What Do I Mean by “Energy”?
When, in the medical community, we speak of “energy,” the word usually references an apparatus and its function. That apparatus would be one that uses energy to image an aspect of the human body, to put energy into the body (as with therapeutic radiology), or to measure energy conducted by the human body (such as in an ECG or an EMG). In the latter case, the device measures the energetic output of particular body organs. My intent in this article is broader: to address the energy that is native to the whole human biofield, not just to pieces of it such as a heart or muscles.
In speaking of energy in relation to a whole human being, it is easy to fall out of a medical model into an arena that is generally considered to be the realm of religion, and as such is no longer part of scientific conversation. That slippage is not a surprise, as for countless centuries religious practices and caring for the ill have been deeply intertwined, as in this representation of an Asclepian temple in a park in Rome.
For centuries, also, people have entertained the concept of a vital force that underlies all of life, and distinguishes living matter from non-living. That force is Vitalism. Because it, as well, can fit within the realm of religion, the scientific community has largely disclaimed it in favor of the mechanistic laws of chemistry and physics. But as we moved from a vitalistic conceptualization of the forces of life to a mechanistic understanding, and increasingly focused on the smaller constituents of life—molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles—, I submit that we began to lose the forest for the trees. I’d like to look at that a little more closely.
Early investigations of energy
Back in the 18th Century, Franz Anton Mesmer, M.D., had observed healings at the hands of a priest who passed an iron crucifix over a patient’s body. Thinking that it was not the power of the crucifix but of the magnet that produced the effect, Dr. Mesmer began to use iron magnets for “healing” (1773). As he passed them across the body of a person, the individual would feel a “current” moving within his body. Then Dr. Mesmer discovered that he could have the same effect (augmented with the use of dramatic robes that suggested he had esoteric power) with his hands alone. His Memoir on the Discovery of Animal Magnetism was published in 1779, and suggested that the body is analogous to an iron magnet, operating within a fluid field and having both attractive and repulsive qualities,. Dr. Mesmer was a rather flamboyant and controversial figure as he did his “magnetic passes.” If he had not been such a drama queen (an aspect of his nature that seems to have intensified with age), it is possible that his inquiries would have been more suggestive for the science of his day.
Searches into the nature of electricity began in the Elizabethan period. Prior to that time lodestone (which possessed magnetic properties) was known, as was the fact that materials would stick to rubbed amber (fossilized tree resin) and jet (fossilized wood).
William Gilbert, M.D., did initial experiments on electricity and magnetism which he outlined in a scholarly book, On the Magnet (De magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus) in 1600, and it was he who contributed the word “electrica” to our vocabulary. The first electric generator—for static electricity only— was created in 1660 by Otto von Guericke. That electricity could be conducted was a principle discovered by Dr. Stephen Gray in 1729, and negative and positive charges were discovered by Charles Francois du Fay in 1733. But to store and release an electrical charge, it was necessary to create a capacitor. This was a time, remember, when, as for Mesmer a few years later, electricity was considered to be an invisible fluid or force. In the middle of the 18th Century, at about the same time in both Holland and Germany, the Leyden jar was discovered: the capacitor that made further work possible. When, in Germany, Ewald Christian von Kleist first touched his Leyden jar, the shock he received was strong enough to throw him to the floor!
We think of Benjamin Franklin as the father of electricity, but in fact he was just one more contributor, in his case discovering that electricity and lightning are the same. But he gave us the first practical application for electricity: the lightning rod. He used lightning rods to attract lightning to his house. From its sparks, he was able momentarily to illuminate the house and to cause wired bells to ring.
As aspects of electricity were being discovered, “vitalists” assumed that electricity was the life force they had been describing. “Vitalism” was unacceptable as a scientific concept, but “electricity” filled the void. “Medical electricity” devices in doctor’s offices became common from the late 1700s to early 1900s , and ranged from contraptions that completely surrounded a patient, creating an enfolding electric field, to devices that were applied to discrete portions of the body. Doctors and patients alike often felt that these devices worked, at least some of the time, though no one could explain why (Oschman 2000).
But with the publishing of the Flexner Report in 1910 (created under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation at the request of the American Medical Association), which severely criticized the lack of standards in medical education and practice in the United States, the country took a turn toward scientific validation of everything medical. No research supported the therapeutic use of electricity, so electrical devices used for medical purposes were legally banned from clinical practice.
Early electrical research and the human body
Nonetheless, in the prior period in which electricity was used “therapeutically,” it was discovered that if one stimulated particular points on the body (where, as it turned out, nerves entered muscles), one could cause muscular contractions. These “muscle” or “motor” points led G.B.A. Duchenne in 1867 to develop medical electromyography, allowing a determination of whether or not a given muscle was appropriately innervated. Now electricity had moved from being applied to the body for therapeutic purposes to being evaluated as the outcome of muscle activity. The body created the discharge.
