Portland, Oregon is a beautiful city and a great place to live, but hoo boy, does it have its share of wackos. The latest: some credulous nut wants to practice acupuncture…on the city. He has semi-randomly associated regions on the map with organs (the Willamette River is a kidney?), and is sticking giant acupuncture needles in the ground to shift the flow of chi.
I hope this guy does not get funding for such stupidity.
…Feng Shui folks are gonna be pretty pissed off if they mess up THEIR chi with misplaced needles.
Is that any crazier than acupuncture one the body?
We’re not gonna make it.
Vancouver’s getting aroma-therapy and a Chakra adjustment next week.
Jim Lippard says
More Northwest kookery: I’m currently in Seattle and I’ve witnessed LaRouchites with placards by Westlake Center, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist promoting the abysmal “Zeitgeist: The Movie” at Pike Place Market, and I’ve walked by (without realizing it at the time) the Discovery Institute.
Those pictures look photoshopped to me. But then again, maybe I’m just not cynical enough.
Spero Melior says
Well, as a resident, I believe that this just shows that we’re big enough to take a little needling.
If those “giant acupuncture needles” are present when there is a thunder-storm, Portland will be treated to a session of electro-convulsive therapy. Yikes!
Aw, man, does that mean my George W. Bush voodoo doll won’t work?
Granted the acupuncture is kooky, but some of his other proposed projects look reasonable.
The deer crossing and the tidal pools look good. I don’t think the turtle blind would work. Others are just strange art projects.
scott – yes, it is crazier. The evidence on acupuncture is spotty and not exactly clear yet, but at least in some cases it has been shown to be an effective treatment. E.g., try this review on chronic lower back pain:
clear as mud says
Well, that’s just stupid.
OK, actually, the guy’s resume shows he’s an artist/sculpter. I pretty certain he’s taking this on as conceptual art. Like wrapping central park in pink ribbons or whatever that was. Not as acupuncture for real real, just for play play.
Don’t know how that’s going to affect the ‘health’ of the city but I just rediscovered the healing power of laughing my ass off. Thank you for that post. I will carry the joy with me through the rest of the day. Namaste.
I think this is an artsy hoax. As #6, Will, said above, these are photoshopped images. The only one that is possibly real (meaning the bottom “needle” part and probably not the top “pink” part is in the first picture. The others that are poorly placed and poorly photoshopped images.
Also kind of funny, but a lot of fakucupuncturists use different colored needle heads for different parts of the body.
Glen Davidson says
Yeah, the good thing is that most of those photo-shopped pinpricks would definitely be disallowed. And I bet even the real one wouldn’t last more than a couple months before fading and becoming ragged.
A joke’s a joke, but this isn’t even much of a joke.
Oh, please. This is just an art project. The artist is getting exactly what (s)he wanted with this attention. Awesome.
Should have looked at the whole site – This guy’s an artist. This is an art project and it looks like it is commissioned work to boot. So, more than likely some taxpayer money was spent on this in one form or another. Sheesh! But I still feel a lot of those images look fake/photoshopped.
Richard Wolford says
My impression was that the first needle was real, but that the rest were intentionally photo shopped to show how he would like to deploy other needles. He seems serious about it, but has only, apparently, gotten one needle in the ground.
Of course one needle or a million, human or earth, it’s all a load of crap.
PZ, don’t you recognize performance art when you see it?
Really, you may need to get out a bit more – grading tests is starting to remove the vital bodily fluids.
The real question is whether it’s ugly or not.
Ray M says
He says right there on the web page that only the first photo is real. He “digitally inserted” all the others (testing the state of the city’s prostate, perhaps?).
Unspeakabley Violent Jane says
Ridiculous! It takes a degreed Metaphysicist to place those needles properly.
Deer (and other animal) bridges and tunnels have been in place in Banff national Park for several years now.
I think this is a wonderful art project, whimsical and provocative. We’re talking about it :)
This is the sort of feel good New Age silliness which is replacing traditional, yet also silly, religion especially in the UK and the West Coast of the USA. The tragic part is that because it is New Age it is tolerated as being enlightened whereas a giant jesus on a cross would never gain funding, and rightly so.
Actually, he says the first one is the only one that’s been put in. The rest are the proposed sites with needles photoshopped in to give an idea what it would look like upon completion.
I looked at some of his other work. He’s had some rather unusual commissions, like the amphibian habitats in Kansas City, MO with UV shielding on them, or the wind-powered light-up “vines” in Seattle.
Sort of an eco-artist.
It’s all good and fun until someone gets their river poked out
Quiet Desperation says
WHAT?!?!?! No more entries on the cyclone? Have you forgotten already, PZ? ;-)
Oh, the humanity!
I’m with the it’s an art project consensus. Playing into the acupuncture meme will get some weirdos playing attention, sure, and some will even take it literally — but it’s possible that a few views might be jolted out of mundanity, and general attention to some sites (such as locations of gay bashings or gang activities) might actually have a positive effect because of increased public awareness.
This is actually pretty damned clever.
