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1st December 2007 (15:48)

BPSDBI thought I would have a look at the paper by Cyril W. Smith, “Quanta and coherence effects in water and living systems”,1 since he cites himself in his “Apologia Homeopathica2 which preludes Lionel Milgrom’s “Towards a Unified Theory of Homeopathy and Conventional Medicine3 and he also knows how to spell ‘Del Giudice’.4 The result is the rather long and tedious blog posting which follows. On the plus side, I discovered HEVEA during the pained process of writing this, and that’s going to make blogging in LATEX a whole lot more feasible.

1  Introduction

It seems, initially at least, like it might be quite interesting, dealing with some non-trivialities5 such as the Josephson6 and Aharonov–Bohm7,8,9 effects. These require some explanation. In fact, he seems to be quite interested in the ‘magnetic vector potential’ (usually given the symbol A with the magnetic flux density being B) and there’s a lot to explain here too and it’s hard. However, before we get too concerned that Smith might know what he’s talking about, let’s see how he actually measures the ‘resonant frequencies’ which characterize his whole theory. He doesn’t use an NMR machine, he uses dowsing:1

“Measurement by dowsing is no more subjective than early investigators describing what they saw through a microscope or telescope. The author is seated at a table facing the tube of imprinted water, which is resting between the hands and arms (facing West gives best sensitivity). Being left-handed, the author uses the left hand to hold the pendulum and the right hand to tune the frequency source. Where possible the writer prefers to use a toroidal coil fed from the electrical oscillator.

“A dowsing technique that leaves one hand free is essential for these measurements. The pendulum can be any small weight suspended from a length of dental floss (no twist spun in) to provide a period of about half a second. Its movement is sensitive to muscle tremor, and when the oscillator excites a resonance in the water the pendulum indicates this with a recognizable response after much practice. The frequency is read off the oscillator dial.”

Later on in section 3.1 there’s some stuff about electrosensitive patients.

So much for physical explanations, then. I’ll just try to say that the magnetic vector potential is an entity which seems to exist such that the actual magnetic field circulates around it. If you work with the one component of the (scalar) electric potential plus the three spatial components of the magnetic vector potential it comes out simpler than working with three components each of the electric and magnetic fields, when it comes to special relativity and quantum mechanics.10,11,12,13

1.1  Magnetic fields

“From measurements on more than 1000 cultures of Escherichia coli14 grown in a range of alternating magnetic fields, mean generation time variations were found corresponding to integral changes in the number of magnetic flux quanta linking an individual bacterial cell during division.”1

A magnetic flux quantum is h/2e = 2.07×10−15 Vs, a tiny number in SI units. However, E. coli are also small, being about 1 µm in size, so a flux density of a few millitesla might correspond to roughly one flux quantum per bacterium. The Earth’s magnetic field produces something like 30–60 µT at the surface. Aarholt14 et al. actually suggest that for a 50 Hz square-wave magnetic field, the mean generation time falls sharply when the field strength reaches 480 µT, and rises again when it reaches 800 µT. And for the 16.66 Hz field, there’s a decrease in mean generation time from 800 µT to 1.5 mT, and this is supposed to be a “very sharp transition” suggesting the “possible existence of some quantum effect”. And the apparently there is ‘periodicity’ of about 850 µT. I’d quite like to see the power spectrum, because it just looks like noise to me. And the y-axis is normalized to the zero-field mean generation time (given as about 50 minutes) so that we are actually talking about changes of a couple of percent - one or two minutes. They gave the cells 10–12 hours to grow, which is about 12–14 generations. If we assume 12 hours (720 minutes) and a 50 minute generation then the 104 cells they start with would become 104×2720/50=2.2×108 but if the generation time were one minute either way we should end up with 2.6×108 or 1.8×108. A similar spread (20% either way) would occur by being 15 minutes out in the total growth time (they load up the cells at the beginning and measure them afterwards at room temperature, but taking about 15 minutes it seems). I’ve no idea what the accuracy of their cell counting method would be - they do it turbidimetrically, which means that they measure the murkiness of the suspension, and not even by scattering of light but by absorption. I appreciate that they didn’t want to count the cells in thousands of cultures by eye though. There’s an appendix explaining that they did some statistics.

