conditions. Yet at other times he says that 'the direct nondrug cures (especially TM) are more effective because they exhibit more complete, holistic knowledge and more pervasive correlation.' On a 'Sonya Live' program, he said that antibiotics and anticancer drugs don't work. He blamed chemotherapy and radiation for 'an epidemic of immuno-compromised disease,' which is pure poppycock.

In one of his books, Chopra advocates a special diet, along with herbs, meditation, etc., for asthma, but doesn't mention the avoidance of allergens such as animal hair and house dust.

Chopra also exaggerates the importance of positive thinking in cancer therapy...Although a positive attitude may help a cancer patient feel better, comply with treatment, and have a better quality of life, no scientific study has demonstrated an effect upon the cancer itself."

Nor have depressed people been found to have a higher incidence of cancer.

The JAMA Caper

Chopra was at the center of a controversy in 1991, when JAMA(Journal of the American Medical Association) published an article entitled "Letter From New Delhi: Maharishi Ayur-Veda: Modern Insights Into Ancient Medicine," by Hari Sharma, Brihaspati Dev Triguna, and Chopra (Ref. 2). The article describes traditional Ayurvedic medicine, and then defines "Maharishi Ayur-Veda" as "a modern revival, taking into account all of these approaches in accordance with the classical texts...under the direction of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in collaboration with leading Ayurvedic physicians." Included in the article are discussions of the benefits of TM and results of scientific investigations of Ayurvedic herbal remedies.

A later issue included numerous letters (Ref. 3) both favorable to and critical of the article, a reply from Sharma and Chopra(Ref. 4), and a "Medical News & Perspectives" report (Ref. 5). Because JAMA has a policy concerning disclosure of financial interests for authors of articles and letters, we can learn that the authors of the favorable letters all were involved in the practice of ayurvedic medicine or TM, some with direct connections to the Maharishi's enterprises. Among the critical letters:

  1. Patrick Ryan, a former member of the TM organization and now"an educational consultant in the field of cult exit counseling," stated, "The article has factual errors and, by omission, paints a false picture of a rather unscrupulous organization. Most references cited are generated by the Transcendental Meditation (TM) 'movement.' Professional critiques of TM research state that 'the scientific research is without objectivity, and at times, simply untrue,' and it is 'deliberately contrived to mislead the public.'...Drs. Chopra and Triguna offer Maharishi Ayur-Veda services for a fee. By failing to cite the contraindications(problems with headaches, insomnia, concentration, gastrointestinal upset, hallucinations, anxiety, depression, and destruction of personality) of Maharishi Ayur-Veda, the authors violate the ethics of informed consent."

  2. Gordon White, another former member of the TM movement, provided additional criticisms of the alleged benefits of TM, with some literature references.

  3. Wallace Sampson, MD, who is board chairman of the National Council AYURVEDA Against Health Fraud, noted that the article contained "a collection of dubious results of 'pulse diagnosis' and herbal and dietary treatments...Although some of the results have been published, they have not been validated by independent observers. They are inconsistent with scientific knowledge and method." Similarly, Tim Gorski, MD asked "Where is their double-blind controlled study, for instance, wherein it is shown that Ayurvedic practitioners can accurately 'diagnose diseases...such as diabetes, neoplastic disease, musculoskeletal diseases, and asthma' by palpation of the radial pulse? Just think of all the laboratory analyses, surgery, x-rays and spirometry that could be dispensed with if they could prove such claims!"

  4. John Patterson, PhD (Iowa State University) (whom some readers may know for his activities in dealing with creationism), noted that "The TM movement is to Hinduism what the Creation Science movement is to Christianity - an aberration. Both are best viewed as religion in the guise of science."

  5. Kevin Garvey, a "counselor and legal consultant on cases stemming from TM's abuses" wrote, "The line describing mind as 'a physical expression of the self-interacting dynamics of an underlying abstract field of intelligence,' and which emphasizes this as a principle, fails to identify its theological import. This is, however, a reference to Hinduism's concept of Maya(matter is an illusion), Maya's integral relation to Monism (all things are made of one substance), and the belief that this substance is spirit. Transcendental Meditation Ayur-Veda defies all medical knowledge because it accepts the archaic belief that disease is the result of assault by female demons! This bit of truth, of course, is not acknowledged to Western audiences."

Most of the reply by the authors (Ref. 4) dealt with the evidence concerning the beneficial effects of TM. In response to Gorski, they referred him "to the references in the original article," but the only reference to pulse diagnosis was not to the conventional medical literature but rather to a book published in India entitled The Essence of Pulse Diagnosis. They did not respond to comments by Garvey and Sampson.