Wow — As a Portlander, I knew this project was poking fun at new agey mumbo jumbo from the start; it’s fairly obvious, actually. PZ and his commentor minions are a bit too overzealous in ferreting out ridiculousness methinks. Let’s not have our own witch hunts.
Alex Besogonov says
I hate it when the real world and comics meet: http://cectic.com/130.html
Jeffrey Stingerstein says
Man, oh, man. It is obviously someone’s public art project. Whether or not it is “good” art is up for debate, but is it any less artful than the Central Park Gates?
Why does the liver have anything to do with sight? I mean, I’m not a woo professional (pwoofessional, woofessional?) or anything, but I can’t make the connection.
Brain Hertz says
This looks like a pretty harmless (not to mention pointless) art project. I don’t think the artist is expecting any literal “acupuncture” effects.
Having said that, one of the proposed sites (second from the left on the map photograph) is disturbingly close to my house…
Alex: “The tragic part is that because it is New Age it is tolerated as being enlightened whereas a giant jesus on a cross would never gain funding, and rightly so.”
The tragic part is that a giant, bloody torture victim in a public space is damn ugly, while a a white stick with a pink ball on top in the middle of a park is arguably aesthetically pleasing; well, no, the tragic part is that some people can’t tell the difference between ugly and pretty.
Stop taking everything literally!
I actually like this, I think its a nice idea. I am aware there are no secret “meridians” running in the ground of portland, but I think its a cool art project, and the message is also one I sympathize with: Thinking of the city as a body, its not science, but its a good analogy, I like art that makes you think, and this does exactly that. I dont suspect portlanders to pull together in some utopian group hug from this, but I think its a nice attempt to make people value their city as an inter-dependent system.
Gregory Kusnick says
Jim Lippard, #5:
I walk past it nearly every day. Spooked the hell out of me the first time I noticed the DI logo on the door.
Come on. This is being done as a work of art. The photos are really interesting and I can see how they would bring attention to areas of the city. City wide works of art are always controversial, but often quite beautiful and interesting. Remember Christo’s Gates in New York’s central Park? http://centralparkny.com/christo/
I love how the kidneys represent DNA, because the rest of the body…doesn’t have any DNA?
Drew Habits says
Those needles aren’t even NEARLY big enough. Build them to scale or don’t build them at all, crazy artist guy!
“By pinpointing Portland’s health problems the project could increase public awareness of these issues, which may in turn lead to actual improvement’s in the city’s health.”
Nice metaphor. I wish them luck!
They should stick a whole handful of ’em into the big white house in our nation’s capitol.
It’s a pretty blatant joke, I think. Everyone, obviously, would think that acupuncture on a city is ridiculous, even if they think it works in the human body. Why not prove a point by taking the ridiculous and making it more so?
Besides, look at his point names. The proposed spot for a NW 23 Ave needle is dubbed “Too Rich”, and the picture from the waterfront is called “Swimmable River.” I, personally, would NEVER swim in the Willamette OR the Colombia once they’ve reached Portland (and, in the case of the Willamette, a while before it.)
And then you have the map where he locates Portland’s various health problems, which are, for the most part, Portland jokes. There’s arrows pointing to “Hipsters,” “Wealth,” “gay bashing” and “Reed College.” The Reed one is my personal favorite.
It’s hilarious, and definitely a spoof.
Posted by: MikeD | May 6, 2008 1:10 PM
Yeah, I’m with you on this one Mike. This acupuncture thing looks more like an veiled, environmentalist, artsy statement about our current lifestyle, complete with the labeling of a KFC and a chocolate shop as areas of the stomach that need to be “improved,” and characterizing our parking lots, roadways, and traffic as a digestive system in need of aid.
But on the page you mentioned, there is also a tab for the projects he has been commissisoned for, and they are two very decent additions to the city, I think.
The bridge with all of its components labeled with their technical function is pretty educational, and the skateable entrance to the skatepark is just cool.
It’s just art. Anything’s kosher. Give him the funding.
You got this one all wrong, PZ– I think the artist is trying to contrast real-life problems with the dopey “cures” we often throw at them. Look at “Swimmable River” again… Photoshopped or not, the giant needle is an effective reminder that a REAL solution needs to be implemented to fix this body of water. The needle takes all that useless talk and political BS, and gives it a physical point of focus that is obviously worthless as a solution. I think this is great stuff!
What #16 said. But you don’t believe in God, so of course you don’t believe in art, either. Just like John Lennon.
Rev. BigDumbCHimp says
it’s a large-scale artistic intervention.
as an art student, i’m on his side. stick those needles!
Little Bald Bastard says
The next time there is an earthquake in Vancouver, can somebody please submit a bill to the city for “geographic chiropractic adjustment?” Pretty please?
Of course it’s art!
If it were real they’d just have got hold of a voodoo priestess and placed the needles pn a map instead.