In 1906, Dr. Willem Einthoven, in Holland, applied a highly sensitive galvanometer to the surface of the body and found that heart-generated electricity could be recorded. He received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1924 for the discovery of the electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG).
Thus we were beginning to recognize field phenomena beyond vitalism–realizing, for example, that the heart, as the strongest producer of electrical current in the body, projects a field that can be tracked on the surface of the skin anywhere on the body. Again, the body was creating the discharge.
But we live in the midst of two major kinds of fields. The first is gravitational, about which I’m not going to say anything other than that it powerfully affects our physical structure and physiological processes. For example, small changes in postural alignment and motion will cause compensatory realignment throughout the whole body due to the effects of gravity.
The second kind of field is electromagnetic. There is a constant electromagnetic energy exchange between the sun and the earth. The earth absorbs short-wavelength radiation from the sun; then the earth, being very much cooler than the sun, reflects longer-wave radiation back into the atmosphere. The earth’s atmosphere in turn, which itself is an absorber of energy, collects longer-wave energies and reflects them back to earth. This constant exchange of energies between the sun and earth and earth’s atmosphere is what supports all life on earth.
As human beings, we are evolutionary products of the energetic interactions between the earth and the sun, mediated by the atmosphere in which we live. We have developed in the electromagnetic field shared by the earth and the sun, and are influenced by that field. Our bodies, in fact, are electromagnetic. Moreover, the electromagnetic field of the body contributes to physiological homeostasis.
ELF and our bodies
There is a specific interaction between the earth and its atmosphere which is particularly important to the human body. This has to do with radiations in the Extremely Low Frequency range.
The ionosphere is the upper portion of our atmosphere, in which a high concentration of electrons form as a result of primarily ultraviolet and shorter wavelength ionizing radiation coming from the sun.
The ionosphere extends from about 50-60 kilometers beyond the surface of the earth to more than 1000 kilometers above it. But the height of the ionosphere is actually changeable due to the seasonal movement of the earth on its axis away from the sun and due to variations in the sun’s energy itself from solar storms. Dr. W. O. Schumann, in the 1950s, discovered that the changeable space between the surface of the earth and the ionosphere acts like a resonating cavity for energetic standing waves-—so-called Schumann standing waves—, very much the way a resonance chamber in a musical instrument works. Any change in the size of the space changes the frequency of the standing waves within the space.
Early on, and over several years, he instrumented trees in the woods around his house (since he believed that all forms of life respond to ambient electrical energy). Watching over time, he observed that the energy fields of the trees changed in anticipation of weather changes (and not just with them, which in itself would have been of interest). While this had implications for the human body as well, Dr. Burr’s investigations appeared to neither interest nor stimulate the medical community.
As he became more focused on the human body, he tracked the oscillating electrical fields of adult women, and determined in 1935 that voltage changes (on the order of milli-volts) during a woman’s menstrual cycle would predict ovulation. Other investigators were initially unsuccessful in replicating Dr. Burr’s oscillating electric field research because it was not appreciated that ovulation was one of many physical rhythms involving oscillating fields, so that other organ rhythms had to be filtered out in order for the ovarian cycle to show up. Forty years after Dr. Burr’s discovery, once the filtering problem was resolved, a group of three investigators (Friedenberg, Reese and Reading) actually obtained a patent for a birth control device based on Dr. Burr’s electrical field work (1975).
Szent-Györgyi considers semi-conduction and the human body
A few years after Dr. Burr initially published, in 1941, Albert Szent-Györgyi, M.D.,PhD suggested to the Budapest Academy of Science that electricity as a physiological phenomenon needed to be revisited. (Dr. Szent-Györgyi had won the physiology or medicine Nobel prize a few years earlier, in 1937.) Despite the fact that his audience was a scientific one, they did not know of Dr. Burr’s work, nor were they particularly interested in electricity. Szent-Györgyi’s suggestion went far beyond what was contemporarily acceptable, so members of the Academy essentially ignored his suggestion.
