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Walking into Lampposts

15th July 2008 (18:31)

BPSDBThere's an excerpt from 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 (see Dr. Aust) 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 (see JREF again) 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.

  1.  http://youtube.com/watch?v=CeFFP5fyBCc.
  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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This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.


Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 15th July 2008 18:09 (UTC)

"Maybe it is the whole shebang - process, prescription, the giving and the taking of the remedy..."

Surely I'm not the only one who thinks this is just another way of saying 'placebo'?

"...try plugging that little lot into a double-blind randomised controlled trial"

See above...


Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 15th July 2008 20:51 (UTC)

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.

Good point. There really is no limit to the number of ways in which Milgrom's quantum metaphors are wrong.

Maybe if the attempts to build a theory of homeopathy using modified quantum mechanics are ever abandoned, new models based on the Theory of Temporal Relastatics will be developed. I'd expect them to be even more successful. And funnier.

Philippe Leick

Posted by: draust.wordpress.com (ext_89228)
Posted at: 15th July 2008 21:38 (UTC)
Tangled up in...

Does tripping over your own elaborate evasions count as a form of entanglement?

I think we should be told.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 15th July 2008 22:26 (UTC)
Re: Tangled up in...

Well, since measurements destroy entanglement:

only if you renounce your elaborate evasive theories after you have actually fallen.

So, the answer must generally be no.

Philippe Leick

Posted by: draust.wordpress.com (ext_89228)
Posted at: 16th July 2008 09:39 (UTC)
Tangled up in delu....

"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!"

Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.
Scottish author & novelist (1771 - 1832)

- a well known line which somehow seems especially apt for Lionel and his homeopathic cheerleaders

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 17th July 2008 12:24 (UTC)

What's a little irritating is that he really should (and quite possibly does) understand QM pretty well - he was a fairly useful chemist, once upon a time, designing photo-activated anticancer agents. You'd have thunk it was tricky to work in photoactivation and photolysis without at least some grasp of the topic. Ho hum.


Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 17th July 2008 17:20 (UTC)

My favourite bit of that interview is the stuff about treating a pet and its owner as an entangled entity:

"...perhaps you have to consider the owner and the animal as an entangled entity. Ergo if you gave the remedy to the owner, would it have the same effect? I was giving a talk down in the South West recently and apparently there is a vet down there who works in that way, which I find absolutely fascinating. I would love to talk to that person. Obviously this is anecdotal."
Obviously. Mojo.

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