The field of alternative medicine tends to have weaknesses that
are seldom discussed. I've found that it's human nature to spontaneously
form belief systems about whatever's important to an individual
or group, and defend those belief systems tenaciously. To truly
admit that one doesn't know how something important to us works
tends to fall under the realm of religious experience.
This is true in all aspects of life, however, its implications
in the alternative medicine seem troubling to me, particularly
relative to AMA style medicine.
My experience is that alternative healing/medicine tends to
Back to Table of Contents
- A high chaff-to-wheat ratio (drivel-and-bull to good-sound-information
ratio). I may not know how a lot of things work but I'd pretty
good at detecting bull, and the bull in alternative circles
seems to exceed that of AMA style circles.
- Lack of tools equivalent to "Double Blind Experimentation"
and "Scientific Method". While AMA style medicine is notorious
for ignoring and misusing these powerful tools, these tools
have allowed conventional medicine to slowly go on a one-way-journey.
That journey is one of from ignorance to sound belief concepts
that withstand vigorous testing by hostile opponents, to withstand
the "test of fire". One side effect of this is for conventional
medicine to almost ignore what it calls "the placebo effect";
the flip side of this is that in alternative medicine it is
often impossible to tell whether an outcome was do to anything
except "placebo effect". I am all for "the placebo effect",
I am not for expending time effort, and money unnecessarily
because of convoluted, untested belief systems.
- "The Placebo Effect" is a catch all phrase. I think the
most ignored field of research is - How do we optimize it?
This fairy tail was written about some sandtrays I made in
The Tail of the First Big Boo Boo
By: Stephen M. Powell
May 23, 1994
A long time ago in a land far, far away, there was a Kingdom
called "All". The people of "All" were happy and content, and
had been that way as long as anyone could remember.
A few of the people, even the King and Queen of "All", began
to feel bored, and eventually explorers were sent forth to find
new things, but not much hope was held out, for no one in the
land of "All" had ever found anything of interest outside of
"All". Many explorers had gone forth, but those who returned,
returned empty handed. After a while, the explorers were barely
remembered, except for their families, who longed for their
One day a ragged band of explorers was spotted at the edge
of the Kingdom, their garments tattered and worn. The citizens
rushed up to them but, to their dismay, found them babbling
almost incoherently and so tired they could barely move. Poking
out of their packs could be seen the corners of glittering objects,
like none ever seen before in the land of "All". Word of the
returning explorers spread like wildfire through the land. The
queen, on hearing of these events, dispatched the royal carriages
to pick up the ragged band and bring them to the royal palace.
The royal physicians, cooks, and scientists were hastily summoned,
and told to spare no effort in ministering to the returning
band and to finding out what had befallen them. For many days
they attended to the explorers, the king and queen pacing the
halls, listening to ever scrap of information as the explorers
recovered from their ordeal. After weeks had pasted, the impatient
royalty summoned the royal staff to report on their progress.
First to be heard where the scientists who had examined the
artifacts that the expedition had brought back. They said much
but seemed to know little. "The items are like nothing we've
ever seen", they said. They spoke endlessly about possibilities,
but , the king decided, they knew little more than he did. The
royal physicians spoke up next, "We don't know what happened
to them" they said, "The patients seem to be slowly recovering
with proper bed rest and care." Slowly, the explorers began
to recover, and their stories were pieced together.
Eventually, the expedition leader recovered sufficiently to
addressed the royal court, "When we had traveled as far as we
thought possible, we came to a passage into a mysterious New
World. This New World was a harsh and dangerous place", he said.
"Just being there drained our life force and threatened our
sanity. Yet we stayed there, transfixed, experiencing the unbelievable,
wonders beyond our wildest dreams. Finally I ordered a retreat
out of the New World, lest we all had perished." The king questioned
the explorers for hours, but they seemed to lack the words and
ability to explain their experiences.
After much debate, the royalty summoned the master Royal Design
Engineers to the palace. "This New World must be explored",
the king said, "You are to design suitable protective garments
and means of transportation for these expeditions." This was
a tall order for the designers, but they went forth with gusto
to accomplish their task.
