Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Dissertation Summaries

For my dissertation I have decided to look into crystals and gemstones, the powers they posess and how they may be used in alternative practises such as crystal healing. I want to learn about the history of lucky charms and amulets and how they were used in ancient cultures for protective, luck and healing purposes. I am interested in the relationship society today has with charm jewellery and if people carry a 'lucky charm' even if they claim not to be superstitious. I also want to look into the scientific side of the argument that there is no evidential proof these alternative therapies actually work. And if they don't work then why are they becoming increasingly popular?

One book of particular interest to my research is Bodyguards: Protective amulets and charms written by Desmond Morris. The main theme of this book concentrates on different types of protective amulets - from the ancient myths associated with minerals and healing properties of crystals to religious crosses and symbols. He addresses various points and questions including the ways in which each particular charm has been used over thousands of centuries and the powers associated with them. Morris then continues to explain their importance in today’s society. He reinforces his points with anecdotes and legendary or biblical stories. He was particularly interested in making films and recording human behaviours and many of the amulets presented in this book he accumulated whilst travelling the world, learning about the history of different cultures and superstitions. He also uses secondary resources to back up various mythical stories about these bodyguards. Many of his sources date as far back as 1867 which was valuable in discovering the importance of and ways in which these sacred charms were used back then. He also argues that ancient jewellery was always worn for spiritual or protective purposes and as craftsmen have become more experienced, jewellery has evolved into beautiful ‘works of art’. Jewellery then became ‘symbols of high status.‘ worn only by those who were considered important. However, Morris has concluded that the ‘New Age Movement’ has recently rediscovered crystals. He states "The younger generation is once again wearing crystals and gems for non decorative, non status reasons. A new era of mineral magic has dawned." Charm jewellery has become increasingly popular in society today, we are going back to our roots to apply these crystals and minerals in the long forgotten ways. The key concepts presented in this book are that even though people may say they do not believe in superstition, many still carry a small object or piece of jewellery with them ‘just for luck’. Morris presents the question: With technology advancing at a alarming rate will we still follow these superstitions in the years to come? With superstition being part of peoples lives since the beginning, I think that we will still be superstitious to some extent, wether we realise it or not. Morris argues that if someone believes that a charm can protect them, they will therefore feel at ease, meaning a healthier mind set and boosted immune system. The ‘powers’ these bodyguards posess have more of an effect on the mind, and if a person feels less anxious or stressed they will be less prone to disease. The author presents his point of view that he feels belief in the powers of amulets and charms may be lost due to scientific discoveries. I think he likes the idea of believing in some kind of ‘magic’ and feels if science is going to steal these ancient beliefs from us it should be giving us, in return, something new to believe in.

The second article I have found to be relevant to my area of research is called Alternative Medicine: Wheres the evidence? written by Barry Beyerstein. This journal challenges the beliefs of those interested in alternative medicine ad provides the scientific side of the argument. Beyersteins main purpose is to persuade the reader that alternative therapies are a load of nonsense. He reinforces his arguments by stating that there is no scientific evidence to prove these therapies actually work. The key question he addresses in this article is Where is the evidence to prove alternative therapies suceed in curing people’s medical conditions?’ He answers this by stating that we should catagorise disciplines into ‘research fields’ and ‘belief fields’ - a suggestion from physicist and philosopher Mario Bunge. The ‘research fields’ can provide evidence to prove an idea or theory whilst practises catagorised into the ‘belief fields’ cannot. He cites a variety of secondary resources including Brunge, studies by Redelmeier and Tversky and an article written by Wallace Sampson titled ‘Reviews of Anomalous & Alternative medicine‘. Beyerstein brands these alternative therapies ‘bogus treatments’ and crystal healing a ‘patently absurd practise’ as belief relies solely on personal experiences rather then carefully controlled experiments and trials. The author states ’’The willingness of many to accept the claims of dubious health providers, must be blamed on the low level of scientific literacy in the public at large.’’ In other words, he is implying that people do not know enough about science to realise these therapies are a load of rubbish. Beyerstein blames the media for increasing interest of alternative therapies arguing that they are ‘worsening the problem’. If the public were to take Beyersteins line of reasoning seriously I think there would be a significantly higher strain on medical scientists to provide answers and solutions which alternative therapies may ease. If we were all to suddenly stop putting our well being in the hands of alternative healers I think we would be a much more miserable community. Wether or not these herbal remedies work they give people something almost ’magical’ to believe in, resulting in a happier, more balanced society. However, Beyerstein is of the opinion that if there is no scientific evidence to support a theory or alternative practise it must be ’bogus’. He also argues that alternative therapists take advantage of that fact that many illnesses have ’ups and downs’ so the patient is probable to visit the healer when they are feeling at their worst. This means that the healer will likely ‘receive credit for an upturn that would have happened anyway.’ I think this is a valid point and there is the possibility of people psychologically believing they only feel better as they went to see a crystal therapist.