When miracles happen
January 11th 2012, 12:01 | Bryan Hubbard
Praying for another's wellbeing is problematic, even at this time of year when our thoughts might turn to miracles and healings of the sick. It's not a problem for the sender or receiver, but it most certainly is for the scientist, the researcher, the doctor and the sceptic, especially the sceptic.
Prayer and its other distant healing cousins, such as reiki, faith healing, spiritual and remote healing, shouldn't work - but, on balance, the evidence suggests they do.
For the sceptic, this is impossible. To suggest that prayer works also requires a new science of biology and a complete overhaul of what we think we are. And we won't even get into the existence of a God who answers prayers.
The science already exists, of course. It's quantum mechanics, and more specifically, non-locality, which suggests that something can affect something else even though it may be miles away. As Einstein rather unkindly put it, it's "spooky action at a distance."
The trouble for medicine is that its own science of measurement is hopelessly cumbersome and inappropriate to capture such elusive effects. This perhaps explains why the studies that have tried to monitor distant healing and prayer have been so contradictory. Some say prayer works, others say it doesn't; a few even suggest that prayer has a negative effect, and the condition of the person being prayed for actually worsens, which, at least, suggests some effect, I suppose.
But when researchers carry out meta-analyses of all the 'good' studies, they invariably discover - possibly to their own astonishment - that prayer does work. Even arch-sceptic Edzard Ernst had to admit as much when he researched the subject.
And what are the metaphysical implications of this discovery? Does it mean God exists, or that people have remarkable self-healing powers that are released when they know they are being prayed for, or that all of us are connected by some force?
This is the stuff of our Special Report this month - Spooky Healing at a Distance - (http://www.wddty.com/spooky-healing-at-a-distance.html) - and it should give us all pause. It brings to mind Hamlet's famous quote: "There are more things in heaven and earth than dreamt of in your philosophy."
And if belief is a constituent part of successful prayer, perhaps including it in our philosophy increases its possibility.