Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Experimenting with Reiki

No, I'm not actually going to conduct an experiment to determine whether Reiki actually works. I am, however, going to propose an experiment that might show whether there's something to the whole Reiki concept.

According to The International Center for Reiki Training's FAQ, "Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing." More specifically, Reiki is "spiritually guided life force energy" that reduces stress, relaxes, and promotes healing.

We'll not dispute the potential to reduce stress and relax; evidence has shown that many phenomena can have these effects via the placebo effect. If someone believes in a treatment, then receiving the treatment will likely relieve stress and relax them whether there's anything to it or not.

Healing promotion should be testable, but it would require a double-blind, placebo-controlled study that's well beyond the scope of me or most of my humble readers (you are humble, aren't you?).

No, let's focus on the "Reiki is spiritually guided life force energy" part. After all, it's the part that could win a million bucks from James Randi (that could be used for charity, if you're too selfless to want it for yourself).

It seems reasonable that if this "spiritually-guided life force energy" exists, there should be some way to detect it. The spiritual sort of people who believe in Reiki will likely assert that technological efforts to detect this energy would be fruitless (since it's "spiritual"), but shouldn't competent Reiki practitioners be able to detect the energy they're "spiritually guiding".

So, what test scenarios might we devise to test whether Reiki practitioners can detect "life force energy".

Well, one possibility is to test whether they can detect a living creature inside a closed container. Place a test animal like a mouse inside a box that is made of thin material yet reasonably proof against transmitting sound or vibration. Have similar boxes that are empty. Reiki practitioners should presumably be able to identify the box containing a live animal with greater accuracy than individuals with no belief in Reiki, right?

Another possibility would be to test practitioners to determine whether they can tell if someone has recently experienced Reiki treatment. After all, someone who has recently received Reiki should be more relaxed and less stressed, and this should be evident in their "life force energy", shouldn't it? Recruit a "believer" willing to accept a Reiki treatment. At the beginning of an hour, the test Practitioner should examine the untreated patient to get a baseline feel for the patient's "life force energy". The test Practitioner will visit the patient after 15, 30, 45, and 60 minutes to determine if the patient has received treatment. A second Practitioner may actually perform a Reiki treatment on the patient during one of the intervals. The test Practitioner should be able to determine at what interval, if any, the patient received treatment, right? After all, the patient's "life force energy" will be changed by the treatment, won't it? If you can't detect such a change, how can you know that the patient needs treatment?

These are just a couple ideas that came to me pretty quickly. I'm sure that real Reiki practitioners who wanted to demonstrate just how effective and useful Reiki treatment is could come up with scenarios acceptable to the James Randi Educational Foundation and win a million dollars for themselves or their favorite charities.

What are you waiting for guys?


H~ said...

Hello there Runolfr, I ran across this post and found it to be most interesting. I am a reiki practicioner myself. I would propose some slightly different experiements. I've commented on my blog in response to your proposed experiments and have come up with a couple suggested experiments of my own. Please let me know what you think?

H~ said...

opps sorry the post is best found here

Lord Runolfr said...

Commentor "Hersh" proposes an interesting experiment for determining whether there is anything to Reiki. Claiming that Reiki practioners don't really detect life-force energy as much as transfer it, Hersh came up with an entirely different sort of test.

The most tangible, measurable component of a reiki healing session is the heat generated via the transference of energy.

Hersh is proposing that energy moves from the practitioner to the patient during a Reiki session, so the body temperature of the patient should measurably increase during the session.

In a truly unexpected (by me) proposal, Hersh is not taking the approach that "spiritually guided life-force energy" would be undetectable by technological instruments. Hersh (not sure if Hersh is a he or she, hence all the proper nouns) suggests treating life-force energy like any other form of energy, which must either do work or raise the temperature of its environment. Apparently also assuming that Reiki will have inefficiencies like every other known process, Hersh expects to see a temperature rise in the patient.

This doesn't actually sound bad in principle, but I do see some potential weaknesses.

1) There has to be enough energy transferred and enough inefficiency to generate a measurable temperature change in the patient.

2) Other potential sources of temperature change need to be eliminated, although Hersh's experimental protocol does address the issue with "placebo" practitioners.

On the face of it, Hersh's proposed test isn't inherently bad, if somewhat more difficult and expensive to arrange. Consistently detecting increases in body temperature in patients undergoing Reiki treatment compared to measurements of patients undergoing placebo treatment would suggest that some sort of energy transfer is taking place.

H~ said...

Thanks for runnin with my line of thinking. btw my name is Hershel, and I am a dude, sorry about the nick name. I appreciate your perspective on my proposed theory. It works to make the experiment more true to the experimental method.

Lord Runolfr said...

I spotted an additional problem in Hershel's protocol: he didn't have his test double-blinded properly. As written, the Reiki practitioners and "placebo" practitioners were also the "administrators" of the test. That's not acceptable.

The patients, of course, need to be unaware of whether the person practicing on them is a trained Reiki practitioner or a placebo, but what Hershel didn't specify in his protocol is that the administrators monitoring the test also need to be unaware of who is who so they can't prejudice the results. That's an important detail.

Anonymous said...

check it

Lord Runolfr said...

As I expected, Hershel has admitted that even if his own experiment failed to show any evidence supporting Reiki, his own faith in the practice would not be shaken. He says he's only interested in experiments as a way to convince other people, not as a way to verify its benefits for himself.

Cornealius said...

Hi I have just written a piece about alternative healing and psychic reading and would be interested in your opinion of it

it's at

Ana said...

I am reiki master and i like so much your blog...sorry my bad english...many kisses from a reikiana - Portugal

Xeno said...

First of all, very interesting blog here - I found it via the Swetnam entries.
I'm a member of the Adrian Empire, which is a reenactment group very similar to the SCA (a 20 year old splinter group, to be precise), and I have recently come across Reiki. I am highly skeptical of the whole thing, but it seems surprisingly accepted among many of my friends. Do you suppose that there is some connection between belief in Reiki and membership in a reenactment group?

Anonymous said...

Does this article help?

Lord Runolfr said...

In and of itself, no. I will need to see the experimental protocol and data before I render judgement. I also don't know the standards of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, but the title alone does not fill me with confidence in the rigorousness of their peer review.