Now apparently a field strength of 480 µT corresponds to one flux quantum for a dividing cell, and a field strength of 800 µT corresponds to one flux quantum for a normal cell - his calculation is working out the area of the cell though, not the number of cells per unit area. (The fields above correspond to 24–40 million flux quanta per square centimetre.) The field is always quantized (as the authors indeed point out) so shouldn’t there be an increasing fraction of cells linked by flux as the field increases to the point where the number of flux quanta is equal to the number of cells (in a two-dimensional slice)? What’s so special about having 24 million flux quanta per square centimetre? I’m not sure, they didn’t follow it through.

For comparison, the Shubnikov–De Haas effect15 really is a quantum effect, and it is what happens when a conductor is put in a strong magnetic field at low temperature.16 As the field increases, the resistance of the sample oscillates. The oscillations are periodic in 1/B (with the period inversely proportional to the number of electrons or holes per unit area) and their amplitude depends on the temperature and the effective mass of the electrons or holes. When the field gets strong enough that there is roughly one magnetic flux quantum per electron or hole, we get the quantum Hall effect.17

1.2  Josephson effect

Brian Josephson predicted6 what would happen if two superconductors were separated by a narrow non-superconducting barrier. Superconductors are characterized by being able to pass a current with no electrical resistance (and by expelling magnetic field). In conventional “BCSsuperconductors18 the electrons are attracted to each other (because as one passes through the lattice of positive ions making up the structure of the metal, the ions are attracted to the negatively charged electron, but they move so slowly, being thousands of times heavier that the electron, that the electron is already gone by the time they have moved and so there’s a slightly postively charged region there where the ions are a bit closer together to which another electron is attracted) and form “Cooper pairs”. These pairs can behave in a fundmentally different way to individual electrons by all condensing into the same quantum state. (Individual electrons are fermions (as are protons and neutrons) and you can only have one fermion per state. Photons of light are bosons, and you can have as many bosons per state as you like. This is why stuff is solid but light isn’t. But an even number of fermions bound together behaves like a boson and that’s what happens here.)

The phase of a wavefunction is not directly observable, but the phase difference can give rise to interference phenomena, and as such the current tunnelling across from one superconductor to another depends on the phase difference across the junction. This effect relies on having two bosonic gases at low enough temperature that they are condensed into the ground states, separated by a thin enough barrier that the wavefunction (which decays exponentially in the barrier) can tunnel across. As for whether this can happen in an organism,19,20,21 we seem to get back towards electric dipoles4 which apparently points to the correlation being among electron pairs22 although an “appropriate modelling of the microscopic mechanism of the above correlation has not yet been formulated”. I’m fairly sure that these are electrical correlations, not quantum ones, and that it’s not obvious to me that it should be the same thing. (For the interaction of the wavefunction of a charged particle with an electric field, look up the Stark effect.23) Your television aerial might be electrically correlated with the transmitter, it doesn’t mean there’s anything non-trivially quantum going on. Oh well, even if the experimental data in Ref. 21 looks interesting there’s only a short bit in Ref. 1 about it so I’ll move on.

1.3  Aharonov–Bohm effect

The strange thing about the magnetic vector potential is that it can be non-zero even in regions of space where there is no magnetic field, and that the slope of the magnetic vector potential can be anything you like without changing the magnetic field which comes out. And the even stranger thing seems to be that the physics follows the maths. It’s fields that ought to have effects on particles, but the Aharonov–Bohm effect7,8,9 demonstrates that a magnetic vector potential in a region of space where the magnetic field is zero has an effect on the phase of the wavefunction of the particle. The phase isn’t observable either, but phase differences lead to interference and the idea here is to take (for example) a coherent beam of electrons24,25 (coherent in the sense that they all have the same de Broglie wavelength, such that each electron is coherent with itself over a certain length and all the electrons have the same coherence length - this requires high but accurately defined kinetic energy), split it in two and pass the two beams through different regions of non-zero magnetic vector potential (but where there is no actual magnetic field) and see if the interaction between the magnetic vector potential shifts the phases and therefore shifts the interference pattern when the two beams meet again. Smith claims that he “has demonstrated this effect for coherence propagating in water” but the citation appears to be to a 1995 paper in Neural Network World which I can’t get hold of.

