L'Affaire Belt Page 3

Psychological tests in other areas of human perception—vision, touch, taste, smell—have proven how unreliable they are, and how much they can be influenced by expectation or suggestion. There's no reason to believe aural perception is the sole exception to this. I am sure this is why so many audiophiles still hear brashness and stridency in Japanese audio products five years after nearly all of them ceased to sound that way.

For self-styled golden ears to be claiming, and trying, to be "objective" is to deny reality, because perception is not like instrumentation. Everything we perceive is filtered through a judgmental process which embodies all of our previous related experiences, and the resulting judgment is as much beyond conscious control as a preference for chocolate over vanilla. We cannot will ourselves to feel what we do not feel. Thus, when perceptions are so indistinct as to be wide open to interpretation, we will tend to perceive what we want to perceive or expect to perceive or have been told that we should perceive. This, I believe, explains the reports that Peter Belt's devices work as claimed.

Perhaps what bothers me so much about the Belt affair is the alacrity with which supposedly rational, technically savvy individuals have accepted, on the basis of subjective observation alone, something which all their scientific and journalistic background should tell them warrants a great deal of skepticism. But then, perhaps I shouldn't be that surprised.

Despite heroic efforts to educate our population, the US (and, apparently, the UK) has been graduating scientific illiterates for more than 40 years. And where knowledge ends, superstition begins. Without any concepts of how scientific knowledge is gleaned from intuition, hypothesis, and meticulous investigation, or what it accepts today as truth, anything is possible. Without the anchor of science, we are free to drift from one idea to another, accepting or "keeping an open mind about" as many outrageous tenets as did the "superstitious natives" we used to scorn 50 years ago. (We still do, but it's unfashionable to admit it.) Many of our beliefs are based on nothing more than a very questionable personal conviction that, because something should be true, then it must be. (Traditional religion is the best example of this.) The notion that a belief should have at least some objective support is scorned as being "closed-minded," which has become a new epithet. In order to avoid that dread appellation, we are expected to pretend to be open to the possibility that today's flight of technofantasy may prove to be tomorrow's truth, no matter how unlikely. Well, I don't buy that.

I do not have a degree in physics, or EE, or even in metaphysics. But I will modestly assert that I have a conceptual grasp of the first two which exceeds that of many of the people who design the equipment we review in this magazine. It is this conceptual picture, more than anything else, which is defaced by Mr. Belt's views and the gadgets which they have spawned. In short, it is my firm belief that their beneficial effects, when such are observed, are not on the perceptual faculties of the listener, but on his suggestibility.

There's nothing necessarily bad about that, or even surprising. The expression "mind over matter" is no mere platitude, particularly when the matter is one's own person. Mental attitude has been demonstrated time and again to have an immense influence on the physical healing process, and to those of us who don't believe in miracles, provides the only acceptable explanation for the dramatic cures which have often been attributed to "faith healing" (footnote 2). So if you can convince yourself that Mr. Belt's devices do what he claims they do, then by all means, buy them and enjoy. You'll be in good company. But if you wish to preserve an image of rationality, you'd better not tell any scientist friends what you paid for them.

But there's something else that bothers me about all this. Considering the level of scientific literacy here and in Britain, I wonder how many people who do live right under high-voltage power lines, and actually may be in personal jeopardy from the intense magnetic field, will buy and use the Peter Belt devices and assume from then on that they're safe. For this reason if no other, I fell it is necessary that he either spell out in his literature what they do and do not do, or admit that he doesn't really know.

(If, despite all this, you want further details about these audio placebos, go to the website or write to PWB Electronics, 18 Pasture Crescent, Leeds LS7 4QS, England.)

Footnote 2: On religious television, most of them are outright fraud. When pinned to the wall about it, they call it "theater."