Professor Szent-Györgyi was an individual whose observations of everyday phenomena had led him to an unusual conclusion. Sharing a tent with a kitten while camping in Cornwall, England, he saw the kitten stiffen as a snake crept into the tent. He touched the kitten’s tail, perhaps to try to calm the kitten, whereupon it instantaneously levitated about two feet into the air. While the kitten’s instantaneous reaction might be considered a standard reflex-arc response, Dr. Szent-Györgyi reasoned that it was nonetheless too rapid to be explained by known mechanisms of neuromuscular action. Along the same lines, riding his motorbike to his lab one morning, he ran his eye into a fly he had not seen. In the fraction of a second in which the fly contacted his eyelash, his eye closed to protect his cornea. He calculated later that if he was going 10 mph when the fly met his eyelash, the time for his eyelid to close had to be less than a thousandth of a second (without including or considering the fly’s velocity as it moved toward him). Even if his eye-closing reflex involved a mono-synaptic arc, the velocity at which nerve conduction occurs is too slow to explain the rapidity of his eyelid’s response. Extrapolating from the experience of observing the kitten and his own body’s reaction to the fly, he eventually came to the conclusion that an electronic process was at work (Oschman 2003).
Prior to the Flexner Report in 1910, when electricity as a medical treatment had been popular, only two forms of electrical conduction were known: ionic (conduction in a solution) and metallic (conduction along the surface of a metal). Metallic conduction within the human body is irrelevant, since we are not metallic beings. Ionic conduction, such as conduction across a nerve membrane, where charged atoms or molecules (those with more or fewer electrons than the protons) move in solution, was appreciated by physiologists at the time that Dr. Szent-Györgyi spoke . But ionic conduction, because of the size of the atoms or molecules, is relatively slow. Dr. Szent-Györgyi, in 1941, suggested that the new field of semiconduction be looked at as a possible physiological process. A semiconductor is a crystalline device somewhere between a conductor and an insulator. It generally carries a very small current, but it can conduct current over long distances, much longer and more rapidly than is possible with ionic conduction.
The functioning of a semiconductor is fascinating. The atoms or molecules remain in place within it, in an ordered lattice-work or crystalline structure. In large part the electrons belonging to the crystal are held in place by the force of the structure itself. But due to impurities in the crystal, “holes” exist within it, and, again because of impurities, extra electrons exist which can move like a cloud across the crystal and temporarily fill the “holes.” That movement or flow across the structure constitutes a negative current (N-type semiconduction). If there are too few electrons for the atoms in the structure, it is as if the “holes” themselves move, creating a positive current (P-type semiconduction). The phenomenon, however, is still considered to be one involving electrons (Becker 1985).
Professor Szent-Györgyi proposed that the regularity of the molecular arrangement of the proteins and of the protein chains within cells and larger tissues was sufficient to allow semiconduction. He pointed out that the proteins and protein chains were effectively crystalline, and within the chains were positions that could be filled by moving clouds of electrons, allowing for conduction over long distances without degradation. Because the energy was not being converted to work or stored (photosynthesis is an example of such work or storage), the energy would move as mere “information” within and between the cells of the body, to which the cells could respond or not.
Robert O. Becker and limb regeneration
Mostly, the medical community dismissed Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s suggestion as crazy or irrelevant. But in the late 1950s Robert O. Becker, M.D., an orthopedist interested in how limbs can be regenerated in lower animals, looked again at Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s hypothesis. After a long series of experiments, he came to the conclusion, consistent with Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s theory, that there is a direct current (DC) that flows through the bodies of all vertebrates. He experimentally validated semiconduction in salamanders utilizing the concept of the Hall voltage, a way of measuring current flowing through a conductor by placing a second conductor at right angles to it, then subjecting the two to a magnetic field 3-dimensionally at right angles to both. In this system, some of the ions in the first conductor will deflect to the second conductor due to the magnetic field. If ions are in solution, they do not deflect well. But if the conductors are semiconductors, as with the crystalline structures of proteins, electrons will move very freely, and a voltage proportional to their mobility can be detected, varying with the strength of the magnetic field. Indeed, that is exactly what he found.
In general, Dr. Becker determined that the head and the brachial and lumbar plexuses of an animal carry a positive charge, whereas the charge at the periphery is negative. (As an aside, it seemed to Dr. Becker that the generator for this direct current is the reticular activating system in the animal’s brain.) Furthermore, sensory fibers carry a positive potential at the periphery but become increasingly negative closer to the spine, while motor fibers are positive close to the spine but become more negative in potential as they approach the periphery. In this way, a complete DC circuit is created: at the dendrite end of a nerve, the “input” end, polarization is positive; and at the axon end, the “output” end, polarization is negative. Instrumenting salamanders, Dr. Becker found that the “current of injury” at the point of an amputation or at a fracture site became positive at the injury point, although the charge at the periphery of the animals had previously been negative. As repair and re-growth occurred, the current of injury reverted to negative. Intrinsically a chordate’s electric field appeared to maintain homeostasis, so that with injury and a disturbance in the field, the system would respond to restore itself. [Along the same lines, differential voltage experiments in the 1930s by W. E. Burge had established that the voltage between the head and extremities became more negative during exercise, but was more positive in sleep and became totally positive when the subject underwent general anesthesia.] DC current had definite physiological significance!
