Noetic Sciences Review, Winter 1993, pages 37-39 — Beverly Rubik
Beverly Rubik is a biophysicist who became interested in bioelectromagnetics in the 1970s after a personal experience with a spiritual healer. She has applied her training in science to a systematic investigation of scientific anomalies, including phenomena associated with “subtle energies”. Dr. Rubik is the founding director of the Center for Frontier Sciences at Temple University, Philadelphia. This article was adapted by Christian de Quincey from Dr. Rubik’s presentation at the Heart of Healing conference.
Fifteen years ago, the field of bioelectromagnetics was virtually unknown; very few people paid attention to the possibilities of a scientific basis for phenomena such as therapeutic touch. In those days I was quite an athletic, but had a lot of knee trouble which interfered with jogging and dancing. I had the good fortune to meet a phenomenal person, Dr. Olga Worrall, who claimed to be a spiritual faith healer. I agreed to a session with her, and within minutes of her placing her hands on my knees I felt a sensation of tingling heat, and experienced a spontaneous decrease in pain in my knees. Being a scientist, I was intrigued both by the empirical evidence of the efficacy of her healing touch, and by the fact that this was not explainable within current scientific or medical theory. As a result, I decided to apply my training in biophysics to investigate this and similar phenomena.
My doctoral dissertation had involved motility in bacteria. I took microphotographs of swimming bacteria using stroboscopic light, enabling me to see successive images of individual bacteria as they moved. Their swimming tracks appeared as gentle curves on the photographs. As part of the experiment, I often added a well-known motility inhibitor to completely paralyze the bacteria, and the tracks would come to a stop. I decided to apply these techniques to test Olga Worrall’s healing power.
I added a large dose of motility inhibitor to an assay which completely immobilized the bacteria. Worrall then cupped her hands around the microscope slide containing the specimens. Twelve minutes later I examined the slide and discovered that between five and ten percent of the bacteria had recovered motility. The results were surprising because in five years of research, using this same dose of motility inhibitor as a control, I had never seen the bacteria recover motility. Subsequently, I tried this experiment with a naive participant (who claimed no healing power) to control for the possibility that the simple warmth of human hands near the slide might account for the recovery–but it didn’t. I tried many naive participants, including myself, and none was able to revive any bacteria in this kind of assay.
Next, I started adding an antibiotic to the bacteria to inhibit their growth. I wanted to see if a healer’s laying on of hands could enhance growth–even in the presence of an antibiotic which under normal circumstances thwarts growth. We tried an experiment in which Worrall placed her hands near the rack of test tubes but didn’t touch any bacteria directly. At a high dosage of antibiotic, Worrall did not register much effect; but at a lower dose–which slowed down but didn’t completely thwart bacterial growth–the results showed a significant difference between Worrall’s treated bacteria and the controls handled by a naive participant.1
There really is no well-understood explanation of what may be occurring in the interaction between a healer and the biological system of the healee. As a biophysicist, I naturally started thinking about the possibility of electromagnetic fields emanating from healers and impinging on those being healed.
A Question of Evidence
Although the results were striking, we weren’t always able to replicate them. Over the years I began to realize that the criterion of reproducibility or replicability–so much a part of conventional scientific method–may not always be appropriately applied to experiments involving human performance. Science demands that results be replicated over and over by different experimenters in order to be established as fact. However, when dealing with human subjects (or perhaps any living organism) an experimental participant such as a healer is not in the same psycho-biophysical state from instant to instant. These changes of state may have decisive effects on the outcomes of experiments. Following this series of experiments, I began to think seriously about the universal applicability of the scientific method, especially when we apply it to alternative modalities of medicine.
Dr. Daniel Benor, a physician in Britain who runs the Doctor-Healer Network in the UK, has completed interesting meta-analyses of studies on healers. He reviewed the world literature on scientific studies of healers, and found more than 150 controlled experiments examining the effects of healers on different biological and physical systems under laboratory conditions. Half of these studies showed statistically significant results where the viability or well-being of an organism or distinct changes in a biological system were recorded following “therapeutic touch”.2
The experiments showed effects on water, on crystallization of ice, on enzyme activities, on bacterial, fungal, and yeast growth, on plant growth, on bacterial motility, on skin-wound healing with mice, and many more examples. Documented evidence for healing effects in humans also cover a wide range of conditions including changes in blood cell count and hemoglobin levels, acceleration of skin-wound healing, hypertension and blood pressure, asthma and bronchitis, nearsightedness, epilepsy, leukemia, tension headache, post-operative pain, neck and back pain, anxiety, personal relationships . . . the list of studied conditions is long and includes many cases with significant results under well-controlled circumstances. The report reflects studies done all over the world, in different cultures, involving many different belief systems about healing. Healing is clearly an empirical phenomenon with a wealth of documented supporting evidence.
One of the things I’ve found in the literature was a phenomenon called biophoton emission.3 This effect has been known since about 1920, when it was discovered in Russia. Some researchers have speculated that it might provide a physical explanation for what has otherwise been called the “aura” surrounding the human body and other living organisms. The popular mythology of auras describes them as natural light emitted from the body and combining all the colors. The data on biophoton emission confirm this, clearly showing that the emitted light from organisms spans the spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared. The radiation is exceedingly low level. A dark-adapted human eye, after three hours in a darkened room, might possibly begin to detect this level of photon flux; it is not something easily measured in the laboratory.