They tried this in Seattle once, but accidentally ended up shifting the flow of chai instead. :3
Masks of Eris says
Hm, reminds me of a snippet I once wrote, trying to think the strangest thing a night-time radio could broadcast:
“Dark feng shui. Causes distress, panic attacks, breathing trouble, hallucinations… all just with the right placement of furniture and decorative items. Commonly used in waiting- and guest rooms.”
Did it work? Did it work? Did it work?
Come on! I’m on pins and needles here, waiting…
…ok, I’ll just leave quietly.
Taking this too seriously is mabye not the way to go about this. It’s conceptual public art, it’s supposed to make you think not advocate the practice of urban acupuncture. Don’t you think there is just a bit of mocking in his tone, or possibly he just thinks this is a good way to point out the things that are wrong and need fixing in Portland by calling it Chi Flow rather than Fucked Up Urban Planning. (Not that I think Portland has too much FUBAR’d urban planning as compared to say, Maple Grove, MN my current residence)
as a BFA, my frist instinct was “sounds like an art project.” the link confirms. those pics (second one on) are definitely photoshopped. this is just run-of-the-mill contemporary art weirdness.
if anything, it’s probably a statement that bullshit won’t really fix the city’s problems.
So Portland gets voodooed, but Seattle’s losing the Sonics?
Robin Zebrowski says
I live in Portland, and I would like to apologize on behalf of the nutters that live here. And there are LOTS.
PZ, you lived in Eugene – you shouldn’t be the least bit surprised by this sort of whackjobbery here in Portland. It is a great city, but it’s great largely in part because of the free-spirit radicalism. Sure, 99 times out of 100 that turns out to be moronic idiots doing moronic idiotic things, but that 1 time out of 100 they really get it right.
As a practitioner of Tai Chi and Aikido for 35# years and a teacher of Management of Assaultive Behavior in Psychiatric settings for 30 years, I am able to do a variety of Chi “tricks”. This despite my not believing in Chi as a physical quality/entity.
Chi can be a “useful metaphor”, in the same way that many wrong ideas can be useful.
In Physics/Chemistry, one is initially taught that an atom is “like” a solar system. It is not a correct idea; but is a useful metaphor as it provides a foundation for learning better, more accurate ideas.
Bah. The man lacks vision; he’s thinking too small.
Acupunct the whole U.S.A. Or even better yet, the whole planet. With detailed explanations for his choice of needle sitings.
The phrase around here is “Keep Portland Weird”. This art project is certainly helping to do just that :)
Nomen Nescio says
cue the “of course, we know it’s a rectum” jokes.
Julie Stahlhut says
Well, he does have a few good points (no pun intended) — “endless advertising” is a damned good match for “large intestine”, since both are conduits for crap.
However, I noticed from his list that the city is missing a brain. Or at least the artist doesn’t think that a brain is important.
Let’s hope he doesn’t want to give the landfill an enema.
Bob Munck says
I love the big pink needles. What we need here in DC is someone to string 50ft bulbs of garlic on the beltway to drive the politicians away.
Maybe it’s because I grew up near Mt. Rushmore (and Crazy Horse!), but I really like big, big art. A lot of Christo’s stuff like Running Fence, for instance. A park downtown has a giant typewriter eraser sticking out of the ground — one of those old disk-shaped ones with a brush. I wonder how many people who see it don’t know what it is, or what a typewriter is.
Will Von Wizzlepig says
Yeah, acupuncture is dumb. And yeah, if you don’t take, oh, five seconds extra and realize what this person is up to, this seems like complete nonsense.
Their point seems not to actually do acupuncture, but to put up huge, ridiculous acupuncture pins to point out what you may be paying no attention to.
“Why is there a giant pin next to the river?”
“Because it’s too filthy to swim in.”
One map on the website is marked with “police brutality”, “gay bashing”, and many other issues.
It’s a silly idea to get people’s attention in public this way, and I doubt it will get any more attention or funding than we’re giving it now, but it’s not a bad idea if its goals truly are just to raise awareness with high-visibility land markers.
I too think that PZ is unfairly latching onto the “acupuncture woo” and missing the fact that it is urban art. Acupuncture is just being used as a metaphor to highlight the city’s history, highlights and problems. I say give him some funding.
A joke is a joke…and to make a website SAYING you are going to do it and adding some fake pictures is comical, but actually doing it and spending money on it is absurd.
You said “a white stick with a pink ball on top in the middle of a park is arguably aesthetically pleasing”
Pleasing to whom? I think the city would look atrocious with fakeupuncture needles sticking up everywhere….
Just because it gets a reaction doesn’t make it good art…just look at WSU’s technicolor heart. Ugh…I cringe whenever I drive by it.
Gregory Kusnick says
Bob Munck, #61:
Hey, we have one of those here in Seattle.
#64: You said “a white stick with a pink ball on top in the middle of a park is arguably aesthetically pleasing”
Pleasing to whom? I think the city would look atrocious with fakeupuncture needles sticking up everywhere….
First, I said arguably. Second, you just need to look up-thread to see people who are saying it does please them aesthetically — but a crucified man on a giant stick in a public space is only aesthetically pleasing to vampires.