Since Dr. Becker was an orthopedist, bone-healing was of particular interest to him. So he and his assembled colleagues then did extensive experiments utilizing direct current to stimulate bone growth. They had also done earlier work to establish the piezoelectric nature of bone. Piezoelectricity is produced when pressure put on the bone deforms it ever so slightly, causing a negative current to flow. Electrons in the crystalline lattice are pushed out of place and move toward the compression point (the inside curve of the bend), converting the mechanical stress into electrical energy. Then, as the bone bounces back, so to speak, a temporary positive potential occurs.
In their bone-growth stimulation experiments, however, what Dr. Becker and his colleagues wanted to look at was not a piezoelectric phenomenon. If they were looking at piezoelectric current, the negative current generated by a deformational change in the bone would be cancelled out by its positive rebound current. Dr. Becker needed to determine that something in bone would rectify the current, preventing a cancellation if current was flowing. (Rectification is a kind of filtering that allows current to go in one direction but not in the reverse direction.) In their direct current experiments with bone, he and his colleagues posited bone to be a semiconductor. Studying the two primary components of bone, they determined that bone collagen (a protein substance) is an N-type ( or negative current) semiconductor, and that hydroxyapatite, the mineral component of bone, is a P-type (or positive current) semiconductor. Happily, they then discovered that the junction of apatite and collagen in bone is a filtration point, the rectifier they needed to find. A P-type semiconductor allows current to flow toward an N-type semiconductor but the rectifier, the collagen-apatite junction, prevents current from flowing backward from N to P (Becker 1985).
One aspect of Dr. Becker’s bone-growth work that is of interest for this discussion is that he and his colleagues conducted some of their their physiological direct current experiments using light. Holding voltage constant, they focused light on bone. They hypothesized that if rectification or filtration of the current was occurring, and knowing that many semiconductors can absorb light energy, the light might increase the current going in one direction, just as the piezoelectric effect allows for increased current going in only one direction (prior to the piezoelectric bounce-back phenomenon). In fact, the added light did increase unidirectional current.
Dr. Becker initially thought that increased negative piezoelectric current was the stimulus for bone regeneration. As he became more familiar with the conductive nature of bones, however, he and his colleagues tried to stimulate bone growth artificially by drilling holes in the rear thigh bones of dogs and placing electrodes into the marrow cavity, then running very low voltage negative direct current into the bones. Three weeks later, the experimenters found significant new bone growth around the negative electrodes but not around positive control electrodes. In their initial report of this work, Dr. Becker realized later, they did not properly sort the differences between negative current-of-injury potentials in salamanders, negative piezoelectric potentials, and the negative current that induced bone growth in their dogs. Because the publication of the bone-marrow work left readers with confusion, many individuals still think that it is the piezoelectric nature of bone that stimulates bone growth. In fact, what stimulates re-union of bone is the current running within the bone, through the marrow, where the electricity appears to cause de-differentiation of marrow and possibly periosteal cells and then their re-differentiation into osteoblasts. Contemporary orthopedic use of pulsed electro-magnetic fields to heal bony non-unions is therefore a marrow-stimulating technique, although the results are usually attributed to the piezoelectric nature of bone.
It is also significant that an aspect of the healing effect seems to be an increase in mitosis (cellular replication). When using external electro-magnetic devices to heal bone, Dr. Becker cautions that particular care must be taken to not stimulate cells into out-of-control mitosis such as in cancer. Cells ordinarily only “see” nano-amperes of current; moving to higher-power stimulation might produce damage in the long term. The currents that Dr. Becker’s team used were in the 100-200 nanoamps/cm of (silver) electrode range, while subsequent researchers have used current 100 times more powerful (10,000-20,000 nanoamps, often with other-than-silver electrodes). Out of concern for the possibility that out-of-control mitosis might be stimulated by externally-applied currents, Becker’s group also looked at the effect of their technique on fibrosarcoma (malignant) cells. Their particular combination of silver-electrodes-and-low-current actually suppressed malignant mitoses. But researchers using higher-voltage currents and different metals have not done similar cautionary studies. Dr. Becker cautions that “one of the main lessons of bioelectromagnetism so far is that less is often more” when it comes to living organisms (Becker 1985, p. 178). Because biofield healing by healing practitioners operates in a very low-power range, it is probably safer for those in need of healing than mechanical devices that tend to be used.
Becker’s discovery that the regenerative current in bone is not piezoelectric, or not only piezoelectric, implies that not just bone but all tissue that has a crystalline structure has the potential for carrying regenerative direct current. That would include tissues such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and also cellular membranes and the Schwann cells that wrap around nerves!