The Allure of Skepticism and Belief

I remain extremely skeptical. But there’s room in my skepticism for the remote possibility that others have discovered aspects of reality that I haven’t experienced. An example of my skepticism that leaves open a possibility that goes against the grain is the Japanese healing art of Reiki. According to the website naturalhealers.com, “Reiki uses only touch and sometimes merely the proximity of the healer’s hands to particular parts of the body, using 12 to 20 prescribed hand positions, depending on the training tradition.” I can readily buy the concept that touch, even light touch, can have an effect on one’s physical and mental condition. But the idea that the mere proximity of a “healer’s” hands can have the same effect is what I find difficult to accept. Again, I’m not rejecting it outright; I’ll readily admit that my immersion in western culture makes me prone to disbelief, so I have to pry open my skeptic’s brain in order to entertain the possibility that such an impact is possible.

The reason the subject of Reiki enters my mind is that I’ve been offered treatment sessions by Reiki practitioners. Two people offered, on separate occasions, to perform Reiki to help relieve the pains associated with my cancer treatments. I expressed appreciation for the offers and said I might accept them later, but I haven’t. At least not yet. Lately, though, I’ve thought to myself, “Why the hell not? The only damage it could do is to cause me embarrassment for involvement in something I consider deeply woo-woo.” I have an innate bias against woo-woo. Practices that seem to go against known physical laws just tend to leave me cold. Metaphysics in general, leaves me cold. One of the definitions of the term appeals to me for some reason: “philosophy, especially in its more abstruse branches.” “It more abstruse branches,” indeed! Follow the synonyms and you’ll find “esoteric” and “recondite” and “obscure.” Perhaps their very definitions lend strength to my bias against such philosophies that seem to have no grounding in the physical world; no basis in science, especially physics. Yet, I purposely try to fight my biases in an attempt to understand an aspect of the universe that has, heretofore, either remained hidden or exists only in the imaginations of people who tend toward the woo-woo.

Even as I sit here, writing about trying to have an open mind about such stuff, my mind keeps warning me not to allow myself to be a sucker. “Don’t buy into anything whose only evidence rests with the words of people of questionable credentials,” I hear myself say. “Don’t be so close-minded,” I respond, while wondering whether my reliance on reason and evidence and measurable facts should be considered biased or prejudiced.

One of the reasons I’m hesitant to allow myself to embrace woo-woo is this: the current administration is engaged in a war against science and the scientific method, preferring instead to rely on the unmitigated bias of people whose motives rest exclusively in the province of greed. I think there’s a significant danger is drifting too far into the woo-woo, giving credence to unsupported claims on all manner of things contrary to scientific evidence.  But that’s far afield of my consideration this morning of Reiki. I have to acknowledge the remote possibility that human bodies in close physical proximity can register some form of force field (I don’t know a better term) that could cause changes in one or both bodies. Electro-magnetic fields can be measured and demonstrated as real, though they are invisible; perhaps some similar phenomena, as yet unmeasured by science, also exists. I’m trying. I am.

Here’s another possibility: the knowledge that someone is holding their hands very close to, but not quite touching, one’s body could very well impact the “target” person’s brain functions. Without his knowledge, perhaps. His skin could become tighter, his muscles could become tense, his body could prepare itself for a potential but unknown sensation. That is, the mind can trick the body into behaving in odd ways.

Ultimately, it comes back to this: “Why the hell not? The only damage it could do is to cause me embarrassment for involvement in something I consider deeply woo-woo.” I still have no firm answer.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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