And a joke is never a good joke until it’s been taken to far.. so lighten up, damn it.
Okay, these pictures are obviously photoshopped.
I can’t believe I’m the first one, but I’m calling Poe’s Law on this one.
“Drive to consume: Large Instestine”
“Too rich: Stomach”
It’s impossible to think I’m the only skeptic here.
This is one of the links at the end of the AP article on the subject:
Portland, how could you?
Dude. I mean. Duuuuuude… What were you thinking when you asked that question…? It’s Portland. How could you even ask that question? Seriously.
Actually Saurabh, its quite clear. It is entirely placebo. While “most” claim to follow the ancient texts on where to stick them, some don’t, some use accupressure too, for which you will find dozens of different people all claiming that “different” pressure points will work to help lower back pain, or what ever ails you. At least on guy I know of used a trick where he placed a sterile bandage over the place the needles where “supposed” to be inserted, with a bit of plastic hidden inside. The needle **never** entered the body at all, yet the people receiving the “treatment” a) claimed they felt them, b) claimed to notice an effects and c) actually had reduced pain for the *same* amount of time as a real treatment.
It is complete bullshit, but like Thermasol, some people that should know better advocate it, and there *seems* to be a trend in the medical community to either ignore things that are of questionable worth, as secondary treatment, or just not give a frack. The disturbing thing being, at some point, if the trend doesn’t change, we might find people being *sent* to useless medical centers, for altie treatments, when they *need* real ones, and by high level agencies, not just your local doctor, who maybe isn’t the *top* of the class type to start with, and may just hold some strange ideas.
THIS IS HILARIOUS.
Am I being an idiot when I think jetties are supposed to stay above the water? That’s what they’re for, right, to stabilize harbors?
So drilling holes in them to create tidal pools would create moist, uninhabited spaces. Plus really, really hazardous walking. Unless I’m wrong about jetties.
#45 – Genuinely sorry, I forgot about Poe’s law–#44 was intended to be a joke.
Sounds like more of a public art project/political statement than an attempt at some sort of civic “health treatment.” Think of the guy with all of the “gates” in Central Park….
J Daley says
Come on. Sarah references a PubMed article that supports her claim that “at least in some cases” acupuncture has been shown to be effective, and you know of “at least [one] guy who used a trick.” Tut, tut.
Sarah is not incorrect that “the evidence on acupuncture is spotty and not exactly clear yet” – a quick Google Scholar search will return a wealth of placebo-controlled clinical studies on acupuncture that – guess what – don’t agree on a consensus. Some say yes, some say no.
All I’m sayin is, don’t argue lazy.
And, I agree with above posters that giant art is cool. I live in Chicago, where “Cloud Gate” was revealed a while ago, to much fanfare – and promptly renamed “The Bean” by Chicagoans, because that’s all it is…but it’s also cool.
J Daley says
Sorry, I meant saurabh, not Sarah. Don’t type lazy, either, huh…
Patricia C. says
I wish they had a spare needle to stick through the huge ugly Google Borg cube they dropped on my town. Stay weird Portland!
This is just an art project. I doubt he really thinks he is doing anything for the city other than making people smile and trying to make a name for himself. Besides, it’s Portland. This doesn’t even register a 1 on the Richter scale of weirdness.
But even if he does believe it, I’d much rather prefer acupuncture needles than “Crosses for Christ” or some sort of obnoxious religious crap.
//lives in PDX
of course they’re photoshopped, these are proposal images, not finished artwork. christo used to make the money to do his project by selling etchings of the proposal, this is the same sort of thing.
this is humor in art… sheesh…
Bill Dauphin says
I’m quite sure it’s not a joke; it’s a real (proposed) public art project… but that doesn’t mean it’s not also intended to be ironic/satirical or to make you laugh.
Public installation art is somewhat like performance art: The public reaction is part of the project. I can only imagine the artist would be delighted at threads like this one.
My family was at Yale a couple weeks ago for their Bulldog Days program for admitted students (my daughter will be starting there in the fall [/ShamelessParentalBrag]), and while we were there all the buzz was about this bizarre senior art project. The student in question (who has since submitted an alternate project, in the wake of the controversy) seems to have deliberately created some ambiguity over whether she really did what she said she did, and even if she did there was some inherent ambiguity over whether she was ever really pregnant or ever really had any self-induced miscarriages. IMHO (and she hinted as much herself), she considered the public furor her project created to be the actual art, more than anything she actually did or planned to exhibit. Mind you, I’m not necessarily defending this particular project; I’m just pointing out that this sort of art is often intentionally more interactive than it appears on the surface.
BTW, I though Christo’s Gates was really cool, if the photos and artist’s sketches I saw were any indication. I desperately wanted to make it into the city to see it, but as so often happens, I was overcome by events and missed it.
Sven DiMilo says
I think your statements contradict each other from the viewpoint of someone seeking pain relief.