The report included in the same issue, written by associate editor Andrew Skolnick, was entitled "Maharishi Ayur-Veda: Guru's Marketing Scheme Promises the World Eternal 'Perfect Health'" [5]. Skolnick also wrote a report on the episode ("The Maharishi Caper: JAMA Hoodwinked (But Just for a While)") which appeared in the Skeptical Inquirer (Ref. 6). A further note concerning the affair appeared later (Ref. 7).

One of the major points of Skolnick is that despite indicating on a financial disclosure form that they were not affiliated with any organization that could profit from the publication of their article, the authors "were intimately involved with the complex network of organizations that promote and sell the products and services about which they wrote. They misrepresented Maharishi Ayur-Veda as India's ancient system of healing, rather than what it is: a trademark line of 'alternative health' products and services marketed since 1985 by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi..." (Ref. 6, p. 255).

Scientific Status of Ayurveda

Some points concerning the scientific status of Maharishi Ayur-Veda:

  1. On claims of pulse diagnosis: "When asked if he would agree to a test of these claims made in JAMA using a blinded protocol, Chopra declined on the grounds that a blinded experiment would 'eliminate the most crucial component of the experiment, which is consciousness.'" (Ref. 5, p. 1742)

  2. The American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (of which Chopra is president) represented one of its research council members as if he were affiliated with, and conducting research projects on Ayurvedic herbal remedies, at institutions such as M.I.T., Harvard Medical School, and Massachusetts General Hospital. In fact he had undergone training at those institutions, but no longer had any affiliation with them. He apparently was allowed to use one professor's resources for his herb studies, and made a presentation at a scientific meeting(with a published abstract). However, the professor stated that "I never wanted anything about this work to be published because there was nothing to warrant publication. His data were too few and equivocal." The professor denied supplying the required signature on the abstract: "The abstract describes tests on a mixture of unidentified herbs and minerals. This isn't science. I never would knowingly put my name on such a study." (Ref. 5,p. 1745)

  3. The Lancaster Foundation, another of the interlocking Maharishi organizations, cited research presented at a botany meeting in 1987. However, at the meeting, "What they presented hardly resembled the two abstracts they submitted...Instead, they gave a marketing presentation extolling the Maharishi's meditation and herbal products," with a television news crew on hand. According to a member of the meeting's organizing committee, "In one presentation, they couldn't even provide the scientific names of the medicinal plants they claimed to have tested." (Ref. 5, p. 1745)

  4. Costs for Maharishi products recommended just to maintain health can run to thousands of dollars per year. However, they can rise steeply in case of actual illness. Patients with serious illnesses often pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for gemstones prescribed by Jyotish consultants (Hindu astrologers) at Chopra's Maharishi Ayur-Veda Health Center in Lancaster.

    According to former movement members, they also may be asked to pay thousands of dollars for a "yagya," which is a religious ceremony performed to solicit the aid of one or more Hindu deities. Patients who pay for these ceremonies do not take part in them or even get to see them performed, say the ex-members.

    During an interview in June, Chopra denied that yagyas are part of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda program. Nevertheless, there are many references in Maharishi Ayur-Veda literature that describe yagyas as one of the "20 different treatment approaches" available to patients. In a US Internal Revenue Service document...signed by Chopra as a trustee, yagyas are identified as one of 20 research activities of the Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation.

    In a written reply to questions about their recommending yagyas, Chopra said that while their literature may describe yagyas as one of their 20 different treatment approaches, they don't prescribe them to patients. However, according to the July/August 1991 National Council Against Health Fraud newsletter, and the fall 1990 newsletter of TM-Ex, a support organization for former movement members in Arlington, Va., "a yagya prescribed for endometriosis was priced at $11 500" for one patient, although a "'less than recommended' yagya was also available for $8500, as was a $3300 yagya that would suffice."

    JAMA has obtained a copy of one Maharishi Jyotish Gem/Yagya Analysis for a patient. According to the analysis, the patient's Jyotish horoscope indicated that she needed two kinds of yagyas for her health, one to be performed then and another "every birthday." It also recommended that she purchase gems that cost between $2000 and $3000. [Ref. 5, pp. 1749-50)

  5. "Two physicians who are the chief promoters of Maharishi Ayur-Veda in Great Britain have been charged with 'serious professional misconduct'" in connection with promoting and selling herbal remedies for AIDS.

