• Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza

    While looking for recommendations on mental health books, this one kept popping up everywhere. With its 4.8 rating on Amazon and 10k+ reviews, how could I possibly resist reading?

    But I stopped after the first 28 pages. The key idea of the book is that we can control our reality by controlling the “energy” around us. Supposedly backed by quantum physics. Yet two glaring red flags had me reading elsewhere for validation.

    This is what the book says:

    What quantum physicists discovered was that the person observing (or measuring) the tiny particles that make up atoms affects the behaviour of energy and matter. Quantum experiments demonstrated that electrons exist simultaneously in an infinite array of possibilities or probabilities in an invisible field of energy.

    Quantum physics calls this phenomenon “collapse of the wave function” or the “observer effect.” We now know that the moment the observer looks for an electron, there is a specific point in time and space when all probabilities of the electron collapse into a physical event. With this discovery, mind and matter can no longer be considered separate; they are intrinsically related, because subjective mind produces measurable changes on the objective, physical world.

    But only when an observer focuses attention on any location of any one electron does that electron appear. In other words, a particle cannot manifest in reality-that is, ordinary space-time as we know it-until we observe it!

    This is what Wikipedia has to say on the observer effect.

    However, the need for the “observer” to be conscious (versus merely existent, as in a unicellular microorganism) is not supported by scientific research, and has been pointed out as a misconception rooted in a poor understanding of the quantum wave function ψ and the quantum measurement process.

    And the citation to this point references a couple of scientists who should be trusted a bit more than the author’s views.

    Of course the introduction of the observer must not be misunderstood to imply that some kind of subjective features are to be brought into the description of nature. The observer has, rather, only the function of registering decisions, i.e., processes in space and time, and it does not matter whether the observer is an apparatus or a human being; but the registration, i.e., the transition from the “possible” to the “actual,” is absolutely necessary here and cannot be omitted from the interpretation of quantum theory.

     Werner Heisenberg

    Nature does not know what you are looking at, and she behaves the way she is going to behave whether you bother to take down the data or not.

    Richard Feynman

    By this point, the fundamental basis of the ideas presented in the book already look shaky. And the quantum physics ideas are an important basis for the key idea of the book.

    …with wilful attention, sincere application of new knowledge, and repeated daily efforts, you can use your mind, as the observer, to collapse quantum particles and organise a vast number of subatomic waves of probability into a desired physical event called an experience in your life.

    Mind and matter are completely entangled. Your consciousness (mind) has effects on energy (matter) because your consciousness is energy and energy has consciousness.

    In fact, everything material is always emitting specific patterns of energy. And this energy carries information. Your fluctuating states of mind consciously or unconsciously change that signature on a moment-to-moment basis because you are more than just a physical body; you are a consciousness using a body and a brain to express different levels of mind.

    Then came the reference to a research paper as “evidence” — Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection: randomised controlled trial. This experiment shares evidence how prayers improved the health of patients, not in the present, but 6 years in the past. Right.

    So I looked up and found this — The Ethics of Joke Science. Here are excerpts from the article.

    Leibovici later wrote that he did not personally take these results seriously. They were intended as a reductio ad absurdum of randomised controlled trials for impossible treatments: 

    The purpose of the article was to ask the following question: would you believe in a study that looks methodologically correct but tests something that is completely out of people’s frame (or model) of the physical world.

    While Leibovici’s paper was intended as a spoof, Leibovici said that it was nonetheless an accurate description of an experiment. He stated that “the details provided in the publication (randomisation done only once, statement of a wish, analysis, etc) are correct.” As a result, I don’t think that people who took the paper seriously are in error. They are missing the joke, certainly, but this is not the same thing. It’s not as if Leibovici just made up his results. If someone believes in prayer changing the past, then they believe something absurd.

    With that evidence on hand, there was no reason to continue. Topics on meditation later in the book might be truly beneficial. Meditation obviously has benefits. But since the evidence behind the idea seems so flawed, with no burden of proof, I chose not to read it anymore.

    PS: A couple of other minor issues stood out as well:

    1. A book purported to be based on scientific evidence and postulating a new idea has the shortest list of references I have seen.
    2. Of those references, most seem to be non-peer reviewed. (I did not verify this rigorously. Didn’t feel the need based on what I already listed above.)