Herewith, one of the most pleasing correspondences I've ever had with someone who originally contacted me with bold new scientific ideas.
Usually, such exchanges go kind of like this. This went much better.
And it turned out I was talking to someone famous, to boot!
Date: Mon, 8 Mar 2010 02:15:07
Subject: Magnetic healing?
I came across a guy who explained to me that microbes have a tough time living in changing magnetic fields. Germs, viruses... Perhaps that's one reason exercise is beneficial. The electricity delivered in pulses to muscles, causes pulsing magnetic fields all along the way.
This guy and his pals were making "Thumpers" (maybe spelled differently). They were buying Radio Shack strobe lights, then attaching coils in place of lights, and maintained that pulses of magnetism could cure bacteria deep within the body. His wife, for example, had some sort of deep sinus infection that he'd healed.
I talked long distance to the guy via telephone (back in a day where it made a difference that phones were far apart) and compared notes on power. I asked him to describe the results when he applied his thumper pulses to his television screen... again, this was before flat screens so that you'd wiggle a magnet in front of a computer monitor or TV and it would produce all kinda weird patterns. His thumper was effective within a foot or so. Meanwhile, I was twirling a couple of not all that strong cylindrical magnets two feet from my screen and it was going nuts. My magnets were like the size of a pack of Life Savers. These were suspended from my fingers by a loop of rubber band which I could then twirl. Wind and then it would unwind, kind of thing.
Point is, experiment with infected sores by waving the sore part back and forth by a neo magnet. Or, build a little rubber band twirler and try it out next time you have, say, a toothache. Twirl it by your teeth and see if it kills off the tooth caries.
I don't think it's true that magnetic fields kill microbes. And if the incredibly weak magnetic fields from natural electrical activity in the body made life "tough" for microorganisms, walking past an electric oven would kill all the beneficial flora in your gut.
With regard to the magnetic "thumpers", the big question is, "How do the pulses know good bacteria from bad?"
(It turns out that magnetic "thumpers" are also known as "pulsers", and are quite popular among people who usually also believe that Hulda Clark and/or Royal Rife could actually cure just about everything with their electrical "zappers".)
If sinus infections never went away by themselves, then curing one with some gadget would be impressive. When you're dealing with diseases that do go away by themselves, and don't even have clear endpoints or objectively measurable symptoms, though, it's not a great idea to conclude that whatever you did before the disease went away must have cured it. This sort of uncontrolled test may point you toward a real phenomenon that you can then investigate properly, but all it proves by itself is that whatever you did before the disease went away didn't stop the disease from going away.
The "thumper" idea has the same problems as many other half-baked alternative-medicine theories. Magically targeting bad bacteria while leaving good ones, a simple scientific process with Nobel-Prize-worthy effects that would have been discovered by accident ten thousand times before 1910, et cetera.
Yes, CRT monitors are very sensitive to magnetic fields. Which is good, because otherwise the dot would just sit there in the middle and you'd have to wave the whole monitor around really fast to make an image! (You could, to be pedantic, use oscilloscope-style electrostatic deflection instead of magnetic deflection. But electrostatic deflection can't bend an electron beam nearly as sharply as a magnetic field; a 26-inch electrostatic-CRT TV could easily be six feet deep.)
Magnetic fields affecting electron beams are a real physical effect, discovery of which was an important, and inevitable, part of the development of human knowledge about electromagnetism. William Crookes (of the eponymous radiometer, among other things) probably did the magnetic-deflection trick first, but if he hadn't, someone else would have (and, indeed, did), well before the end of the 19th century.
Magnetic fields of modest strength affecting biological organisms, on the other hand, is a claim frequently made, which could easily be tested in a kitchen with less than a hundred bucks worth of basic scientific equipment, but which has never thus been proved.
(You can set up a pretty respectable molecular biology lab for under $US1000, these days. Praise eBay!)
If you walk through a really monstrous magnetic field - the kind with big warning signs about not entering the room unless you've ditched every metal object on your person, even if you're willing to sign an affidavit saying that those objects are not ferromagnetic at all - then you're likely to feel funny. Focused and pulsed magnetic fields directed into the brain can also create peculiar effects. Pulsed magnetic fields may even improve healing, though the verdict isn't quite final on that one yet.
The notion that field strengths that aren't sufficient to rip a belt buckle clean through the leather could somehow kill germs is, thus, exceedingly difficult to defend.
I cordially invite you to set up some Petri dishes and conduct your suggested tooth-decay experiment. You may be the one who makes the breakthrough!