    Laboratory analyses . . . showed some of the herbal preparations were composed of plant material, fungus, feces, and bacteria, which may have caused the gastrointestinal problems reported by the patient...on whose behalf the charges were brought...persons with AIDS were charged $500 a month for the herbal remedies. In addition, they were persuaded to spend hundreds of dollars more to learn TM. Some also were encouraged to discontinue taking the AIDS drug zidovudine...Among other charges, they are accused of giving dietary advice that could endanger the health of patients with AIDS and distributing promotional literature that boasted of a weight gain of 6 kg and other improvements in the health of a patient who was already dead...According to Chopra, "the testimony on fecal contamination was totally refuted to the satisfaction of all experts." He would not say how it was refuted nor who these experts were. Sources close to the hearing in England say they have no idea what Chopra is referring to...While the the United States do not openly claim to be able to cure AIDS, they do claim that their system offers "unprecedented advances in [its] management" and that scientific evidence suggests their herbal product Maharishi Amrit Kalash can alleviate many AIDS-related symptoms and protect against opportunistic infections. (Ref. 5, p. 1750)

  6. In one of his books, Chopra "claims that the practices of TM and Maharishi Ayur-Veda are supported by quantum physics, and refers readers" to a book by physicist Heinz R. Pagels. "In that book, however, the physicist denounced as 'nonsense' attempts to tie quantum physics to Eastern mysticism. He wrote, 'Individuals who make such claims have substituted a wish-fulfilling fantasy for understanding.'" In an affidavit in a TM lawsuit, Pagels wrote, "There is no known connection between meditation states and states of matter in physics...No qualified physicist that I know would claim to find such a connection without knowingly committing fraud...The presentation of the ideas of modern physics side by side, and apparently supportive of, the ideas of the Maharishi about pure consciousness can only be intended to deceive those who might not know any better." (Ref. 5, p. 1750)

  7. The JAMA article concludes with a quote from a former TM teacher: "We were taught how to exploit the reporters' gullibility and fascination with the exotic, especially what comes from the East. We thought we weren't doing anything wrong, because we were told it was often necessary to deceive the unenlightened to advance our guru's plan to save the world."(p. 1750)

    In the Skeptical Inquirer article (Ref. 6), Skolnick listed several members of the research council and advisory council of the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine who have prestigious academic appointments, and wrote:

    With the help of such well-placed physicians and academicians, the TM movement has been able to project a respectable front in its scheme to market Maharishi Ayur-Veda. In June, the American College of Preventive Medicine accredited Maharishi Ayur-Veda courses for continuing medical education for physicians, for the second time. The National Cancer Institute is currently funding 11 studies testing the anticancer potential of the concoction of herbs and minerals called Maharishi Amrit Kalash - even though its exact composition has not been revealed.

    I have not heard of any outcome from these studies.

    In the March 11, 1992, issue, JAMA published (under the heading "Closing the Chapter on Maharishi Ayur-Veda") seven letters(Ref. 8) in reply to Skolnick's article (Ref. 5), plus a response from Skolnick (Ref. 9). Six of the letters were from individuals associated in some way with the Maharishi movement. Most of the points in these, as well as in Skolnick's reply, dealt with the validity of TM or the allegations concerning financial interests, deception, etc.

    One of the letters was from Chopra. Two excerpts:

    I would like to point out that without an open mind no sound judgment of Maharishi Ayur-Veda can be made. JAMA did not address the significant questions: Is this approach sound? Do patients feel that they benefit from it? Is there new knowledge to be gained from it? In every case, the answer is an emphatic yes." In response to the second point, I note that it seems that any alternative practitioner, no matter how dubious his or her methods, seems able to produce many satisfied patients. This may be in part because such practitioners tend to establish strong personal connections with their patients, something which many people find lacking in modern scientific medicine.

    No research exists to counter the more than 200 peer-review articles published on TM and Maharishi Ayur-Veda. No harm against patients of any kind has been demonstrated. Quite the contrary. More than 1 million people in this country have learned TM; tens of thousands take advantage of Maharishi Ayur-Veda. These people form a large, enthusiastic public for our work.

    Skolnick (Ref. 9) did not address these points, except to note harmful effects of TM.

    In December, 1992, Chopra spoke in Louisville at a benefit for a local group raising funds for a "consumer medical library"(which would stock publications on "alternative medicine"). A newspaper story dealing with the talk noted that Chopra and his co-authors had filed a lawsuit against JAMA. I haven't heard anything further about this.

