The Science of Intention
This year, I spent a considerable time in mandatory quarantine. I had four weeks in Germany during March and then another four weeks after my return to Australia in May. That also meant that I could spend some time on topics that do not fall within the realms of my research area. One activity involved listening through the audiobook “The Power of Eight” by Lynne McTaggart. I remember listening to the entire book in one session during my hotel quarantine in Melbourne. I was recommended this book by Audible, after subscribing to one of their free trial memberships. “The Power of Eight” is easy to listen to, due to its fairytale-like plot. It tells the story of distant healing or the magical power of intention. The author started a set of experiments which involved biological targets such as plants or water and a group of people who would send good intentions. Professional scientists and experienced statisticians supervised many of the studies. The results obtained in these experiments sounded too good to be true. For example, positive intentions which were targeted at barley seeds resulted in higher germination rates and better growth than of those in the control group. Everything was set-up as randomized single-blind study. The person preparing the seed trays did not know which trays would be targeted. The intention group watched the randomized target through a live-feed and sent the good intentions for about 10 minutes. The experiment was repeated multiple times and the results were clearly significant.
After listening to this I was a bit worried about my own experiments which all involved plants. Would my mood during the experiment change its outcome? That would be a pretty harsh discovery. On another note, I also remembered some science news which sounded quite esoteric to me back at the time. It was demonstrated that basil and fennel seeds had positive results on the germination rate of chili seeds when planted together. The plotwist: The different plant species were isolated from each other, meaning, that neither volatile compounds nor soil-borne communication was possible. The only possible method of communication is likely to be in the sonic or electromagnetic spectrum. For more information, please have a look at the following references:
- Zweifel, R. and Zeugin, F., 2008: Ultrasonic acoustic emissions in drought‐stressed trees – more than signals from cavitation?. New Phytologist, 179: 1070-1079. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2008.02521.x
- Gagliano, M., Renton, M., 2013: Love thy neighbour: facilitation through an alternative signalling modality in plants. BMC Ecol 13, 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6785-13-19
- Gagliano M, Renton M, Duvdevani N, Timmins M, Mancuso S, 2012: Out of Sight but Not out of Mind: Alternative Means of Communication in Plants. PLOS ONE 7(5): e37382. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0037382
Figure from: Gagliano, M., Renton, M. Love thy neighbour: facilitation through an alternative signalling modality in plants. BMC Ecol 13, 19 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6785-13-19
Back to the “Power of Eight”: If a group of people set their bundled intention to something, it manifested in the real world. After some testing on non-human targets, the intention was also directed towards diseased people, such as late stage cancer patients. And again, Lynne McTaggart tells many wonderful stories which could be summarized as miracle healing. As a scientist, I started looking for some solid evidence, such as peer-reviewed publications. Although many of the experiments of Lynne McTaggart were (apparently) statistically analysed, I could not find scientific publications from her work. However, I found lots of other experiments which involved the same concept. They come under different names, such as “distant healing”, “biofield therapy” or just “praying”.
I had a good look in some publications and to my limited medical knowledge they included basic statistics and an experimental design that could eliminate some obvious “placebo effects”. But then again, I am no medical researcher and none of this work is published in a high ranking journal which would give it credibility through reputation. So I take everything with a grain of salt and as a worst case scenario I still had some good bed-time reading. Following, I reference some of my findings. Again, I cannot support or deny the results of these studies. Personally, I just absorb the information and put the pieces together as I collect more life experiences.
- Bengston, W.F. and Krinsley, D., 2000. The effect of the “laying on of hands” on transplanted breast cancer in mice. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14(3), pp.353-364.
We obtained five experimental mice with mammary adenocarcinoma [...], which had a predicted 100% fatality between 14 and 27 days subsequent to injection. Bengston treated these mice for 1 hour per day for 1 month. The tumors developed a “blackened area,” then they ulcerated, imploded, and closed, and the mice lived their normal life spans. Control mice sent to another city died within the predicted time frame. Three replications using skeptical volunteers (including D.K.) and laboratories at Queens College and St. Joseph’s College produced an overall cure rate of 87.9% in 33 experimental mice.
- Roe, C.A., Sonnex, C. and Roxburgh, E.C., 2015. Two meta-analyses of noncontact healing studies. Explore, 11(1), pp.11-23.
For phase 1, 49 non-whole human studies from 34 papers were eligible for review. [...] When restricted to studies that met minimum quality thresholds, the remaining 22 studies gave a reduced but still significant weighted r of .115. For phase 2, 57 whole human studies across 56 papers were eligible for review. When combined, these studies yielded a small effect size of r = .203 that was also significant. [...] However, when restricted to studies that met threshold quality levels the weighted effect size for the 27 surviving studies increased to r = .224. Taken together these results suggest that subjects in the active condition exhibit a significant improvement in wellbeing relative to control subjects under circumstances that do not seem to be susceptible to placebo and expectancy effects.
- Jain, S., Hammerschlag, R., Mills, P., Cohen, L., Krieger, R., Vieten, C. and Lutgendorf, S., 2015. Clinical studies of biofield therapies: Summary, methodological challenges, and recommendations. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 4(1_suppl), pp.gahmj-2015.
To date, there have been over 30 published clinical trials reporting effects of biofield therapies for pain in ambulatory and hospitalized patient populations with chronic pain, arthritis, and movement restriction. [...] In a 2010 systematic review, evidence for reducing cancer-related pain with biofield therapies was rated “moderate” in at least 1 high-quality RCT, though “conflicting evidence” was found for reducing fatigue and improving quality of life. 9 Since this review, several high-quality studies of HT for cancer-related symptoms have been pub lished with reports of clinically significant reductions in depression and persistent fatigue, as well as positive effects on clinically relevant biological markers.
- Radin, D.I., Machado, F.R. and Zangari, W., 1998. Effects of distant healing intention through time and space: Two exploratory studies. The Journal of Parapsychology, 62(2), p.116.
The target individual’s respiration, heart rate, fingertip blood volume, and spontaneous electrodermal activity were continuously monitored during 20 randomly counterbalanced, 1-m “treatment” and control epochs. The first study showed that the group’s healing intention was associated with an increase in breathing rate (p = 0.53, two tailed) and a decrease in electrodermal activity (p = 0.055, two tailed) in isolated volunteers. The second study showed that despite the separation of 6,000 miles in space and 2 months in time, the mediums’ healing intention was associated with an increase in the distant volunteers’ fingertip blood volume (p = 0.13, two tailed) and an increase in electrodermal activity (p = 0.31, two tailed).
I collected a few more similar studies, but you get the picture. So what is the intention of this blog post? Well, I can not bring any clarity or unclarity into this matter besides the literature that I mentioned. I am even unsure what to think about it myself and whether I should just put it aside as esoteric idiocy. However, the fact that I kept thinking about it for over 3 months and ended up writing a blog post about it shows that something inside of me has been touched. If one day it all turns out to be a hoax, I still collected some nice information along the way. For example, have you ever heard of biophotons? Photons in the UV-spectrum that are produced by all biological systems? You can read more about it here:
- Metcalf, W.S. and Quickenden, T.I., 1967. Mitogenetic radiation. Nature, 216(5111), pp.169-170. ===* Popp, F.A., Chang, J.J., Herzog, A., Yan, Z. and Yan, Y., 2002. Evidence of non-classical (squeezed) light in biological systems. Physics letters A, 293(1-2), pp.98-102.
- Popp, F.A., 2003. Properties of biophotons and their theoretical implications.