I appreciate your thorough and helpful reply. However, I'm not coming from any place of proof. Just suggesting a possibility. As to selectively killing bad flora, that idea never entered my head. The point is that possibly there's something in the idea to consider rather than criticize.
As to a notion you seem to entertain I'll paraphrase as, "If that idea was any good, it would already have been invented". This is a very discouraging idea. The fact is, that in 1850 a bill was put before Congress to close the Patent Office because they thought everything of worth had already been invented. Wrong. Looking back from say the year 3000 we'll see that relatively little had been discovered by 2010.
As to the use of alternating magnetic fields as a deterrent to bacterial buildup (good or bad), I'd be willing to bet that in the not too distant future, it will be determined that the relatively strong magnetic fields used for MRI are curative of certain chronic disorders.
As a youth, my mother told me repeatedly that my ideas were probably already thought of. However, in 1971 I thought up something called the boogie board, and created its manufacturing process. 20-50 million of them have since been built.
Anyhow, best wishes.
Thanks for not flying off the handle over my typically "thorough and helpful reply" :-).
You may not be "coming from any place of proof", but neither is anybody who's postulating some new scientific claim.
I've explained why the "possibility" you mention is extremely implausible. It would be easy to test, people have tested similar claims many times, and as far as I know, it's never panned out. People have incidentally tested these claims countless times, actually; any time germs and a magnetic field are together and someone checks on the germs later, that's a test of your claim.
I mean, just to pick one example, "magnetic stirrers" are a normal piece of lab equipment. A rotating magnetic field from below a container spins a little stirring rod inside the container. Such stirrers are used in biology labs, and have been for decades. To my knowledge, no germicidal properties from the magnetic field have ever been noticed.
And, again, this'd be Nobel-Prize material. Even if you can only kill germs on inanimate objects by subjecting them to magnetic fields, that'd be a billion-dollar discovery. It'd be a wonderful alternative to autoclaving and chemical disinfectants.
So sure, possibly there's something in the idea. Possibly, Elvis is alive, and currently serving as Emperor of All the Underground Cities of Mars!
[UPDATE: Magnetotactic bacteria actually do respond to magnetic fields, and can in practice be manipulated to do strange things under magnetic control. This doesn't have anything to do with disease control, though.]
On top of the fact that this idea has been tested zillions of times - mainly accidentally, but I'm sure also deliberately; the idea that magnetism is somehow therapeutic is an old one - I've also explained why your friends with the magnetic strobe-circuit doodads are making inconsistent claims in the first place. Somehow, the magnetic fields kill "bad" bacteria while leaving the "good" ones alive.
The magnetism obviously doesn't kill the good bacteria, because otherwise anybody who passed through a strong magnetic field - or used one of these "thumper" things, in case it's field gradient or pulse frequency or something that's critical, not just field strength - would develop the same diarrhoea you get if antibiotics kill off your gut flora.
If you managed to confine the field to your armpits, though, it'd cure underarm odour!
There are quite a lot of beasties that live in and on the human body, more than a few of which would cause obvious effects if you killed them all off. And yet people who spend their whole working life right next to giant superconducting magnets, and people who work in magnet factories, and people who work next to the giant busbars in power stations and blast furnaces, do not exhibit any signs of loss of bacteria. (I'm also willing to bet that if you swab the bus bars, the surfaces of the magnets, et cetera, and culture what you find, there won't be any fewer, or any different species, of microorganisms than you'd expect.)
See also, for instance, people who believe that "colloidal silver" is some sort of cure-all. In that case they've at least got some factual basis for their claims; metallic silver has real antiseptic properties. But they go from that to saying that tiny silver particles (or concoctions that they just allege contain tiny silver particles...) will, if you drink them, be Good For What Ails You, and magically not kill any good bacteria. Which is the point where they and empirical evidence part company, and also the point where they stop making even logical sense.
David Hume's famous statement that "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence" does not mean that everybody should shut up and just believe whatever scientific orthodoxy, or the government, or some church, says. You're allowed to seek your own evidence, and to judge what evidence presented by others is plausible. You don't need a diploma to be a scientist. A scientist is just someone who does science.
Regarding the "bill to close the Patent Office" - now, see, that's not true either!
This urban legend is usually presented as "a US Patent Office guy in the 19th Century said that everything that could be invented already had been". The version of the story that says it was a Bill to close the patent office also exists in numerous versions. Nobody can decide what year this was supposed to have happened!
