Astrology, Alchemy, ESP and Reiki. One Of These Is Not Like The Other


By Mark Crislip


I knew that Jann was thinking of writing about reiki and fraud, but did not know the details of her most excellent discussion from yesterday until I had finished my penultimate draft for today. Think of them as a match set, two perspectives on the same elephant.

Fraud: a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.

There are numerous activities that one human will offer another in exchange for money that are completely divorced from reality.

Astrology. Total bunkum.

There is no force, known or unknown, that could possibly affect us here on Earth the way astrologers claim. Known forces weaken too fast, letting one source utterly dominate (the Moon for gravity, the Sun for electromagnetism). An unknown force would allow asteroids and extrasolar planets to totally overwhelm the nearby planets…
Study after study has shown that claims and predictions made by astrologers have no merit. They are indistinguishable from chance, which means astrologers cannot claim to have some ability to predict your life’s path.

Although 48% of Americans think astrology is a science, as best I can tell astrology is not part of the curriculum at any astronomy division or program. Astronomers know it is bunkum and avoid it.

Alchemy. Total bunkum. Outside of a nuclear reactor, you cannot turn base metals into gold. And, as best I can tell, alchemy is not part of the curriculum at any chemistry division or program. Chemists know it is bunkum and avoid it.

Parapsychology. Total bunkum. There is no ESP, no ability to read minds, talk to the dead, move objects with thought etc. etc. While as many as 75% of Americans believe in one form of parapsychology, as best I can tell, parapsychology is not part of the curriculum at any psychology division or program. Psychology departments know it is bunkum and avoid it.

Offering astrology or alchemy or talking to the dead for money seems to me to not quite meet the dictionary definition for fraud since I assume for most practitioners there is no intent to defraud. But they do anyway. Just not intentionally.

The legal definition of fraud? Those are waters I will not swim in. Why there are palm readers and astrologers and psychics who perform their services for money when there is no basis in reality for their services is beyond me. Like the lottery, those practices are for entertainment value? The law has limited resources and has to pick and choose?

What about pseudo-medicines? Isn’t that fraud? Jan Bellamy has a nice discussion of the issue. It is a complex issue under the law. Whether pseudo-medical providers taking money from the sick and desperate for therapies that have no basis in reality is legal fraud, I leave to lawyers. In my moral-ethical calculus, offering pseudo-medicines, such offerings may not be legal fraud, but are no different from astrology or talking to the dead.

I don’t see NASA joining up with the American Federation of Astrologers. While astronomers avoid astrology, psychologists avoid parapsychology and chemists avoid alchemists, how does the medical field respond to magic? They form Integrative or Alternative Medicine programs.

One would think that leading medical institutions, major hospitals and universities would know better. What hospital wants to offer imaginary therapies to their patients? Quite a few, evidently.

Take, for example, reiki. An energy ‘therapy’ that is nonsense has no effect on any disease in well done studies. It is, like homeopathy, 100% pure bunkum.

Much to my surprise, while I have done a Quackcast on reiki, I have never written on the topic. A quick summary of the pertinent features.

1) It was just made up. So many SCAMs have a origin story that is on par with gamma ray exposure or being hit by lightening when bathed in chemicals. In this case reiki was created, not unlike the works of Stan Lee, by Mikao Usui as part of a midlife crisis.

2) Its precepts are:

There is a universal and inexhaustible spiritual energy which can be used for healing purposes.

Through an attunement process carried out by a Reiki Master, any person can gain access to this energy.

This energy will flow through the Reiki Master’s hands when he/she places his/her hands near the patient.

As this energy has human-like intelligence, there is no need for diagnosis — the energy will automatically judge the disease and heal the patient.

This energy is, like all energy in SCAMs, has nothing to do with the concept of energy as understood by reality-based sciences like physics. Unmeasured and unmeasurable, this energy is not Kinetic, Potential, Mechanical, Mechanical wave, Chemical, Electric, Magnetic, Radiant, Nuclear, Ionization, Elastic, Gravitational, Intrinsic, Thermal, Heat or Mechanical work. And I suppose Dark, whatever dark energy may be.

This energy can only be detected by the reiki or other energy practitioner unless, of course, they are being tested by a fourth grader. Odd. We can detect the Voyager spacecraft transmitting with the power of a refrigerator light bulb from 10 billion miles away but cannot measure the human ‘energy’ field.