    By coincidence, as I was working on this material, Chopra made another visit to Louisville. Other than a flier placed in my mailbox, I didn't see any other publicity, or any article in the newspaper. Presumably it was publicized at health food stores and among groups interested in "alternative medicine." The title of his talk was Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, which is also the title of his latest book(subtitled The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old.). According to his promotional material (Ref. 10), this is a New York Times #1 bestseller with more than one million copies sold. One of the members of the SKEPTIC Discussion Group noted that in his jacket photo for this book, Chopra "is visibly older" than his appearance on Quantum Healing!

    The description of the talk begins, "Contrary to our traditional notions of aging, we can learn to direct the way our bodies metabolize time." As a biochemist, I was curious about what he means by metabolism of time, but I didn't want to pay $39 to hear the talk. I am disappointed that the talk was approved for continuing education credit for health professionals. It seems that a variety of claims which are not accepted by mainstream science can gain such approval, possibly because accreditation groups are afraid of lawsuits.

Commercial Offerings

As suggested by another member of the SKEPTIC group, I called Quantum Publications and obtained a copy of the latest catalog of Chopra's offerings (Ref. 10). Among the items in the 28-page, full-color brochure are the following:

  1. A biographical sketch of Dr. Chopra

    This informs us that "In 1993, he relocated to San Diego, California to become Executive Director for the Institute for Human Potential and Mind/Body Medicine, and the chief consultant to the Center for Mind/Body Medicine, a unique health care facility for stress management and behavioral medicine, offering preventive and rejuvenative therapies and complementary treatments for people with chronic disorders."

  2. Herbal food supplements

    Examples include Biochavan 1, herbal jam; OptiEnergy, "for energizing and balancing the physiology"; OptiWoman, "to nourish and balance a woman's vitality"). These are all packaged in containers with the "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind" logo. It is stated that Ancient Ayurvedic texts describe each herb as a packet of vibrations that specifically match a vibration in the quantum mechanical body. All organs, for example, the liver, the stomach and the heart are built up from a specific sequence of vibrations at the quantum level. In the case of a malfunction, some disruption of the proper sequence in these vibrations is at fault. According to Ayurveda, an herb exists with this exact same sequence, and when applied, it can help restores [sic] the organ's functioning.

    I find it interesting that ancient Ayurvedic texts would refer to quantum mechanical vibrations!

    The last group of herbal remedies have names such as "OptiCardio" and "OptiRheum," suggesting that they might be useful for specific medical conditions. However, to make claims of that nature might present legal problems, and these items have no descriptions. It is further noted that "The supplements described on this page should be taken only when recommended by a health professional trained in Ayurveda."

  3. OptiAge Skin Care Products

    In the background information, we can find that "Geranium and rosemary stimulate the pineal gland, a hormonal secreter with many benefits for the body, some still not understood in the West," and "Ayurveda maintains that gems and crystals have strong healing properties which are also cooling, calming, and rejuvenating to the skin." The latter is given because OptiAge Cream Moisturizer contains "'essence of pearl water'...referred to in Vedic texts as extremely pure water that has absorbed the healing properties of pearls."

  4. Books

    Among these are:

    • Creating Affluence - Wealth Consciousness in the Field of All Possibilities. "Blending physics and philosophy, Dr. Chopra demonstrates the steps anyone can take to create affluence in all aspects of life."

    • Unconditional Life - Mastering the Forces that Shape Personal Reality. "Filled with fascinating case histories, this book shows us that the outside world - even so called 'material reality' can be altered radically by the changing world within."

    Along the edge of these pages we can read about the three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha), "the building blocks of human physiology." E.g., "Vata is the dosha which governs all motion in the body- breathing, circulation, elimination and the flow of nerve impulses to and from the brain." Exercises for the three doshas are given, along with an "Ayurvedic daily routine for all Doshas."

  5. Audio tapes

    Some come with workbooks or study guides. Some deal with topics such as insomnia, weight loss, and chronic fatigue. Others are more exotic, such as:

    • Magical Mind, Magical Body "Using research from the cutting edge of today's medical science and quantum physics, Dr. Chopra explains how our mind is located not only in our brain but in every cell of our body. What's more, by changing the way we think about our body, we can actually make our body itself change."

    • Magical Thinking: An Interview by Michael Toms. "Dr. Chopra expounds on the incredible power of thought and desire giving anew meaning to the concepts of fear, desire, enlightenment, time, medicine, DNA and more."

    In two other tape selections, Chopra reads from the ancient texts of the Bhagavad-Gita, "a collection of primordial sound that is believed to give knowledge and clarity by the information and energy contained in the sounds themselves," and from mystical poetry of Rabindranath Tagore.