Nonetheless, some modern studies show that over 100 species emit light, and that the light is enhanced when the organism is injured or damaged. Japanese scientists have studied injured seedlings, for instance, where one of the rootlets has been cut off, and have photographed the emitted light. They simply put the injured organism on a photographic plate and let it make its own image. You can see more light in those areas where the plant is wounded. This, again, constitutes evidence for the phenomenon of bioelectromagnetic energy.
In the summer of 1991, I was fortunate to be able to work on this phenomenon in Germany with Dr. Fritz Popp. (I regret to say, there really is not much work in this area in the United States, but there is a lot of work being done in Russia, Eastern Europe and Germany.) Popp is involved in studying the subtle light coming out of all living things. His studies are supported by grants from German industry because the results of his work have direct financial relevance to their businesses. For example, he and his team have studied contamination in beer making. Popp found that if the light from the beer suddenly shifts from a low to a high level, contamination is indicated. By monitoring changes in biophoton emissions, brewers can diagnose bacterial contamination early, and the beer can be filtered before the whole batch is ruined. This is one example of biophotonic emissions providing detectable information which can then be used for practical diagnostic, commercial purposes.
But what about the possibility of light being communicated between two organisms, or groups of organisms? If this could be detected, it might be related to some kind of bio-information exchange, for example, between healer and healee. Since the level of light coming out of organisms is so low, it is difficult to get good statistics which could confirm or refute this. However, one experiment in Russia did show the transfer of negative information from a dying cell culture to another cell culture, by a similar type of experiment. They found they needed a quartz window to separate the specimens (glass, which excludes ultraviolet light, would have eliminated the transfer of this negative information). Quartz permitted the signal to transfer from one culture to the other. Without any other observable cause, the second culture apparently picked up negative bio-information and began to die, too. The experiment has yet to be replicated in the West.4
Personally, I’m more interested in life-enhancing than life-thwarting processes. However, I have yet to see any evidence that confirms an enhancing effect of light from one organism to another. The experiments are very difficult to do and most of the funding is directed at research related to industrial or commercial applications, not for this type of work.
Biophoton research, of course, is frontier science. These results or interpretations are not recognized by the mainstream. The conventional view is that any photon emission from organisms is simply junk light; it is superfluous metabolic energy simply converted from chemical energy into light, and has no meaning whatsoever. A small group of scientists–the biophysical school–offers a different interpretation: Low-level light carries critical information that may be life enhancing and be involved in bio-communication and bio-regulation.
Dr. Jessel Kenyon in the UK uses apparatus similar to Fritz Popp’s for detecting low levels of biophotons coming out of different areas of the human body. In one study her work showed that the intensity of light coming out of the abdomen of one of her subjects was 4.05 photons per second. This was very low compared to light coming out of the same individual’s hand at 27.08 photons per second. Light coming out of that person’s forehead was also relatively high at 23.47 photons per second. This is interesting because the location corresponds to what has been called the “third eye” in the mystical traditions. Another subject exhibited similar biophoton emission from the hand, but not from the forehead. In a subsequent personal communication with Dr. Roger Taylor, who was involved in these experiments, he told me they had also looked for enhanced biophoton emission from healers, but didn’t find any. Of course, this does not mean healers are not emitting more energy, but apparently they are not emitting more visible light in these experiments than non-healers.
What is ‘Subtle Energy’?
The evidence for therapeutic touch and other non-standard healing processes is too compelling for medical scientists to responsibly ignore. But how do we explain the phenomena? Evidence for biophoton and other bioelectromagnetic emissions is suggestive, but the data do not account for all the anomalies associated with “subtle energies”. Science does not have a good hold on the concept of subtle life energies–such as ch’i, prana, orgone energy, entelechy or vital force. The phenomenon has been given many names throughout history. I certainly would not equate it with electromagnetism at this point.
However, the evidence that acupuncture points have a higher electrical conductivity than all other points in the body is very interesting. In other words, there are electrical anomalies associated with these points, but by no means do we fully understand them. Dr. Robert O. Becker,5 one of the pioneers who discovered this correlation, considered acupuncture points as channels for an electrical, direct current, communications system within the body. This system has yet to be fully acknowledged by conventional science.
I think that the universe is very deep and unfathomable, and where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier. I don’t think we have all the answers. I think, perhaps, there is something more subtle that goes beyond what we currently understand as the electromagnetic aspects of life. I would certainly like to be involved in making subtle magnetic and electromagnetic measurements of both healers and healees–there’s nothing definitive in that area yet.
Nevertheless, I think bioelectromagnetics promises to be a valuable area of further research. I think the study of low-level electromagnetic energy emanating from people’s hands or foreheads, for example, should be pursued. At the same time, we should remain open to other possibilities, and to ask new questions about subtle life energy so that we are not blinded by our faith in conventional scientific concepts.
1. B. Rubik, editor, The Interrelationship Between Mind and Matter. Center for Frontier Sciences, 1992.
2. D. Benor, “Healers and a changing medical paradigm”, Frontier Perspectives 3(2), 1993, pp. 38-40.
3. B. Rubik, “Natural light from living organisms”, Noetic Sciences Review 26, Summer 1993, pp. 10-15.
4. V. P. Kaznacheev, S. P. Shurin, et al., “Distant intercellular interactions in a system of two tissue cultures”, Psychoenergetic Syst. 1, 1976, pp. 141-142; A.F. Kirkin, “Non-chemical distant interactions between cells in culture”, Biofizika 26, 1981, pp. 839-843.
5. R. O. Becker, “Acupuncture points show increased DC electrical conductivity”, American Journal of Chinese Medicine 4, 1976, p. 69.