Homeopathy is based on the idea that “like cures like” and the “law of infinitesimals.” If coffee keeps you awake, diluted coffee should act as a sleeping potion. The less coffee, the stronger the effect. You can even dilute away all the molecules of coffee: the water will remember it. To figure out which remedies work for which symptoms, homeopathy has its own experimental process called “proving.” They have a number of healthy people take a remedy and report all the symptoms they experience for an undetermined period of time, including things like “dreams of robbers.” Then they list all these symptoms in a book so you can look up the ones that match your own symptoms to choose a remedy.
I have just read a hilarious account of a proving at http://www.interhomeopathy.org/index.php/journal/entry/trituration_proving_of_the_light_of_saturn/ It sounds like a parody, but it isn’t. It was published in an online international homeopathy journal established in 2006.
Apparently you don’t even need to take the remedy to do a proving: all you need to do is participate in preparing a remedy by trituration. Six people took milk sugar that had been exposed to the light from a telescope focused on Saturn. They ground and scraped the milk sugar in a process that diluted it 1:100 three times in succession, to make a 3C remedy. Two of the participants weren’t even blinded as to what they were testing, and there were no controls.
The article starts with free association blathering about what Saturn “means”: the planet, the myth, the astrology, and the alleged associations with the structure of the human body. Then it relates everything the participants talked about: how they giggled, discussed everything from drug experiences to disasters, from pizza to their favorite Beatles songs. Apparently they believe these conversations were somehow directed by the remedy. They found it amazing and significant that one person spontaneously drew a Horned Pan figure.
Next they list all the symptoms the participants reported: itching, numbness, runny nose, hands sweating, incoordination – spilling milk sugar (It wasn’t my fault: the sugar made me spill it?), eyes tired and heavy, etc.
Out of all this mishmash of “data” (=noise), they somehow arrived at the conclusion that the diluted remedy might be effective for accident-related trauma, bone and nerve damage, and allergies. I found the whole business very effective in inducing hysterical laughter.
This article should be required reading for anyone thinking of trying a homeopathic remedy.
This article was originally published in Swift, the online newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation.