Audio & Alternative Medicine Audio & Alternative Medicine part 2

Take the EPR paradox (EPR stands for Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen) in quantum mechanics. Suppose you and a partner each have a device that simulates flipping a coin when you press a button—something like a Game Boy. The coin behaves as a subatomic particle subject to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: just as a particle can have a position and a momentum, the coin has an orientation (heads or tails), and can also assume one of two colors (say, black or white). The Uncertainty Principle places limits on how much information is available about the coin after it has been flipped. In this case, you can observe only one piece of information. Press one button to observe whether it came up heads or tails, another button to see whether it's black or white. But you can't press both. If your coin comes up tails, it's not that you merely can't see its color. Rather, it doesn't even have a determinate color. Such is the logic of quantum mechanics.

You and your partner go into separate rooms and each flip a coin 100 times. Each time, you choose randomly whether to observe the coin's color or its orientation when it lands, and record your results. Assuming the coin is not doctored, you won't see any patterns. Like flipping a real coin, you'll have a 50-50 chance of getting heads or tails (if that's what you observe), or a 50-50 chance of getting black or white (if that's what you observe).

Now, compare your results with your partner's. For those pairs of coins (say, the 2nd, the 27th, etc.) for which the two of you observed different pieces of information, your results will still appear random and unconnected. But for those flips (say, the 3rd, 8th, 44th, and so on) for which the two of you observed the same piece of information, your results will show a correlation. If you got heads, for example, your partner got tails (or vice versa). Or if you got white, your partner got black—every time.

The mystery is not the correlations themselves. In real-world experiments investigating the EPR paradox, the two coins are pairs of electrons or photons emitted from a common source. If one is observed to be "tails," the other must be "heads," for physical reasons. The puzzle is how these pairs of coins (or photons or electrons) "know" when their physical properties must be correlated. (For a good description of the physics involved, search "EPR" or "Bell's Theorem" elsewhere on the Web.)

Look at the situation from the point of view of your virtual coin. It's the tenth flip and, as the coin flies through the virtual air, you press the heads/tails button. Meanwhile, your partner has pressed the black/white button. As far as your coin is concerned, it's free to land heads or tails. But, just before the coins land, your partner changes her mind and presses the heads/tails button. Suddenly, your coin is no longer free. If the other coin lands tails, your coin must land heads (or vice versa). In other words, some kind of physical influence seems to connect the two coins—regardless of how far apart they may be—and guarantee the observed correlations.

The plot thickens. Experiments have shown that this influence, whatever it is, must travel faster than the speed of light. And that, they'll tell you in the department of relativity theory, is impossible—unless special relativity theory is wrong, which it doesn't seem to be.

I'm not saying van Helmont was on to something. The point is that those with physics envy should be careful what they wish for. If you demand a scientific explanation for how something works—be it a medical therapy or an inexplicably great-sounding speaker cable—it's possible that the explanation science offers will make your head spin faster than any mumbo-jumbo about astral powers or nonphysical energies. In the EPR paradox, the equations describe what happens, and experiments prove that it happens. But we don't know how it happens.

We may not always get an explanation of the "how" in audio or medicine, either. The NCCAM is on track by funding studies to determine whether or not alternative therapies are effective. If an explanation for how they work comes along, that's a bonus. But it's not essential for the business of healing.

It's the same in audio. When I get around to buying new interconnects for my slightly sick CD player (an older one with a slightly raspy voice), my goal is to make it sing better. I'd like to know how the cure works, if it does, but that's different from knowing that it does work. Still, there's no shortage of skeptics in audio and medicine who adhere to Dr. Eisenberg's standard: If science can't explain it, it's probably a bunch of hooey.