The Chinese, through 5 to 6 thousand years of trial, error and practice, and came up with a 5 (or 6) organ system philosophy, The “Zhan Fu Organ System,” which states how the 5 Yin Organs, the Kidneys, Liver, Heart, Spleen and Lungs (6 if you count the Pericardium of the Heart), paired with the 5 Yang Organs (essentially the Gastrointestinal Tract and the Urinary Bladder) control and regulate the flow and balance of energies in the body. The tongue, along with the various facial features can be carefully examined in order to access the states of beings of the Zhan Fu Organs (and their respective energies), with specific facial features tied to specific organs, i.e., the eyes being controlled by the liver, the ears by the kidneys, etc.
I would think that the Chinese might have been on to something, Kagehi, if they have been practicing a system based off of a placebo effect for the last 5 to 6 millenia. Do also realize that the Chinese also practice acupuncture on animals, and that people do pay to have their pets and prize livestock acupunctured, like dog-owners in Beverly Hills, and the giraffe in the San Francisco Zoo a few months ago.
Having said all this, I also want to say that this guy is an idiot.
You don’t correct a city’s chi imbalance with acupuncture: acupuncture is for (living) people and animals. You correct the chi imbalance of geographical areas through feng shui and geomancy, or better yet, urban renewal. You can not perform acupuncture on a city because a city does not have skin, does not have bodily fluids, nor does it have internal organs, and most importantly, a city is not biologically alive, which is one of the major requirements for receiving acupuncture.
Also, to paraphrase what my teachers have told me, acupuncture is not a panacea, it is a part of a regiment of treatments to both treat malaise and illness brought on by imbalance, and to help maintain good health through strengthening balance.
Bill Dauphin says
Well, I’m with you on urban renewal, but this guy is only an idiot if you consider metaphor idiocy! The whole project is based on using the human body as a metaphor for the polis.
I love all you scientists and rationalists who comment here, but FSM, can you be literal-minded sometimes!
Yeah, that’s the thing. If someone gets relief from pain, even if it’s due to the placebo effect, that’s still relief from pain. So you have several inherent conflicts from a fiduciary point of view: you don’t want to ruin the pain relief for the patient. At the same time, placebo by definition doesn’t meet the criterion of informed consent, since if you know to consent, it’s no longer a placebo. And you don’t want someone to waste their resources on something that doesn’t work. But people do report that it works for them. And sometimes, conventional medicine doesn’t have anything to offer in place of it. So it’s a very tangled web of fiduciary conflicts that clinicians have to negotiate, that basic scientists don’t have to worry about.
In the zoo literature, there is a case report of a very tame bear, Ursula, who was turned in to a zoo (forget which; will have to dig through my records to find it) after being kept as a pet and improperly nourished. She was partially paralyzed, and after conventional veterinary treatments failed, an acupuncturist was brought in.
Ursula saw some improvement after a course of acupuncture, not very much. But for a single case, you can’t tell cause and effect–was it the acupuncture and massage that brought about the modest improvement? Was it regression to the mean? Was it being fed and taken care of properly for the first time? Was it the (literally) hands-on attention during the sessions (attention effect)? I certainly can’t say.
Animals like it; humans like it–maybe it’s just the focused attention from another person that helps, psychologically and endocrinologically (like promoting the release of oxytocin, which promotes feelings of love and well-being and connection). But that’s not particularly specific or satisfying as an explanation, is it?
Sorry, but that is VERY unconvincing about any real effects of acupuncture. Unless the ancient Chinese developed strict double-blind tests and independent corroboration of trials, placebo is perfectly feasible to have worked for thousands of years. Another thing is, is there a record of which diseases it “cured”, and how many people did NOT get cured at all (and also for which diseases)?
Ben Goldacre, last year when commenting about an acupuncture study with unsurprising results (the needles worked regardless of where they were stuck):
I think he’s right. The article is worth a read.
It’s my opinion that it’s how one formulates and uses metaphor that determines the presence of idiocy, or not. It’s hard to appreciate the acupuncture metaphor when you use giant needles on a thing that has its (alleged) internal organs very arbitrarily defined. It’s like, how to describe this in English, how would you feel if someone tried to explain how to clear clogged pipes through rhyming topiary?
Also, I think the money and metal that would be consumed by this guy’s acupuncture statement would be better spent on actually fixing up the city.
That could be it, but, mind you, I’m only a month into my Oriental Medicine classes, so it will probably be a long while before I’d be able to understand the mechanics of acupuncture well enough to explain it in “Western” terms.
Krubozumo Nyankoye says
Here are some of those secret meridians… poking them with needles, I dunno, might not be such a good idea.
I think this guy came through my town of Corvallis a few years back. He wrapped aluminum foil around telephone poles. Not sure why he thought this was important…
Like I said before, acupuncture is not a panacea, and it is not a “cure,” it is used as a form of treatment, or better yet, it used to supplement treatment. Do realize that the main focus of Chinese/Oriental Medicine is not just curing diseases, the focus is to maintain good health, and thus, help prevent the outbreak of disease and other maladies. An acupuncturist will not treat you to cure your cancer or your leprosy: he/she will send you to a doctor, first, and maybe an herbalist, too. And I just don’t like the term “placebo,” it suggests that acupuncture is totally fake. I mean, wouldn’t 5 to 6 thousand years of trial and error, along with written records of the results, help to merit a term more dignified than just “placebo”? Also, the Chinese do not rely solely on acupuncture, acupuncture is used in conjunction with (Chinese) herbalism in order to treat diseases, and more importantly, maintain good health.
