A company in Ontario has developed an Electro Physiological Frequency Xrroid (EPFX) which aims to.. well, they put it best, so:

Simply put, the EPFX / SCIO is a high-tech complementary biofeedback device that assists health practitioners find stress and energetic imbalances occurring within humans and animals. […]

During testing, the EPFX device resonates with thousands of tissues, organs, nutrients, toxins and allergens for one hundredth of a second each, and records the degree to which the body reacts. This type of rapid testing is known as the Xrroid process. […]

Basically, the EPFX / SCIO reveals anything that is negatively affecting health. For example, if someone has digestive trouble, the EPFX / SCIO may show that person to have had some sort of food poisoning as a child, which is causing current health issues to occur. Or if a person is chronically tired, the EPFX / SCIO could show an acupuncture energy imbalance

from Vibrancy Inc.

Sounds kind of cool! Like the scanner in Star Trek where they can diagnose what’s wrong with you from a quick once-over.

Perhaps such one-hit scanners are getting closer. Machines and dogs can detect cancer with 99% accuracy, fMRI scanners allow very detailed scanning of the body, markers can travel through us and pick up reveal superb information. But such a scanner is simply not yet scientifically possible. I mean, if it were, you’d think you’d be hearing about it from someone other than me, right?  I should at least be able to link to some pretty excited news or science website links.

This sounds kind of familiar though..ah yes:

The belief is that the energy will flow through the practitioner’s hands whenever the hands are placed on, or held near a potential recipient. Some teachings stress the importance of the practitioner’s intention or presence in this process, while others claim that the energy is drawn by the recipient’s injury to activate or enhance the natural healing processes. Going further, the belief is that the energy is “intelligent”, making diagnosis unnecessary.

Which is startlingly similar to this:

Practitioners detect minute changes in electrical resistance through the body. Changes in the resistance helps locate problems. Once an area of concern has been identified, the practitioner asks the individual specific questions about it, in order to help them eliminate the problem, and tests again to confirm that the problem’s “charge” has been dissipated and it has in fact been cleared. As the individual progresses, the focus moves from simple problems to problems of increasing complexity.

There are obvious similarities with the EPFX above. But what are these descriptions of? Well the first is Reiki, and the second is a description of the E-meter used in Scientology.

So is there any credibility to this device whatsoever? Well here’s the small print from Vibrancy:

No claims are made of the EPFX-SCIO system or its results and nothing that the SCIO Practitioner does, diagnoses or treats any illness or disease nor replaces any other treatment.

And from the from the Church of Scientology (but only after a judge made them do it):

By itself, this meter does nothing. It is solely for the guide of Ministers of the Church in Confessionals and pastoral counseling. The Electrometer is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily function of anyone and is for religious use by students and Ministers of the Church of Scientology only.

We could ask if Reiki should come with a similar disclaimer, but this is to somewhat miss the point, because  the disclaimers are largely about the machines, not the people.

The key question is “do any of these treatments confer a net benefit, psychological or otherwise?”

We human beans have a very strong sense of identity, and we don’t much like to be wrong about things we care about. Indeed, the more we have backed something, the more we don’t like to admit error, and the angrier we are if we are proven to be wrong. (Barack Obama has used this to great effect by mobilising the masses to give money – to literallly put their money where their mouth is – in backing him. This ties them emotionally, financially, and socially (if they tell anyone) to his success, which is great because it means that he has their support for longer, and through tougher times. However it also exposes him to some pretty collosal outrage if he errs from his stated course. If you think MPs expenses have been a fiasco… I mean, they still go on about Nixon…

But I’m going off the point. The more we invest in an idea, the more we associate with it, the more we are allied to it. From Barack Obama, to the coffee house lifestyle at Starbucks, to buying a new pair of expensive trainers to get us running, to buying our own yoga mat to dedicate us to practise, we frequently symbolise our belief with cash. And the more cash we spend, the greater our adherence.

This is something that Scientology has used to great effect. If you wish to move up the ranks, you have to pay more and more.