After what seemed like forever, the Royal Designers came back
to the king with their plans. "We had begun to think this task
impossible" they exclaimed, "but we finally came upon a solution.
We cannot manufacture such garments here, but it should be possible
to manufacture them in the New World. We have designed a protective
exterior that is quite unbelievable. It will be difficult to
start up manufacturing in the New World, but once we make a
few, no further effort will be necessary. These devices, or
bodies as we have called them, will replicate themselves; they
also repair themselves and maintain themselves, even when left
to their own devices." "Outstanding", said the king, "How did
you manage this feat." "We combined what we found out about
the New World with our knowledge of how our own consciousness
works" the designers replied. "You mean these garments think!",
the king exclaimed with obvious worry in his voice. "No, no",
the designers said, "They would never do that. They just follow
the programs we build in plus they follow the instructions of
the operator."------ And so started the largest design adventure
After long delays and cost overruns, the first garments became
operational and were turned over to the first group of new explorers.
The first user reports were ecstatic, and the designers retired
to their ivory design tower for the biggest victory celebration
they could conceive of.
It was not very long before complaints started filtering back
from the New World. The reports were of bodies going berserk
and ignoring commands. After the initial shock wore off, the
designers sent a letter back to the complainers, saying that
they should just pick out a new body and discard the defective
ones. They figured there were just a few of the new bodies with
manufacturing defects. As complaints started pouring in, the
design ers started arguing about who had messed up. Eventually
the king and queen found out there were serious problems. The
king paid a surprise visit to the ivory design tower, and found
the engineers arguing about who was to blame. The king smashed
his scepter onto a table and yelled, "Shut up! I don't want
to hear your quibbling. Fix this screw up, and I mean now!."
The room was utterly silent, no one had ever seen the king angry
before. A team of junior engineers were dispatched to the New
World and told to not come back till the problem was fixed.
When the team arrived in the New World, they were shocked
to find that all of the units had become unmanageable. They
began trouble shooting the bodies and later met to share their
findings. In a letter sent back to the ivory tower in All, they
said, "We have found that the cause of the failures was a basic
design flaw. The design assumed perfect operators and flawless
manufacturing. While these assumptions work in the land of All,
they just don't hold true in the New World. Apparently, one
of the operators tinkered with his body's program in an attempt
to fix a problem. This resulted in his body having a thought,
and then a thought about that thought, ad infinitum. Since this
possibility was never considered in the design, no failsafes
were built in to prevent it, this resulted in a cascading failure
of the communications links with the operator. As the bodies
made contact with each other, this failure past from one to
another like a computer virus." They continued, "We have come
up with a plan to rectify this problem. The bodies are designed
to shut down daily for self maintenance. During this period
the cascade failure also shuts down. During this interval it
is possible to insert small program elements into the body's
mind. Over a long period of time, it should be possible to build
a base of competency in various bodies, such that they will,
as a group, be able to repair themselves. Once we create a few
bodies with reasonable failsafes against cascade failure, we
can form an iterative process to evolve new minds in these bodies.
These minds will have robust safeguards against future failures.
Once this reprogramming is finished, it can be spread from body
to body, like the original virus. We must point out that as
a result of the original design flaw, these bodies are already
conscious beings, although on a primitive level, and our solution
will evolve this consciousness."
When this letter reached the ivory tower of the designers,
the bosses were furious, but the junior engineers had wisely
sent a copy of their report to the king, as a protection against
reprisals. No practical alternatives could be found to the plan,
and the king decided to go ahead with it. After what seemed
like eternity, the engineers in the New World came near to the
completion of a base of abilities needed to start the iterative
process. One of the engineers happened to be working through
a body named "Stephen", and as part of the transition between
developing compatences and beginning the iterative process of
refinement, he arranged for "Stephen" to write a fairy tail,
as a way of explaining the intention of the plan, behind the
mystery of humanity.
Back to Table of Contents
Copyright © 2000 by Stephen
Comments on this page? Click here for