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Difference between revisions of "Memory of water"

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|url= }}</ref> The claim has been received with skepticism in the scientific community.
|url= }}</ref> The claim has been received with skepticism in the scientific community.
It has been demonstrated by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bangalore that extreme homeopathic dilutions retain the starting materials, sometimes in nanoparticulate form<ref></ref><ref></ref>.
== Other healers ==
== Other healers ==

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Memory of water is a phrase used by homeopaths to explain how the ethanol-based and/or water-based solutions they use might produce the results that they claim to see in their patients. Since homeopathic remedies are deliberately extremely diluted, it is highly unlikely that a therapeutic dose contains even a single molecule of the substance being diluted. This has led homeopaths to postulate a "memory of water"—the diluted water somehow "remembers" the biologically active molecules that it had once been in contact with, and that "memory" then produces therapeutic effects. In a more general sense, the phrase is also used in connection with other esoteric or pseudoscienific claims that involve a memory effect connected with water.

Chemists and physicists generally see this notion as nonsense. The consensus of scientists working in the field is that liquid water exists as a continuously rearranging hydrogen-bonded network with motions on the picosecond (10−12 s) time scale.[1] A picture of a quickly rearranging network is very difficult to reconcile with liquid water structures that are sustained for more than a few picoseconds. Accordingly there is no room for a water "memory" in the current scientific view on the liquid.

The Benveniste study

In 1988, a French immunologist, Jacques Benveniste, and a group of colleagues published a paper[2] in the prestigious English journal Nature. Their data indicated that progressive dilutions prepared with water, ethanol or propanol might retain some qualities of various materials that had once been dissolved in it. In particular, they claimed to have measured effects on human immune response.

Human basophils are a granulocyte cell type accounting for 0.1–1% of white blood cells; these cells contain large numbers of "granules" which store inflammatory mediators, including in particular histamine. These cells can be cultured readily and studied in vitro. In these cells, exposure to anti-human-IgE antibodies triggers a "degranulation" process in which the granules fuse with the plasma membrane to release their contents, including histamine, into the extracellular fluid. At high concentrations (>10−6 M) histamine binds to H2 receptors on the surface of the basophils, and regulates the basophil degranulation by feedback inhibition. Basophil activation can be measured in several different ways. First, degranulated cells can be stained and then counted; this is a subjective measurement and is prone to variable outcomes depending on the observer. Second, histamine release into the culture medium can be measured using fluorimetric assays. Third, the fusion of cytoplasmatic granules leads to the expression of the marker CD63 on the surface of the basophils; the percentage of basophils that express CD63 can be determined with flow-cytometry, and correlates well with histamine release.

Benveniste claimed that he and his colleagues found evidence that very high dilutions of anti-immunoglobulin E (essentially containing only water) had an effect on the degranulation of human basophils. He, therefore, concluded that it was the 'configuration' of molecules in water that was biologically active. This added support to the homeopathic claim that there was a quality of water that allowed for extremely high dilutions of chemicals to remain therapeutic even without any measurable evidence of the original material.[2]

The French newspaper Le Monde covered this, referring to "la mémoire de la matière" (the memory of matter) and le souvenir de molécules biologiquement actives (recollection [by water] of biologically active molecules). In English, however, the phrase that became widespread was "memory of water". Le Monde considered the paper important, making it a front page story, and correctly pointing out that if this work were correct, it would overthrow many of the foundations of physics.


Nature published the article with two unprecedented conditions: first, that the results must first be confirmed by other laboratories; second, that a team selected by Nature be allowed to investigate his laboratory following publication. Benveniste accepted these conditions; the results were replicated in Milan, Italy; in Toronto, Canada; in Tel-Aviv, Israel and in Marseille, France, and the article was accompanied by an editorial titled "When to believe the unbelievable."

After publication, a follow-up investigation was conducted by a team including the editor of Nature, Dr John Maddox, American scientific fraud investigator and chemist Walter Stewart, and "professional pseudoscience debunker" James Randi. With the cooperation of Benveniste's team, under double-blind conditions, they failed to replicate the results. Benveniste refused to withdraw his claims, and the team published in the July 1988 a detailed critique of Benveniste’s study.[3] They claimed that the experiments were badly controlled statistically, that measurements that conflicted with the claim had been excluded, that there was insufficient avoidance of contamination, and that there were questions of undisclosed conflict of interest, as the salaries of two coauthors of the published article were paid for under a contract with the French company Boiron et Cie.[3].