Watch the videos. The reiki practitioners sometimes touch the patient and sometimes they wave their hands over the patient. At least when the patient lays down, relaxes and is touched by a practitioner, you get a bit of the social grooming. It is probably why people feel good with a Reiki treatment. But hand waving the ‘energy’ away? Really. They are serious. And taking money from people to do it.

And what is kind of creepy, and I did not look at every video on the YouTubes, but every person being reiki-ed is female. Someone should do a survey of SCAM videos on the YouTubes. I bet 95% of those being SCAMed upon are thin, young females and most of those performing the SCAM are older males. Or maybe that’s a touch of confirmation bias on my part.


  1. Hey, it’s a “different kind of ‘knowing'”, right? Right? I mean, if you can’t detect some supposed energy field or find tangible evidence of any “supernatural” phenomena, it’s because you just haven’t tapped into that different way of knowing these things. I believe the medical term for this ‘knowing’ would be ‘delusion’.

  2. .

    Sue, the above link is not really applicable to the topic, but it is the most extreme example of “different types of knowing” I’ve ever encountered. The podcast is a conversation amongst a small group of philosophical Christians with pretensions. During the course of the conversation the subject of evidence came up. To a man, they asserted that there are two types of evidence; that of the scientist and their evidence! ( presumably this is a type of evidence that comes without…ummm…evidence! )It would be hard to imagine a more nonsensical conversation. I’m glad I had a chance to share.

  3. The first commenter on the video, newcoyote, gets 50 some replies from the true believers as to his ” negativity ” towards this bunk!

    Without one born every second these snake oil salesmen would starve.

  4. It’s funny that the definition of alchemy presented is one put for by the Catholic Church in attempts to convolute the masses.

    Alchemy is internal work more than anything. Nothing has to be spooky or irrational about it. It’s simply a method of harnessing and discovering one’s true intentions through ritual and meditative practices // eliminating cultural bias and conditioning and getting to the root of yourself.

    Carl Jung and Isaac Newton certainly thought it was worth the majority of their life pursuing

  5. I practice aikido at a local dojo, and a lot of woo goes on there in addition to the elements of ki taught in actual aikido practice. Reiki, in particular, though I’ve seen fliers for things as outlandish as crystal skulls on the billboard. Meditation, too, but that’s actually got a lot behind it, so I can hardly call it woo.

    The way I think about ki informs my perspective on the rest of these practices. Do I believe that there’s actually a sort of consciousness-energy-field-thingy that we’re all connected to? No. But it is an extraordinarily good tool through which to grasp other things. In aikido, trying to find the ki distances you from the tendency to force things, makes it easier to find the places where you need only apply minimal effort to manipulate a joint or pressure point and send a person to the ground. The techniques for hooking yourself into ki open you up to the instincts and senses – peripheral vision, face and body analysis, things that help you know if you’re going to be attacked and how – that are usually ignored. Besides, the techniques are just healthy – stance, breathing, et cetera.

    The practice can have benefits without the concept being correct. Reiki, as mentioned, relaxes the subject, acts as social grooming, and gives a sense that they are being taken care of – a nice placebo if nothing else. If people want to give reiki practitioners money for their services, that’s fine by me, and if they do it for free, then it’s probably beneficial on the whole.

    But, of course, it has no place in hospitals. (Other than, perhaps, to calm down some hysterical person who believes in it so they can be sedated and operated on.)

  6. Regarding ESP, May I refer you to another news story titled –

    “New Device Allows Brain To Bypass Spinal Cord, Move Paralyzed Limbs” … 27 June.
    The problem is about defining what esp could mean. we don’t want to throw out the bionics with the bath water.

    (sorry, could not resist the pun).

  7. Alchemy is internal work more than anything. Nothing has to be spooky or irrational about it. It’s simply a method of harnessing and discovering one’s true intentions through ritual and meditative practices

    Uhhh… no. That’s NOT what alchemy is.

    Carl Jung and Isaac Newton certainly thought it was worth the majority of their life pursuing

    Sorry but that’s an easy one, even for an intellectual midget like me. This is a classic case of the argument from authority. Just because some of the greatest minds believed in something doesn’t validate that belief. Only evidence can do that.

    Newton kept trying to transmute metals into gold and consistently failed. Being a scientific mind, he probably assumed the reason for his failure was because he was “missing something”. And indeed he was: the structure of the atom and the basics of modern chemistry.

    Imagine being able to go back in a time machine and bring Newton for a little visit in the future. In 1869 to be exact. To show him the just published periodic table of elements and to have a chat with Dmitri Mendeleev, he probably would have immediately changed his mind about alchemy.