I know that my explanations don’t sound convincing, I’m just a neophyte in his first month of classes. But, certainly, I don’t think that one can just dismiss acupuncture as being just a placebo, or new age woo. I mean, you all have read about how some people are using acupuncture as an alternative to anesthesia in dental surgery, right?
Maybe he was trying to reverse-engineer the “tin-foil hat” affect?
I don’t think any number of millennia of people following some belief, especially considering our species, is good evidence. A good double-blind test would trump any such belief easily. Who were those “written records” written by? Independent critics?
Placebo is perfectly feasible, and not undignifying (for anyone falling for it) at all. Placebo is even more powerful than most people imagine, it is not just someone getting fooled. If someone can readily hallucinate and “live” experiences which seem as real as anything else, then it’s perfectly feasible that some people can be placeboed into resisting pain.
Now, if acupuncture for dental surgery worked for everybody in general, and especially on a skeptic, we might be on to something very interesting which merited further analysis before reaching a conclusion. But alas, no conclusion has been reached, and acupuncturists don’t seem to be in a hurry for double-blind certification. For a practice so old, and with such bold claims as the fundamental interconnectedness of all things™ in the body, you’d think it would have been over with years ago.
Bill Dauphin says
Aw, c’mon… the city-as-living-thing metaphor is hardly the bleeding edge of postmodern weirdness! And once you accept that metaphor, using accupuncture as a (perhaps ironically illusory) metaphor for treating its ills makes perfect sense.
First, art is not necessarily intended to be a repair manual. Second, the project you suggest sounds like it could be fascinating in the hands of a gifted enough artist (i.e., someone who could convey the notion of rhyming in a nonverbal medium… a sort of metaphor in itself)… just as easily as it could be stupid in the hands of a hack. Either way, I don’t agree that its even vaguely analogous to the metaphor at the heart (Hah!… METAPHOR!![/MasterThespian]) of the piece we’re discussing.
I hate “postmodern,” unless it’s odd sculpture that I can sit on and have lunch.
The ancient Mayans were masters of visual rhyming, what with written Mayan being literally stuffed to the gills with rebuses and puns… It’s just too bad that the Spanish Missionaries opted to burn most of the codices and outlaw its use after the Spanish Conquest.
Electric Monk says
Did anyone else notice that this city apparently lacks a brain?
Bill Dauphin says
I wasn’t saying this project was “postmodern weirdness”; I was expressing a contrast.
Fascinating comment about the Mayans, BTW….
Cay Borduin says
I live in the Portland metro and the crap-based medicine out here is appalling. But hey, at least we vote Democratic!
I hate “postmodern,” unless it’s odd sculpture that I can sit on and have lunch.
what about sculpture you can sit and get rid of your lunch on?
Another term sometimes used for “placebo” is “non-specific effects”, which I think may possibly be a better description for perceived results or benefits that are difficult to replicate from person to person.
I think there are several ways in which acupuncture could be experienced to work for certain patients and practitioners, without either being totally fake, nor adhering strictly to the detailed Chinese medical explanations.
Psychologically, there is the meeting of the practitioner and the patient on the shared “playing field” of the concepts of Chinese medicine. By consenting to a particular kind of social contract which permits someone to seek help and to get caring attention from a practitioner, that in itself could be therapeutic. There are many reports in the Western medical literature from people with controversial conditions, such as fibromyalgia or Gulf War syndrome or chronic fatigue syndrome, who tell how demoralizing it is to be dismissed by physicians who tell them there’s nothing wrong with them. They report a certain degree of relief when a physician gives them a diagnosis–even one for a condition which is difficult to treat. The power of naming, the power of being taken seriously, and the power of the therapeutic encounter are not fake, I don’t think–even if they are notoriously difficult to pin down in replicable terms.
There’s also the power of ritual, and many anthropologists have written about the overlapping roles of the shaman and the healer. So, even if there’s not a literal physical organ called the Triple Burner, that may not be the important point in the therapeutic encounter–having agreed-upon terms and concepts where they interact with the practitioner may give the ritual of the therapeutic encounter the power that the patient is seeking.
And then there’s the endocrinological possibilities I referred to above–some of my favorite examples out of the massage research literature are:
(or, as Mr thalarctos archly observed, “You mean they get grants to demonstrate that animals like to be petted?” :)
Hormones and their interactions with the body are very complex things, and we’re in our infancy of understanding their workings. I can see where it might be possible for acupuncture to have endocrinological effects, as well–endorphins, for example–and that would be a non-fake, but very individual, difficult-to-replicate non-specific effect, as well.