1.4  Water memory

Water doesn’t have memory,26 and there isn’t much more to say about it. I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of letters in Homeopathy basically ruining the special issue27 on the subject. It’s still interesting to read the paper he cites by Scully et al. though,28 which considers a Carnot heat engine in which quantum coherence has been included. The trick here is that in a normal heat engine there needs to be a high temperature source of thermal energy and a low temperature sink in which to dump entropy. With a single quantum heat bath, a coherent state acts as the entropy sink, or something. It’s interesting29,30 but as I say, water doesn’t have memory, and it’s irrelevant. However, there’s an interesting point about using light from an LED to measure the “imprinted frequency” of water, which seems like a parody of laser interferometry, except that it won’t work because the light from an LED isn’t pure enough. I’d like to know what he thinks he’s actually doing, because no details or citations are given.

1.5  Chemical reactions

Amino acids (apart from the simplest one, glycine) can exist in two mirror-image forms. This is because there’s a carbon atom in the middle which has four different groups attached, and there are two possible arrangements (called enantiomers) labelled L and D. Most of the amino acids used by lifeforms are L enantiomers although some bacteria have D-amino acids in their cell walls. Apparently, microwave cooking can convert L-acids to D,31 but then “cooking” does all sorts of other things which would be bad for an organism.

As well as apparently affecting bacterial growth rate14, magnetic fields also mess with the lac operon system32 of E-coli. I don’t know why this is mentioned under “chemical reactions” rather than “magnetic fields”, because it uses the same 50 Hz fields as before.14 But this time, there’s a sharp downward spike (in the rate of β-galactosidase synthesis) at 0.3 mT and a broader upward bump at 0.5–0.6 mT - field values completely different to the significant ones found previously at 50 Hz (and knackering their explanation in terms of magnetic flux quanta which would be why this isn’t in that section).14 But the ratio between the two field values is similar (it was 1.7:1 before, now it’s about 1.9:1, let’s call it 2:1), so that’ll do.

2  Discussion

2.1  Coherence

“A number of pendulum clocks with all the pendulums swinging exactly together in position and time are coherent.”

Yes they are, but that’s not a very useful analogy for quantum coherence. If you reached in and stopped one pendulum the others would just carry on. To try to make the analogy more useful we could imagine that the pendulums are connected by springs, representing electromagnetic interactions. There would still be nothing particularly quantum about this coherence, though. I think we would have to imagine having two pendulums connected by a spring, but oscillating in antiphase (i.e. moving in opposite directions at any given moment) very quickly so they just looked like a blur and you could only tell that the exact midpoint of the spring was stationary. If you did something to one then the other’s behaviour would change completely and you’d see the midpoint not be stationary any more, because they’re entangled. But it’s not a very good analogy because you would imagine the disturbance travelling down the spring, and the thing about entanglement is that the disturbance happens everywhere instantly - it can do something unphysical like that because wavefunctions aren’t physically observable.33

3  Methods

If you’ve come this far, then well done, you’re about to be rewarded with some top-notch woo.

3.1  Electrically hypersensitive patients

He gets electrically hypersensitive patients to “imprint their body frequencies into water” by banging a test tube on the table. This is interesting, because such people don’t actually exist. The tube is wrapped in aluminium foil to “protect against frequency contamination by handling and the electric environment” and then the “imprints are permanent unless overwritten or erased”. Smith “measures” the imprinted frequencies by dowsing.

3.2  Dowsing

I quoted this in all its insanity earlier - the frequencies can be anywhere from millihertz to gigahertz - that’s 12 orders of magnitude - and the table in Ref. 2 quotes three or four significant figures. If those frequencies really are supposed to be something like the precession of protons (could be - he says the imprint is erased by “removing the geomagnetic field” but remember that you can’t get any energy out of a static magnetic field) then why don’t they work like this and be strongly field-dependent?

3.3  Frequencies and water

“Bioinformation seems to be coded as a frequency of alternating magnetic vector potential. Imprinting a frequency into water (or living systems) may be performed by proximity, contact, succussion, vortexing (the direction of rotation is significant), applying the field of a permanent magnet or an alternating magnetic (B) field at any frequency less than that being imprinted... Bioinformation can be transmitted on a light or laser beam, or even over the internet (Benveniste, 1993). It also can be stored on a CD (Senekowitsch et al., 1995). Coherence on a light beam seems to travel in either direction. In laser acupuncture, the therapist picks up the patient’s stress traveling back along the beam.”

That’s an impressive amount of nonsense packed into just a few sentences. What energy is causing or sustaining the “alternating magnetic vector potential”? Oscillating fields tend to radiate photons which don’t need dowsing to be detected. Maxwell’s Equations along with the definition of A make it clear that a time-varying magnetic vector potential creates a time-varying electric field. It’s downhill from there, with a reference to Benveniste and something a bit similar to Peter Chappell’s suggestion that “Right now AIDS in Africa could be significantly ameliorated by a simple tune played on the radio across Africa” and lasers and that.