    Newton had an excuse for believing in alchemy because he lived in the late 17th to early 18th century. We live in the 21st. We have no excuse at all for believing in such bunk.

    Pseudo-science gets my goat almost as much as religion does. It’s not quite as harmful as religion to people’s well-being but it’s just as harmful to their mind as religion is.

  8. Another scam that has died is phrenology. It was all the rage for getting on for a century, and survived in Australia until the 1960s as a way of assessing candidates for senior staff positions. It was apparently quite accurate, and the practitioners really believed in it. It was regarded as a still developing science. In the end it was perceived to be rubbish, and the positive results were explained in terms of the relaxation and attention given by the practitioner gently feeling the client’s head, chatting, asking questions etc. It is the origin of the sentence:: “You need your head read! ” Something similar seems to apply to tai chi, aikido, rebirthing etc – the techniques work, but not for the reasons given in the theory.

    Don’t tell the bible bashers, or they’ll start using the same arguments on us, in relation to evolution etc!

  9. I think it would do you well to actually read the information that you link. To quote the wikipedia page “Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose practitioners have, from antiquity, claimed it to be the precursor to profound powers…. Alchemy differs significantly from modern science in its inclusion of Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, magic, religion, and spirituality. ” Alchemy and mysticism were in many ways inseparable, the search for the elixir of life, the quest to change metals, etc. are how modern science likes to portray alchemy, but it was far more complex than that. I would suggest you investigate the writing of Terrence McKenna, who wrote extensively on the objectives of alchemy before you make assumptions about its purposes.

    “Pseudo-science gets my goat almost as much as religion does. It’s not quite as harmful as religion to people’s well-being but it’s just as harmful to their mind as religion is.”

    Sorry, that’s a naive perspective. Using a label such as “pseudoscience” its incredibly naive. It’s subjective, its a phrase used by conservative minds to control speech and the free dissemination of ideas. What makes research pseudoscientfic? The methods, the conclusions, the researchers, the funding, the ideas, or is it simply pseudoscience when it makes a claim which does not fit into your model of how the world works?

  10. I’m really interested in this discussion, I’ve been looking for something for a while to help me understand how Reiki stays on the right side of the law and is not seen as fraud in legal terms. For me energy healing seems like obtaining money by deception and should be a criminal act. From what I’ve read it seems that as Reiki is so clearly nonsense and at variance with the laws of physics the assumption is that those who pay for it cannot be unaware that it is bunkum and so this is how ‘practitioners’ get away with it. I feel it’s time some pressure was applied for legislation or a change in the law so that it would be.

    This woman has seen an elderly and vulnerable relative of mine who has a serious health condition for which she will need to take medication for the rest of her life. Sometime during the period this ‘healer’ was seeing her she stopped taking her medication and relapsed, I had to take her to hospital to be admitted. On the testimonials on the healer’s website are several instances of people saying they reduced or stopped their medication because they felt so much better after the ‘healing’ In one case there is a photograph of a man who I happen to know died from his various conditions in terrible discomfort so the presentation of a testimonial that he reduced his medication after seeing her really shocked me.

    One interesting detail about this particular healer is that she has degrees in Law and uses the letters after her name on her home page and other advertising, presumably to add legitimacy to the operation. This seems to indicate that she is aware that her activities are not legitimate and so is required to bolster her status in this way.

    There’s also a comprehensive discussion on the reasons people who ‘practice Reiki’ can’t be prosecuted on the Science Based Medicine site, but only discusses U.S. law unfortunately.

  11. Just because it’s possibly harmless on an individual basis doesn’t mean it should be encouraged. It is still perpetuating myths and ignorance. As a martial arts student for the past 24 years, there is no benefit to the belief of ki/chi. You can learn to relax and not muscle techniques just fine without the belief in supernatural forces. I have yet to train in a BJJ gym that talked about ki, and not forcing or muscling techniques is extremely important in it. In American Kenpo, a good school at least, physics and physiology are the principles being taught. Same with boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, etc.

    Everything you have mentioned can be learned without some belief in mysticism, the negatives of teaching it outweigh the benefits. It is not surprising that an art that so heavily relies on it has so many problems with it. Aikido is unfortunately very ineffective, and many of its practitioners have a habit of going with techniques done on them that would not work at all. Aikido has gotten to the point of ridiculousness that certain practitioners believe they can control an opponents movement without touching them. Unfortunately this only works on their students, and they give various excuses for why it fails on other people. And this absurd belief isn’t detrimental in your opinion?

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