  6. Videos

  7. Tapes of Vedic Music

  8. Oils for the Five Senses

    These are to be used for inhalation, massage, or in the bath. We are told that the three doshas each respond to one or more of the five senses, and accordingly in "people whose body types aredominated by one dosha" we can see preferences for thecorresponding senses. Most interesting is OptiMarma, which comes in a version for each dosha:

    "Marmas are junction points between the mind and body, where consciousness becomes the material structure of the quantum mechanical body. According to Ayurveda, there are 107 classical marma points, which can be enlivened by gently stimulating these sites with the appropriate essential oils...Gently massaging these areas with the dosha specific oil can help reduce energy blockages and re-establish the flow of energy and intelligence throughout the physiology." (Allowing proper flow of energy is a common theme in alternative practices, for example, chiropractic and traditional Chinese medicine.)

  9. Seminars and Workshops

    For $395 (early registration) one can participate in a "Journey to the Boundless" weekend with Chopra, and discover such things as:

    • "The Quantum Mechanical Body - understanding the human body as a network of energy, information, and intelligence."

    • "How to create balance in the physical, subtle and causal bodies."

    • "Where and how time is manufactured."

    • "Time-based awareness, versus timeless awareness - the path to immortality."

    For those with less time or money, there are full-day seminars entitled "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind"; Quantum Sound Workshops, in which you get a 1-1/2 hour lecture by Chopra and a 2-3 minute private instruction in a Mantra technique; and short lectures.

    The catalog includes the 1994 schedule for these events, and notes: "For additional events in California please call the Sharp Institute at 800-82-SHARP."

Quantum Healing

I will conclude with a discussion of the idea of "quantum healing," summarizing some ideas presented by Stalker and Glymour (Ref. 11). Their chapter does not refer specifically to Chopra, but some of their general points may be relevant to his claims:

  1. Reference to "quantum" phenomena is just the latest in a trend in which new scientific developments are used to "justify" pseudoscience. In previous eras magnetism and electricity were similarly invoked by pseudoscientific practitioners.

  2. Concerning the role of consciousness: there are observer effects in quantum physics. However, while the observer may determine which variable is measured, he or she cannot influence the value which is measured. Physicists do not have to consider the conscious state of the observer.

  3. Proponents of "quantum medicine" reject the idea of reductionism (that things can be understood in terms of their component parts),since everything is related. However, science recognizes that distinct entities can have relationships, yet "some relationships are more important than others. Some forces and some effects are too small to be of any practical consequence." Reductionism works quite well at all scales.

  4. It is alleged that quantum mechanics shows that everything causes everything else. But indeterminate events in quantum mechanics are not caused by everything; they are caused by nothing. Quantum mechanics gives no results that contradict our ordinary ideas of causality. The effects are rarely important at scales higher than the subatomic, atomic, or molecular; when they are important, they are recognized by science. (As a biochemist, I find that molecular and cellular events of interest can be explained in terms of conventional chemistry.)

  5. The authors state that the claim that "orthodox medicine is in error because it is not consistent with" physics can be dealt with by the following challenge:

    "Give us a single quantum mechanical calculation that contradicts our biomedical findings. Holists cannot and do not do it, exactly because - save in rare cases - quantum mechanics simply cannot be applied to the levels at which biomedical researchers work. No one knows how to apply the theory, or approximations of it, to bacteria and viruses."


  1. Butler, Kurt (1992) A Consumer's Guide to "Alternative Medicine." Buffalo: Prometheus Press.

  2. Sharma, H., Triguna, B.D. and Chopra, D. (1991) JAMA 265,2633-2637.

  3. Greenwood, M.T. et al. (1991) JAMA 266, 1769-1774 (letters).

  4. Sharma, H. and Chopra, D. (1991) JAMA 266, 1774 (letter).

  5. Skolnick, A.A. (1991) JAMA 266, 1741-2, 1744-5, 1749-50.

  6. Skolnick, A.A. (1992) Skeptical Inquirer 16, 254-259)(Spring, 1992 (reprinted from the Fall 1991 issue ofScience Writers).

  7. Frazier, K. (1992) Skeptical Inquirer 16, 355.

  8. Singer, M. et al. (1992) JAMA 267, 1337-1339 (letters).

  9. Skolnick, A.A. (1992) JAMA 267, 1339-1340 (reply).

  10. The Quantum Catalog, Spring/Summer 1994. South Lancaster, MA: Quantum Publications

  11. Stalker, D. and Glymour, C. (1989) In: Examining Holistic Medicine (D. Stalker and C. Glymour, eds.), pp. 107-125. Buffalo: Prometheus Press.

Thomas J. Wheeler is Associate Professor of Biochemistry, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville KY 40292.

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