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Mon 26 Nov 2001 by mskala Tags used:

Homeopathic medicine is based on the claim that the dose-response curve does a funky little dipsy doodle near zero, so that extremely small doses of various substances can produce therapeutic effects. For instance, there's a homeopathic remedy very popular in France which is made from the heart and liver of a wild duck, diluted by a factor of 10 to the 400th power. You're supposed to take it if you think you're coming down with the flu. The more you know about chemistry and suchlike, the more you're likely to pooh-pooh this idea; after all, there are a lot fewer than 1e400 atoms in the average-sized duck liver, and so the chances are extremely small that any of the original is even present in the medicine at all. You might as well be taking placebo pills, and the systematic double-blind studies (indicating that actually it does work better than placebo pills made without the duck heart even though the duck heart can't possibly be there at all for any practical purpose anyway because it's so diluted), anyway those studies have just gotta be some sort of fraud. It's psuedoscience, dammit! Don't confuse me with journal papers!

Whether it's true or not isn't the point, of course. The point is that according to a simplification of the homeopathic theory, not actually what professional homeopaths believe but at least as good an approximation as let's say for instance the simplified ideas that most self-described skeptics think are the basis of astrology, the effect of something increases the less of it there is. Dilute it more, and it becomes stronger.

So of course, every time you breathe air or drink water, you're being affected by countless trace impurities. That much is pretty well agreed, we're all worried about lead and volatile organics and so on in our drinking water. But if we manage to get the concentrations of those things down far enough, are we going to start seeing their effects suddenly return as the doses fall into the homeopathic range? Will we be harder hit the more we purify? If someone drops a single crumb of rye bread into the reservoir, will we all start hallucinating from the tiny potential of ergot inherent in the morphic field of rye? This could be the cheapest form of terrorism yet.

Although I haven't seen an equation for the curve, most natural laws that increase rapidly near zero tend to go to a limit of infinity when they're actually at zero. So if there is anything that does not exist in the Universe at all, then for homeopathic purposes, that thing must have an infinite effect on us whenever we consume anything that does exist. Every moment of every day, we're suffering the homeopathic effects of all the things that do not exist, all at once.


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