So I can imagine several ways in which every single detail of the explanations in Chinese medicine don’t have to be literally true, yet the phenomenon of people reporting that Chinese medicine helps them is not totally fake, either. I don’t think it’s as simple to pigeonhole as those two categories would imply. Psychological, cultural, and endocrinological non-specific effects may lie somewhere between those two possibilities, involving the response of the patient to the practitioner in the patient’s experience just as much as it involves the concepts underlying the medical system.
I have a personal policy that I won’t do massage work with a cancer patient who is not also receiving standard care, and I make sure not to diagnose patients, which is outside of my scope of practice, nor to undermine the advice of their primary health-care provider, nor to make counterfactual claims about massage. Within those boundaries, which it’s my job to maintain, there’s room for the client to experience and interpret the massage in the way they want and need for it to make sense. I could see acupuncture being practiced in a very similar way as unproblematic and not fake, whether or not it literally fit every description in the Chinese medical literature as written.
Massage-like stroking influences plasma levels of gastrointestinal hormones, including insulin, and increases weight gain in male rats.
do you need special gloves to correctly massage rats?
btw, stroking influences plasma levels and weight gain in male humans, too.
well, at least in one part of the anatomy…
(don’t groan – you KNEW it was coming)
well, *something* was, at any rate :).
I have a great picture of a mouse getting a massage (with gloves) to deliver a gene product to its liver; I’ll see if I can find it and point you to it.
It’s not my personal specialty, but I have a friend who is basically starting her neuroscience grad program over in zebrafish, because she loves rats so much, she can’t stand to work on them anymore. To hear her tell it, rats are smart, strong, and full of personality, while mice are just bitey little freaks. I wouldn’t know, myself (although I have massaged a siamang!).
Maybe I was reminded too much of soup cans, squiggly sculptures and giant, nonfunctional umbrellas.
I also forgot to mention that there is also moxabustion, where a small cone of incense made out of Saint John’s Wort is burned to warm/heat the acupuncture needles in order to enhance the therapeutic effect of acupuncture.
I thought the whole point of acupuncture was to pin things down.
Ok, now you’re just needling me.
To hear her tell it, rats are smart, strong, and full of personality, while mice are just bitey little freaks.
heh. well, having had both as pets while growing up, she might be on to something there.
not so sure I’d go the “smart, strong, personality-laden” route, but they did seem to have a bit more curiosity, and form stronger attachments than the mice I had did.
for example, if I left the cage door open, the rats would often come out and investigate, find out where I was, and end up coming over eventually. The mice would either stay in their cages, or make a beeline for the nearest furniture they could hide under.
a rat could easily be trained to ride on my shoulder.
I never could train a mouse to do it.
too small a sample size for anything conclusive, though, and it might also depend on the particular species of rat or mouse we are talking about.
I would note that having had MANY more fish as pets (and research subjects) than anything else, you can find similar differences in behavior between different species of fish as well.
some appear genuinely curious, and will often come out of hiding when I enter the room. I even managed to train some of them to swim into my right hand while I fed them from my left. No kidding.
OTOH, some were very timid, and cowered under a rock whenever I entered the room, and would only briefly appear whenever there was food around.
I imagine it tracks pretty well with the kinds of environments they come from, combined with whatever their usual hunting/foraging style was, though I’m just now looking back and considering it…
I typically found predatory fishes to be much more “curious” and “bold” than the herbivorous fishes, and also found fishes that came from areas where their camouflage typically was their primary defense (so typically just sitting still was a better defense than actively running and hiding) to also be more trainable than open-reef herbivores.
Territorial herbivores, OTOH, are often quite bold and aggressive (as might be expected). I worked with a lot of damselfishes (Pomacentridae) and they were often curious, VERY bold, and quite trainable for some things.
No, I’m just sticking it to you: If I were needling you, I would be pulling out the porcupine gags.
You ever worked with garibaldi, or did you work with sargent majors?
Ok, confession time. I simply can’t have aquaria–it’s such a microcosm of life and death, and I just can’t take coming in and finding a creature I’ve bonded to floating on its side at the top, an event that seems to happen in species that short-lived disturbingly often.
I’m glad other people do, but I just can’t.
But what you said about rodents matches what I’ve heard from others as well. By me, mice were always just big rats, but apparently that’s not at all the case–even that little difference in brain volume has a huge effect.
You ever worked with garibaldi, or did you work with sargent majors?
I published a paper on garibaldi, in fact:
I get the point.
whoops, I meant the other way around, of course!
an event that seems to happen in species that short-lived disturbingly often.
some fish live quite a long time, actually (much longer than most rodents, for example).
the larger carp species can live to decades old, and so can many marine fishes like larger groupers, moray eels, many others.
here’s a neat little table one aquarist made, which is reasonably accurate:
it only covers freshwater fish, but you get the idea.
A buddy of mine has a standard goldfish (grass carp) that he bought as a feeder for another fish (it was 1 inch long at the time) that outlived it’s intended predator, and now is about 20 years old I’d say.