“The technique for imprinting the frequency on an acupuncture point into water is to take a pipette with a fine tip containing water, place the tip on the acupuncture point so the water makes contact, and bring a permanent magnet up close to effect the imprint. Remove it and measure the pipette.”

I think I’m going to coin the term ‘woonification’ to describe this process.

“A sequence of seven unidirectional electric pulses will also effect a copy. For example, these might be the dial-up pulses on a phone or pulses radiated from a computer or calculator. This seems to be an electric potential effect rather than an electric field or magnetic vector potential effect. Seven unidirectional pulses are needed; six is not enough. This implies that binary 0–7 is involved in information storage.”

And then he appears to be doing computation with this completely imaginary phenomenon:

“An extension of this technique enables the arithmetical operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and raising to a power to be performed on a frequency imprinted into water. It also enables a homeopathic potency to be copied at a different potency value (Smith, 2001).”

(His paper isn’t actually listed in the conference proceedings I found, is it?)

4  Results


4.1  Oscillations in living systems

I think I may have exhausted “fair use” in terms of the amount of material I’m quoting for review purposes. There’s all sorts of hilarious stuff here about the frequencies of acupuncture meridians and how they can be synchronized and entrained and all that. There’s mention of a “healing frequency of 7.8 Hz.”

4.2  Oscillations of aqueous systems: Frequencies and water

This has something in it about far-infrared spectrum of water but also indicates (and this might be able to win the $1 million challenge if it were true) that “serial dilution and succussion can also be followed by frequency measurements”. He points out that 11-fold (11X?), 13-fold and 19-fold come out blank, which is funny. It implies the other ones aren’t.

4.3  The environment

He says that

“a rod in a coherent system has its resonance frequency proportional to its physical length, which differs from musical instruments where the larger the instrument, the lower the pitch. Perhaps this is the reason that DNA needs to be so long.”

Of course, the frequency of matter waves in a box is one of the simplest quantum mechanical systems there is and everyone studies it at the beginning of a physics course. The longer the box, the lower the frequencies. His mention of DNA shows how not even molecular biology is safe from his witterings.

5  Conclusion

“In a recent guest editorial (Smith, 2003b)34, this author wrote ‘Environmental medicine and alternative and complementary medicine need each other.’ They also need physics-quantum physics.”

What they seem to have is people who abuse the terminology without really knowing what they are talking about.