Another group led by Benveniste has reproduced the results[4] while others have failed to reproduce the effects[5][6]. Beneveniste et al contend that the same conditions were not met in those laboratories.

Benveniste never retracted his claims. In the same issue of Nature that carried the critique, Benveniste vigorously attacked the Nature team’s "mockery of scientific inquiry."[7]. He maintained his position in later publications as well.

Nature's last comment on this was their obituary for Benveniste.

Benveniste's subsequent claims

Benveniste's subsequent work on what he called "Digital Biology" attracted even more criticism by the scientific community. Based on the assumption that molecules emit electromagnetic radiation in the frequency range 20 Hz to 20 KHz, the same range as sound waves audible by humans, Benveniste argued[8] that electromagnetic vibrations are "signals exchanged among molecules" that are used by living things to convey information.

Other scientists

In 2002 Louis Rey, a swiss chemist from Lausanne, reported results of experiments where frozen samples of lithium and sodium chloride solutions prepared according to homeopathic prescriptions showed — after being exposed to radiation — different thermoluminescence peaks compared with pure water. According to Rey this proves that the networks of hydrogen bonds in homeopathic dilutions were different, as postulated by homeopathic theory. These results are not generally accepted: While other explanations for the observed effect were suggested, the experiments itself are criticized as not validated statistically, and they also could not be verified.

Moreover, in 2004, contradicting results were obtained by a research group (Berlin and Toronto) around Thomas Elsaesser. Their experiments showed that the hydrogen bonds change very fast, even faster than previously expected, thus supporting the view that water has no memory.

In January 2009, Luc Montagnier, the Nobel Laureate French virologist who discovered HIV, claimed that the DNA of pathogenic bacteria and viruses massively dissolved in water emit radio waves that he can detect. This, he claimed, can also be used to detect the medicine in a homeopathic remedy.[9][10] The claim has been received with skepticism in the scientific community.

It has been demonstrated by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bangalore that extreme homeopathic dilutions retain the starting materials, sometimes in nanoparticulate form[11][12].

Other healers

Some other healers make similar claims. For example, practitioners of the Silva Method[13] claim to "program" water to heal a person, long after the healer has programmed the water and is personally unavailable.

These alternative healers, however, do not make molecular arguments, but focus on the effects of energies, generated by people, on water. For example, one paper, describing Qigong, has:

Subtle, or vibrational, energy is broadly defined as energy that is not generally recognized by mainstream

physics and for which there are no means of measurement. ... It is fundamental to many unexplained phenomena such as the power of spirituality and prayer, the effect of remote intention, the operation of homeopathy, and the functioning of the mind/body information network. ... Water has been found to have the capability of storing and amplifying weak electromagnetic and subtle energy field signals, indicating water is a critical link between energy and matter.[14]

Attempts to measure the effects of Reiki healing [15] include spectral analysis of water samples.

Masaru Emoto is a Japanese author who in a series of books — beginning with Messages from Water (1999) — claims that ice crystals reflect the words, music, pictures — even thoughts and intentions — to which the droplets of water were exposed before being frozen. He has extensive collections of photos of water crystals, taken with a microscope, with which he illustrates his thesis.

According to Emoto there are "many differences in the crystalline structure of the water" depending on the type of water source, which were taken from all over the world. For example, a water sample from a "pristine mountain" stream would purportedly show a "geometric" design that is "beautifully" shaped when frozen. On the other hand, "polluted water" sources will supposedly show a "definite distortion" and will be "randomly formed".

Emoto also claims to detect the effects of healing energy on water, after pranic healing:

After the healers projected their energy toward the water, ... the water that was healed with Pranic energy had impeccable crystal formation while the tap water's internal structure was chaotic.[16]

Emoto makes some remarkably strong claims for his alleged discoveries:

So where is the solution to the problem of global warming in this book? Well, because it shows that we can extract energy out of water. For example, the crystal photograph on the cover is shining beautifully. This is a result of when the cameraman and the water resonated.