The Church of Scientology believes in the principle of reciprocity, involving give-and-take in every human transaction. Accordingly, members are required to make donations for study courses and auditing as they move up the Bridge, the amounts increasing as higher levels are reached. Participation in higher-level courses on the Bridge may cost several thousand dollars, and Scientologists usually move up the Bridge at a rate governed by their income.

Reiki also did the same thing in its early days. Takata, the woman who took it to America from Japan, insisted that there be a fee for treatments and teachings. This was an inspired and brave piece of marketing for a new movement, especially during the free-love 1970s. But it takes its place in a long tradition of financial gestures of faith, and worked a treat at getting people to literally buy into the idea.

Reiki has now grown such a following that it has adopted a more ‘open source’ model. Fundamentally people agree that the raw materials are available for free (it is universal energy after all), but it’s ok to charge for the service, because they’re basically billing for their time.

So the more we pay, the more vested interest we have, the more our egos are allied to an outcome, the stronger our faith in the idea. So far, so simple. But what if the treatment is free? Does that make a difference?

It’s not hard to displace ‘money’ with ‘social credibility’ in this process above. If one’s peers are interested in something, it resonates, it grows, and all of a sudden one feels like one really should be in on this. It starts with crazes at school – pencil cases, bouncy balls, and such; progresses up through sports and crushes, bands one likes, activities… all finding our tribe / testing self identity to find out who we are stuff we all go through.  We find a tribe we resonate with, and we adopt the modes of the tribe. (Do you think it’s just a coincidence that homosexuals are frequently so fabulously Dale Winton / Graham Norton / Alan Carr stereotypes?)

Identity is conferred as much as it is discovered.

So it is that if our peer group adopts new beliefs, we tend to go along with it. Smoking, dot-com boom investments, beliefing there’s been an increase in knife crime, thinking shoulder pads are cool, acting on doubts about the MMR vaccine, and so on.

We’re not alone. History has given us Tulipomania, the South Sea bubble, Mormonism, the penchant for wigs, witch mania, Lourdes, and fairies at the bottom of the garden. Little memes which suddenly take off because.. “well everyone else is doing it, and it seems there are benefits, and I wouldn’t like to be left out…”,  “if I’m the only one not wearing a wig to work then…” to the far more insidious “but if I don’t say ‘witch!’ then they’ll think i’m in cahoots with her!”

So it’s easy to see that you don’t need to charge money to get people to have faith in something. If there’s enough social acceptance of an idea there grows a pressure:  “hey that kind of makes sense with a few things I think” urge;  an “I want to feel like that” pull; or an “I don’t want to feel like this” push. So one  brings oneself around to take a look, and once we delve sufficiently far in… well then we have the vested interests of self identity which reinforce the position.

These are then augmented by the “thou shalt not test the Lord your God” type statements from the more organised beliefs, to the hysterically emotive “but children are dying on the streets!” cries which paralyse and drown out attempts at reason.

I would suggest that empathy / awareness, accurate language, knowledge, and reason have the tendency make things clearer, and are intrinsic goods. Can you think of an example where a position has been made worse through the application of these? (In the long run, that is. Obvously one can create short term chaos by pointing out the Emperor has no clothes, or that triple-A ratings on mortgage derivatives aren’t all their cracked up to be.)

By way of example, think of conversations you’ve had about ‘love’, and how confused some people get about it. If we were aware that other cultures have many more terms for love, and we knew that they distinguished more easily between ‘friendly and profound admiration’ and ‘pure, ideal love’ and ‘erotic love’, then how much more informed our conversations could be! How much more self-aware we could be if we had the tools to think about our relationships more effectively.

So if these lights of awareness, accurate language, knowledge, and reason allow us to better understand ourselves, our families, our friends, and our world, then anything which denies these is getting in the way.

So back to the key question: do any of these treatments confer a net benefit, psychological or otherwise?

By deliberately and knowingly bringing nothing to bear on the situation (see the self-declared disclaimers offered at the beginning) these treatments are getting in the way of other solutions which are proven to help more effectively.

There’s plenty more to say about the viability of folk-medicine placebos, especially in treating culturally specific problems, using the right treatment for the job and so on, (ie I’m saying Reiki may have a very useful role to play) but that’s for another post.

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