  1.  C. W. Smith, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 10, 69 (2004).
  2.  C. W. Smith, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 13, 693 (2007).
  3.  L. R. Milgrom, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 13, 759 (2007).
  4.  E. Del Giudice, G. Preparata, and G. Vitiello, Phys. Rev. Lett. 61, 1085 (1988).
  5.  H. M. Wiseman and J. Eisert, arXiv.org e-Print archive physics (2007).
  6.  B. D. Josephson, Phys. Lett. 1, 251 (1962).
  7.  W. Ehrenberg and R. E. Siday, Proc. Phys. Soc. B 62, 8 (1949).
  8.  Y. Aharonov and D. Bohm, Phys. Rev. 115, 485 (1959).
  9.  Y. Aharonov and D. Bohm, Phys. Rev. 123, 1511 (1961).
  10.  R. P. Feynman, Rev. Mod. Phys. 20, 367 (1948).
  11.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 76, 749 (1949).
  12.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 76, 769 (1949).
  13.  R. P. Feynman, Phys. Rev. 80, 440 (1950).
  14.  E. Aarholt, E. A. Flinn, and C. W. Smith, Phys. Med. Biol. 26, 613 (1981).
  15.  P. T. Coleridge, R. Stoner, and R. Fletcher, Phys. Rev. B 39, 1120 (1989).
  16.  D. Chrastina, Ph.D. thesis, University of Warwick, U.K. (2001).
  17.  K. v. Klitzing, G. Dorda, and M. Pepper, Phys. Rev. Lett. 45, 494 (1980).
  18.  J. Bardeen, L. N. Cooper, and J. R. Schrieffer, Phys. Rev. 108, 1175 (1957).
  19.  E. del Giudice, S. Doglia, M. Milani, and G. Vitiello, Nucl. Phys. B 251, 375 (1985).
  20.  E. del Giudice, S. Doglia, M. Milani, and G. Vitiello, Nucl. Phys. B 275, 185 (1986).
  21.  E. del Giudice, S. Doglia, M. Milani, C. W. Smith, and G. Vitiello, Physica Scripta 40, 786 (1989).
  22.  H. Frölich, Phys. Lett. A 26, 402 (1968).
  23.  J. Stark, Annalen der Physik 43, 965 (1914).
  24.  A. Tonomura, N. Osakabe, T. Matsuda, T. Kawasaki, J. Endo, S. Yano, and H. Yamada, Phys. Rev. Lett. 56, 792 (1986).
  25.  N. Osakabe, T. Matsuda, T. Kawasaki, J. Endo, A. Tonomura, S. Yano, and H. Yamada, Phys. Rev. A 34, 815 (1986).
  26.  J. Teixeira, Homeopathy 96, 158 (2007).
  27.  P. Fisher, Homeopathy 96, 141 (2007).
  28.  M. O. Scully, M. S. Zubairy, G. S. Agarwal, and H. Walther, Science 299, 862 (2003).
  29.  M. O. Scully, Phys. Rev. Lett. 87, 220601 (2001).
  30.  M. O. Scully, Phys. Rev. Lett. 88, 050602 (2002).
  31.  G. Lubec, C. Wolf, and B. Bartosch, The Lancet 334, 1392 (1989).
  32.  E. Aarholt, E. A. Flinn, and C. W. Smith, Phys. Med. Biol. 27, 606 (1982).
  33.  A. Peres and D. R. Terno, Rev. Mod. Phys. 76, 93 (2004).
  34.  C. W. Smith, J. Alt. Comp. Med. 9, 1 (2003).
This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.free hit counter javascript


Posted by: apgaylard.wordpress.com (apgaylard.wordpress.com)
Posted at: 3rd December 2007 17:35 (UTC)
Excellent Commentary

Thanks for wading through that nonsense. Nice review of the Josephson and Aharonov–Bohm effects. It's been a long time since I've thought about them.

Shame what's happened to Josephson though...

It's interesting how often homeopathy and dowsing are found together. Similar obsession with nothingness I guess.

Posted by: shpalman (shpalman)
Posted at: 3rd December 2007 21:55 (UTC)
Re: Excellent Commentary

Thanks a lot, it was hard work so I'm glad to know someone's taken the time to read it. My way of dealing with World AIDS Day was to finish a two-week old post about a paper from 2004 - topical.

To be honest I'm a bit surprised at how different forms of woo clump together - I'd have thought that some of them were contradictory.

I'm just going to link to your Myth of the Secret Eight posting which was clearly one of those things which really needed saying.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 4th December 2007 10:23 (UTC)
Excellent commentary (2)

Nice post. As so often, it seems that the combination of quantum mechanics and alternative medicine just doesn't make any sense.
I must admit that, having not read Smiths original articles, I still don't know what he is actually trying to say... "Translating" these papers into understandable english can be very tedious; fortunately, it is often all it needs to expose the flaws.

It is also my experience - not just from the literature, but also from personal discussions with proponents of alternative theories - that contradictions don't bother them. Not because they don't see them, but because they don't have the same meaning than for us physicists. Contradictions are not something that point to problems in a theory, not even something that will be resolved by a yet-to-be-discovered generalisation, but a normal by-product of somebody else's way of looking at things.
This may be a bit unfair, but I have the impression that anything goes as long as the general direction is the right one.
Thus, finding contradictions between alternative theories will not impress the alternative crowd. Which doesn't mean that we shouldn't bother, just that we are preaching to our people.

Concerning contradictions, here's a very nice one: in the Homeopathy special issue, there was an article by D.J. Anick (http://www.badscience.net//?p=500) in which it is claimed that neighbouring homeopathic potencies are "similar" [sic, no pun intended]. That is, C11~C12, C19~C20 and so on... Which is why, apparently, C6, C12, C30 and C200 are the only ones generally used. Anicks paper is a perfect example of bad science: Taking for granted that high-potency homeopathy has a specific effect, he postulates an unknown mechanism of information spreading and starts to calculate, postulating additional properties along the way to arrive at some desired results. Mathematics in a vacuum.
Also, the exclusive use of 4 standard potencies is not even true, at least not for all schools of homeopathy.

Philippe Leick

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