And light is energy itself. Therefore, this book is a proof that energy can be extracted not only from fire, but from water.

Global warming happened because we kept on using energy from coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear atoms, all forms of fire. As long as we use fire, we will eventually not be able to live on earth. And I found an energy source that will replace this fire.[17]

In spite of the fact that his theory is not supported by scientific experiments he propagates his ideas in talks given worldwide and has built a business around it by selling water products.

Homeopathic coverage

The notion of "memory of water" is taken quite seriously among homeopaths. For them, it provides an explanation of why some of their remedies work, and raises some very interesting questions — how does one explain the phenomenon, and what will the explanations tell us about more general issues of the structure of liquids, or indeed of matter? It is clear that we will need some new physics to explain it.

To a more orthodox scientist, it is also clear that explaining the phenomenon would require some new physics. What is not clear is that there is anything that needs explaining; the only evidence is the flawed Benveniste work, and that is not nearly enough to contemplate fundamental changes in physics.

An overview of the issues surrounding the memory of water and its relationship to homeopathic medicine was the subject of a special issue of the leading journal on homeopathy.[18] The articles in this issue propose widely varying mechanisms for water memory, such as: electromagnetic exchange of information between molecules, breaking of temporal symmetry, thermoluminescence, entanglement described by a new quantum theory, formation of hydrogen peroxide, clathrate formation, etc. without any mechanism singularly standing out as the definitive explanation. Some of the proposed mechanisms require revolutionary new physical principles overthrowing much of 20th century physics. Remarkably, all explanations concentrate on water and its alleged special properties, the fact that—according to Benveniste et al.—ethanol and propanol also have memory is completely ignored.


  1. F. N. Keutsch, J. D. Cruzan, and R. J. Saykally, Chemical Reviews, Vol.103, pp. 2533-2577 (2003)
  2. 2.0 2.1 E. Davenas, F. Beauvais, J. Arnara, M. Oberbaum, B. Robinzon, A. Miadonna, A. Tedeschi, B. Pomeranz, P. Fortner, P. Belon, J. Sainte-Laudy, B. Poitevin and J. Benveniste, Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE, Nature, Vol. 333, pp. 816-818, 30th June, 1988.Free text on DigiBio site. Non-free text on Nature site
  3. 3.0 3.1 Maddox, John; James Randi and Walter W. Stewart (28 July 1988). "‘High-dilution’ experiments a delusion" (PDF). Nature 334: 287–290. DOI:10.1038/334287a0. Research Blogging.
  4. Poitevin B., Davenas E., Benveniste J., "In vitro immunological degranulation of human basophils is modulated by lung histamine and Apis mellifica", Brit. J. Clin. Pharmacol., 1988, 25: 439-444. [1]
  5. S. J. Hirst, N. A. Hayes, J. Burridge, F. L. Pearce, J. C. Foreman, Human basophil degranulation is not triggered by very dilute antiserum against human IgE, Nature vol. 366, pp. 525–527 (1993) doi
  6. Guggisberg AG, Baumgartner SM, Tschopp CM, and Heusser P (2005) Replication study concerning the effects of homeopathic dilutions of histamine on human basophil degranulation in vitro. Complement Ther Med 13:91-100.
  7. J. Benveniste, Dr Jacques Benveniste replies, News and views, Nature, vol. 334 p. 291 (1988) doi
  8. Jacques Benevenistei (1998), Understanding Digital Biology
  9. "Nobel laureate gives homeopathy a boost", The Australian, July 5, 2010
  10. Alexey Kovalev (07 June 2010), "Top 6 unconventional post-Nobel Prize claims", Wired
  13. Laura Silva Quesada, Healing Qualities of Water and Useful Applications
  14. Tom Rogers, Qigong - Energy Medicine for the New Millennium
  16., Pranic Healing Career Guide
  17. How to Take a Water Crystal Photograph. OFFICE MASARU EMOTO. Retrieved on March 24, 2010.
  18. Martin Chaplin, ed. (2007), The Memory of Water Homeopathy. 96:141-230
    Copies of the articles in this special issue are freely available on a private website, along with discussion. Homeopathy Journal Club hosted by Bad Science, a blog by Ben Goldacre