I want to do my part to spread the word about World Homeopathy Awareness Week, but it’s difficult to think of anything interesting. (WHAW is a very real event put on by homeopaths for the purpose of telling everyone about homeopathy. Check the link.) I’ve written on here before about the terrible consequences of trusting your and your loved-ones’ health to this pseudoscience, so I have little to add in that respect. Also, there isn’t much I can add to the arguments and analyses provided over at Science-Based Medicine. The most I can do is offer a brief explanation of homeopathy, embed a couple of well-known videos put out by homeopaths that purport to explain the mechanism of homeopathy, and raise an issue that seems obvious and which has always bugged me, though I don’t pretend that it’s original.
First, homeopathy is supposed to be a medical treatment. It is based on the idea that “like treats like,” also called the “law of similars.” This is the idea that, if you want to cure something, you need something that is similar to your ailment. Something that causes an ailment in large doses will cure it in small doses. For example, popular homeopathic sleep remedies contain highly diluted caffeine. Caffeine causes sleeplessness, so it can cure it as well.
This brings us to the idea of dilution. That’s how homeopathic remedies are supposed to get their power, by diluting it with water, and succussion, which is just shaking the diluted substance forcefully. Not only is the substance diluted, but the more diluted it is, the stronger it is. Most homeopathic remedies are diluted to such a degree that not a single molecule of the original substance remains. Water is supposed to have a memory, so that’s not a problem for the homeopath, however. Something of interest is that one popular homeopathic remedy for the flu, Oscillococcinum, is supposed to be diluted by 1 part per 10−400. To give you an idea of just how diluted this is supposed to be, there are an estimated 1080 atoms in the whole observable universe. Doing the math, that would require there be 10320 more universes to simply have one molecule in the final substance (pointed out by Robert Park in his Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science). Now that’s diluted!
That, then, is the rundown of homeopathy. You take something that is in some “like” your ailment, dilute it to the point that it no longer exists, and this cures you because the water in which you diluted it has some kind of “memory” that allows it to retain the healing powers of that substance…but only when it’s not there.
If you’re shaking your head at this and wondering exactly how this is supposed to work, I can do no better than to post videos from homeopaths themselves.
I’m hoping those of you reading this know enough basic science to understand the complete absurdity of the claims in those videos, because they are just nutty.
So, here’s my question, then. If water is able to remember all the substances that it dilutes long after no molecule of that substance remains, then, as the water we drink has had all that stuff in it at some point, we should be able to drink tap water and get all the healing effects one would find in any homeopathic remedy they purchased. For example, if I were suffering from insomnia and wanted a sleep aid, I should be able to drink tap water as it certainly is merely the result of sophisticated filtering processes that remove substances that were in it, and lots of caffeine has been poured down drains, so that water should have the memory of the caffeine. If homeopathy is correct, I should never suffer from sleeplessness at all. That goes for all the other remedies as well. All that stuff has been in the water that eventually gets to my tap at some point, and it has been diluted to such a point that no molecules of those substances exist. That should make it perfect for everything. I should be in perfect health as long as I drink water from the tap regularly.
What’s funny about that is that homeopaths should know this. Hence, there is absolutely no need for them to sell anyone anything. As such, even if they are not hucksters in the sense of trying to sell you a product that does not work, they certainly must be in that they are trying to sell you a product of which you already have an ample supply.
If homeopathy is correct, then we don’t need homeopaths at all.