Sure, maybe in the future we'll look back on our skepticism about therapeutic magnetism and wonder how we could ever have been so wrong. But nobody's noticed any germ-killing effects yet, though. And lot of people have had MRIs. And most of those people have been sick.
Scientists all over the world are combing through every possible statistical source to find something publishable. A correlation between people having MRIs and infections clearing up would be a brilliant one. No luck so far, though.
I think the relevant saying is "it's good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out".
Regarding your mother's incorrect assumption that your ideas probably weren't new - indeed, the man who says it can't be done should not interrupt the man who is busy doing it. But this does not mean that the man who says it can't be done is the one who has to put up or shut up!
I'm reminded of this:
Small child: "My mummy says when I grow up, I can be anything I want to be!"
Adult: "What do you want to be, then?"
Small child: "I'm going to be a GIRAFFE!"
You might not actually choose to dash the child's hopes at the time, but you can still be pretty sure that kid's not going to grow up to be a giraffe, a fire engine, a jumbo jet, et cetera. This certainty does not make you close-minded.
However, in 1971 I thought up something called the boogie board and created its manufacturing process.
(This still doesn't make you exempt from having to prove your scientific claims, though!)
I should have known I was talking with an engineer :-). Take care that you don't come down with "Engineers' Disease", though - the tendency for people with a high level of technical knowledge to decide that their knowledge must be applicable to specialised fields that they don't actually know a lot about. The world teems with distinguished engineers who're spending their later years in futile pursuit of perpetual motion, antigravity, cure-alls and so on.
Now, just because someone is an engineer, and now thinks they're onto something big that isn't quite in their area of expertise, doesn't mean they're wasting their time. But this does seem to be a common failure mode for human minds, and I shudder to think how much hard work has been ploughed into these sorts of hopeless pursuits.
Thank you for all the kind attention. You've developed a very thorough and convincing mind.
Interestingly, you hit quite a few nails on the head. Example: Yes... at age 75 now, having dabbled in way many things, more recently I've made up my alleged mind to spend the rest of my days of developing practical transatmospheric "flight" for the common man. Although I'm making progress and excitedly so, I certainly could be pissing into a windmill or whatever the phrase is. Then again, what FUN!
Health and healing...? About all I've really figured out so far is that not smoking, not drinking, plus getting into the ocean more often than not, exposing myself to ONLY moderate exercise and yet semi-regular doses of cold water shower finishes... has kept me fairly healthy.
Even so, right now I feel like the second half of the avocado that was perfect a couple of days ago when you ate the first perfectly flavored and textured half; then put this second half in the fridge. Now, spoon in hand, ready to dive in... fridge door still open and, "Hey! Where did those stringy things come from"?
Your arguments about all the folks who are regularly working with magnets, stirring fluids in labs etc, were very thought provoking. Thank you.
The whole topic reminds me of a curious event a few years back when our apartment was inundated by ants. In fact the suckers were EVERYWHERE for blocks around; no stain or crumb was left un-munched by the buggers. Funny thing was a good many took up residence in, or at least were staying alive in, the microwave oven! I'd swing the door open, stick in a cup of hot water for tea, and notice dozens of ants meandering around in there. Too busy at the time to do away with any of them, I'd simply shut the door, set the timer for two minutes and bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Then open the door, take out the boiling hot tea... and damn if they'd changed at all. Still milling around, none of their little feet up in the air.
Anyhow, thanks for your patient ponging of my pings. Aloha, And good bye. Am going off line for the next couple of weeks, So Cal is too cold for the bones. Heading for Cabo to drink in lots of light... roll in the sand and slosh around in the sea.
The ants survive because they're too small to be affected by the microwaves, which are "micro" by radio-wave standards, but still have a quite large wavelength. That's why you can see into the oven through that perforated metal on the door, without any microwaves getting out. Note that the perforations are similar in size to an ant!
You can actually drill quite a large hole through the metal around a microwave oven, to for instance install a "lipstick" camera, without any radiation escaping.
If you just put the camera inside the oven and turn it on, the camera's electronics will die almost instantly and obvious macroscopic sizzling and sparking will be happening within seconds.
If the camera's on the other side of a hole big enough to stick your finger through, though, it'll be fine.
(Most cockroaches are juuuust big enough for a microwave to fry them, if you give it a little while. The bigger the roach, the more trouble it'll be in.)
I've microwaved many CDs, but haven't yet done the fantastic beer-bottle stunt!