You’re thinking of crucian carp, grass carp is another genus altogether, and the oldest known goldfish, named “Fred,” I think, lived to be at least 40. The Chinese wax poetic about the longevity of carp, but, I can’t wrap my head around how carp would be able to live for so long, but, be also a beloved food fish.
Traditional Chinese medicine does– not only as a physical entity but also as a system of energy that flows in distinct pathways called meridians.
Traditional “Chinese medicine”, must have been a good day for paganism…
You’re thinking of crucian carp, grass carp is another genus altogether,
yup, you are correct.
The Chinese wax poetic about the longevity of carp, but, I can’t wrap my head around how carp would be able to live for so long, but, be also a beloved food fish.
keeping ornamental carp is not the same thing as keeping carp for food stock.
the Chinese have been breeding and keeping ornamental carp for hundreds of years (at least!), ya gotta figure that they would attach some sentiment to the custom, and come to admire some of the fish’s particular features that make it such a wonderful subject for domestication and breeding.
why were you curious about whether I had worked with garibaldi, if you don’t mind me asking?
Those oil companies will try any bullshit story.
he’s probably looking for recipes. :)
he’s probably looking for recipes. :)
strangely enough, though, I DO have a recipe for garibaldi!
(I personally think they taste terrible, though)
There is another element of acupuncture as well (which also applies to chiropractic). Carefully following your patients and using your direct senses on the them is much more successful in identifying slow but long-running symptoms, than the 15 minute quickie checkup which is standard practic in medicine.
For example, you can catch diabetic conditions much earlier if you see your patients regularly and pay attention to smell, sclera color, ask them about urination, track nutritional behavior, etc. Usually in the standard clinical setup, you won’t note those changes – you don’t see your patients often enough, those details rarely make it on the chart, and MD don’t tend to ask those kinds of questions. They are oriented toward acute conditions that come in as specific complaints.
The other end of this is treatment for such conditions. Adult onset diabetes of course responds fairly strongly to consistent nutritional treatment (for which a master’s degree level education is quite sufficient). But the standard clinical setting is fairly poor for this kind of treatment – it requires regular, fairly long, meetings with full (not 15 minute checkups).
Woo is actually very useful in the right context, as you so rightly point out, as long as the practitioner and patient have an awareness of the limitations of woo, as long as they understand that the primary clinical effectiveness is in terms of context – just like poetry and other artistic endeavors. Being overly literally minded can be a damaging strait-jacket, just as lacking literal rigor results in functional brain-death.
Most clinical psychology is really woo practice – some of the most effective elements of the treatment are pure woo. Abandoning it and just applying the pharmacological treatments would be likely to not just eliminate the woo, but in actual practice is likely to undermine pharmacological effectiveness.
frog, your comparison with clinical psychology is an apt one, I think. American society is quantifiably very touch-phobic, compared to others, and it stigmatizes mental-health issues and treatment-seekers as well. Neither of those facts, however, changes the fact that people have real needs around those foci.
So by giving people an outlet to get those real needs met in a socially-approved way, the ritual of the therapeutic encounter serves important purposes. The power of having the focused attention of a professional who–as you point out, actually spends sufficient time to listen to the patient, without the time pressures of a conventional medical practice–can be very effective in non-specific ways. It’s when people try to get too specific about positive non-specific causes and effects that counterfactual claims start getting made, and that’s where problems arise.
Monado, FCD says
And he asked for comments! It was tempting to write, “Has anyone ever suggested to you that this is batshit insane?” But I resisted.
Technically speaking, yes, Chinese Medicine was invented by pagans, and some modern pagans do utilize Chinese/Oriental Medicine, don’t confuse it with spiritualism. At least since the day of Shi Huangdi, the Chinese have made a point not to conflate spiritualism with medicine, especially since Shi Huangdi, besides outlawing and burning the texts of numerous spiritual medicinal systems, said that (paraphrased, mind you), “If your diagnosis revolves around the wrath of spirits and the whim of the gods, you might as well go home and work on your macramé.”
Garibaldi are one of my favorite fish, right up with the emperor angel.
If that’s the case, then, no, I don’t want a recipe.
On the first day of my “Fundamentals of Oriental Medicine,” the teacher told us about a prescription of bat guano that would relieve eye-inflammation due to stress. Personally, I prefer to use tea made out of eyebright, myself.
Garibaldi are one of my favorite fish, right up with the emperor angel.
they are indeed an interesting fish; I spent about 7 years working on them. Absolutely gigantic for a damselfish, second only to Microspathadon.
I’m sure you are aware of the “agricultural” aspect of these guys (“get off my algae lawn, you damn wrasses!”).
In addition to being the subject of several studies on territoriality, I spent some time working with Paul Sikkel, who did some of the first studies looking at mate choice in this fish. Turns out that females strongly prefer males with eggs already in their nests.
Sikkel, Paul. 1988. “Factors Influencing Spawning Site Choice by Female Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus”. Copeia. Number 3.
I’m sure you’ve seen this guy’s site too; he has some great pics of the buggers: